If you don’t love musicals, your soul is a shade darker than the rest of the world’s. You’re allowed to not like the scenes in between the musical numbers, like the endless boring Nazi talk during The Sound of Music. (Did that sound insensitive?) I’ll give you that. But if you can watch a performance of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and still be unmoved, there’s a deep divide between the types of people we are.
I haven’t been in a musical in quite some time. I’ve been in over 20 over my lifetime, but none in the last five years. Now, I’ve performed plenty in the last five years, but never a full-on musical production. My favorite roles have been Sarah Brown in Guys & Dolls, The Narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Louisa in The Fantasticks, and Woman 1 in Songs for a New World. Just for fun, here’s a clip of me in that last one mentioned.
Okay, so you get the point. I love musicals. To me, music expresses emotions in a way simple words cannot. A happy, energetic number captures those joyful feelings of excitement far better than any other form of communication (in my opinion). The same goes for the expression of any other emotion. I mean, have you heard “Bring Him Home” from Les Mis? GAWD, my heart. Wait, sorry, one more video. If you haven’t heard this song sung by Ramin Karimloo, you need to stop your life immediately and watch this video. I was lucky enough to see him perform it on Broadway, sitting in the literal front row. It was the most moving experience of my life. A little backstory: He’s praying to God to spare the life of the young man who loves his daughter as he heads off to war.
This is a performance outside the actual show, but you can still understand the magnitude of this song that transcends the set and costumes:
I need a minute to compose myself after watching that. Most beautiful thing I’ve ever, ever, ever heard. I was flat-out sobbing when I saw it live. He got a standing ovation that lasted a few minutes, right there in the middle of the show. It was unreal. Definitely my favorite musical experience to date.
Sorry, I’ll move on. So– we’ve established that I love musicals, right? We’ve done that? Both watching them and performing in them. What I’ve noticed as a performer, though, is that being in a musical is the exact same thing as being in high school.
Now, I don’t say this as a negative thing. High school definitely had some dark times, but all in all, the structure isn’t terrible. It’s just unique. Teachers, cliques, assignments, all of it. There’s nothing quite like it. Except for musicals.
Here are the 6 reasons why being in a musical is the same thing as being in high school:
1. There are queen bees
I’ve never really experienced the idea of a “popular” person outside of high school. Sure, there are well-known people and well-liked people, but the whole hierarchal separation tends to dissipate once life puts everyone in their place. At least in my experience. But musicals easily pinpoint a single group of “popular” kids, as in, “the leads.” They don’t necessarily separate themselves from the rest of the cast on purpose– in fact, I’ve found most leads to be very inclusive, both when I’ve been one myself and when I’ve been in the ensemble. Nonetheless, the rest of the cast looks at the leads with a sense of wishfulness.
At my first rehearsal of the regional production (i.e. professional) of Beauty and the Beast earlier this week, each member of the cast introduced themselves to the room before we began working on music. When the girl playing Belle said, “Hi, I’m so and so, and I’m Belle,” someone literally gasped. Of course the gasp was meant to be funny and dramatic (and it was), but it wasn’t a far-off reaction from the rest of the crowd. It was almost like, “Omg, that’s her.” Like the untouchable hot girl in high school or something. Ah, high school.
2. There are teacher’s pets…and the opposite
The director is the teacher, and he/she has favorites. That’s just the way it is. Be it because he (we’ll pretend the director is a “he” for today) has already worked with a person before, thinks someone has an impressive resume, or simply vibes with a certain personality, it’s always clear who the director favors. Same on the flip side of the equation– you can tell who annoys the teacher, tests his patience, or flies completely beneath the radar. What I’ve learned since high school is that
teachers directors are people, too, so can you really blame them for not being able to be entirely impartial?
3. Rules in abundance
Remember in high school how you had to adhere to bells and raise your hand and say thank you in unison if one teacher had a particular affinity for unified politeness? Same in musicals. Beyond a sign in sheet and raising your hand, lots of people proudly recite all of the “unspoken” rules of musical theatre. When the stage manager says, “It’s time for a 10 minute break,” half the group brightly responds, “Thank you, 10!” When the stage managers says, “We’re back from break,” they chirp, “Thank you, back!” It makes me giggle on the inside. Yes, that is what you’re taught to say to let the stage manager know that you heard her, but it’s still funny. Kind of like with rock climbing, when one person says “belay!” and the other says “belay on!” I mean, I’m sure it’s the right thing to do, but it often feels like a silly way for people to prove that they know the correct insider lingo. Listen, I’m all for orderly conduct, so I’m not dogging the way it’s accomplished. I’m just saying that understanding how everything works– both in direct and unwritten rules– brings me right back to sophomore year.
4. Everyone is extra loud
I feel like personalities even out after high school. Obviously, we still all know extra dramatic people, but generally, people have calmed down a bit. Musical theatre has a higher than average number of dramatic people– to be expected, given that this is professional drama. These personalities are probably the reason #4 exists with all the rules, too. You’ve got to keep all the huge, loud, attention-seeking actors in order! I’d say that most casts only have 10-15% huge, eyes-on-me personalities, but that’s higher than the rest of the adult world. I only run into those kinds of people once in a while in “real life.” In musical land, you’re bound to have anywhere from 1-8 of them per production. Same in high school, where the rambunctious or overeager percentage is much, much higher than in the real world.
5. First day of class vibes
The first day of a rehearsal is like walking into the first day of school. You might know a few people, but there are also quite a few new faces. You’re constantly introducing yourself, asking light questions, and generally trying to bond with people that you’ll be spending the next few weeks of your life with, often times under really vulnerable or awkward situations. You’ll be harmonizing, interacting with them in scenes, dancing together, and creating a camaraderie onstage. Thus, the camaraderie in real life needs to be somewhat present, as well. The same way people feel really bonded together after getting through high school together (something I didn’t even realize was the case until seeing people at my high school reunion and feeling surprisingly happy to reunite), you feel really close to people after performing in a show together. But that first day can be a doozy!
6. You want a yearbook when it’s over
Speaking of the first day, and touching on the bond that forms, closing day is very much like graduation. Everyone gives each other little sad looks as they run past each other backstage for the last time, and you hug goodbye knowing that your friendships will never be quite the same. Most of the time, you’ll never do a show with these people again, so all the inside jokes and trust you formed over the last few weeks (or months, or years, depending on the run) are just going to turn into happy memories. This actually reminds me more of summer camp than of high school…same same but different.
Also, this classic theatre line is actually coming out of my mouth for the next three weeks: “I can’t. I have rehearsal.” It’s even on a t-shirt, which I’m sure is purchased for 75% of high school drama clubs across our great nation. And that about sums it up.