Behind the scenes

The emotional, physical toll placed on theatre students

Art has a special way of revealing truth and “helps us understand who we are as humans,” senior Marissa Vander Ploeg said.

Art can also be stressful.

“The fall play was really hard because it was about a cancer patient who dies, and I also had a cousin my age who died from cancer,” junior Reilly Roberts said.

Vander Ploeg said that vulnerability in theatre brings healing but is also “emotionally draining.”

She added: “You have to be vulnerable and portray truth, which can be hard because we’re so used to putting walls up.” As opposed to theatre simply being a way of putting on a mask as others say, it’s revealing a deeper part of who you really are, Vander Ploeg said.

Not only is there an emotional toll that comes with the life of a student actor, but theatre also requires a major time commitment. Since being involved in West Side Story, as well as other musicals, Roberts said she dedicates at least 25 hours a week to theatre.

“It demands that we do our homework beforehand so that we can come prepared, that we balance the things we’re involved in well, and that we treat the show almost like a class,” Roberts said.

Vander Ploeg was in four shows during one semester of her senior year of high school and was in about 30 total productions throughout her high school career. She was in two-to-three productions at a time. For the Olivet theatre department, Vander Ploeg dedicates at least two hours a day. Often she works as crew or a director’s assistant, which adds another two-to- four hours of dedication outside of rehearsal.

“I have to be really careful of how I use my time,” Vander Ploeg said. “It limits your evenings because you have to go to rehearsal. You have to make sure your grades stay up… you have to be able to balance theatre and school.”

With all the time that goes into these productions, students have learned to use their time wisely by doing their homework when backstage during rehearsal, Vander Ploeg said. “That’s the balance you have to find because it’s like, ‘Theatre may be something I want to do, but I also have to get my homework done.’”

Being in theatre has cost Roberts her sleep. The latest she’s ever stayed up for rehearsal is 11 p.m., but the fact that she still has homework to do afterwards keeps her up until three.

Vander Ploeg also said the main source of stress is “sleep deprivation, which can alter your emotions.” She even fell asleep while reading a script once.

According to Vander Ploeg, there is also pressure to succeed and give your all, disappointment in not getting a part you wanted and, especially when directing, not having control over everything that could go wrong. You can’t make actors memorize their lines, you can’t prevent injuries from happening, and there are countless things that could happen last minute before the show. “You just have to trust and pray a lot,” Vander Ploeg said.

Even though being involved in theatre adds stress to her life, Robert’s passion for the art keeps her going. “There are so many compelling stories that need to be told… I get to learn from them and the audience also gets to learn from them,” Roberts said. “Its effects are inexplicable because every good story is relatable to someone in some way.”

Vander Ploeg loves showing truth in theatre as well as the community of it all from the unbreakable bonds formed between cast members to moved audience members coming up to the actors with tears in their eyes. “You get to be a part of something that you’re never going to forget,” she said.

Professor and Theatre Director Jerry Cohagan recognizes the stress that theatre students experience and believes that actors with “a strong faith should be some of the most grounded actors working.”

In an email, Cohagan added: “Being able to take on characteristics (emotions and otherwise) outside of our own personal experience is one of the greatest gifts theatre can give us. When theatre is done well it allows the actors and audience to live vicariously in a safe environment lives outside of our own experience. And seeing and living in the world through another’s eyes—if only for the two hours of a theatrical event—allows us to have empathy with our fellow human beings. And that experience can change how we choose to interact and react to others.”

The end goal of a thespian’s toil is a noble one, according to Cohagan.

“While exploring a character can be strenuous, it ultimately stretches one to broaden their view of the world and to begin by respecting what we may not identify with,” he wrote. “Because out of respect can come the very real possibility of love.”


Lauren Stancle, Assistant Editor

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