“What I Wish I Knew My Freshman Year: An Open Letter from a Recent Theatre Arts College Graduate”

Written by Alexandra Muscaro

July 28th, 2019

The day I thought would never come finally came last month, the day I graduated from Marymount Manhattan College. There are so many things I wish I would have been told my freshman year, which I am going to tell you right now before you enter into your freshman year.  Four years of incredible growth, hard work, tears, shared laughter, countless nights with little to no sleep, auditions gone crazy and meeting some of the most inspiring friends and professors. All have shaped me into the artist I am today. Are you ready to embark on the wildest four years of your life? Brace yourself, hold on tight, and enjoy the ride.

Dear Theatre Arts Freshman,

Believe it or not, your life is going to change forever, starting from the very moment you unload your car worth of possessions into your dorm room. Today is the day you’re going to meet a ton of new and exciting people. You will meet a multitude of people; from girls who will sing every sentence that would generally be spoken, boys who would rather be caught dead than seen without their guitar, and about a million Haley’s who all spell their names differently. The people who you will spend the next four years of your life with, laughing and crying through every stressful performance class, audition, and math test you never thought you would have to take again. You’ll probably even meet some people that will get you through that first week of classes and then will never talk to again- and that’s okay! You will experience many friendship breakups throughout these four years. I promise this is a natural part of the college experience; after all, we are drama professionals. I am still very close to some of the people I met on day one, but it wasn’t until my sophomore year that I found my forever friends. Inevitably, you will find your tribe, the friends who will always be happy for your successes and support you throughout your failures. It might take a while, but you will find those special theater pals, and they will bless your life in more ways than one.

Now, if you don’t already have a caffeine addiction, get ready to discover a new dependency on green tea and black coffee! Your life is going to consist of countless late-night rehearsals and early morning classes. This new schedule will take some getting used to, so be sure to stock up on Emergen-C and probiotics because you will get sick. I don’t know what happened to me, but I was coughing up a lung almost my entire second semester of freshman year. My body was utterly unaccustomed to this new college lifestyle. With that, learn to listen to your body! In this industry, your body is your instrument. You cannot survive in this field if you are not taking care of yourself. Be prepared to push yourself to new extremes but know that it is okay to take a rest day.

Just like you should listen to your body, you must listen to your professors! These incredibly talented humans have devoted their entire lives to cultivating the next generation of artists (that’s you!), and they deserve your respect. There will be professors you may wish to be stuck on the Q train for the next nine months, and then there will be professors you will text at 3:00 am when you have contemplated the meaning of life. I assure you, you will learn just as much from the professors you do not like as you will from those you love. Your education is all about your intentions and willingness to adapt.  Do NOT be that negative person that sucks away the energy in the room because you are unhappy with your professor or the subject of the class. Just because you might not be enjoying a class does not mean everyone is equally miserable. Be the person who actively works to create a safe and welcoming environment.  “You get out what you put in,” is a philosophy I hold dear to my heart. Maintaining this mindset of working hard despite interpersonal relations will lead to every professor teaching you a valuable lesson.  Every class, despite the feeling of unimportance, will be completed with at least one experience that will forever affect how you approach your craft.

Now, speaking of your craft, let me shout from the rooftops that missing out on being cast in a college production will not end your career! In college, getting cast seems like the most critical thing in the entire world, and that’s because a lot of your classmates will be it to be true. And that’s okay. Getting cast in a college production is an incredible way to gain experience and to become a better performer overall, but getting cast is not the only way to grow as a performer during your college career. You must think of getting cast and not getting cast as a win-win situation. You get cast: amazing! You’re going to learn so much, and now you have another credit to add to your resume. You don’t get cast: great! That means you have time to apply for that internship and start making some industry connections. Due to my being cast in only a handful of college productions, I was given a chance to evolve in my craft in unimaginable ways; my attendance to the Grammy Awards, become a member of the Recording Academy, and the time I made to build my professional dramaturgical credits. All these experience have allowed me to grow in ways equally as crucial as a production itself. It is all about having a positive perspective and mentality of gratitude throughout everything!

Cliché as it may be, the most significant piece of advice I can offer to you is to be yourself. Please, please, please, please believe me when I say that you are enough. Period. In this field it is very easy to feel as if you aren’t enough; whether that being attractive, the ability you sing high enough, memorizing that monologue quick enough, or you can’t hop on one leg while also painting a still life of a bowl of fruit. But you are the only you in the entire world, and that is GOLD. It took me longer to realize that than it should have; I was only hurting myself by not being truthful to myself in my work. Letting my insecurities prevent me from being completely authentic. The realization of how significant a role those insecurities were playing in my subconscious until my senior year. An incredible professor of mine once said, “I want to watch you, not you trying to be somebody else. You’re an interesting one.” With that being said, we are all also trained liars whose job is to pretend to be somebody else. This is why a part of you must be in every song and every character you perform; You are the reason people are paying to see this production again.

Your time here will be challenging; I won’t lie to you about that. There will be plenty of days where you just lay in your bed wondering why you’re putting yourself through this. But if you didn’t want the challenge, you wouldn’t be here. There is a particular reason why you are embarking on this journey, and that reason is unique and individual to you. Whenever things get tough, get a piece of paper or a notebook and write down the reason why you want to go into theatre. Write out why you could never be thrilled without this life, and when you go through your hard days (like every single one of us goes through), you can then look at your own words and remember why.

Alexandra Muscaro has been a member of the Performer Stuff team since 2017. Alexandra recently graduated from Marymount Manhattan College where she studied Musical Theatre and Dramaturgy. In addition to being an actress, Alexandra is the Playwriting Consultant for the New York New Works Theatre Festival. She is also a proud member of the Recording Academy. For more information about Alexandra please visit www.alexandramuscaro.com and www.purplependramaturgy.com.
Photo Credits:
Logan Isbell on Unsplash
Ian Schneider on Unsplash
Thought Catalog on Unsplash
Enrico Carcasci on Unsplash
Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash