Survival Lessons From The Simpsons

by Maddy Mason

As I write this, it is the first day of tech for Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play. The room is divided in two: people either run around on the stage adjusting a set piece, or they sit around and try to pass the time until their cue is called. I am sitting in a corner with the actors, still wrapping my head around the fact that, for the past few weeks, I got to be an actor.

For those of you who don’t know me personally, I’m a BFA Theatre Arts major. I’m from a city in California called Sacramento (yes, the Lady Bird Sacramento). I did theatre my whole life, from acting in every show I could get in to, to doing crew for children’s productions. But the sole source of my joy came from acting, primarily in musicals.

I love acting. I love it with every fiber of my being. It is something that is intrinsic to my life. I remember doing show after show in high school, joining a conservatory my senior year, and dreaming of what my life would be as a performer.

One of the biggest reasons I came here was to become a well-rounded theatre artist. As well as a performer, I’m a playwright. I’ve written a few plays, three were produced while I was in high school during our One-Acts festival. I also had a stint directing and choreographing. I loved doing all of these things, and didn’t want to abandon them. This begs the question why I didn’t get a BA instead, at a smaller liberal arts college. I wanted to enter the professional world ASAP. I didn’t want to meander after graduation, trying to find a job with few professional connections.

Since coming here, I moved away from performing, but I still love it and jump at any opportunity I can to do it. But one thing bothers me, I don’t know how to identify myself. What do you call someone who likes performing but wants to do more? Why not dedicate your college career to perfecting a single skill? After all, as they say, “Jack of all trades, master of none.”

In Mr. Burns, the survivalist characters that we see are not actors nor are they theatre people. The entire play revolves around a group of people telling stories as a means of survival. None of these characters have BFAs in acting. The closest to a “theatre person” is Gibson, a Gilbert and Sullivan aficionado. They perform as a means of survival, even though they do not identify as such. Yes, their art is means for ensuring their existence, but they love what they do. They could be hunters, leaders, but a strong part of their identity is linked to performance.

The story of a group of people finding each other, working together, and creating art resonates with me. I love watching how their story evolves over time, from a campfire tale to an operetta. I love watching them become a troupe, and seeing them love the work they do. They are so much more than actors, they contain multitudes. They take on a series of roles, some are writers, some are directors, some soley identify as actors. They are true theatre artists. Their survival depends on the multitude of skills they contain.

My survival depends on embracing the many talents within myself. The projects I’ve felt the most proud of were the ones where people embraced the multitudes they carried. Stage managers also being lighting designers. Actors also being writers. Playwrights being dramaturgs. Dramaturgs assistant directing! Look at Tarell Alvin McCraney. He came to DePaul for acting, and embraced the playwright within him. To limit ourselves to one definition, whether it is acting, playwriting, or stage managing, is an insult to ourselves. And for me to ignore that I love performing and want it to be part of my life is a mortal sin.

After Mr. Burns closes, I move away from performing. I start dramaturging and assistant directing. This isn’t the end of an era, it’s the start of a new journey. I have to move forward, without hesitation, and stop denying my joy. The biggest thing I’ve learned from this whole process is that if I want to survive and be happy, I can’t deny myself. I have to live.

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