2021 is the year of the designer (right?)

theatre-header

2020 was the year media changed forever. If we’re coming back to theaters and stages in 2021, it needs to be with a greater sense of recognition for the absolute assload of work theatrical designers do for the rest of the industry.

If you ended up on a theatre’s email list, you know the “I’m doing my best” Zoom performance. The 720p MacBook Pro webcam, a $25 Amazon lapel microphone, a ring light, and a button-down. This revolution in people learning how to do something themselves is amazing; professors laud performers for the resiliency in a difficult era. Largely ignoring the fact that there have been people doing this for you the whole time.

They are backstage. Not ten feet from where a performer would stand.

They are rarely unionized and only making living wages. It takes an act of God for a designer to reach an eighth the wealth of an actor of equivalent merit.

They are often underemployed — more underemployed than actors, in most markets.

They often edit Logic files for hours to make the Zoom concert sound natural.

If there is ever a time to address treatment inequality between performers and other theatrical artists, it’s now. For every slap-dash digital performance in 2020, there was a team of a dozen designers whose work and plans were radically altered.

Now that we have a greater understanding of how shallow this art form is without the full effect of the collaborators behind it, I hope we can move forward treating stagehands like equals. Continuing to pour equal funding into programs to teach and employ designers and performers. Recognizing that there’s a ton of energy and hundreds of hours of work involved with getting the lights just right or achieving that feeling of “completeness” in a costume.

Performers are the embodiment of text and direction and emotion, but you might not feel it unless it is designed for you — and something more than the sum of its parts appears. Throw your next bouquet at the stage door, not the stage.

P.S. if you were one of the performers who set up your first camera equipment, I’m so proud of you 🥺 did you thank your designers after?

Undergrad Design @ Northwestern

Part 1 | Part 2

I want to start this with a disclaimer. This is just a recollection and a reflection of my experience being at Northwestern University and a member of the theatre department as a whole. This is not going to be reflective of every Northwestern experience — in fact, it’s literally only representative of mine. I only hope that I can provide some clarity for prospective students as well as students and members of the administration who seek to address these issues and change them.

Background

I came to Northwestern with the intention to pursue lighting design. I had a little bit more experience than the average college student does with the field. I drove to Northwestern in the Fall of 2017 having already worked in a professional theatre for a summer; I clocked over three hundred hours in high school managing lights, electrics, and creating my own shows’ worth of lighting design. I also had experience with professional dance companies, stage managers, and more. Out of all the options of institutions to attend, Northwestern was the only one that allowed its theatre makers to pursue a degree in theatre and something else (more on that culture later); I wasn’t going to lock myself into a BFA program that meant I couldn’t think of anything else but theatre for four years.

High school theatre — and all of its many, many issues — taught me that technical theatre fell significantly below performance. We can hypothesize why that is — talent as a construct, not something you work for, or the fact that technical theatre represents a collaborative effort when performance, on its surface, does not — but it was a notion I was hoping to lose in higher education. Theatre, in reality, exists not because of the performers but because of every single person dedicated to the craft before the performers. Theatre exists because of stage managers, artistic directors, lighting designers, drapers, run crew, front of house staff, marketing staff, sound designers, and so, so many more. The average production has between five and ten non-performance staff for every one performer.

Northwestern’s Bachelor of Arts/Science theatre program is within the School of Communication, one of six undergraduate schools of learning. Where other institutions have divisions between major tracks within theatre, Northwestern chose instead to create a “module” system within a singular theatre major. This system asks you to take additional courses within a concentration (Theatre for Young Audiences, Playwriting, and Design, for instance) but does not separate your degree significantly from other theatre majors. This means that, no matter where your skills lie in theatre, the capped 100 seats offered to applicants all graduate with the same Theatre major.

Wildcat (Un)Welcome

Northwestern is somewhat unique in its orientation structure. Wildcat Welcome is a week of programming when your only focus is on orienting yourself to campus. You don’t register for classes until the end of the week and you’re set up with a support structure in the PA group: an upperclassman peer adviser and between 8-15 peers who, in the case of the School of Communication (the school that theatre falls within), are in your major track. From the very first gathering of these students I knew that this was going to be an experience different from the one I had expected in theatre. The reality of the fact was that I, a student intent on pursuing design and/or management alone, was the only one of my cohort of 8 that felt that way. The rest of my peers were intending on pursuing performance in some way, shape, or form. The numbers were more bleak in other groups; all in all, of the class of 2021, less than ten out of the hundred were enrolled with the commitment to technical theatre and management.

This disparity was unparalleled, however, with that which resulted from the department’s programming itself. Every orientation discussion held focused on the acting sequence of classes for performers, the Musical Theatre Certificate for performers, the variety of dance1 classes you could take. The conversation of design was purely limited to the discussion of the design requirements for graduation: one design-based course in the first-year sequence and two design classes out of the forty one needs to graduate. In the full weeks’ worth of programming, I couldn’t recall a single moment where undergraduate designers and managers were explicitly addressed or even mentioned.

When the faculty was paraded in front of us, not a single undergraduate faculty member was dedicated to teaching management or technical theatre. As I would come to find out, the only classes taught for undergraduate designers were taught by graduate students. The only classes taught for undergraduate marketers or managers were taught primarily by staff members. Staff members in higher education are often treated as second-class in both pay grade and respect, but more on that later.

This lack of any real concrete acknowledgement of the people in the group of 100 students who were dedicated to what 95% of theatre really is? That hurt. It hurt so much that, one of the last days of Wildcat Welcome, I had to ask one of the advisors why not a single person had ever mentioned a commitment to designers and marketers. That advisor, John Haas, was quick to point out the design module. But one module does not an inclusive theatre program make. And Northwestern Theatre is sorely lacking in any sort of true commitment to its designers and managers. And that has led to real, dangerous situations.

Why One Theatre Major Doesn’t Work

The lack of undergraduate representation in design and management is an incredibly nuanced one, but it starts at the very beginning of the process. Because Northwestern’s Theatre major is not further subdivided, admissions to the program are not compared to their peers in an accurate way. The single theatre major means that every performer is compared to every singer, director, lighting designer, props designer, costumes designer, or stage manager who is seeking to come to Northwestern theatre. With a single major path, there is no way to fix the representation issue. If the major was divided into two paths with two different quotas – say, 75 performers and 25 designers/managers, if we’re sticking with the 100-seat cap – you can ensure that the population of undergraduate managers and designers is increasing every year, not decreasing. But 25 designers isn’t enough. I would argue that the ratio for designers to performers should be 2:1 or higher, considering every production that occurs on campus (more on those later) should theoretically need more than one person per design area.

Furthermore, splitting the major allows you to change requirements. This biggest gripe I’ve experienced in four years is that every performer in the theatre major spends an ungodly amount of time complaining about the design requirements.2 They should still be required to do this. But dividing the major allows you to institutionally acknowledge the fact that designers exist while allowing your curriculum to reflect the path that designers take. As of right now, the curriculum is clearly performance-structured and the existence of performance sequences – but not the same level of design sequences – further illustrates this.

We haven’t even begun to discuss the first year “dash” rotation, student theatre, the mistreatment of staff members, design classes, the ignoring of FGLI student realities, or the lack of any care by the advisors for what designers need. But don’t worry, we will.

Footnotes

1 This essay won’t go into the structural issues present in the Dance program and department. That’s a whole other collection of essays that I can’t write.

2 Performers need to respect the amount of work that goes into design and management. It is what allows them to exist on a stage or screen. Additionally, the Northwestern Theatre department specifically built the Design class requirement including easy-to-complete non-theatre classes (such as Intro to Painting or Sculpture) that are not representative of theatre design principles or the design process in theatre.

3 This essay was previously titled “Northwestern Theatre Does Not Care About Undergraduate Designers.”

Finding Home at Northwestern as a First-Gen & Low-Income Student

One thing that I certainly wasn’t prepared for when I got Northwestern was how important my social identities would become. I think it’s true of a lot of high school experiences that conversations revolving around differences don’t happen very often (at least they didn’t for Carter, the high schooler). That is in part why Wildcat Welcome has, and continues to be, my favorite part of Northwestern. It’s a week-long crash course in how to engage in dialogues about the ethnic, socioeconomic, and other personal identities you hold and where they intersect with the people around you. What’s been really interesting is just how much I’ve explored my identities as a low-income and first-generation college student in my last two years at Northwestern. I didn’t think it was a defining part of my high school experience, but it’s definitely become a defining part of my college one!

I went to a low-income public high school where free and reduced lunch was assumed; I didn’t know how different a space like Northwestern is. Some students walk to class with the newest Macbooks and jackets that were worth more than my car. Some students had the privilege to go out to eat every weekend; I lived for the meal plan because it meant I always had food. The campus itself alone is worth more money than I had even fathomed – and that’s not even including the cost of attendance! I soon realized how important it was going to be to surround myself with people who understood what it meant to be a work-study student around your class schedule, to prefer staying in to going out to save money. For me, I found that community in the Northwestern Quest Scholars Network.

I consider myself SUPER lucky to have been admitted as a Quest+ Scholar all those years ago. Having that network of students already built from the get-go was invaluable to starting my Northwestern experience off on the right foot. Being a part of QuestBridge led me directly Northwestern’s Student Enrichment Services (SES) office; they provided great resources like winter gear and textbook assistance. SES connected me with the various ways that you can apply for additional funds outside of my financial aid package: from the Student Enrichment Fund to the Essential Needs Financial Aid application, SES helped defer a huge chunk of finances that I was often concerned about.

Where being first-gen, low-income (FGLI) on this campus truly shined, however, was through the people I’ve been able to meet along the way! The professional staff – Kourtney Cockrell and Sharitza Rivera with SES especially – whose job it is to help FGLI students navigate their university experience truly care about everything you’re up to. You get to meet people who truly are going through similar college experiences and are struggling with the same things. Whether it’s a financial literacy course or a free dinner, there are always people on your side!

What truly underscored how connected the Northwestern FGLI community was an opportunity I had this summer. QuestBridge hosted QB25, a massive conference in San Francisco that celebrated 25 years of the nonprofit helping first-gen and low-income students get into higher education. Every Northwestern Quest Scholar got the invite and we quickly hit the group chats and Facebook pages to book flights and meet on-campus before we met off-campus. The trip was all-inclusive and invited Quest+ scholars and alums from all over the country to attend workshops on everything from imposter syndrome to supporting your family at home. I didn’t expect it, but Northwestern had the largest group of students at the conference by far. I got a chance to see friends I didn’t realize were also low-income and we got to spend time together away from the academic environment of Northwestern. We commiserated on the prices of the BART and the crazy Teslas you see on the hills of San Fran; on our day off, we gathered as a small army and descended the tourist sites of the city.

If you had asked me two years ago if I’d be on the West Coast, my answer would have been a resounding “no (like, how was that going to ever happen?).” Ultimately, San Francisco and the FGLI community was a HUGE part of my summer experience. I made new friends across the country at other schools and came back to Northwestern feeling closer to a community than I ever had before. Through all of the dialogues and support at Northwestern, I’ve come to accept this identity I hold as a strength, not a barrier. I wouldn’t change it for the world!

Note
This blog post was originally written while I was employed by the Office of Undergraduate Admission at Northwestern University. As such, my voice and tone reflect Northwestern’s desired impact, not my own.

Finding Learning in Unconventional Places

One of the great things about Northwestern is the sheer number of courses available to you from the get-go. From a seminar about queer representation in the media to fluid mechanics, you never know what you’ll find in the annals of our course catalog. For me, however, the most valuable learning experience I’ve had so far was beyond something I could register for on Caesar (our class registration website); it was a learning opportunity I’ll cherish for years to come.

If you’ve ever felt the need to get involved in Jewish life on campus, Northwestern Hillel is a great place to be. It was through Hillel that I was able to experience my first intercontinental flight and celebrate Shabbat on the weeks I’m not wrapped up in productions. When it came time to schedule my winter quarter, one of the amazing staff members reached out and asked if I was interested in something called JLF: the Jewish Learning Fellowship. It was a weekly seminar that was oriented towards talking about “life’s biggest questions.” While I wasn’t sure about what that meant just yet, the sound of a free meal with some of the best people I know on campus was something I couldn’t pass up on.

An hour and a half doesn’t sound like a life-changing amount of time, but it did make all the difference for me during winter quarter. At a time where the weather was somewhat dismal and my classes became somewhat difficult, I knew that I had a chunk of time in my week dedicated to seeing a good group of people and forgetting the rest of the week’s struggles for a moment. Every week, we would tackle a wildly different topic. We started off with discussions on what it means to learn and how to approach the world from the perspective of a learner. We dove headfirst into texts that varied between old-world Jewish scholars to today’s professors and quickly moved to larger questions of heritage, how to tell our story, and how we handle disagreement.

The subject of each week would run the gamut, but the one thing that stayed constant was the people. The twelve of us – ten students and two facilitators – spent the time not only diving into the topic at hand but learning about each other. We shared stories from our past and our present, from preschool to last week. These were ten people I really didn’t stand a chance of seeing throughout my day to day life but could count on being there week after week. It was made all the better that this wasn’t for credit; there were no grades, tests, or evaluations. JLF went back to the root of why we all came to college: to learn.

I could wax poetic for hours about the wonderful things that JLF did for me this Winter, but what’s most important is what we took away from the experience. Jewish or non-Jewish, there is tremendous value in creating spaces at Northwestern where you can learn and talk openly with people you don’t see every day. Whether it’s the dialogues of Wildcat Welcome or the structured curriculum of something like Sustained Dialogue, finding a way to learn outside of the classroom is so invaluable to make your Northwestern experience a positive one.

Note:
This blog post was originally written while I was employed by the Office of Undergraduate Admission at Northwestern University. As such, my voice and tone reflect Northwestern’s desired impact, not my own.

It’s Okay to Drop a Class

It happens to all of us: you pick classes, you dive right in to work, and then you quickly realize that you’ve signed yourself up for a LOT. Whether it’s leadership positions in clubs you’re passionate about, roles in on-campus productions, or even work study jobs, a new quarter can get away from you rather quickly as a Northwestern student.

The first time I felt really overwhelmed by my workload was Spring Quarter of my first year. I had taken five classes the quarter before, a concept known as “overloading” your schedule. Four classes is the norm and I thought it would be a breeze, so I filled my time with activities outside the classroom. I involved myself in way too many productions in my “spare” time. I was also balancing a work study position to boot! Needless to say, I ended up putting my work and classes before myself, and it was definitely NOT a recipe for success.

The most important thing to remember that it’s okay to ask for help and everyone you know is on your side.. Nevertheless, we’ve all been there: when I found myself needing support,  I didn’t know how to ask for it. I knew that something was unsustainable – I wasn’t getting enough sleep or eating regularly – and really didn’t know where to start in getting my feet back under me! That’s where my friends came in.

I had a chance to sit down with the people closest to me and talk – genuinely talk –  about why I was feeling so stressed. I was taking a class that I felt was a bit too high-level for me, and attending lecture gave me more questions than answers. I had tried to pull out the textbook and figure things out, but the language flew right over my head. It was the class that I was avoiding talking about but would leave me anxious at the end of the night after my rehearsals. It had to go!

The other nebulous topic thrown around is dropping a class. Northwestern gives you until week six of a quarter to decide “hey, this class isn’t for me!” When you drop a class in that time period, it disappears – it’s like you never took it. I reached out to my professor (which is optional!) and mentioned that I was feeling overwhelmed and wanted to change my schedule around. Not only was he incredibly understanding, but he made sure I knew that I could reach out to him in the future if I wanted to take the class again.  

It was shockingly easy to sign myself up for a stressful quarter. I had over-committed myself to several overlapping shows AND a crazy schedule for someone who was just starting out at Northwestern. The most important thing to remember is that you have people around you who have a vested interest in making sure that you are okay. No one wants to see you studying until four in the morning or sleeping through things! There are places on campus that will help you when you feel like you’re struggling academically – your professors and TAs, Academic Support – and CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) for when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

What I can’t stress enough is that college is a completely different ball game to high school. Success suddenly looks very different from your GPA or class rank. You can take SO many classes at Northwestern in three, four, and five years. You’re not going to set yourself back with a quarter of three classes, and there’s nothing more important than you and your health while you’re in school! Northwestern and college in general are learning curves, and its important to remember that every pitfall and stumble will make you a better student and person on the other side.

Note:
This blog post was originally written while I was employed by the Office of Undergraduate Admission at Northwestern University. As such, my voice and tone reflect Northwestern’s desired impact, not my own.

Birthright: Connections Across Continents

Note:
Attending Birthright, while sponsored by many right-wing American and Israeli corporations, does not mean I condone (or have ever condoned) the actions of the Israeli government in maintaining an apartheid state. I urge you to support the Free Palestine movement and advocate for legal equality to all Palestinians.

It’s a bit of a whirlwind, stepping into an unfamiliar airport. My friend and I had a fairly straightforward drive over to JFK from Manhattan, heading out around five hours before our departure. Thanks to my flights being covered by Northwestern’s Student Activities Grant, I had the opportunity to spend a few days in the less-windy city with friends before the main event. This wasn’t the typical early airport hijinks. She and I weren’t going to the same terminal, state, or even country: she was going home to Orlando, and I to Israel.

I arrived with quite possibly the most-stuffed carry-on to grace the halls of JFK. The signs to Terminal 1 were straightforward, and they matched the information emailed up to this point . The subject line “Birthright” has become somewhat commonplace in my Northwestern email inbox. I beat the crowd (some forty-odd students) and had a chance to phone home with updates before our scheduled meetup.

The first group huddle was a quick one — sign your name here, double check your passport, fill out a name tag. I wasn’t the only one with a freshly-minted passport for the occasion, and I certainly wasn’t the only one leaving the contiguous United States for the first time.¹ Nothing had begun except for the meeting of familiar faces not seen since the middle of June. It wasn’t exactly the best time and place for a catch-up, but at least we knew we were all headed for the same place.

¹It’s at this point that my mom would want me to point out that I have left the country once — a wedding in London when I was two. My passport had since been lost and my vocabulary somewhat expanded since then, so we won’t count it.

We had a chance to see some of the oldest synagogues in the historic city of Tzfat!
Jerusalem was a city of crazy intersections…

A little bit of frenzied chatter reigned in by Becca and Natalie, our Northwestern Hillel trip coordinators, and the check-in process began. Bags ranged from absolutely stuffed (mine) to absolutely humongous (what I wish was mine). Small chat with the Brussels Airline attendant notwithstanding, they printed our boarding passes in short order.

Bags whisked away, our huddled masses waddled over to the dreaded airport security. Far from the stuff of a very different kind of travel blog, our Jewish-identifying cohort passed the metal detectors with flying colors (college does lend itself to testing well!).

It wasn’t until all of us were sitting in a circle and playing those get-to-know-you name games that I realized just what it meant to be with this group of people. The forty of us were going to be together for the long haul, abroad and in an unfamiliar place. In no time, it was time to board. As far as international flights go, they were shockingly similar to the flights I’m used to stateside. The air of anticipation subsided somewhat as we settled in for six and a half hours of books, movies, and naps.

Sunset from our temporary home in Eliat.
…and crazier views.

Birthright can come as an unfamiliar concept for some. The mission of the trip was to introduce Jewish people from all walks of life to experience not only what it meant to be Jewish, but what it meant to live in Israel. Our trip took us across the entire country: to the northernmost point and Israel’s border with Syria to the bustling spoke-shaped streets of Tel Aviv. We had an array of hotels laid out for us – each offering a unique perspective on the life of a traveler. The days included most of our meals, with a bit of leeway to spend shekels here and there. I definitely spent more time than I would like to admit prowling markets (they’re very different between historic Tzfat and Tel Aviv, wouldn’t you guess!).

The irreplaceable part of this trip was the people I got a chance to spend it with. There are so few opportunities to experience international travel in this way: not only with people who you share so much in common with (at least one identity!) but with people who are also privy to the day-to-day demands of student life, Northwestern or otherwise. It was an opportunity to switch bus partners like in middle school and enjoy a little slice of life from everyone.

Whether it was Maddie’s beautiful relationship with her mom or Ben’s unfailing humor at even the bleakest of topics, there was not a person I walked off that bus after 10 days who I wouldn’t want to get coffee with next week. The facilitators of the trip, Northwestern staff and now our friends, had their own perspectives and laughs and humor that I wouldn’t have traded for the world. They were a rope that held the forty of us together through difficult subjects and the harsh realities of the world.

We spent a night at a Bedouin Encampment in the desert and had a chance to ride camels!
As a part of Birthright, we had the option to have a Mitzvah! It was a huge celebration of identity and friendship, as well as a great morning!

The trip meant so much to me in terms of the types of journeys I was able to take. It had the spiritual aspect of an identity I had never fully grasped. It brought to the table a lot of questions to the table on what it means to be kind and trusting and compassionate towards people who live in a vastly different world. It was a physical journey in every sense of the word. It was a journey that transcended language and cultural boundaries, comfort zones and social limitations.

I’m thankful for the community I got to create and take part of in Israel, and even more thankful for the Hillel community I found when the school year started. If you believe the idea that “and is in our DNA,” the international experience at Northwestern truly opened my eyes to the fact that it isn’t quite “this AND that,” but “you AND I.”

Our coordinators, Natalie and Becca, were a HUGE part of what made the trip so meaningful.

Note:
This blog post was originally written while I was employed by the Office of Undergraduate Admission at Northwestern University. As such, my voice and tone reflect Northwestern’s desired impact, not my own.

Mastering the Independent Evanston Summer

There are a hundred different ways you can spend your college summers. Some friends go abroad, some explore the US, and many grab internships and jobs and make careers outside of Evanston. One thing that I highly recommend students do at least once, however, is the Evanston summer. We spend so much of our time in and around the city during our school year that having the lowered stress of a summer on (or near!) campus lets you fall back in love with Northwestern from an entirely different perspective! When I made my decision to stay in Evanston between my first and second years, I came armored with advice from all of my upperclassmen friends. I hope I can pass some of it along!

Find Your Happy Place (to live!)

Depending on how you’re staying in Evanston, you may get an opportunity to live on-campus. Some programs, like the Center for Talent Development, hire students to live as summer conference assistants. The gigs pay AND provide free housing in a dorm, and it’s an incredible way to stay engaged in the summer happenings at Northwestern. This isn’t for everyone, so the most popular choice is to stay in the Evanston area off-campus. Many students who are leaving town would rather not end their lease and pack their entire lives up, so they leave their apartment for summer subletting. You’ll get a discount on rent, furniture in most cases, and an Evanston address!

Fill Your Time

The major difference between Northwestern in-school and out-of-school is simply the number of things there are to do. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up spending a day or two more than you would like binging a show on Netflix (not that that’s a bad thing, but there’s only so much Great British Bake Off one person can take!) For me, I found a happy medium by working in and around campus: Northwestern Admissions and Student Affairs Marketing would take up almost an entire work week! That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put something weird on your plate — I was backstage for Commencement and then I ended up house-sitting unexpectedly! It’s those wacky things you wouldn’t do that make summer organic!

Don’t Forget to Get Out of Evanston

Evanston is a city — there’s no other way to spin it. But it’s a relatively small one when you compare it to the large one just a train away: Chicago! It’s easy to think of the distance as a much larger barrier than it is, but Chicago is vibrant and full of a life that you’re not going to find at Northwestern every afternoon. Summer in Chicago is chock-full of fairs, parades, expos, and all the same sights that you couldn’t explore during the school year. Now is your chance to figure out what the Loop is and to recharge your Ventra account a few more times than you’re used to!

You’re Not Alone

The really crazy thing about comparing Northwestern during the school year and during the summer is how empty it can feel sometimes. The most important thing to remember — and something it took me a while to realize — is that there are a ton of students and friends still on campus and they’re all feeling the same way about how empty campus can look sometimes. The most surprising thing for me was how many of my friends hadn’t left; they were just working on internships, labs, or summer research projects! As soon as I took the time to look, I was able to get more coffee and more friendship than I thought I would!

There Are Resources for You

I’ll be quite honest with you, the biggest fear I had going into my independent summer was financial. There are a ton of complexities involved with being independent and there’s no one way to address these issues, but I’ve found that my financial and other kinds of support from Northwestern didn’t end after finals ended. The Purple Pantry helps combat some food insecurity that students face and they’re not closed over the summer. SES has grants involved to provide emergency funding for students who come upon unexpected financial hardship. You hear about these things non-stop during the school year, but they didn’t go away. They helped me and they will help you if you need it.

All in all, my Evanston summer came at a topsy-turvy point in my life. It wasn’t exactly what I expected, but it was exactly what I needed. I can only recommend that any future Wildcat chooses to make one of their summers an Evanston one: it’ll change your perspective for the better.

Note:
This blog post was originally written while I was employed by the Office of Undergraduate Admission at Northwestern University. As such, my voice and tone reflect Northwestern’s desired impact, not my own.

The Hydra of Homesickness

There’s something so thrilling about the independence college brings. You’ll move in and suddenly you’re the adult who dictates when you need to go to bed and when you need to wake up, what to eat for breakfast and when to do your laundry. The first few weeks are an adjustment for many students. Some people will take to the newfound freedom easier than others – and that’s totally normal!

Many students ease the adjustment by staying in contact with their friends and family back home (wherever that home may be). Some students call home daily. Others have to be coerced. Regardless of how many times you call your parents or how often you go home for break, there’s one thing we’ll all wrestle with at one point or another: homesickness.

Homesickness is often used as a buzzword for the reason students are slow to adjust to their new lives, or the reason we stay in bed on the weekends rather than going out. The surprising thing that people rarely tell you about is that this mythical beast takes a different form for everyone. The students who were more independent from their family, in particular, often feel left out from the typical discussions on missing mom’s cooking or dad’s advice – at least, I did.

It’s difficult to apply terms like “homesickness” and “well-adjusted” to the infinite combinations of events that lead students to Northwestern. For me, I didn’t find that I had a massive yearning to go back home over breaks. I often forgot to call my mom and dad in the whirlwind of my on-campus life. I believed I had taken to living independently as best as I had seen anyone do it! It even made my decision to stay in Evanston over the summer and sublet an apartment with friends an easy one.

My homesickness (if that’s what it’s even called!) was in missing the people who were there to pick up the slack. Some days are more difficult than others and the idea that you don’t have to worry about grocery shopping or cooking your own dinner is a comforting one after, for instance, a rain-soaked commencement you helped to run. Suddenly, financial and emotional independence had a cost. I had been so happy leaving my home behind that I forgot how much easier life can be when you have people on your side 24/7.

So what does that mean for everyone’s adjustment to college? Who’s to say! I don’t have the most typical new-student experience – and I’d even be so bold as to say there is no such thing as a “typical” experience! The best I can do is to encourage students to reach out when they feel alone or need help. If calling your parents or guardians doesn’t fix things, then you have your PA or your friend from Chem 101 or your roommate. For me, it took a rejuvenating shower and a marathon of television with my summer roommates. Your college experience will hopefully be exciting and challenging and endlessly rewarding, but don’t forget that you’re not alone throughout it.

Note:
This blog post was originally written while I was employed by the Office of Undergraduate Admission at Northwestern University. As such, my voice and tone reflect Northwestern’s desired impact, not my own.

Student Theatre as a Family

The arts are more engaging than I ever could have imagined at Northwestern. When you first arrive on campus, for instance, you’ll see posters for all of the Wirtz mainstage productions.  You may marvel at how to get involved in these professional, fully-produced plays and musicals (or at least I did!). The worst-kept secret on this campus, however, is that there is no limit to how much theatre you can participate in whether or not you are a theatre major. Some classes may require that you work on a mainstage; others may ask for practical experience for you to draw upon. Where I found the pedal truly hits the metal in student art is in student-led theatre.

One of the many acronyms you’ll learn on this campus is StuCo. Many productions are lumped into this term, which in its simplest definition stands for “Student Theatre Coalition.” It has come to mean so much more than that in my short time here. I first worked on a StuCo show with “Jasper in Deadland,” a behemoth rock-opera retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. As a designer on that process, there were countless hours spent researching the correct methods of working in Northwestern spaces, days spent pouring over the script to find where the right lighting transitions would fit. What was unique to that experience was that, even when I was working by myself in the library, I knew that I was never alone. That was my impression of this mystical artistic scene from day one: there are infinite hands and people who are there to help facilitate your work (as long as you do so in return!).

The true grit of student theatre comes from this support structure. It isn’t simply a matter of “we’re putting on this show, here’s your job, go.” The tried and true method of production is through the theatre boards. I was unfamiliar with the concept before experiencing Northwestern theatre in its entirety, but I can’t imagine my life today without them. There are over a dozen boards groups scattered around campus, and each board exists to produce art – theatrical, dance, or performance – that furthers their mission statement. Whether it’s theatre for young audiences through the Purple Crayon Players, feminist art through Lipstick, sensory-friendly work at Seesaw, or so much more, there is no shortage of opportunities to find shows that resonate with you and your interests.

“Jasper in Deadland” was produced by Lovers & Madmen, a board devoted to staging classic and classically-inspired work on a contemporary level. I was never quite able to shake the elation I felt when arriving in the space that dreaded load-in day (with thousands of pounds of lighting equipment) and seeing the board there ready to step in and take some of the burden. I was left with an intense respect for those students, and when the time came, I was lucky enough to become one of them. As an artist and classics nerd, I found a group of artists and classics nerds to make incredible things with. More importantly, however, I found another home at Northwestern.

Note:
This blog post was originally written while I was employed by the Office of Undergraduate Admission at Northwestern University. As such, my voice and tone reflect Northwestern’s desired impact, not my own.

The Road to Research

There were so many things to consider when I applied to Northwestern. Location, STEM programs, theatre programs, social life, campus beauty… It was an absolute whirlwind. The one field that was a mystery to me, however, was research.

The topic of rigorous inquiry in high school lends itself to a science fair project or the long AP Gov essay. It took my entire fall quarter to realize that the collegiate definition of research was vastly different and far more relevant.

In my first-year theatre class, we were given an incredible presentation from the Office of Undergraduate Research. The representative stressed that research wasn’t boring and wasn’t limited to chemistry, biology, and the like. She brought so many case studies to the table: students whose projects ranged from producing a show to writing a devised work about body image in America. Needless to say, we were all intrigued.

The pivotal moment for me in getting involved in the investigation side of this research institution was actually in my general chemistry lab several weeks later. While waiting for a solution to precipitate, my lab partner and I struck up a conversation with one of the teaching assistants. Aside from a vast knowledge of coordination chemistry, she had neverending praise of the undergraduate students with whom she bumped elbows in one of the many labs that fill the ground floor of Tech. My lab partner and I exchanged glances and we both knew we were hooked.

The search for finding a lab was easier than I could have imagined. I set up an appointment with my Neuroscience advisor who gave me a HUGE list of all the active research projects within the department. On top of the logistics, she stressed that most labs who want undergraduate research assistants are looking for students who “learn as they work” (in other words, underclassmen!).

I found a lab aligned with my interests in the field, sent an email, and suddenly I was speaking with one of the forefront researchers in the department. At first, I was a little concerned my theatre background wasn’t going to cut it in the big leagues. But, as we talked, she pulled out a reference book of various neurons and talked about them like any artist would. Biology was as beautiful to her as a well-staged production; at the end of the meeting, mutual passion spoke volumes.

Whether you have any interest in research or not, I absolutely encourage you to explore all of the opportunities in and outside your major of choice.  It may have all happened so quickly, but I never once doubted whether or not I belonged in the extracurricular studies at Northwestern. The most surprising homes can be found here when you push your boundaries!

Note:
This blog post was originally written while I was employed by the Office of Undergraduate Admission at Northwestern University. As such, my voice and tone reflect Northwestern’s desired impact, not my own.