After our opening night performance of "New Voices of 2010: Pure Imagination" at the Paper Mill, I heard a student say, "And that's why I love performing."
I couldn't agree more. Performing on the Paper Mill stage was such an exhilarating experience. Being on that stage invokes a feeling of pride and passion that no other stage has invoked before. Performing in New Voices reminded all of us in the senior company at the Paper Mill Conservatory why we love performing.
This summer I could have gone back to sleep-away camp in Pennsylvania, I could have attended a college program at a university or I could have spent my summer at my grandparents' beach house in Delaware. But I spent it studying and performing at a musical theater conservatory. Why? Because there's nowhere else I would rather have been.
The moment we all stepped on stage for our opening medley, seeing 1,200 faces in the crowd, we knew all of the hours of hard work put into this program had paid off.
Our last days rehearsing at Montclair State were on Monday and Tuesday and were dedicated to perfecting our sections of the show before bringing them together on the Paper Mill stage on Wednesday. Each section was given a few hours with Producing Artistic Director Mark Hoebee to clean and polish things before moving to Paper Mill. By the time Tuesday's rehearsal ended, our performance was in the same state as it would be for the New Voices concert.
Leaving the campus of Montclair State on Tuesday evening, I gave myself time to look back on what I enjoyed most about the conservatory.
My favorite part about the conservatory is I had the ability to improve so much as a performer. I came into the program relatively untrained with absolutely zero dance background. And I'm happy to say I'm leaving seeing so much progress in dance. I realized the ability to sing a song isn't everything that you need to achieve when auditioning or performing. And I learned so many new techniques on how to immerse myself into a character and truly become one.
I've learned so many new things, but I think the thing that hit me the most was the discussion in our monologues class on the very first day: acting is living truthfully under imaginary circumstances. Before the conservatory I performed in at least fifteen shows but never really understood that concept. I've always followed the belief that acting is pretending to be something else and, in a believable fashion, pretending to feel certain emotions and say certain things. Now I have a whole new approach to characters I play: acting isn't pretending to feel certain emotions but actually feeling certain emotions as myself under forced circumstances.
I enjoyed every class and got so much out of each one. If I were to pick a favorite I would probably have to pick acting class taught by John Housley. Though each student wasn't given much opportunity to perform in front of the class (I only performed once or twice), seeing students perform and seeing how they grow based on John's critique was so valuable. John also is a genius in what he does, and I feel so privileged each day to work with someone who is so funny and has such a handle and an extensive background on what he's doing.
We moved rehearsals to the Paper Mill on Wednesday morning. We were introduced to the dozens of union professionals that make up our stage management crew, led by Stage Manager Becky Fleming and Assistant Stage Manager Ruth Zang. The crew ran on an incredibly professional schedule. We watched as each light and sound cue was rehearsed and as each new set element flew in and out. By Friday morning, each set change, light cue and technical element of the show was perfect and ready to go.
On Friday afternoon we had our one and only dress rehearsal in which our theatrical show combined with the orchestra's musical show. It combined with the crew's technical show to create one fantastic performance that we couldn't wait to show to our audience that night.
Each of the three shows was incredible, and the weekend came and went very quickly. Each section was given huge applause, and our finale was given a standing ovation at each of the three performances.
Through this entire experience I met 71 amazing people from around the state (and beyond) who share the same interests as me. They are generally fun people to spend time with. Having contacts and friends from around the state is great and knowing people from different high schools, towns and theatrical backgrounds makes it feel like there's some camaraderie between all of us. I feel like I'm a part of something special and so lucky to have spent it with all of those in the senior company.
When the final blackout curtain came down after the finales of our first two shows, all of us gave a unified cheer of excitement.
But we had a different feeling going into the final section of our last show. It would be the last time we all would be onstage creating harmony and pure imagination together, singing the lyrics "There is no place to go to compare with pure imagination, so go there to be free if you truly wish to be!" Tears were falling, as we didn't want to leave the stage… and each other.
Singing together onstage, we were all living in a world of pure imagination and there was no place where any of us would rather go.