Theatre students juggle the demands of filled schedules

Have you ever wanted to take the stage and perform in front of an excited audience or star in a tv show? Seton Hill University (SHU) theatre majors are doing what they have to do to achieve that dream, but they’ll be the first to say it’s about much more than hopes of fame and fortune; it’s a lot of hard work and balancing.

“I honestly commend anyone that can handle a theatre major. They do more work than just about anyone else, and they still manage to maintain classes OTHER than the theatre ones that happen up on the hill. It’s easy for other people to forget that there’s an entire new and different academic world just down the hill, and some people have to maintain a presence in both places,” said Stephen Ray, senior English major who entered SHU as a theatre major and recently got involved in productions.

Kelsey Riker, a sophomore music theatre major and Alyssa Sheaffer, a junior theatre major, both said that the balancing act that Ray talks about is one of the biggest challenges of the major.

“At first it’s just like ‘Oh ok, acting class. Memorize a monologue for next week and do all your other homework and then suddenly, junior year, have audition materials, take an independent study to get private coaching, do Acting IV, you’re also in a production, don’t forget about getting into the real world, oh and you have other classes that you need to graduate,” said Sheaffer.

“I think one of the most underestimated aspect of my specific major is that musical theatre students have to try to equally balance classes in music, dance and acting as well as general theatre classes and liberal arts courses.  It’s a lot to juggle,” said Riker.

“Then if you are cast, your life is basically taken over by that production and its many rehearsals, fittings, shop work and outside research.”

Being involved in productions adds about 22-30 hrs a week to the workload according to Ray and Riker. It is an involved process that includes, for actors and actresses, that includes readings, research, stage blocking, tech and cue rehearsals. Additionally theatre students are encouraged to understand the technical aspects of theatre from costume design and makeup to set building and lighting, according to Sheaffer.

“The main stage production is time consuming, entertaining, exhilarating, relentless and stressful,” said Ray, who is currently preparing for his first main stage role in “The Comedy of Errors.” “It’s forced me to stay on top of my work in a way I’ve never had to before. Time management is essential, or I’d just drown in it all.”

Sheaffer and Riker said the liberal arts requirements of SHU also presents a realm of experience and challenges for theatre majors.

“I think it it’s a huge benefit because as actors you have to be able to access different aspects of life,” said Sheaffer.

“If anything, the liberal arts requirements seem to get in the way of my major.  I certainly understand the importance of the well-rounded education, but there are many times I would just like to dive solely into my work and focus on nothing else,” said Riker.

Because of the strenuous hours, the Performing Arts Center (PAC) becomes a sort of a home to theatre students according to Riker.

“You’re always surrounded by art, and it’s really quite inspiring,” she said.

Being a theatre student comes with certain misperceptions, all three seemed to agree. Sheaffer said those outside of the program often think that theatre majors “aren’t serious.”

“You sometimes feel as though you’re seen as someone who is here just to sort of goof off or play around. You don’t take the more ‘serious’ professions to heart or that you don’t really respect them,” Sheaffer said.

“The biggest stereotype one could put on theatre majors is that we’re all loud and crazy, and we listen to showtunes constantly.  I can’t say that’s far from the truth, but we’re actually a very eclectic group of people.  We have brilliant athletes, wonderful writers, and very intelligent, scholarly people in our department,” said Riker.

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