I always try to find the ways of becoming a better artist and a better human from any experience I have – try to stretch beyond shuffling it into a category of good or bad, exciting or boring, etc. in order to really consciously grow with each experience. I’ve recently gotten to spend some time on the Hudson River on the West side of the island just sitting, looking at the water, and taking in a kind of quiet I had forgotten existed amidst the everyday cacophony of horns and police sirens and millions of intersecting dialogues.
In taking time to really reflect on my time in New York City so far, I found myself initially negating certain aspects of this summer because of the lack of performance, the lack of a strong center creation of art, and the sometimes mind-numbing tasks I do at work. This view is perhaps driven by my acknowledgement that this summer is a bit like the antithesis of my experiences last summer. I spent last July and August in London, England on a Drama Studies program through Duke University. This trip included hours of daily classes devoted to reading Shakespeare, discussing productions, and studying contemporary plays as well as nightly viewings of professional British theatre. I guess I came into the summer thinking that it was entirely necessary for me to have this super creatively liberating experience at The Civilians. Having the extreme arts education and immersion of last summer to live up to, it first seemed like I wasn’t getting out of it what I should. But the more I thought about it, I realized that this summer has been incredibly challenging and educational and eye-opening, just in a more interesting, indirect (and probably valuable) way than I had anticipated.
No, I’m not getting to act with The Civilians or see performances of their productions, but instead I’ve been exposed to a new and different side of the process and a refreshing perspective of the definition of theatre. I’ve had the privilege of majorly contributing to all of the work that has to go on in a tiny office in Brooklyn to make the vibrant performances of The Civilians possible. I’m in the midst of several research projects on crazy but important things I never would’ve known anything about otherwise (cough cough how to write grants, the work of smart porn stars, the startling stories of people suffering from chemical poisoning). I’m getting to experience the intense planning, the calculated social media efforts, the tedious programming process, and even the foundational research investigations of writing a new play Civilians-style.
The more I’ve marinated on my thoughts, I’ve realized that this absence of art (in the way I most readily know it) has actually made me a much better artist as I return to my normal life in a few weeks. Although I haven’t gotten to perform at all and I’m not going to see theatre every day or choreographing dance every night, I’ve learned a lot and perhaps MORE not in spite of this, but because of this. I’m now very much aware of the goings-on of a professional and successful theatre company, the intensive journalistic investigations undertaken by The Civilians specifically, and all of the various aspects demanding management (communications, artistic, finances, literary, press, etc).
I’ve gained a massive appreciation for the ample opportunities with which I’m graced at school. Of course it was wonderful to have my time consumed almost exclusively with acting and reading plays and watching plays and talking about plays in London last year, and that really fulfilled me creatively and intellectually. But this summer, I’ve actually been able to realize how unique that time really was. I came back from London entirely invigorated and refreshed to the idea of art and theatre in the real world, but I was also probably a little misled by the ubiquity of it. It was such an integral part of my every day, and it certainly seemed readily accessible in every aspect. Being here and being somewhat removed from my usual privileged side of art has actually really alerted me to my lack of gratefulness for its wild accessibility at Vanderbilt. Creating art; living next door to people who love theatre and want to act with me; getting to work with amazing directors, designers, and actors in a beautiful space five minutes from my room; having the chance to run a dance company, teach my choreography to my friends, and dance in a beautiful performance hall for my friends and family; going to a dance studio at any hour to just dance. That seems normal to me, but that doesn’t happen in real life. The creation of art is special beyond my prior comprehension. It takes an incredible amount of work, background research, devotion, intelligence, and luck to produce. I now know that taking my privilege to create art at school for granted is out of the question.
The Civilians’ process of placing importance on the uniqueness and beauty of sharing stories of the underseen and underheard has also really resonated with me. It has made me more sensitive to the people around me, the conversations I hear, and unexplored perspectives in general. I have had lots of opportunities to myself this summer to simply observe, to listen, to watch, to explore, and to not be bogged down by a cluttered schedule. The Vanderbilt way of life can often rob me of mindfulness, a strong grip on the present, and a grounding in reality – this time living by myself and encountering a version of “the real world” has really given me time to re-center and exist in a way that I think has been very beneficial to my state of mind and creativity going forward. I feel much more aware, grateful, perceptive of the world around me and the way I feel about it, and ultimately appreciative of the chance to make art.
All of this to say: this summer has made me a better human, a better artist, and a better Curb Scholar.