Some messages are as relevant today as they were nearly 80 years ago. This story appeared in a 1942 issue of The High School Thespian as part of a series of articles on the subject “What Dramatics Can Do for Me.”

LIFE WOULD BE a rather unhappy proposition without friends. Most things change, slowly or swiftly, but a firm friendship can last a lifetime. The friends you make in your childhood and youth are likely to be the most permanent. You’ll never find closer companionship than with those who share the happy and exciting days of high school and college. Believe me, old friends are best. And there is no better place to form these enduring relationships than in amateur dramatics.

My high school days are now in the somewhat distant past, but my recollections of the pleasant hours in dramatics are as clear as the events of yesterday. I have forgotten much that I learned in the formal classroom, but not the plays or my fellow players. Now, though I live far from the home of my high school days and though the members of that joyful company are separated by continents and oceans, on those rare occasions on which we meet again, decades become as days for us, and we seem never to have been apart. Few of these old friends have become professionals, but they are still good Thespians, as amateur performers or audience. This interest in the theatre and our memories of shared experience enable us to resume our relationship undisturbed by years and miles. It will be so with you, too.

Friendship consists of more than just being a good mixer. You often hear it said that training in public speaking and dramatics enables you to “get along with people.” That’s both true and commendable. But self-interest as a principal motive for making friends is cheap and obvious. Honest friendship cannot be bought ready-made. It is planted; it grows and ripens, like a crop under the care of a watchful farmer. And one of the most fruitful fields for the harvest of friendship is your work in dramatics.

Friendships made through dramatics are built on mutual interests and experiences. Photo of Thespian Troupe 238 from Deland (Fla.) High School in March 1942.
Friendships made through dramatics are built on mutual interests and experiences. Photo of Thespian Troupe 238 from Deland (Fla.) High School in March 1942.

Don’t go into dramatics deliberately for its contacts and publicity value. Notoriety does not lead to friendship, as many a professional entertainer could witness. Self-promoted publicity can be a boomerang unless you have the qualities which can stand public examination. If, through dramatics, you try to compile a long list of prospective clients for insurance policies or real estate, if you seek to know people so that you can use them, you’ll wake up some cold January morning to realize that you have many acquaintances but no friends. The old saw is true: You can’t have good friends without being one. Your object must be to make yourself the kind of person who is capable of friendship.

It would be easy for any of you to enumerate many ways in which dramatics can help you to attract friends. The young actor or actress learns to have pleasing speech and dress. Dramatics can teach the development and projection of personality, can cultivate the ability to express ideas clearly. These things, no doubt, can make you attractive and likable, but they are pretty much on the surface. We have yet to discover the permanent sources of friendship.

What is friendship, then? Of what does it consist? Like so many abstract terms, it can be described better than defined. Here are some of the conditions necessary for real friendship — mutual interests, shared experiences, understanding, tolerance, unselfishness. Now, let’s see if our participation in dramatics can help us to fulfill these conditions.

Mutual interests are essential to friendship. Mere proximity, the accidents of geography, cannot constitute a basis for making friends. The parties to a friendship must have some things in common. You are deeply interested in dramatics; you must be, or you would not be reading this magazine. Your fellow Thespians have that same interest. You all like to work in the theatre, you have had much of the same training, you have read many of the same books, you enjoy going to plays. The fact that you like and talk about the same things gives you a starting point for friendship. Have you ever tried to start a conversation with a new acquaintance? How dull it is until you find some point at which your interests touch! Enthusiastic Thespians need never limit themselves to brilliant or original remarks about the weather.

I know one young actress who confines her friendships to other members of the theatrical profession because, you see, “they speak the same language.” This narrow point of view grows into an occupational disease. I pray you, avoid it. We can and should have interests and friends outside the theatre. Indeed, you cannot be a complete interpreter of life on the stage unless you are a part of the real life going on about you. But it is still true that our mutual enjoyment of theatre is a strong and vital contact.

A common interest in theatre can erase boundaries of race, creed, or color. I once acted with an amateur company that cooperated with a group of Japanese players. We did Japanese plays translated into English; the Japanese did American plays translated into Japanese. These productions were presented on the same programs at the Japanese playhouse. We worked together, planned together, studied together. Our differences soon became less important than our similarities. … We were simply people who liked the same things. We were fellow practitioners in the art of theatre, where there is living room for all. And we were friends.

Theatre friends work together for a common aim, winning or losing together.
Theatre friends work together for a common aim, winning or losing together. Photo from the 2018 International Thespian Festival by Susan Doremus.

Mutual interest can do much to start a friendship; shared experiences can often make or break it. If you and your fellow players can go through the tribulations and triumphs of production together, and retain your respect and liking for each other, there will be a bond of experience not readily broken. Any group activity, such as social functions and club work, can encourage conditions favorable to friendship. But certain others, like hiking and camping trips, competitive sports, and play productions, can do an even better job. Here you see one another on trial, under physical and emotional stress. You work together for a common aim, you win or lose together. When your experience is over, you’ll always be closer than before to the people who have shared it with you. The anxious hours of tryouts, the eager waiting for cast announcements, the work and play of rehearsals, the prideful labor of crew duties, the excitement and satisfaction of performance — these experiences sink pretty deep into the mind and heart. They do things to you, hit you hard, stay with you. The person who has shared them with you is likely to become and remain your friend.

You Thespians have mutual interests and experiences, but that does not mean that you are all cut to the same pattern. You will vary greatly in personality and disposition. But I honestly believe that your participation in dramatics can help you to develop understanding and tolerance, so needful for lasting friendship. In crew work and acting, you work together so intimately that you soon know one another extremely well. Of course, faults can be discerned as well as virtues, but the latter are likely to be predominate. I remember keenly my early dislike for one of my classmates. But in rehearsal, his truly fine qualities were revealed to me. We tacitly agreed to forget differences of temperament and have been the closest of friends ever since. When we really understand our fellows, we have a good start toward the making of friendships. Our study and portrayal of stage characters, too, show us that there are many fine people in the world who are yet unlike ourselves. Understanding, sympathy, tolerance — these make up a large part of the sum of friendship.

Unselfishness is the ultimate quality of friendship without which the others are of little value. True friendship lies in the art of giving rather than taking. The outsider is likely to think that the actor is a self-centered egoist. I have no doubt that some actors are; upstaging and scene-stealing are old stage tricks. But even in the professional theatre, with its tough struggle for survival and advancement, sentiment and warm, unselfish friendship flourish. In the amateur theatre, there is little excuse for unselfishness. Our productions are, or should be, exercises in cooperation. We work for each other and the play. Unselfishness, we all find sooner or later, is the spirit and essence of the school theatre. And when we have learned to be unselfish, the secret of friendship is ours.

This story appeared in the November 1942 print issue of The High School Thespian.  Subscribe today to our print magazine.

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