Grad School, Year One: A Recap

Almost exactly a year ago, I was sitting in a dorm room in Winona, Minnesota, working as an intern at the Great River Shakespeare Festival while I waited to start grad school. Today, I am sitting in a dorm room in Winona, Minnesota, working as an intern with *slightly more responsibility* at the Great River Shakespeare Festival, and my desk has a big pile of papers and notebooks on it.

You know. Because I’m writing a thesis.

The notion of me, Catie Osborn, writing a thesis is still hilarious to me. Compile it with the fact that people have recently been asking me, in absolute seriousness “So, are you going to go for your doctorate?” makes the whole thing hilariously bizarre.

No one ever told me that “being an adult” is something that gradually occurs. Much like the fact that I was SHOCKED to learn in high school that my “grown up” handwriting was never going to kick in and I was stuck with the monkey-scratching that my dad taught me when I was six, I have suddenly realized that there is no ‘moment’ of adult-hood. Well, actually, I HAD that moment. I was slightly tipsy and standing on stage at my favorite karaoke bar, gangster-rapping a Miley Cyrus song while doing the Pee-Wee Herman dance when I had this sudden epiphany that this was the adult I had grown up to become.

I don’t know how I feel about that. I thought that Becoming an Adult meant suddenly understanding how to do your taxes and being able to manage money, but apparently for me, Becoming an Adult means being able to buy my own swords and choosing to leave a really solid job to pursue a Master’s in Shakespeare. I’m not complaining– it’s just not what 9-year-old Catie ever thought her life was going to be.

So. Grad School.

Year One of grad school went off without much to-do. It’s funny– so many people told me that OH MY GOD GRAD SCHOOL IS GOING TO BE SO STRESSFUL AND YOU’RE GOING TO DIE!! Honestly, 90% of the time? I thought grad school was pretty damn easy.

I was actually disappointed with how easy some of my classes were at the beginning– I understood the issue– a program built for both sides of “English Major” and “Theatre Major” spectrum meant spending some time getting everyone on the same page, but goddamn was it boring sitting through classes on what Iambic Pentameter and a sonnet were. In a graduate program. About Shakespeare.

Eventually, I realized that I needed to shift my attitude. So instead of being annoyed, I decided to be grateful that my little band of Prenzie Players had given me, over my time with them, the (free) equivalent of a year-one graduate school education because they care so much about the language. That helped, a little.

I also conquered a monumental task for myself and appeared on stage (vaguely) naked. That was a bizzare, weird, challenging but ultimately empowering experience. One of the second years was doing her thesis on nudity in the theatre, and I, for some reason, agreed to be part of her project. She was doing Troilus and Cressida and asked me to play Cressida. Of course I said yes. And so it came to pass that I showed my boobs to my professors before Christmas break of my first year of graduate school. Everyone was super supportive and professional about it, which was nice, but it was just such a weird experience getting naked backstage before going on. It was like that dream you have where you go to school without clothes on, except it was absolutely supposed to be like that.

Towards the middle of the year, I fell pretty hard into some serious depression. I’ve dealt with a little in the past, but the combination of frustration with the program, being away from home/friends/the Blue Cat, the lack of creative outlets for “my thing” (read: slam poetry) meant that I fell pretty deep into a funk for a couple of months.

I fell out of recovery for awhile, which sucked, but as shitty as I was feeling it was just another failure on the fail pile that seemed to be my life at the time. Today, as I write this, I think I’m at 30 days or something– sticking back in recovery has been challenging, but I’m working at it. Finding my creative outlet helped. A lot.

Thankfully, one of the local creative types who is friends with Chris approached me and asked me to be a part of her miniature performance series. Her name is Carmel, and of the fearless, fantastic females that I have the privilege to know, she is very, very high on that list. So depressed and fed-up Catie found herself involved in a group of incredibly talented and creative women, performing slam poetry in a goofy costume in a bookstore on Sunday afternoons, and slowly, the clouds began to lift.

I also worked my way into being the semi-official program photographer, which has been a saving part of my existence in grad school. I didn’t know how much I loved photography until I started doing it, but it has become my creative outlet. It also serves as an excellent service— getting to archive the productions this year has allowed me to both improve as a photographer, but also as a director– if it looks good in a picture, it will look good on stage. IMG_2340

Getting to perform/take pictures at the American Shakespeare Center is also incredible. I mean, THIS is the view from the stage. I become a better actor just by standing there.

Around the same time, casting for the first year show, Much Ado About Nothing, happened. Now, anyone who knows Much Ado can tell you that there are exactly two roles in that play that any Shakespearean actor wants on their resume, and they are Beatrice and Benedick. So when the cast list came out and I discovered that I’d been cast as Borachio, my first instinct was to look up the character because I had no idea who the fuck he was. Great. My first “official” school show and I got a shitty little part.

It turns out, whether by choice or happenstance that Borachio was exactly the character I needed to play at the time, because he was so far outside of my wheelhouse that I spent the entire process trying to figure out *how* to play him. That casting forced me to work a hell of a lot harder than I would have being cast as, essentially, myself. And so Catie learned a valuable lesson about judging the worth of a character based on line load.

I had fun with Borachio. By the end of the process, I sort of liked him. He morphed from a skulking, inherent villain to, basically, Jean Ralphio from Parks and Recreation. Most of the cast started calling me Jean Borachio. The day I “discovered” Borachio happened by total accident. I was really struggling and was in that sort of mood where I felt like everything I did sucked. Since the method of the process was a lot of “do it on your own”, I was getting little to no feedback and was really unsure of where I was going with the character. I had a meeting with one of the faculty directors, who told me that he wanted me to look at the New Romantics for character inspiration. At first, I was REALLY annoyed because it was directly opposite of EVERYTHING I had been working on with the character. All of the in-class viewpoints work and character exploration I had done was 180 degrees in the opposite direction, but fine. I went home and watched an Adam Ant concert from the 80’s.

The next day, almost as a joke, I put my hair into a huge, ridiculous 80’s pompadour. I was sitting in the theatre, waiting for rehearsal to start, when aforementioned faculty member came in and started cracking up. Apparently, I’d chosen correctly. So I had the look. Next came the Great Shoe Debacle. Borachio was a dude, and they wanted me playing him, as, you know. A dude. So with that came a pair of men’s dress shoes, which I had never worn before.

During the masked dance scene, we had a big, elaborate dance number that began with all of the dudes entering into the space. The first time we ran it on stage in costumes, I was a bit late on my entrance, so I ran in, tried to stop, and accidentally did a Risky Business slide through the door. For whatever reason, our other director noticed that particular moment, thought it was a choice, praised me for it, and in that moment, Borachio was born.

Snapshot_20150406A stupid hairdo and a slide morphed, almost suddenly, into a pretty decent character. We performed for One Night Only, and I remember being SHOCKED at how much laughter I got. I took risks, I made big choices, and I don’t think I sucked. Which is really unusual for me.

I was so proud of everyone in my class– the process to putting the show on was brutal, but we opened (and closed, I suppose) to a packed house and a standing ovation. It was a good feeling.

I also took a directing class and (I know you will all be shocked) used a scene from Titus Andronicus as my final project. If I could choose one moment from this first year of grad school to remember for the rest of my life, it would be the day that the co-founder of the American Shakespeare Center casually turned to me in class and deferred to me on a question about Titus Androncius. I’m not saying I’m obsessed, but I am saying that people understand me here.

I also started going to the gym on the regular. Okay, I will publicly admit (once), that I started doing Crossfit, but it turns out that it’s exactly what I needed. Turns out I love weight lifting, and the added bonus of it never being the same thing means that holds my interest. I haven’t exactly turned into a She-hulk yet, but making the commitment to trying to be more active and healthy at the time I did wound up being an incredibly good choice. And now I get to lift big giant weights with the Swolebros at the gym. I think at some point I might actually be good at it. I’m not sure. But I like it. That’s enough for now.

And life…went on, except instead of working at a casino in Iowa, I was in graduate school in Virginia. I drank a lot of coffee, stopped drinking coffee, and started drinking coffee again. I bought shelves and tried to organize my closet and got bored halfway through. The clothes are still on the floor. I bought poster frames like an adult and learned to sew a french hem. I bought way too much fabric and spent too much money.

I got a job doing overhire at the ASC in the costume shop, which was really wonderful, but also slightly disgusting since now Chris (who is, by the way, still around and just might be the love of my life), is still the propsmaster, so we became the propsmaster/costume shop couple, which is just too cute to be real life.

We watched a lot of Netflix, ate a lot of chicken, saw a lot of movies and I wrote some really terrible poems. I read a lot of Shakespeare, I performed a lot of Shakespeare– I fulfilled a dream I’ve had for a long time and got to play Mephistopheles in Faustus, which was awesome. (Oh, and I entered on a sardonic slow-clap, which might have been the best part of the whole thing). IMG_1842

That same evening, I also got to play a Rosie-the-Riveter-esque Maria from Twelfth Night, which was a separate challenge– I’d never gotten to be ‘funny’ before. But man, I loved that costume.

IMG_2116

And that was about it for my first year. The showcase was over, my classes were done, and I was, technically, a second year. There was a brief class that we had to help us gear up for writing our theses, which was bizzare, because suddenly it was real and Holy Shit I’m Writing a Thesis Now. I chose my topic, then changed my topic, then changed my topic back to the old topic and changed it again and changed it back the other way.
And now, I’m sitting by a lake in Minnesota. Last week I got to teach a stage combat workshop at a school for about 100 kids, on Tuesday I’m going to be doing the same thing, but this time, with the artistic director of the company. No pressure, right?
lake

Next semester, I’m taking an acting class with one of the best actors I’ve ever seen at the ASC, and two classes on early modern history. I’m writing my thesis on swords. Our apartment is covered in tudor gowns and broadswords and the walls are covered in comic books and movie posters.

Sometimes, I eat entire watermelons for lunch. I have amazing friends, some new, some who have known me for almost half of my life. Sometimes I forget to pay my phone bill until they send me an email. But most importantly, I still have moments where I pause and realize that I’m getting to do the thing I love most in the entire world. I may not ever be rich, or famous, but I am learning about the thing that holds my passion and working towards a career in that same field.

Being an adult is extraordinary.

 

 

 

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