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Student Blog: Storytelling, from Page to Stage (For All the Theatre Kids Who Love Books)

You’re not crazy: a love for literature and a love for theatre might, at their core, be one and the same.

Student Blog: Storytelling, from Page to Stage (For All the Theatre Kids Who Love Books) I've loved theatre since I was very young. And I've loved literature for even longer. For a long time, I thought of these as two fairly unrelated important facts about me. But I've recently come more and more to the realization that at the core of these is the same passion: a deep love for stories and storytelling.

Some of my earliest memories center around books - the first book I read to myself, or the first chapter book I fell in love with. These memories predate even those life-shaping experiences of sitting spellbound in an audience or performing in my first play at age eight. As I grew, these two loves grew along with me, but very distinctly: literature/writing/the humanities were my favorite things to do in school, theatre was my favorite thing to do outside of it. But when I arrived at Northwestern University's theatre program, where students are required to take academic classes in both theatre and other areas in addition to theatre performance/practice classes, my two loves suddenly existed on the same kind of plane: I'd go from a class in one straight to a class in the other. Because it's what I enjoyed, I kept choosing language and literature classes to fulfill my non-theatre requirements, until I had almost completed a minor in World Literature (which I subsequently declared) without realizing it.

As I continued to explore these passions at school, the boundaries between them began to blur. I loved my more academic theatre classes, where I discussed and read and wrote about theatre the same way I had literature and history since grade school. And as I went from English classes to table work rehearsals, analyzing stories and characters the exact same way in each, I recognized more and more that whether I was a literature student in class, actor in rehearsal, or choreographer planning dances, the work I was doing of digging into characters, circumstances, motivations, and subtext was just the same.

As I watched myself constantly swirling in these stories, a particular artistic passion for storytelling was becoming apparent. As I began to work more as a choreographer - someone you'd expect to be delighted by dancing in musicals -- I found myself watching shows and asking "but why are they dancing? There's no reason for them to be dancing." I began to realize just how hugely storytelling drove my particular approach to movement creation. I recognized that storytelling didn't necessarily have to be the number one priority for everyone - but that it was key to my ethic as a choreographer.

While I realized maybe it wasn't a universal approach to choreography , I was sure that a love for storytelling was just inherent in acting - I must be just like my fellow actor peers in that regard. But at the end of as song interpretation class my sophomore spring, as me and my classmates discussed what stood out to us in each other's work, multiple said they saw a unique affinity for storytelling specifically in my performances. It was becoming clear: this unique love I had for storytelling via literature was also a rather unique love for storytelling via my work in the theatre.

Over the last few months, these two passions have come together more than ever. I started the quarter by finally trying out dramaturgy, a theatrical job that had long seemed an obvious fit for me, thanks to its combination of analysis, research and writing in support of theatremaking. Then my love for literature and storytelling manifested itself on a more meta level on the other two shows that filled my winter: I performed in a radio play of Sense and Sensibility (a thrill for me, a particular nerd for Jane Austen), and I choreographed a wonderful TYA musical called Tomás and the Library Lady - a show about a child falling in love with books and the power of storytelling.

Moments of choreography that centered around/ expressed that discovery came the most easily to me, and were particularly special. I joked that never had my brand as an artist been more clear than this winter. As I write this blog post, I've just finished meeting with the director of a similarly on-brand show I'll be choreographing this spring exploring traditional folk tales. This director is interested in the question of why we tell these stories - what are those key, challenging, important, sometimes scary human experiences that we have to process, make sense of, or face by spinning them into stories we tell each other? I think those questions exist at the core of theatremaking as well. Whether it's around a campfire, in a novel, or on a stage, we as humans love - need -- to tell stories. And I can't wait to spend my artistic career doing so.


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From This Author Student Blogger: Emily Brooks