Student blog: localized collaborative game

A blizzard is forming outside. I can smell it in the air. Comforting, but uncomfortable. Uncomfortable comfort, if there ever was such a thing. They call it a nor’easter here, but we don’t name our storms where I’m from. I haven’t been in a blizzard since I was seven. I barely remember it, but I remember how a two-week winter break turned into a month and it was cool for a seven-year-old. But when a month-long winter break has become a year-and-a-half stay at home, not a decade later… It’s not so cool to be cooped up in one place anymore. A decade and an entire country away from this blizzard, the cool breezes turn to gusty and icy and dreadful forces as the wind howls, its screams pounding against the three-inch pane of my dorm window. The coloring of bird poo, the classification of it freezes solidly. If I ever thought it would be worn down by time and time, it’s definitely not going anywhere now. Bird poop is here to stay. Comforting worry.

Every time I look out the window, thinking the brilliant whiteness shining outside might be the comforting presence of the sun, all I see is a blanket of smoke. No smoking; the smoke is too musky and grey. It’s powder. It’s the Pillsbury Dough Boy, rolled out with easy, terse strokes to stick against my window. My phone’s camera can see the streets below and people coming out in the storm. I envy them but no. I envy their willingness to look like fools. I wish I could fail like that sometimes. But only sometimes. I don’t envy them because walking in this weather must suck.

This led me to the conclusion that I fear I did my first semester of my BFA poorly. Of course, there is no right or wrong, especially in our beautiful profession, but if there was, I feel that I did “wrong” in the way I approached the semester of autumn. Concretely, concerning a class: a collaborative support room called “Locals”. In Boston University’s (BU) BFA Theater Performance program, we have two tracks to choose from in our second year (a decision I don’t have to make until the end of this semester, one of which you will hear about then): Arts of the theater or theater. However, for our first year, the entire cohort of 37 students is split into two to three random groups for the year to create the Performance Core. We take our prescribed performance, voice and movement lessons in our small groups, but once a week the 37 of us meet for three hours for our theater lab known as Locals.

In this course, we come together to present artwork, stories, feelings, and off-course experiences for each other. Locals were presented to us as an opportunity to fail with each other as a safe collective group. You can bring in completely polished work, first passes, heavily rehearsed pieces, and even new works. We had people showing up to locals as a fully formed improv troupe (643, as the three 6’4″ white guys call themselves), singing “Agony” from In the woods like Chads, showcasing diary entries as a complete piece of performance art, bringing in new work, and even showcasing pieces for audition prep.

The whole point of the BU BFA program creating and learning process, as well as the whole point of this art form, is collaboration and the art of play. This is key to everything we do at BU, especially in locals. But I walked away from this collaborative game. In an effort to somehow find myself in the four years of college ahead of me, I focused almost exclusively on myself last semester. I forgot to welcome the others. Preoccupied with worries about how I interacted with my peers, I ended up not interacting anymore. I often used the time to play during Locals but failed to play with others. For example, I decided on a whim each week to do a song that made me happy, whether I wrote it or someone else did. Then there was the week I realized I was in acting school and had never acted without a song in Locals.

So I performed two of the monologues I planned to use for auditions outside of BU – again on a whim. Another week, I asked two friends three days before Locals to read a scene from a play I wrote last year. And then finally, as the semester was coming to an end, I contacted three other people and asked them if they would collaborate on a performance of “No One is Alone” by In the woods with me in memory of Stephen Sondheim. We repeated this between flu episodes, finals week and with the increase in COVID cases within the school. Then came the day of locals and I retired from representation. In all honesty I told them it was because of COVID nerves and I wanted to be socially distant and not attend the crowded class of 37 students in one room – which certainly played a part – but this was certainly not the only reason. I was afraid to present something that I wasn’t exactly proud of. It wasn’t the fault of my bandmates, of that I want to make sure completely. They are great people and artists. I did not feel well in this room. It felt like I wasn’t supposed to play it with them, even though I was the one who set it up and formulated it.

It is the greatest collaboration I have obtained during this whole semester of locals. And then I didn’t even play in either of them opportunities for collaboration. Of course, I’m not just a performer; I am also a director and choreographer, writer and musical director. Therefore, I had my mark of collaboration on these two pieces. Corn! I did not introduce them. I was afraid of what my face next to the collaboration would reflect in the eyes of my cohort. Which is stupid to think, in retrospect, but we’re all a bit stupid. These people are so safe, kind and loving and they genuinely care about each other and the collective art we create. Sometimes I walk away from that experience.

Again, there’s no way to do college and a semester or even a class “wrong.” However, I can say that I wish I had better taken advantage of the wonderful opportunity that locals have in Boston University’s Freshman Performance Core. I’m proud of myself for at least stepping up every week and performing things that I wrote that excited me at that time. I’m just trying to remember that pride, while acknowledging the things I missed and how I could improve this semester.

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