What It’s Like Being a Theatre Major When You’re Shy
It’s halfway through my third year of high school, and just last week a classmate of mine was shocked to learn that I was not an instrumentalist, but rather, a theatre major. "You're so quiet, I thought you played violin!"
Regardless of the fact that I was enrolled in violin lessons for eight years, no, I was not a violinist, but in fact one of the (gasp!) Asian theatre students—quite a rarity. From the moment students are admitted into the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts as a dancer, vocalist, cinematic, visual, instrumentalist, or theatre major, they earn not only a distinct artistic identity, but an avalanche of preconceptions about their personal identity as well.
So, yes, I am not as boisterous as the poster theatre student. I am one of only two Asians in my theatre class of 50. Though my classmate wasn’t wrong in noting my comparatively quiet nature to those of my peers, it did force me to wonder: How on earth had I been able to establish an image of artistic confidence for both my classmates and myself despite my initial appearance?
One of the LACHSA theatre department’s goals is to represent the city of Los Angeles as a whole. We are a fantastic melting pot of all sorts of people. But since we all come from little pockets of the city, we haven’t all been exposed to certain corners of the world. Throwaway comments made about my (apparently) ambiguous Asian-ness were always curious rather than malicious, but it was interesting to see that they were often clouded by some kind of preconceived assumption of how I was “supposed to be.”
My existential battle began the end of my first year, when I attempted to both unite my year’s class into a so-called “theatre company”—a lunchtime gathering in which we could share our work—and also direct my own show. It’s only in hindsight that I realized that this was too big a job for me. I didn't consider what being a leader in the arts really meant.
I'd seen and worked on countless productions, but I had never taken the time to observe the people beyond the stage: the directors, producers, and writers. All of these people were so essential to the play, but it was only after I stepped into their shoes that I realized I know less about their jobs than I thought.
I had my first successful (I use that term loosely) directing experience unintentionally, after a few classmates abandoned a project and I took it over. This inspired more projects. I began to find other unsuspecting leaders within my classes, people I would previously never had expected to work with. Artistic leaders, it turns out, aren’t the loudest—they’re just the most willing to work. I found that I could lead by example without saying a word.
We opened our production in a small space in Hollywood, and after a completely sold-out three-show weekend, the theatre invited us back for a revival performance. That experience absolutely obliterated any sort of creative fear that had lingered in the back of my mind. I found myself freely sharing any written work I created with my peers without fear of judgment, and branching out to new mediums as well—from public poetry performances to experimentation in online publications.
I couldn’t be more thankful for learning to take advantage of my unique disposition. This isn’t the only part of me that’s made me more comfortable with my artistic endeavors, but it’s been a big factor that has made me stronger as a whole. In fact, a few of my current projects have been influenced by my culture; I’m so happy to be getting to know it better. Exploring new parts of my identity and how they contribute to my art has proven to be a long process, but it’s also proven to be more than worth the trek.
By Samantha Ozeas, 17