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Student Blog: Three Things I Learned in My First Month Studying Musical Theatre in NYC - Sarah Tennille


Or "How I Learned to Walk 70 Blocks a Day on 3 Hours of Sleep."

Student Blog: Three Things I Learned in My First Month Studying Musical Theatre in NYC - Sarah Tennille

When approaching the topic of education in the performing arts, discussion tends to lean pretty heavily towards the enrollment process. I remember when I was applying to colleges in Fall of 2020 and researching the process, I was met with article after article all about the same topic: "How to get into a conservatory in New York City" And while these articles were very helpful, by the time I had committed to a college, I couldn't find much information on what it was like once you actually began attending classes. No one seemed to be too eager to discover what they'd actually be doing once they got to college and were more worried about whether or not they would actually get there.

I quickly found myself nervously anticipating my first day of class, worrying that something would go horribly wrong or that I'd somehow end up hating it. Thankfully, once I said goodbye to my cat and actually began college in earnest, I realized that it wasn't so intimidating afterall and that I could share my experiences with others to help them through this process that was so stressful it nearly turned my hair grey at 18. So, for those of you out there who will soon be moving to the big city to continue their fine arts education, here are some of my most helpful notes.

1. New York City is Everything You Dreamed It Would Be...So Be Careful

New York City is iconic in so many ways. A symbol of American exceptionalism, the Big Apple represents everything that people strive for in life as they work towards dreams that just can't be accomplished anywhere else. And while the city is known for its bright lights and seemingly unending sense of excitement, there's a handful of stereotypes and symbols that are commonly associated with New York City that paint it as a far less pleasant place. Disgruntled citizens forcefully shove past each other and scream "I'm walking here!", rats scamper through the crowded, smelly subway stations, and people sit on curbs with their cups of loose change as they scream strange absurdities at you as you pass. These cliches for the most part aren't true, but the sentiment behind them remains the in New York City is tough.

There will be days where the walking through crowds of tourists and pigeons will grow tiring, there will be days that the lights in Time Square make your head ache, and there will be days that make you want to abandon this place altogether. When those days come, you have to remember why you came here. What magic brought you to New York? Was it the glowing lights of Broadway? Was it the gentle breezes blowing through Central Park? Was it an impossible dream? Whatever has brought you to New York City, cling to it for dear life and let it carry you through the tough days.

2. Conservatory Education is Relentlessly Exhausting, but So Incredibly Rewarding

Like many who plan to pursue a career in the performing arts, I moved to New York City with a plan to further my artistic training in a conservatory, specifically the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (also known as AMDA). I've always heard that conservatory training can be draining, but you really can't know what it's like until you experience it yourself.

Musical theatre is famously an incredibly demanding art form. Performers will often work 10 or 12 hour days pushing their bodies and minds to the limits as they tirelessly work under hot stage lights, all in order to ensure that they are able to put on the most perfect show possible for their expectant audiences. Conservatory-style musical theatre training takes this intense work-load and adds on top of it homework, essays, and graded performances. Needless to say, it can be very intense.

Even after my first week I knew that I was going to have to really step up and work harder than I ever have before in my life. Though that sounds exhausting, and it is, having such a rigorous course schedule makes it even more satisfying when you look at your results and realize how far you've come. That moment when you're finally able to turn in that research paper, or nail that combination you've been working on for weeks, or being able to belt out that high note you never even knew you could reach. Hard work and dedication to your craft is important in order to improve and become a better performer, and making the most out of a conservatory-style education can be key to succeeding not only as a working actor, but as an artist. So, even though you may feel like a corpse walking to your 8 AM Jazz class, it'll all be worth it when you can finally hit that double pirouette.

3. Your Time Is Now

I was raised in a small town in the heart of the American south called Little Rock, Arkansas. Growing up it was pretty typical to point out the monotony in our everyday lives; people get up, go to work, come home...and don't do much else. It used to drive me crazy, sitting at home doing nothing when I knew that there was a whole world waiting for me out there. It was especially frustrating because, like many southern towns, there were very few performing arts opportunities besides high school productions. I felt like I was wasting the potential that I knew I had, like I was a big fish being squished into a tiny bowl. I believe a lot of people my age, not just performers, feel this way. Since many of us lost our high school years to the coronavirus pandemic, many young people worry that their life is passing them by far too quickly and that they're getting lost in the shuffle.

When I was presented with the opportunity to go to college in New York City, I was faced with the reality that, even though I love the city and am fairly confident in my abilities as a performer, I was taking a huge risk. Some people spend their whole lives working towards a successful career in the big apple, and who was I to think that I could do any better than them? A serious case of impostor syndrome if I've ever seen one. I anxiously waited for the first day of class, worried that somehow me moving would be a mistake that I would regret forever. But, it wasn't until I first stepped onto the streets as an official New Yorker, as my new reality set in, I realized...I could do this. A calming sense of determination came over me as I came to the understanding that the only person who didn't support my ambitions, the only person who was telling me that I was going to mess it all up, the only person who didn't have faith in my abilities - was myself. I had been waiting my whole life to escape that restless feeling and to go out into the world and make a name for myself, and if there was any time to do that, it had to be now.

In conclusion, moving to New York City and starting school at one of the most demanding musical theatre conservatories in the country is exhausting, exciting, and has me eagerly asking myself "How can I become the person I want to be?". It's cheesy, I know. The idea that if you just work hard enough and believe in yourself, you can somehow achieve what feels impossible. But honestly, it wouldn't be so widely spread if there wasn't some truth to it right? Sometimes, you truly just need to leap into life and figure things out as you go. It may be nerve wracking and frustrating, but nothing that's worth pursuing is really supposed to be easy right?

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From This Author Student Blogger: Sarah Tennille