Being a Drama Major is More Than Just Playing Pretend

When I share with people that I have a dual degree in drama, I usually am confronted with lots of opinions and questions about what I actually have to do. I often feel judged for my level of stress under the misconception that I’m putting on a play, so that must just all be fun and easy. People in other majors scoff thinking all we do is roll around on the floor and make animals sounds like those memes on twitter. While we sometimes do those things, we also are required to work equally as hard in very unconventional and vulnerable settings. Being a drama major takes an academic, physical and emotional toll on a person and requires you to bring so much personal energy and connection to everything you do. 

At a very basic level, the workload and expectations of drama majors in an academic setting are unique and difficult. While it depends on your bulletin year, most drama majors must take Play Analysis, History of Drama (one and two), Modern Drama (one and two) and Theater Styles. While these courses mirror lots of history courses in their level of analysis and written work, they are just a fraction of the workload that many drama majors take on. In addition to these courses, most drama majors take acting classes that require the analysis, memorization and performance of scenes and monologues. Preparation to succeed in assignments like this require extensive work with the plays, characters, and themes included in the piece so that you can convey the most sincere emotions and reality possible. Mind you, these performances are in front of your peers and professors who can comment on the work you do. Many professors and students direct shows on campus as well, so it can feel as if you are constantly doing mini-auditions. Classes for drama majors go from nine in the morning until after eleven at night with rehearsals and all require you to be intently present and focused. Included in these classes is Speech and Movement, which requires you to hone in on how your body functions in connection to your acting. The hyperfocus and adjustment of long-held bad habits can require lots of physical effort to correct. Since your body and voice are your everything, you need to put in all the physical energy and struggle to make it the best that it can be to have a better chance at success. 

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Emotionally, drama majors are also put through the wringer. Many scene studies are done on plays that deal with heavy topics and themes. Acting classes require a critical self-analysis of what sounds, tastes, smells and thoughts emotionally trigger you in a way that is safe and usable for your acting. Once you’ve made this list, you must incorporate it into your acting so that you can have very real emotions surging through a scene that is not at all related to your trigger. The work is challenging and can take an emotional toll on an actor who needs to get to certain levels within a piece. 

These emotions are especially heightened around audition times when the stress of getting cast in a show hangs around Emily Lowe Hall like a thick fog. Suddenly, all of your peers that are supposed to be your support network and community are now the competition that stands between you and the role you desperately want. Auditions and casting constantly forces you to consider your self-worth and how you represent yourself to others. Not getting cast in a show when you feel that all of your in and out of class work is geared toward success can really take a blow to your self-esteem. Success tends to feel rooted in casting rather than your class grades, making this time feel worse than any midterm or final. 

Vadim Fomenok on unsplash.com

Once casting is announced, the unspoken social etiquette and dynamics of the department become even more relevant. You need to be acutely aware of how everything shakes out with cast lists so that you can know how to engage with your peers the next day in class or around campus. Nothing is worse than the awkward silence where you are trying to decide whether you should say congrats on casting if you aren’t 100% sure, address someone not getting in a show or mistaking their name on a list and adding salt to a fresh wound. Without good reason, there can tend to be the feeling of an in/out culture dependent on casting. You’re “in” if you’re cast and you’re “out” if you aren’t. The feeling of not being as important within your own department due to a decision that was out of your hands can be, rightfully, very challenging for some. It is in these moments that students need to take full agency of their experience and put themselves out there to get involved in other areas. You need to take full control over your semester and make sure that you are getting the most out of your program. While this instills lots of important skills in taking initiative and self-starting, it is something that many other majors do not have to deal with to this extent. 

Despite the stress and, well, drama, being a drama major is incredibly fulfilling. Theater creates camaraderie and a bond among people all dedicated to interpreting, presenting and enjoying art. I hope more people take the time to listen to drama majors and appreciate the hard work they put into their craft. Everyone is hustling, so let’s make an effort to treat each other with equal respect.