For one glorious week, I went back to college.
(There we are, en route via the rectum of Texas.)
Thanks to the generosity of my professors and a little scheming, I got to join OU School of Drama’s caravan to San Angelo (Texas’s most beautiful parking lot) for the Region 6 American College Theatre Festival. For any readers who didn’t major in imagination, this is where all of the college pros of playing pretend congregate to take workshops and compete. OU historically brings the heat. When I was a freshman, I went to ACTF to act in Nine Parts of Desire (the monologue show about women in Iraq that basically shaped who I would become in college). Going back as an alum to spend one final week with my college theatre community made for one hell of a bookend.
Before I got on the plane out of Chicago, I felt as if I’d become a true city resident. The time it took to acquire an apartment, a day job, a theatre gig, and a favorite Thai place felt much longer than two months. But back in Norman, when people asked me about the Chicago “industry,” I laughed the laugh of a woman beholding the void. Because I still know so little. I haven’t been on a single audition. I have yet to apply for any sort of internship. I’m seriously considering making flashcards to teach myself about theatre companies. I haven’t even seen a show at The Second City.
I had little to say about Chi-town life thus far (“Yes it’s freezing. Yes Steppenwolf is rad. No I don’t have an agent–but I’ve got a futon!”) but I did frequently get pseudo-sage with the undergrads. Whenever someone seemed excited about graduation, I felt inclined to assert how WEIRD life feels without school. And how lonely. I’m lucky to have a roommate I’ve known for four years, and to live a few bus stops away from many of my favorite people from OU. But our makeshift community is a lot different from the intricate ecosystem of college theatre. There’s no substitute for the green room where I can pop in at any moment and demand that someone accompany me to Chipotle, or Room 317 where I can watch people slam doors with dramatic gusto until 3am, or The Library, that most sacred of drinking establishments where we held our revels and post-rehearsal bitch sessions over $2 wells any (every) night of the week.
Where I once ambled down an alley to my friend’s house, I now undertake the mini-Odyssey of flagging down the 76, trekking through thigh-deep snow at the Clark stop, and ending all fun twenty minutes prior to the last return bus so I don’t have to pay for a goddamn cab. Back under a welcome dogpile of my favorite college actors (I mean this literally, these babes tackled me to the ground), I wanted to tell everyone to make 239 shows while they could still rent a classroom and pack it with their friends. In college, I could throw together a script, two buddies, some rocks, and caffeine pills to create a production in 2 weeks. In Chicago, I don’t know when I’ll find time to audition, much less act in or direct a show of my own choosing.
So, I got a little Our Town when I talked to my friends and watched their performances. Observe everything! Love everyone! Smell all the bacon! The Irene Ryan acting competition finals left me weeping in an auditorium out of wonder and pride and also exhaustion because I’d been sipping Miller High Life in hotel rooms until 4am instead of sleeping. I never wanted to leave that cocoon of support and enthusiasm, but at least it recharged me before I had to return to this tundra of postgrad uncertainty.