Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ghost Light Collective, Class of 2011

Kendra C.
On Friday, we had our annual Awards Ceremony. I've been part of the communities of a half dozen academic theatre departments, and I've never seen one as tightly knit as the CMU School of Drama, and I think these kinds of ceremonies have a lot to do with that. There is an annual awards ceremony and banquet at Indiana University; that was a lot of fun. We rented out a hall with an open bar and everyone dressed to the nines, as in, tuxedos and evening gowns. We gave out internal school awards, which were mostly for fun, and the playwrights wrote something called The Closing Night Cabaret which is a short play in which characters from the season all get together in a bar and interact (played by the people who played them in the season). It was an opportunity for old-style vaudeville and roasting, and everyone had a great time. I hope they still do that.

Seniors Lauren (left) and Corinna (right). Center is Nicole.
The CMU School of Drama has a few ceremonies during the year, but I think this one is the most moving. First of all, it begins with the "Rite of Passage." Each class rank, you see, has an assigned section of the Chosky Theatre. At the awards ceremony, the students migrate, at the behest of the Chair, to the next rank's seating spot. There follows a ritual calling out, whereby each class addresses its immediate successor by their new title. To wit, the new juniors call out to the erstwhile freshmen, "hello, sophomores!" It's all very Victor Turner and generates real bonds between and within the classes, as well as giving a sense of progression and even eternality to the work they do. The ceremony is a celebration of the hard work they've all done.

Smith Wade-El (grande) and Carns (travel size)

Then the awards come in. These are serious awards, most of them having a genuine and not insignificant cash prize which is funded by gifts from benefactors. There are a lot of them - the ceremony takes more than an hour, I think, to complete. Some are awarded by the faculty, some by the Alumni Clans (West Coast and New York, whose presidents attend the ceremony and present the prizes), and some by representatives of the funders, or the funders themselves. I've never seen anything like it; for me, and I think for the students, these awards underscore several things about their work as CMU students. First, that it is noticed by professional people outside the school, which suggests that the work is significant. Second, that it is part of a long tradition, which suggests that the work has longevity. Third, that there is a strong community of graduates out there with enough of a vested interest to commit to this sort of thing, which suggests that the work is personally meaningful.

Some of my colleagues on the faculty studied at the School themselves, and so for them I'm sure this is all magnified. But for me, well, I enjoy seeing the students reap the rewards of their work and seeing the communal cheer and support for one another. This year, however, things were really different. This year, I have five students graduating, all of whom joined my program as freshmen. Indeed, most of them were also my students in pre-college. That's a five-year relationship. Also, this year, my students demonstrated a strong showing at the awards and are also moving on into really interesting positions in the professional world, beginning their careers. I don't want to get maudlin or anything but I will admit to being somewhat overcome by all this. I am as proud of these students as if they were my own kids, and their successes genuinely fill me with a vicarious joy. The only, only measure of the success of this program that is worth anything at all is if the students move on and do well, and these students have done a phenomenal job. When they came in, we were taking our first baby steps, and now I feel like we are a fully-integrated, welcome chapter of the organization. Not that we don't still have problems to solve, but they are the best kinds of problems.

2007: from right, Megan, Kate, Lauren, Nick, Kendra L., Anthea
Please cast your eyes to stage right to see an image of these guys as I will always remember them - as freshmen, all bright eyed and bushy-tailed and with no idea what was in store for them. Congratulations, guys.

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