All The World’s A Stage
Gwen is a senior at an acclaimed high school for the performing arts. From an early age, she knew she wanted to be on stage. Before entering her current program, she attended a private religiously based high school, and was miserable. When she applied and was accepted to a school focused on performance, she felt she had found her calling. She has done well during her time in high school and thoroughly enjoyed herself along the way.
Now in her senior year, she faces a difficult decision. Like many of her fellow students, she is in the midst of the college selection process. Gwen is lucky enough to have several choices:
I applied to a bunch of conservatories and I got into about half of them. Really good schools. I got into California Institute of the Arts and Ithaca for acting. And Boston University. I got into Syracuse, which is where I’m going. Syracuse, the School of Visual and Performing Arts. I got into the acting program there. I’m also waitlisted at one of the top conservatories, which is Carnegie Mellon, and I haven’t heard from them yet. We’ll hear, I guess, in the beginning of June. I got waitlisted there, which is driving me crazy. It’s like, “Accept me or don’t. Just tell me!”
So it’s either Carnegie or Syracuse, but I’m at the point right now where I don’t know what I should be [doing] because I’m eighteen and I’m old enough to work. And I’m slowly getting connections, and if I’m not [in NYC] then there’s no point having these connections. Because if you’re not able to work, not around to go around on these auditions, there’s no point in getting agents or managers.
In Gwen’s program, agents are a regular presence. She is well aware that if she wants to, she could probably find work right out of high school, and start her acting career. Many students have done so in the past, and she herself has found some work this way. Although the school does offer some guidance, there are difficult questions to consider: even if Gwen did find work, would it involve the kinds of roles that would allow her to continue to 36 learn and grow? Would the experiences be positive?
As Gwen explains:
It’s very hard to decide what to do from here. It’s been a question for a while: ‘Okay, I’m out of high school. What do I do now?’ And [my school] helps out a lot. If you want to become an actor and you’re good, they will connect you. But maintaining those connections is very hard because if I’m not around, there’s nothing I can do. I’ve got two managers that [are] interested [in] working with me… who I’m just going back and forth talking over [on] the phone with right now… I’m going away next year. I honestly don’t know what the best thing is for me right now… whether it’s going and studying or taking a year off trying this acting thing and then studying or switching into a school where I could study liberal arts in the city while auditioning, which I think is probably the better choice right now. I don’t know.
Located in New York City, Gwen’s high school is ideally situated for someone trying to start a career on stage.
Gwen is almost painfully aware of this fact, and it makes the decision to leave the city even more difficult. Although she has been accepted to some very prestigious acting programs, she finds it hard to reconcile herself to moving away, and wonders about the wisdom of such a move.
Also at the center of her decision is Gwen’s awareness that she still has a great deal to learn. During her years in high school, she has been taught that acting involves drawing upon one’s life experiences. She questions her knowledge and wants to learn more, but is uncertain where she will gather the best experiences.
I don’t know because I honestly don’t want to end my education. I think that I want to study more acting. I want to study more-the more you study, makes you a better actor, because what is acting? It’s not acting, actually. Acting is reacting, but what that really is, [is] just bringing life onstage. If you don’t know about life, then how are you going to become an actor? That’s all it is: acting naturally in a circumstance. It’s putting life onstage. The more you know, the better actor you become. So I think that I definitely do want to continue studying, and there are a lot of things that I want to study. I love writing… I want to take some literature courses, sociology courses, acting courses. I don’t know what’s best for me. Is [it] going and studying and then acting? Or acting now and then studying or-it’s hard. It’s hard.
Adding to Gwen’s difficult choice are financial considerations. If she decides to go to college, whatever program she chooses will involve a great deal of expense. Her parents are not wealthy enough to foot the entire bill, and she has not been offered full scholarships anywhere.
Should she stay in school and continue to learn the art of theater? Or should she start acting professionally, learn from real-life experiences, and draw on the many connections she currently has?