At the start of my sophomore year at Eastern Michigan University, I was given the assignment in one of my classes to watch a TED talk by the wonderful Sir Ken Robinson. It was called “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” and in it, Robinson brilliantly examined our education system’s methods, showing how more often than not, schools are more interested in grades and test scores than they are in children and young adults’ education. I watched that TED talk with my parents, and when Robinson spoke about how college students are consistently picking fields of study that will get them jobs rather than ones they enjoy, his words struck true for me. That led to a conversation with my parents that changed the entire course of my college education. I kept the same major I’d chosen earlier, German Language and Literature, but I changed my minor to something that had long been a passion of mine: musical theatre.
In middle school and high school, I’d become extremely interested in musicals, and had fallen in love with shows like Fiddler on the Roof, Hair, Oklahoma!, The Bridges of Madison County and more. I started developing a more classical vocal style, due in part to my dad and uncle’s influence, and in part because of my studies with Cheryl van Duzen, the Rudolf Steiner School’s excellent choir director, but due in part also to my listening to Broadway stars like Kelli O’Hara, Audra McDonald and Gavin Creel. By my sophomore year of college, Broadway was one of the things I talked about the most, and so it was a natural progression to decide that I wanted to take some musical theatre classes at Eastern. A couple of days after that conversation with my parents, I walked into the office of Phil Simmons, a dance and musical theatre professor at EMU, and asked him what I needed to do in order to become a musical theatre minor. From that first advising meeting with him, I have experienced nothing but warmth, encouragement and generosity from both the faculty and the students in the theatre department.
Some of my best friends from the theatre department. So lucky to have met all of them!
One of the things that makes the department so wonderful is its inclusivity: no one has to audition to be a musical theatre minor. As a result, my classmates have ranged from highly talented and experienced theatre performers who might easily be destined for Broadway, as well as people who love musical theatre, but have no ambition to make that their career. Given that range, I find that the professors I’ve had the honor to learn from are especially amazing, because not only are they accomplished performers and teachers of their craft, but they also know exactly how to get the best a student can produce, without holding everyone to a universal standard. Here’s just one example out of many possibilities: in one of my classes, a girl burst into tears the first time she had to sing in front of the class because she was so scared. Our professor walked over, put his arm around her, and just stood there with her until she finished the song. By the end of the semester, she was belting out a comedic song for our final showcase, with no trace of fear.
The friends I have made here in the two years I’ve been part of the department are some of the closest I’ve ever made, and the knowledge I’ve gained from the professors is vast; I come home almost every day with a story for my parents about the profundity of something I learned that day.
This feeling of acceptance was only solidified and emphasized recently when I was asked to be part of the “skiffle band” for EMU’s spring production of One Man, Two Guvnors, which had its run just a few weeks ago. One Man, Two Guvnors is a farce set in 1960’s Brighton England, and while not a traditional musical, our band played nearly twenty songs and was on stage throughout the entire play. (My dad and I liked one of the songs so much that we’re adding it to the San, Emily and Jacob repertoire!) The EMU production was just as cleanly run as professional productions I’ve been a part of, and the final product was something of which I am extremely proud. But what made it particularly wonderful for me was that I could share the experience with some of my closest friends, who were in the cast and crew, and make some new friends as well. I feel that my college experience could not be better, and that this feeling of contentment is due almost entirely to the inclusivity and love I’ve felt from people in the theatre department. The fact that these talented individuals are teaching and attending classes at this school says volumes about EMU’s priorities when it comes to the education of its students. Here’s to one more year of music, theatre, and most importantly, creativity.
The band for 'One Man, Two Guvnors'. I had such a blast playing with these fabulous musicians, and it was a joy to be part of this production!