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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Wisconsin chapter.

The Wrong Kind of Drama

I was a theatre kid in high school. As the stage manager, I was involved in every aspect of the rehearsal process, mostly behind the scenes. My roles were very different from the actors. Because of my position, I feel like I gained both an inside and outside perspective on the world of high school theater.

Let me preface this by saying that overall, I loved being in theatre.  My director was one of the best teachers I have ever had, and I was grateful to have the opportunity to work closely with him on shows. I made lifelong friends through my school’s program and developed my own self-confidence working backstage. However, even though my experience was positive, there are toxic aspects of high school theatre that are overlooked.

Most of this is due to the competitive nature of theatre. Since one of my responsibilities was to assist the director in casting the show, I had a close inspection of the wreckage that ensued after the cast list was posted. I saw kids turn from best friends to enemies once that list came out. Many of my peers would get an idea in their heads about what the list would look like and were offended when their vision wasn’t met. Sometimes, their best friend got put in the ensemble. Sometimes, the part the senior wanted went to the freshman. Sometimes, the kid no one liked got the lead. It’s absolutely expected and valid that they would feel disappointed, but sometimes, their disappointment turned into anger and that vitriol was brought into rehearsals. Students would threaten to quit, confront the director or even talk badly about their fellow actors.

This created another problem: cliques. Theatre kids are so cliquey. This was surprising to me since the stereotype of theatre kids is that they are “misfits.” The arts are supposed to be the one realm of high school that truly and fully accepts everyone (at least according to Glee). I saw a lot of kids who joined theatre because they were trying to find a place to fit in, only to feel unwelcome instead.  Certain kids always teamed up together, making our program feel very exclusive when the goal was to make it an accepting, open space for everyone. For a lot of my friends, theatre was a community, but I knew so many cast members who felt isolated and left out by the group; these feelings have impacted the way I’ve reflected on my experience.

Most of the students in my department were some of the nicest kids I had ever met, which made it confusing as to why they would turn so sour over a casting choice. It was upsetting to see the same people who opened their arms to me turn their backs on other hopeful thespians. So why are many theatre kids so mean? I think there are two main reasons.

Part of it is the stress. Even though theatre provides a fun and creative outlet, putting on a live show can be nerve-wracking. So many things can go wrong during production, and they often do go wrong. Forgotten lines, mic difficulties, broken sets, sore throats, torn costumes and even injuries can occur during tech week alone. Tech week is the week leading up to the performance, and the rehearsals can last hours. This is all on top of regular school work and personal issues students might have. The wholesome camaraderie developed during rehearsals often turns into irritable fights, petty digs and teary meltdowns during tech week. The stressful nature of performing means that tensions are often running high. 

The other reason is unfortunately the sense of entitlement and pride that often goes unchecked in these types of communities. This is partly due to the fact that I went to a private, particularly privileged high school. I noticed many students developing a mentality of “deserving” something. Since they prepared for their audition, they deserved the solo. Since they had the most experience, they deserved more stage time. I myself often fall into this same mentality, but it’s important to accept that not everything will go the way I plan. For many high schoolers, it simply takes an advanced level of maturity to come to terms with this.

There are many “recovering” theatre kids who have realized and even confronted the more toxic aspects of high school theatre. In my opinion, the solution could be simple. While a rigorous schedule might be necessary for a worthy production, students should recognize and respect when they need to take breaks. In addition to the well-being of students, high school theatre can only thrive when kindness and inclusivity are placed over ego and expectations. I think if these students employed the same insight and empathy for each other in the way they do for their characters, they could create a warm community they can be proud of.

Priya Kanuru

Wisconsin '26

Priya is a sophomore at UW-Madison studying Political Science and English-Creative Writing.