I awoke this morning to the cheery ping of What’sApp, the method of communication I use with my two besties. I awoke from my college-student-first-day-of-class nightmare. I haven’t had one of those in a long time, but it seemed fitting to have one the Sunday morning before the first day of classes we’ve had on campus in 18 months.

You know the dream, right? You don’t have the book, you haven’t done the reading and you’re late for class. Well, I had the book, but it was a little paperback cleaved in three messy pieces, and by the end of my walk to class (without a backpack), I was so feverishly pinching the little campus map on my tiny phone screen to locate the classroom, an urban campus not Los Angeles, that I’d lost two of the three pieces and what the hell did it matter anyway? I didn’t know what class I was going to and hadn’t done the reading…… Pant, pant, pant. This next part was really high-larious: I felt the disapproving eyes of a senior faculty member looking at me as I stood in the dark corner of the building hallway having my private panic attack in a new fall tweed miniskirt. Dreams are so entertaining, aren’t they? I could literally feel the fabric swishing around my kneecaps, and my face as it blushed a deep crimson.

This weekend I binged on Netflix spoof on Academia starring Sandra Oh in “The Chair.” It’s all about a fictitious English Department in a small college. I shared it with my colleagues yesterday as we sat through the General Auditions for our fall “season” of plays. We scrambled through the pre-class events through last spring as Flat Stanleys. This fall, all has been on ground and more physically tiring. If you are in Academia either as a student or faculty member, I encourage you to catch The Chair. Everyone in the show is amazing, particularly Sandra Oh and Jay Duplass. David Morse, Bob Balaban and Holland Taylor are exquisite as the senior faculty threatened to be replaced due to low enrollments and “antiquated” teaching methods.

Yesterday, we saw over 150 eager students return to the Bing Stage to audition for our fall practicums/practica (your choice). I performed my COVID Protocol Theatre after each one left the stage, climbing the two stairs to spritz cleaner on the communal chair and wipe it down. We all kept our masks on and witnessed the array of emotions in the students as they made the long 20 yard walk from the back stage door to the carefully taped out green x on the center of the stage. 10 of us sat in the house eagerly waiting for them. Of course we were all masked, so how receptive we seemed to be was a matter of interpretation.

There were only a few who were literally auditioning for the first time in what must have felt like Broadway audition conditions. Our theatre wasn’t darkened the way you always see it portrayed in film and television auditions – our eager faces were well lit, but we were spread around the auditorium and masked. During a break, one of the practicum leaders was offstage heating up a cup of tea and shared with me a Broadway audition story, where she walked out on stage and opened her mouth to sing and heard “Thank you” (i.e. Next!) from the house. We were surely not as intimidating, but many of the sophomores who have never been in a physical college audition before, looked over to me (representing the stage manager in the room) for permission to start. They did an amazing job, I have to say – I’d dreaded a little sitting in auditions from 9-1, 2-5 the Saturday before classes begin just because there is so much left to do to prepare. But what I know about my life now is that if I make the decision to be present and experience the moment, it can bring me great joy and ultimately be much less stressful.

Which is why I’m going to invite us all right now to take a deep deep breath together. in and out. in and out. In and Out. IN and OUT. IN AND OUT. (that was my lame way of getting us from shallow useless breaths to deep, aerating, cleansing, calming breathing.

We all need to take many breaths. Together. We need to acknowledge that the students didn’t get the syllabus until this weekend, probably, and won’t have the books on Monday when they come to class. If they are late, or standing with their textbooks in three pieces, they are there. Like the book, we are all a little frayed around the edges and may not be as well prepared as we would like to be. We should take a moment and smile at each other. To acknowledge what we’ve all be through over the last year. We have survived. We retained our faith that our theatrical education was critical to becoming the professionals we strive, or at one time we faculty strove to become.

We’ve got this. One step at a time to that center X where we will perform what we’ve prepared to do. And your first assignment is to find a picture of a place that allows you to center yourself. Here’s mine.

Tennessee porch. Sweet tea and a refreshing breeze.

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