A Love Letter to High School Theatre

Before the curtains rise for a closing production, my high school’s theatre program had a tradition that members of the cast and crew who were graduating would each give a three-to-five minute speech of anything they would like to say, whether it would be to thank those who supported them throughout their theatre journey or to give words of advice to underclassmen intending to continue doing theatre during the rest of their time in high school.

I remember when this day would come: close friends of mine rising from their spot in the circle to stand alone in the center, reflecting on the time they had on stage, backstage, and in the black box theatre. Tissues were passed around the circle as fellow cast and crew members cried from hearing what it felt like the last words their senior friends would say to them before they left the theatre space forever. I looked up to these people, and at those times it was hard to believe that they were going to be gone. All of a sudden, it was my turn to stand isolated in the center of the circle and say what I wanted before I take my last bow on my high school stage.

I volunteered to be the first one to speak, since there weren’t many people in my graduating class. I stood strong, assertive and confident of the advice I was about to give to my underclassmen friends about enjoying the rest of their time in theatre. All of a sudden, I stopped, and thought, Where did the time go? Freshman year Marieska was not the same Marieska that was standing in front of all of the people that she’d built relationships with over the course of her high school career.

My theatre journey didn’t begin until I was thirteen—I played a fairy in our middle school’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Sleepover, a child-friendly and modern retelling of the famous Shakespearean play. I was the sole 8th grader among a group of four 6th grade fairies with an oversized blue sheet as a dress and a matching blue mask. This was my glimpse into theatre, and I wanted to grow from here. Fast-forward two months, I stayed with my aunt in New York City to participate in a week-long summer theatre camp, in which myself and twenty other kids each had a role in an original 15-minute musical written by the two camp counselors. I don’t remember what it was about—all I remember is that I had one solo line when we all sang “Morning Glow” from Pippin. That was my first taste of performing, and while it didn’t last for long and I wasn’t a prominent performer in that show, I wanted to learn more.

My freshman year schedule had theatre as a class apart from the typical high school requirements like math, English, and such. It was a pretty small group of people, around 15 students from all grade levels. We did many things in that class, from learning about the origins of theatre to practicing basic improv techniques. Apart from that class, I wasn’t really involved with anything else during my freshman year. Then second semester rolled around, and I decided to audition for our school’s production of Annie. I was given a part as  an ensemble member, to which I thought, At least I was casted. Long story short, I enjoyed being a part of it, and I could already see myself being a part of future productions during the rest of my time in high school..

It wasn’t until junior year where my time in theatre took a turn for the better. I became part of our school’s chapter of Cappies Critics, which is a program for students interested/involved in theatre and journalism to write reviews of local high school productions for hopes of publication. Because this was the year I started to get interested and involved in journalism. I invested a lot of my time in Cappies in case I used some of my reviews as writing samples for journalistic work, and as a result, I ended up being published three times that year.

That year’s spring musical was High School Musical, and I knew that I would be letting down 6 year-old Marieska if I didn’t audition. Because I was so excited that our school was doing this show, I tried to go all out at auditions, and it paid off when I saw my name on the callback list. After the callback round, I was cast as Martha, the brainiac who obsesses over hip hop. This was a role where my physicality and presence on stage stepped miles outside my comfort zone, and there was no choice but to own it and forget about the Marieska everyone knew outside of the black box theatre. 

Looking back, this was probably the most enjoyable production I was a part of, and my self-confidence blasted through the roof. For the two previous musicals I was a part of, I noticed that there was a great divide between the underclassmen and upperclassmen. I wasn’t going to let that happen this time—I was connecting with underclassmen and making an effort to be inclusive. This was where I started to consider the members of the theatre program as a family.

When I became a senior, I was cast as Alice in our school’s production of Bye Bye Birdie. We performed the show five times in two weekends before it was time for my last high school performance. I proceeded to give my speech at our last pow-wow before our closing show, and while I don’t remember much of what I said, I told the underclassmen to “do what you love and to never stop pursuing your passions.” I still stand by that today.

Although I don’t perform anymore because of the amount of time I spend pursuing journalism in college, I am thankful that the Boston theatre scene has so much to offer. Since the beginning of my first semester, I have seen twelve different shows (thank you student discounts!), each one a new experience. I have a part-time job at a local theatre company as a digital marketing assistant, so I’m still involved with a passion of mine, even though I’m not studying it in college. I’m immensely grateful for the time I had doing theatre in high school, and I wouldn’t change a thing. From the moment I smile doing jazz squares on stage to the moment I do a standing ovation for a spectacular performance, I treasure every second I spend in the theatre, and I don’t anticipate my final bow to occur anytime soon.

Photography by Christian Calma and Paola Quiroz