FOR MANY HIGH SCHOOL SENIORS, graduation will mark the end of their theatre careers. There are others, however, who are facing a different journey: moving beyond the comfort and familiarity of their Thespian troupes to a new theatre family at the college or university level.

Never fear. Dramatics reached out to several recent Thespian alums ― all of whom are majoring in theatre in college ― for their thoughts on the biggest differences between their high school and college programs and for the advice they wish they’d received about making the transition.

Sophia Hillman

Sophia Hillman

SOPHIA HILLMAN

Alum of Troupe 3310 at Olathe North High School in Kansas
Studying at Wichita State University

The biggest difference between high school theatre and college theatre is the overall dedication of the students and faculty. Everyone involved in the theatre community at the collegiate level is interested in pursuing theatre as a career or knows theatre will impact them dramatically later in life. This motivates college students to be more dedicated to theatre rather than high school students who frequently use theatre solely as an extracurricular activity. Although I knew this coming in, I was still surprised at the artistic motivation of my colleagues. Not a day goes by without someone creating something magical, and I couldn’t imagine being in a different field.

If I had to give myself advice through my transition, I would definitely say to trust yourself and live in the moment. It is very easy for most students to rush through their first quarter or semester of college rather than basking in the opportunities they have in this new phase of their life. Trust yourself to make the best decisions for you and surround yourself with people who understand your passions.

Jared Goudsmit

Jared Goudsmit

JARED GOUDSMIT

Alum of Troupe 748 at Kirkwood High School in Missouri
Studying at Tulane University

I don’t think I can draw concrete lines between high school and college theatre; there isn’t anything fundamentally different about putting on a show just because the cast and crew are older. I picked Tulane University ― a college with a warm and welcoming theatre program that expects your effort and commitment without demanding your tears ― because it reminded me of everything I loved about my Thespian troupe. Sure enough, the enthusiasm of my professors and peers, the support for young playwrights, and the goofy and fun-loving vibe of the Tulane department all take me back to good ol’ Kirkwood High (though having a whole building dedicated to performance is certainly new).

The number-one piece of advice I’d give my high school self is to make connections not only within the infamous “campus bubble” but also in the broader community as much as possible. Tulane is located in New Orleans, which is nicknamed “Hollywood South” for all the professional film and television projects that move here for an inexpensive shoot. Though COVID has unsurprisingly thrown a wrench in things, I’ve already had the opportunity to work as an extra ― and get paid! ― on three different sets, and I hope to snag a job as a production assistant in the near future. Wherever you go, there will be artsy folks. Meet them.

Brannon Evans

Brannon Evans

BRANNON EVANS

Alum of Troupe 5483 at Millard West High School in Nebraska
Studying at University of Nebraska-Lincoln

College theatre was a bigger shift than I was honestly prepared for. I didn’t quite grasp until I was in the thick of it how different doing theatre as an extracurricular activity vs. something I was studying was going to be. At first it was challenging finding the same excitement to do theatre, as I am doing it every day almost all day long in classes, then have rehearsals all night. Something that surprised me was how much my love for it grew, though. I was a little insecure and hesitant about studying theatre, but there’s no doubt in my mind this is what I am meant to be doing.

In college, there is a lot more commitment and a stronger work ethic. In high school, I feel like I kind of flew by on talent and luck alone, whereas everyone is on an equal playing field now in terms of talent. Now, it’s about being prepared and working hard. There is more collaboration in college. I wouldn’t say it feels like a competition. Even shows being cast, I feel more genuinely excited and happy for my peers than in high school. We all want to see each other succeed.

My piece of advice is to focus on yourself and your growth. Once you hit college, nothing is linear anymore. Your grade and seniority don’t really matter because everyone’s path and length of time in school is different. You can’t compare your chapter five to someone else’s 35. All you can do is see your own progress and focus on that.

Emily Martin

Emily Martin

EMILY MARTIN

Alum of Troupe 3310 at Olathe North High School, Kansas
Studied at Webster University; transferred to Columbia University

One of the biggest differences I noticed between high school and college theatre is that college theatre is much more student-run. In college theatre, all the designers and even most of the production team is entirely made up of students. As a high school stage manager, I had never made a production calendar from scratch before. I was used to rehearsals being after school every day from 3 to 5:30 p.m. In college, I started coordinating schedules that were much more complicated and scheduling rehearsals and other production-related events without the help of a teacher or instructor. This was daunting at first but became much easier with practice and the help of some online scheduling tools.

I also noticed a difference in how student-run theatre was when I transferred colleges. While I was stage managing in a conservatory program, all the designers and most of the production team was made up of students; however, we still found the help and advice of many theatre professors and mentors when we needed it. At my new university, most of the theatre on campus is done by entirely student-run groups, leaving all the production responsibilities up to students. Both situations involve commitment from all students involved.

As far as advice, I would remind myself that everyone is coming to college theatre from very different levels of experience. Some have been doing theatre since they were 4, and others have only been doing theatre for a year or two. Some have tried every tech position, and others just love to act. Some came from schools with large budgets and have experience working with LEDs and fly systems doing large musicals on many different stages. Others are used to smaller-budget productions with minimal tech in a cafeteria or classroom. Whatever your experience is, be confident in your abilities. You love theatre, and you are coming to college to learn more about it. Be inclusive of everyone around you and all their different experience levels. And be ready to learn from all the new people you are surrounded by.

I attended my freshman year of college as a BFA stage management major in a four-year theatre conservatory program. There, I was immediately involved in productions working with incredibly talented students and active theatre professionals, and I took almost all theatre classes. After a year in the program, I gained a tremendous amount of respect for all the artists around me and learned a lot about theatre and professional stage management. However, I also realized I had several multidisciplinary interests outside of professional theatre, and I wanted to take a broader range of classes while I was in college to explore those interests. I added a double major in political science and took a few other classes outside of theatre and really enjoyed them.

After that, I decided to transfer to a four-year liberal arts university for the fall of my sophomore year. Now, I am a drama and theatre arts major, with an education studies special concentration. I’m taking a lot of classes that are very different from theatre and very different from each other, and I feel like I am learning a lot. I’m also stage managing a virtual show through my college. Theatre at my new school is very different from the kinds of productions I was doing at the conservatory program, but I’m still having a lot of fun making art and using many of the skills I learned last year. Even though we are online and not on campus this semester, I know I made the right decision to transfer.

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