It’s difficult to even think about Thanksgiving anymore. Practically as soon as the spooky spiders and glowing orange pumpkins of Halloween are gone, stores start decorating with sparkling tinsel, white lights, and cavorting reindeer.
Thanksgiving just isn’t a holiday with much pizzazz; it has more than, say, Arbor Day, but suffers from being sandwiched between the childlike excitement of candy and costumes for Halloween and the tree-trimming, present-buying extravagance of Christmas. It involves appreciating the person you already are, being grateful for the everyday gifts you’ve already been given. That’s not very commercial at all, nor is it terribly exciting, really.
But this year, I appreciate Thanksgiving. I feel like I have a lot to be thankful for. There’s my boyfriend, who is brilliant and funny and sweet. There’s my circle of friends, who are all wonderful and talented and interesting people. There are my two families, which are supportive and amusing and loving, even though I don’t get to see them very often.
This year, as always, I’m supremely grateful to have all of these people in my life. But most of all, I’m grateful for where I find myself, the choices I’ve made with their encouragement, the direction I’ve chosen. After a year of sadness and stumbling, I’ve decided upon a path that has enabled me to go forward with hope and confidence.
Last year at this time, I had neither. I had just graduated from a college that I adored six months before, moving away from my beautiful college town and embarking upon a long-distance relationship with my boyfriend while working at a deadly-dull administrative job and living in a city that had just been terrorized by seemingly random sniper attacks.
I didn’t know what the hell to do with myself, and I was absolutely terrified by the future that lay before me like one big scary question mark. I was lonely and bored. In other words, I was enveloped in the existential angst typical of a recent liberal-arts graduate in the Bush economy.
But now, 12 months later, I’ve found some perspective, and along with it, something I truly love to do. I’m a student again. To be specific, I’m enrolled part-time in a master’s program in theatre history and criticism at Catholic University. I’m studying theatre, and through the lens of theatre, gender studies and feminist theory and historiography and all sorts of interesting interdisciplinary things. And I cannot even explain how much I love it.
It fits. I have my occasional moment of doubt, sure, usually at three a.m. when I’m frantically writing a paper at the last minute and I know I have to be at work in six hours. But I know, by how I regale my roommates with the subject matter of my assignments and lectures, by how ridiculously fascinated I am by my reading material, that this is what I’m meant to do. I just love it.
I get asked on a fairly regular basis, why theatre? Are you going to be on Broadway? And I shake my head and laugh, because I’m a complete klutz and even the cat has been known to look at me strangely and then run into the closet when I sing along with my Rent soundtrack.. No, I explain patiently, I don’t think so.
Theatre has meant magic to me for over 10 years, almost half of my life. (And does the first half really count, anyway?) My first foray into the world of drama was in eighth grade, when some friends convinced me to try out for the spring musical, Oklahoma!, despite my complete lack of vocal talent. I continued to act throughout high school and, within my first month at college, found myself involved in drama department productions.
My interest in theatre was piqued my sophomore year when I took a Women Playwrights class, which showed the alarming degree to which women playwrights have been excluded from the literary canon. I was startled to discover this; it had never occurred to me that most of the names that immediately came to mind when I thought “playwright” — William Shakespeare, Neil Simon, Henrik Ibsen — were in fact male. I found myself intrigued by the women playwrights we studied, like Paula Vogel and Sophie Treadwell, because I could identify with their female protagonists and I connected more with the themes in their work.
During my senior year of college, I took a dramaturgy class and realized how perfectly that field synthesizes my passions for theatre and English with my interests in history and research and writing. As much as I loved rehearsals, and as wonderful as all of my previous theatrical experience had been, up until that point I didn’t feel that I had found my niche in the theatre world. Dramaturgy fit, and my subsequent experiences with it provided me with the sense that I could contribute best as a dramaturg.
And now, after having a year off, the first year in 10 in which I hadn’t been involved in any productions or drama classes, in which I was nothing more than an occasional theatergoer, I’ve realized that theatre is definitely the field I want to pursue. I’ve missed it. I’ve missed it more than walking along the river in our college town, more than late-night talks about boys with my girlfriends in the dorm, more than the famed chicken tenders in the dining hall.
I missed the creative collaboration, the way the dozen elements and crazy personalities of individual artists come together and form a coherent play-world for the audience. And I think I can be a part of that world.
I think that ultimately I would like to get my Ph.D. and become a professor, specifically a professor of theatre history and dramatic literature. I was truly blessed to have such inspiring, intelligent, and accessible undergraduate professors. Had they not so readily shared their opinions about the responsibility of theatre and their passions about it and been so open and encouraging, I don’t know that I would have chosen this path.
When I daydream about where I am 10 years from now, I can see myself as a professor teaching dramaturgy and women playwrights and other classes that fascinated and inspired me as an undergraduate. I hope to encourage students to broaden and pursue their interests in theatre, just as I was encouraged. And perhaps most of all, I want to help them follow their passions, maybe not to Broadway, but toward their own niche.
Because when it comes down to it, what’s more important than finding something that genuinely fascinates you and gives you a sense of purpose? It’s a gift to be truly thankful for.