This was my first year at Berklee, and while it was cut short, I immediately felt at home upon arrival. For the first week or two, I missed home and the comforts I had become accustomed to, but there was never a point where I regretted my choices or wanted to go back. I don’t feel like I changed too drastically considering it was only my first year, but I think the contrast of being at Berklee compared to what I left was where the real character development came for me.
Senior year of high school was where my life took a complete 180 from everything I was used to. I dropped out of every extra curricular I had been a part of for the last three years, graduated a semester early, and applied to a school I never would have considered before this change: Berklee. Flashback to the end of my junior year, I was miserable and my life felt like it was up in flames. Up until this point, I had blindly and wholeheartedly dedicated my every waking second to musical theater and what I had hoped would become a career in it. I had done two to four shows a year, every year until I was seventeen years old. I had been going to summer camps, theater festivals, and Broadway workshops regularly since middle school, and when I wasn’t in a show or a camp, I was practicing with private instructors and on my own at home. I was extremely dedicated, and every aspect of my life was centered around theater. However, after the winter musical at my high school junior year, I felt deflated. For reasons that had nothing to do with the actual act of putting on the show and everything to do with the people I was around, it took such an emotional toll on me that I actually skipped the audition for the play later that spring. This was a big deal for me, and everyone around me thought I was going crazy because I would have never skipped an opportunity to be in a show. I convinced myself that it was simply a break to clear my head and hit the reset button, but what it instead became was a breaking point. My career choice was getting bleaker and bleaker everyday, and over the long and hard summer that followed, I decided that I needed a break from this never-ending whirlwind of school and activities and expectations. For me, this meant leaving theater, choir, and jazz band, all classes and groups that I had not only been a part of for my entire high school career, but had become a large portion of my identity. I was the theater kid, the choir kid; I was known for the things I excelled at, but I was no longer attached to those labels and it was both freeing and frightening. The only thing I involved myself with outside of my mandatory classes was marching band, something I hadn’t done since my freshman year in favor of all my other activities, and something I forgot how much I loved. It was just friends making music together, and while that may seem simple and obvious, it was something I hadn’t experienced for a long time. Theater is a rat race, and one where the art is often lost underneath a mountain of egos; theater kids care so much about who gets what part and the nepotism or favoritism that goes into those decisions that the performance is an afterthought. In all fairness, they’re monsters created by their situation, as nearly no casting I’ve been a part of is entirely fair and only based on talent. It’s a culture based in backhandedness and besting each other, not a genuine love for the art or the craft.
This all sounds very dramatic, I’m sure. You can’t take the drama out of a theater kid, right? My point in all of this is that my change and growth happened before I ever stepped foot in 150 or endured the misery of ear training, but this year was still impactful because it made me reflect on that growth and appreciate the things that steered me in the right direction. My year of happiness and adventure made me kick myself, looking back, for ignoring obvious red flags and my declining mental state because I was so blinded by the dream. My half-a-semester of online schooling showed me that I would rather be in a zoom ensemble then ever go back to the life I was living. I’m so much happier, so much more fulfilled, and I have a clear vision of what I want for my future and how to get there. I hope I’m a little wiser, and of course, my nineteen year old self likes to think I’ve been mystically enlightened by the universe. While it was one of the worst periods of time in my life, when I look back on it, I think I was sent a harbinger of doom, albeit in the form of a crusty man in his mid-thirties with no common sense, an affinity for energy drinks, and a love for making children feel bad about themselves. Despite my share of tribulation, this year made me appreciate the journey and continue to move forward onto a much happier life.
If anyone reading could take anything away from this, I’d like a few of those things to be to listen to your gut feelings. You’re smart and you’re having them for a reason, so really think about what they’re telling you and why, because if you look hard enough, I guarantee that you will find the answer. Additionally, just because someone is supposed to be a mentor or a figure of authority, that doesn’t mean they have your best interests in mind. If you don’t agree with the things they’re saying, if they belittle you or others around you, if you feel uncomfortable or sad or upset or anything you don’t think you should be feeling, you don’t have to give them your respect. Respect is both a precious commodity and something that must be earned, and being civil doesn’t equal respect. If they haven’t done anything to deserve your respect, then their title of “teacher” or “parent” doesn’t have to mean anything to you. Lastly, I’d like to remind you that it’s okay not to have everything figured out. It’s okay to change your mind, it’s okay to change your plan, and it’s absolutely okay to take a leap of faith. Doing stupid things is what makes life fun and exciting, so if you’re like I was (and let’s be honest, still am), I just want to use this space to remind you that dashes of irresponsibility and recklessness make for a more fulfilled and happy life. A blind leap is exactly why I’m where I am today. My application to Berklee was based entirely on me just saying “f*ck it”, so go against the grain and live the way you like, because what is the point of life if you spend it lying down?