Episode 152: Reflecting Forward On Theatre School
Grae Greer is in the middle of her last semester of her theatre program at Marshall University. Why did she choose Marshall? What were her expectations and how were they met, or not met? What are her tips for high school students looking at programs? Where does she want to take her theatre degree next? All this and more in a look forward from theatre school into the real world.
Welcome to TFP – The Theatrefolk Podcast – the place to be for Drama teachers, Drama students, and theatre educators everywhere.
I’m Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk.
Hello! I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening!
This is Episode 152.
You can find any links to this episode in the show notes which are at theatrefolk.com/episode152.
In our last podcast episode – number 151, you can find all you need to know about that episode at theatrefolk.com/episode151, of course – we looked back at theatre school twenty years after the fact – twenty years later.
Today, we’re going in the other direction. Today, we’re talking to Grae Greer who is at the end of her theatre school experience. She is in her last semester. This is it! School is almost out!
So, what’s it been like? What were her expectations and how were they met or not met? Where does she want to take her theatre degree next and what’s her advice for high school students looking at programs?
I’ll give you a hint; if you’re in senior year, it’s kind of too late.
So, all this and more as we reflect forward on theatre school.
Let’s get to it.
LINDSAY: All right. I am so happy today to be talking to Grae Greer.
LINDSAY: Now, Grae and I sort of know each other because I know Grae’s mom quite well – Carolyn Greer who is a fabulous teacher. But, Grae, you kind of were off to college by the time I started sort of harassing – oh, I mean, spending time with your mom.
GRAE: Yes, I was, I was.
LINDSAY: Awesome. So, what we’re going to talk about today, Grae, you are in the last semester of your theatre degree?
GRAE: Yeah! My undergrad, yeah.
LINDSAY: Yes. And so, we’re going to talk about what that experience has been like for you, what your expectations were before you started your program, and then sort of where you are now and where life is going to lead you because I know that we have a lot of folks who listen to this who have students who are themselves just getting ready to make that choice – to make that college choice – and lots of folks are like, “Yeah, I’m going to go get that theatre degree and I’m going to go take on the world with it.”
LINDSAY: So, look back to when you were in high school. You did a lot of theatre in high school, yes?
GRAE: Yes, I did.
LINDSAY: What made you decide that you were going to pursue that further beyond high school?
GRAE: It was an easy choice, actually. I had always done theatre. When I was younger, I mean, I wanted to be a chef for a really long time. And then, I think it hit me in middle school when I realized that theatre is what I wanted to do. I mean, I remember telling mom that I wanted to do theatre and she was like, “Are you sure? Are you sure this is what you want to do?” and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
When I was in high school – well, not every year – almost every year, we went to SETC the Southeastern Theatre Conference. As a junior, you can audition for colleges and that’s what I did. I went up there and did a monologue and, if colleges liked me, they would give me a call back and I could go visit their booths and, you know, have more talks with them and more auditions and things of that nature. I think that’s really when I narrowed down where I wanted to go – or at least my top five – because what people don’t realize with theatre is that, you know, normal degrees and normal college experiences for people that aren’t in the arts, they can choose the last semester of their senior year but, theatre, normally, you can’t. You need to figure out what you want to do your junior year and that’s something that people normally don’t realize because there’s an audition process usually and things of that nature and then you can figure out scholarships through that.
And so, as a junior, you know, mom really pushed me to go ahead and audition. I auditioned at SETC and I also auditioned at the International Thespian Festival and those usually have completely different schools which people don’t know about either of those things that they should definitely check those out. But I auditioned my junior year and I really came to love Marshall University. I mean, I went to visit Marshall – I think twice – and they were doing a show called Proof which is a show that I normally really, really dislike and I remember mom saying, “Grae, if you end up liking this production, then this is the right place for you.”
I went to visit and I saw Proof and I loved it. It wasn’t just the performance that I loved; it was the fact that, you know, every student that I met there, they were honest with me. They weren’t trying to sugar-coat the department. They weren’t trying to sell the department to me. They were just being honest with me about if there were any issues or any concerns that I would have and it was really, really nice. It felt like a family. I mean, it was an experience that I didn’t have with any other college that I visited or auditioned at. You know, I auditioned at I want to say four or five other ones and they were all great schools – like, you know, I’m glad that I had that opportunity – but they just weren’t the school for me and I would really, really encourage any person looking at colleges – especially for theatre or the arts in general – they need to go visit that school and they need to talk to those students – not just faculty but the people that are there taking classes where you’re going to be in a few years, you know. That’s something that I really encourage everybody to do.
LINDSAY: You know what? You’ve hit on a couple of notes that I want to re-track over.
LINDSAY: There’s a couple of things that, first of all, I didn’t know you should know as a junior that you should.
LINDSAY: If you’re looking for a theatre thing, you shouldn’t be doing it by senior year. You should be thinking by junior year. Is that because of the potential for scholarships? Why is it that it’s a year ahead?
GRAE: Normally, it is for scholarships. That’s why I do it because, with SETC, your senior year, you don’t really get to audition for schools. You audition for scholarships and, you know, most schools already know if they want you or not your junior year. They’re already showing interest and that gives you a full year to have that connection with the school already and, you know, scholarships is a big thing because a lot of schools that I learned – I didn’t know this before but I just learned from auditioning – that, when you audition a year in advance, they’ll go ahead and give you that scholarship so you already know that you’re going to have this money when you go to that school whereas, by the time you get to your senior year, they’re trying to find money to give you and it’s not always there.
GRAE: Having that year in advance is really nice – really, really nice.
LINDSAY: Well, because college has become this juggernaut of expense for students, I think that’s a prime thing that people should be thinking about. Like, if you want to go to school, you should be thinking about scholarships and so you should be taken ahead.
GRAE: Oh, yeah.
LINDSAY: And then, the other thing that you brought up is the whole notion of not only visiting but talking to students and I think that that’s something that I had a discussion with another person about this whole notion of the sort of fantasy and sparkly lights of college and then the reality of college and he said that, too – about talking to the people who are going there and how that makes the difference and that they’re being honest.
LINDSAY: Did you have experiences – without naming school names, of course – did you have any experiences where you got in your gut that they weren’t being honest? Was it a little bit like packaged?
GRAE: Oh, yeah, I went to – I’m not going to say which school it was – it was a conservatory and it had been my dream school for a very long time. It was one of my top two ever since I was little. I was so excited to be there but it was highly competitive to the point that, you know, the people that are already in college – the freshmen and sophomore of that class – were there and I was just auditioning and they were watching us and they were getting in our heads and it wasn’t supportive in the way that I thought it was going to be. Same with the faculty. It was just everything was glitter and gold. It didn’t feel real, you know.
That’s why, when I came to Marshall, I automatically went to the college students because I was allowed to sit in on classes and I was like, “Hey, be honest with me, do you like Marshall? What’s going on here? Because I’m looking at coming here and I don’t want to get my hopes up, you know? I don’t want to be told one thing and get here and it’s not what I thought, you know?”
Most schools that I visited were very positive and very honest with me but there were a few that it felt like everything was a commercial and it didn’t feel like home to me. I didn’t want to stay there for four years.
LINDSAY: Well, it’s totally a long time and I think that it’s important when you’re picking a school, you have to be very specific about what you’re looking for. Like, to you, the first thing that you said was, “It was like family.”
LINDSAY: And that kind of atmosphere. Like, we have one school here – one school, a theatre school – where you’re not allowed to be onstage until – and this may have changed but when I was around – you weren’t allowed to be onstage in a production until fourth year.
GRAE: Oh, my gosh.
LINDSAY: And it’s like, “Well, okay, sure.” Maybe you’re getting a lot of class experience but the whole point, I think, of a theatre degree is that you’re prepared to do theatre.
LINDSAY: It’s those little tiny things – well, not tiny – those things that, when you’re looking for a school and asking questions just as you did, “What is it like? How many performances do I get to do? What’s going on underneath the shiny-shiny?”
GRAE: Yeah! Oh, yeah.
LINDSAY: So, your thoughts about Marshall. You’re going to Marshall. What kind of program is Marshall?
GRAE: Marshall has a BFA and they’ve just now got a BA which is kind of neat. They’re very method-driven. They teach you a bunch of different methods and that’s something that I really had no experience with. I was a huge fan of Anne Bogart growing up but she was a woman that I kind of admired from afar. You know, I didn’t really do much with her but, at Marshall, they teach you Meisner and Chekhov and the Alexander technique and it’s really, really neat because it’s not something that I was ever exposed to. I mean, I went to a great program in high school but it just was something that I wasn’t prepared for so that was a culture shock, essentially.
One of the best things, I think, about Marshall is that they require you to do an internship. You have to do that between your sophomore and junior and your junior and senior year – one or the other. I did mine, I think, between my sophomore and junior year. It’s smart! I feel like more schools should do that because you’re getting experience in the real world about what you’re going to do once you leave Marshall or wherever you’re leaving.
LINDSAY: So, was it a performance internship?
GRAE: No, mine wasn’t. I worked at Theatre Arts & Dance Alliance in Lithia, Florida. I got to assistant direct-ish sort of Shrek: The Musical and I helped teach a day camp where we learned things – you know, how to design a set and design our own costumes and we did a lot of improv games. I was there for three or four weeks. Most people have internships that are three months long, you know, and they’re actor techs – that’s mostly what we get, you know, as interns for theatre. Not a lot of them are acting internships which is something I was not prepared for because I was looking for acting internships. There’s not a lot out there for people that are in college so I definitely learned new skills. Like, I had to help build the dragon for Shrek: The Musical. I had to help figure that out and I had to make all of these different props and stuff that I wasn’t normally exposed to. So, I learned so much and I’m really glad that Marshall required us to do these internships because then I would have never have known that I love doing props, you know. I would have never gotten that experience.
LINDSAY: And we’re going to get into this in a second but the real world is quite different than college world.
GRAE: Oh, yeah.
LINDSAY: For actors, it can be pretty heartbreaking if you’ve never done anything other than act, you know?
LINDSAY: If you’ve never had any other experience as an artist.
LINDSAY: The real world can be great and it can be not so great. We’re going to come back to that. Let’s go swing it back to college. So, you had this impression of what life was going to be like and you had your first sort of kick in the pants with learning a bunch of different techniques. What other misconceptions did you have to face for college life?
GRAE: Oh, gosh. Just at Marshall or with college in general?
LINDSAY: Hmm. Well, let’s start with college in general and then your program.
GRAE: Yeah. I realized really quick that most freshmen don’t get cast and I was lucky enough to get cast so I’m very thankful for that. But it was weird that not everybody got cast and I came from a program in high school where, you know, you were involved in some way. I didn’t have to deal with a lot of rejection which I was very lucky, you know, because I came from a program where we had enough opportunities for everybody whereas at Marshall – and with a lot of college programs – rejection happens a lot more than I realized and it was hard seeing people that I thought were very, very, very talented and worked very hard who just weren’t getting cast and that was something that was so difficult for me to handle because these are my friends – you know, these are my colleagues. It was just very – I don’t know – my heart is probably too big to handle it and I don’t know. It was really difficult for me to watch.
LINDSAY: Did you get any of the other kind of attitude or behavior from people when you got cast and they didn’t?
GRAE: Oh, yeah. I mean, especially being a freshman and coming in and getting a larger role for a freshman. I was in The Crucible. It was the first show my freshman year. We do four shows a year at Marshall. I played Mary Warren which is a decent-sized role for a freshman and I just remember a few sophomore females were just not very kind to me. I made it my mission from here on out to always be kind to anybody that got cast, you know, just because you’ve got to be. There’s no point in being angry at people because it doesn’t devalue your talent or anything.
LINDSAY: It’s assuming and those lovely young ladies are assuming that, if you didn’t get the part, they were going to get the part which is really not the case.
GRAE: No, not at all, not at all.
LINDSAY: That’s a hard thing, man. And then, you know, like, if you go on, you get things and rejection more like, you know, for a commercial and if you raise your hand the right way, that’s what gets you the part.
LINDSAY: Four years of theatre school does nothing to prepare you for that kind of rejection.
LINDSAY: So, what else? College, you got some rejection. What else have you got as some other misconceptions?
GRAE: I don’t know. Well, okay, Marshall’s been difficult in ways, you know. I came to Marshall thinking that I was going to have children’s theatre because that’s what I wanted to pursue. When I got here, they were kind of like, “Ah, great! We’re not really going to make this happen.” And so, I was like, “Okay, then I’ll go to another school,” and I told them that and then, a semester later, we had children’s theatre. So, thank god for that.
My biggest misconception with college was that not everything is what they say it’s going to be and that’s like that everywhere but there are issues at every school – no matter where you’re at – and it may seem like it’s only at your college but it’s not and that’s something that I would come home and I would complain about stuff at Marshall and then mom and whoever I was talking to would be like, “Great, this is at every school. These issues are at every school. It’s not just you that’s feeling this, you know.” I had a lot of issues with professors that I didn’t know how to deal with yet and I’m a very sensitive human being and criticism of any sort, I didn’t quite know how to take, you know? That was something that I just really struggled with. But, once you become your own cheerleader, it’s a lot easier. You know, that’s something I learned real quick.
LINDSAY: Well, that’s a good way to deal with it because, you know, if you can’t do that for yourself…
GRAE: Oh, yeah.
LINDSAY: Particularly when you’re being told this or the other. What about just being an actress? Did you have any misconceptions about that going from high school to college?
GRAE: Yeah, yeah, it was different because, in high school, I didn’t really play the ingénue. I was the quirky best friend or the mom or something of that nature and, when I got to college, I mean, I remember being at my first audition for Marshall and them asking me the kind of roles that I wanted to play and I was like, “Oh, I want to play Carol in The Amish Project and I just played Logan Schwartzandgrubiennieri in Spelling Bee,” and they were like, “Oh, honey, you’re always going to play Juliet.” I was so taken aback by that because, normally, I don’t play those roles – from high school, I didn’t.
And so, when I got here, I was automatically pinpointed and, you know, the little girl, the cute female, you know? That’s not something that I was prepared for at all. Oh, my gosh. It was an awakening which bugged me. I knew that I could play more than just the ingénue, you know? Because I was trained in high school to play the quirky, weird, emotional person. And so, that was definitely a challenge as an actor – to figure out where I stood and I’ve learned a lot about type and I truly don’t believe that, you know, we have types, you know? Because I feel like I can play a wide range of things. I look at my brother, Tucker, who is playing all of these amazing roles and I know that, if he went to college, they’d be like, “Well, Tucker, your type is the funny guy.” I just see all the roles that he can play and I get so bugged when my professors or other people say, you know, “This is your type,” because I don’t think that we should have a type because I’m not always going to be, you know, 125 pounds and 5’5”. One day, I’m going to shrink height or I’m going to gain weight, you know? I’m going to change how I look. I’m not going to stay 22 forever.
GRAE: So, that’s been hard.
LINDSAY: Do you ever get any comments about your physicality as to, like, “Oh, you better not become 130 pounds”?
GRAE: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I got that a lot when I first got to Marshall and it was never malicious. Like, they didn’t mean to say these things in a harsh way. I had a costumer make a stab at my weight. She was like, “You know, Grae, we had to use the big mannequin on you,” and it floored me because I never saw myself as big, you know? It was just unnecessary to me and this idea of weight is just so… I don’t know. I just get so angry because I think that, you know, a girl whose five-foot-nine and 300 pounds could easily play Juliet, you know? Like, it’s weird to me that people think, “Oh, Juliet has to be 4’2” and a size zero,” you know, because she doesn’t have to be, you know?
LINDSAY: No, it’s very interesting about the slots and I think the ingénue, I think it’s the most difficult role of all because it has such requirements.
LINDSAY: Like, it has these ideas that people have about that particular type and it’s like, there’s no other type that has to deal with a physical requirement.
GRAE: No, not at all, and it’s frustrating, especially when I’m put in that type.
LINDSAY: Against your will.
GRAE: Exactly! Now, I feel like I have this pressure that I can’t change who I am, you know. I’m not allowed to dye my hair purple – not that I would do that – but, you know, I just don’t have the freedom to change because I’m pigeonholed into this type, you know? It’s frustrating.
LINDSAY: So, now that you are sort of at the end, you talked about being interested in children’s theatre, is that still on the cards for life after Marshall?
GRAE: Oh, yeah, I’m actually thinking – well, working – towards working with babies. That’s my long-term plan right now – to do baby theatre. I found in my research for after-school, there’s a company in Belfast called Replay Theatre Company and they do most of their theatre work for babies – for children three and under. Their motto is: “Art from the very start.” I think that that is so important and I want to find more companies in the United States that would be willing to do things of that nature because, you know, babies and our youth is so important, you know? I have a lot of colleagues that don’t see children’s theatre as important and I just want to shake them and be like, “Are you kidding me? The children of today are going to be our audience members. We want them to know the arts and that they’re important and to be around theatre.”
So, I think, right now, my current goal is to do baby theatre. I don’t know if I’m going to go to Belfast or if I’m going to create a program in the United States.
LINDSAY: That sounds like an adventure!
LINDSAY: Like, it just sounds like an adventure because then you get into the whole notion of what does it mean to be an artist? Because the traditional thing is, “Well, I’m going to get my theatre degree and then I’m going to move to a big theatre city and then I’m going to do the traditional thing.” That’s not necessarily the way to go, is it?
GRAE: No not at all.
In August, I am moving to New York, but that’s because I’m young and I feel like I need to get out of my system. I think that there are more opportunities than just, you know, LA and New York. I mean, Atlanta is growing. Cincinnati is growing. Chicago is giant, you know. There’s all of these areas that people aren’t thinking about. I mean, Seattle.
Regional theatre is so important now that people aren’t thinking about. I think that’s something that people need to look into. I mean, I’m from Kentucky and we have, you know, amazing theatres all around the state that people don’t even think about or know about. I mean, all of these young actors that I know right now are thinking, “Oh, I’ve got to go to New York to make it big.” I’m like, “No, you don’t!” There’s theatre closer to home than people realize.
LINDSAY: Well, theatre is everywhere.
LINDSAY: If you chose it to be.
GRAE: Yeah, definitely.
LINDSAY: As you finish up and you’re going out into the real world, what is the role of theatre in your life?
GRAE: Oh, gosh. I don’t know. It’s my sanctuary, essentially. Or my salvation, I guess. It’s something that’s always been in my life but, now, I get to go out and do it on my own. Like, I’m not required to do it, you know? Because I’ve been in school since I was seven. You know, all I’ve ever done is school. At school, there are so many rules and limitations when it comes to even the arts that, once I leave, I get to do whatever I want with the arts and that’s so scary but exciting, you know? My plan is to make a difference with the arts because I feel like that’s what we should be doing and I’m going to make it, I guess, my “mission” is a better word for the role it’s going to play in my life. It’s just to let it consume me to the point that I can help others. It’s my happy place! I’m hoping that it will stay like that.
LINDSAY: That’s a nice thing to say. Like, in high school, it’s an idyllic relationship with theatre, right?
GRAE: Yeah, yeah!
LINDSAY: And then, progressively, as you get away from that, it can change – depending on how close you see the underbelly and the scars as it were.
LINDSAY: I think that’s really nice that it’s still your happy place.
GRAE: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
LINDSAY: As we wrap up here, as our listeners are folks who are just starting the journey that you are finishing, what three pieces of advice would you give students who are starting their journey with the theatre program?
GRAE: Oh, gosh. To take every minute, every moment, and to just let it hit you because, you know, I kept being like, “Okay, I’m almost done, I’m almost done, I’m almost done. Let’s get through this. Let’s keep going.” Really, now that I’m at my last semester, I’m like, “Oh, my gosh! Where did time go?” I kept wishing to go away and I think my biggest advice is just to hold onto it – to just take your time and to not wish it to go away.
My second one would probably be to don’t take crap from anybody. Just take everything with a grain of salt. Don’t let the negatives consume you because it will if you let it and you can’t let it.
I guess my last one is like I said earlier – be your own cheerleader because you’ve got to be. You know, for all the listeners that are in the same place that I was – trying to find a school – you need to just take care of what you need. Don’t let others influence you. Listen and take it in but you know what you need. And so, you need to take care of yourself and take care of the stuff that you want in school and find a place for yourself.
I guess those are my three pieces of advice.
LINDSAY: Well, I think they’re lovely. Very good.
GRAE: Thank you!
LINDSAY: Ah, thank you so much, Grae! This has been a lovely chat!
GRAE: Thank you!
LINDSAY: And thanks for talking to me!
GRAE: No, thank you! I loved it.
LINDSAY: Thank you, Grae!
Okay, before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS.
Do you ever want to meet us in person? “What?” you say. I know! Ridiculous! No, it’s true!
We travel to a number of conferences – mostly in the US because it’s a conference-a-palooza down there – and we love, love, love – we love meeting the teachers and the students who put on our plays and use our stuff, use our resources. I am not kidding!
You have to come up and you have to say hi. We don’t bite. We do want to hear from you and we want to hear about your experiences. It’s really awesome!
I was just at a conference where a teacher came up to me and gave me a letter from an eleven-year-old who was in a play of mine – Betweenity – and it was the most awesome, beautiful letter about someone who kind of thought the play made her think a little bit and it was just a wonderful, wonderful thing.
We keep a conference schedule on the Contact page of our lovely website – theatrefolk.com. I’ve also thrown up a link in the show notes which you can find – where? – theatrefolk.com/episode152.
Finally, where, oh, where can you find this podcast? We post new episodes every second Tuesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on youtube.com/theatrefolk and on the Stitcher app. You can subscribe to TFP on iTunes. All you have to do is search for the word: “Theatrefolk.”
And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.