I feel beyond privileged to be a member of Drama Division Group 51—my cohort, my class, my ensemble.
As we end of our third semester together, I am almost at a loss of words as I dare describe how incredibly generous and gifted my classmates are. But I will try.
A few weeks ago, we second-year students, participated in a solo performance workshop with the extraordinary Nilaja Sun. Having taught theater in New York public schools for two decades, she created an award-winning one-person show titled No Child… in which she played 16 characters—students, teachers, and administrators. This outstanding transformative feat is quite exciting, but the workshop was not about traveling from one character to the next to make full display of our histrionic abilities. Rather, the most beautiful part of the experience was witnessing a group of young artists baring their souls and trusting their ensemble. Sun immediately offered us a space to experience true vulnerability and courage. She invited us to share an intimate and meaningful piece of ourselves, urged us to believe in the significance of our own stories, and allowed our spirits to cleanse. All the while, we knew we were in a circle of confidence.
The members of Group 51 really poured their hearts on the studio floor. I found out stories about my classmates that shook me, that allowed me to see even deeper into their souls. I don’t think I would have been able to share what I did if it wasn’t for the trust, respect and love I have for them. And the love each of us received after baring our souls was immeasurable.
So this is a love letter to my group.
My ensemble exudes generosity. In every single class, we are rooting for each other, and the level of compassion and encouragement keeps growing. In Singing class, when someone hits a new note they’ve been trying to reach, the cheers are exuberant. In Movement class, when someone struggles with a combination, we look after one another. When someone else struggles in Scene Study, there’s never an air of arrogance. When I have broken down in Speech class, frustrated at an apparently impossible sound, I have had my group to hold me up and give me the space to work through it with a high level of support and warmth.
My ensemble fascinates me with their stories. In the classrooms we share, we can hear the echoes of families from Vietnam, Nigeria, Puerto Rico, France, Italy, Cuba, Greece, of years studying in Abu Dhabi and China, of previous lives as nurses and journalists, as history, business and literature majors. We’ve gathered under these crazy circumstances, coming from very different paths, spending 12 hours together almost every day, and falling in love with our quirks and views of life.
My ensemble challenges me every day to live in kindness and thoughtfulness. Every moment in which I feel myself harden, I have them to soften me. We take care of each other. We have had rough patches, a few difficult incidents, but we have come to solutions through a great deal of empathy, dialogue, and mutual understanding. We have sat in circle meetings organized by ourselves and have dealt with our differences.
And competition is out the window. This last part is so important. You simply don’t get in an MFA program to compete with your classmates. You strive to become a better actor and human being yourself, and the relationship with your cohort, as it should be with any ensemble, is of mutual support, respect, and grace, so we can all transform, evolve, and grow in our individual journeys, connected to each other, having each other’s backs.
Coming into this program or this craft with the purpose of cutting the throats of colleagues is absurd and heartbreaking. We live together, we create together, we explore together, we expand the possibilities of the craft within ourselves and in the world through our work together. Grace, humility, and compassion are just as crucial as perseverance, hard work and ambition. I thank my group for being a vivid example that this combination is not only possible, but crucial. Thank you, aliens!
Attend a student performance on campus.