Thursday, July 12, 2012

Lyric First Stage - Alumni Reflection

Sarah Stearns, Lyric First Stage Alumnus

One of my first memories of Lyric First Stage is Spiro Veloudos chasing me around the theatre with a stick.

It was the opening scene of Hamlet. I was the harried watchman and he was the ghost of the Old King. He was trying to teach us the most basic lesson of acting by provoking honest reactions on stage, in this case, fear. Since I was a thirteen year old aspiring Tony Award winner being chased by the artistic director of the Lyric Stage Company with a stick, I believe he was successful.

Many of the lessons I learned through the Lyric First Stage program similarly went over my head at the time. But studying theatre in college six years later, I often stumble across knowledge I now take for granted that I actually learned doing Lyric First Stage. That summer, guest artists threw around strange names like Uta Hagen and Meisner, and I was convinced that [program director] Peter Carey hated me. Now the acting theorist Uta Hagen’s name is so familiar to me that my cat is nicknamed Cuta Hagen after her, and Peter Carey - like all great directors - only knew better than I did just what I was capable of.

Beyond theatre, I did more growing up that summer than I’ve ever done in such a short time. Not only did I meet my first boyfriend in the program, I also learned just why the works of Shakespeare have endured four centuries. I discovered the importance of seeing theatre if you want to be in theatre through the Lyric, and, most importantly, for the first time, I gave more than I thought I was capable of to a project and was truly proud of the results.

My experience at Lyric First Stage cultivated not only my love for the theatre but the standards I still strive for in every facet of life. I remember one guest artist who came in to teach a workshop told us all that the only way to pursue a career in theatre is whole-heartedly, with absolutely everything you have. At Lyric First Stage, fifteen minutes early was on time, three new choices were required at every rehearsal, and everyone, every student and staff member, committed every ounce of energy to each moment of the process, and loved every second of it. I’ve found the standards that we, as very young artists, were held to are often hard even for much more experienced actors to reach, and yet every member of our ensemble eagerly put everything into our work there. Lyric First Stage prepared me for the hardest parts of pursuing theatre simply by giving me a resoundingly positive foundation to draw on.

When I encounter a challenge that feels insurmountable, in life or in theatre, I still think back to my summer at Lyric First Stage, where I first learned to hold myself accountable for more than I think I can accomplish.