• Shannon Stoddard

Life is a road...

I've been watching a lot of This is Us lately which perhaps is what got me thinking about my past leading up to my future. As I'm finishing up my final semester of grad school here at New York University I've been looking back at the things which got me to where I am now. It's been quite a journey -- yet not the journey AT ALL which I expected of my life! And with today being Love Theatre Day -- I figured what a perfect day for this post!

Rewind to 11 years ago -- 2005 -- I was finishing my fall semester of my senior year of high school. I knew where I wanted to go to school and I knew that I wanted to continue doing theatre. Theatre was a broad term though in my mind... (I assumed I'd be acting because what theatre obsessed high school student doesn't just assume that.) I remember meeting my future college adviser and head of the theatre Department at Centenary College and he shared with my worried father that there were MANY jobs in theatre and urged him to trust me in wanting to go for my dreams of studying theatre. Thank goodness he did convince him because I'm not sure what else I would have studied!

So, I graduated high school and planned on continuing singing in the choir (which was the MAIN reason I wanted to attend Centenary -- because of their world renowned choir)... and doing theatre. My focus was always theatre -- singing was just the side thing which I enjoyed doing for fun. I remember my first audition was for the choral program and the choir director -- who seemed to like me -- informed me that there was NO WAY that I could do both theatre AND choir --- and if I wanted to be in the choir I would have to decide not to focus my major on theatre. Somehow I knew right away that I would just not do choir and continue my focus on theatre.

I will admit it to the world right now... that I think that was and will be one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I think I should have fought harder to do both... I think that the choir would have actually been a great experience for me and one which I would have really enjoyed. I continued taking voice lessons and each semester the faculty members watching my juries would question why I wasn't in their program. I would just laugh it off.

Now, I'm not saying that I regret choosing theatre in college. Obviously I learned a great amount and utilized those skills well after college. I feel like I often struggled to fit within the program and often wasn't a fan of the productions which we produced and was often sad about the lack of musicals in the line-up. I often decided on skipping out of those productions and participating with the Shreveport Opera (which my voice teacher helped me get involved in). However; as I was a devoted theatre major and STILL to this day cannot do the minimum amount of work -- I still took on many leadership roles within the productions such as props or stage managing or helping coordinate the box office.

Fast forward to 2009 -- my senior year of college. I had NO CLUE as to what I'd be doing once I graduated. I figured I'd audition for different acting programs (still thought I might be an actor) AND apply for backstage work (because more of my experience was in that area). I didn't think I'd end up working with children or focusing on shows FOR children... I had just finished an internship in Rolla, MO where I ran the summer camp at the Ozark Actors Theatre for young students... and was JUST starting to get interested in the idea that I should work with youth.

The perfectionist in me worked so hard that my senior year I was nominated president of our honors fraternity (Alpha Psi Omega) AND was awarded the student directed main stage show placement. Now, THIS is where I really was able to utilize my skills! I directed a Theatre for Young Audiences piece and somehow started my work as someone who would end up in this field. This still was NOT my intention... yet I'm intrigued that this was the path that I was on.

During the UPTAs (Unified Professional Theatre Auditions) in which I applied for backstage work AND acting... I was called back by Missoula Children's Theatre. Hearing about their program during my interview I somehow KNEW that this was something I was super interested in. I could direct children AND be in shows. I waited anxiously to hear back from this company and just KNEW this is where I'd be.

Flash forward to the end of my senior year where I had gone through every round of final interviews for this company and then was told that I WAS A GREAT CANDIDATE YET DIDN'T HAVE ENOUGH EXPERIENCE. I was heartbroken and didn't know what to do. Everywhere else I had applied was telling me the same thing. How was a graduated college student fresh out of college expected to have all of this experience to succeed in the world if no one was willing to give that student a chance?!?

Bless my sweet parents hearts for still being so encouraging and telling me to move home and we'll figure it out. At least I wouldn't be sleeping on the streets... I decided to email the company which I had interned for during the summers early in my college experience as well as had worked with them in high school as an actor/student. I emailed the executive director of the UAFS Academy of the Arts with a bit of a backstory of how I had been involved in the past, was graduating college with my theatre degree, would be moving home in a few months and needing theatre experience AND asked if they had any internships which I could possibly apply for in order to get some more experience.

Low and behold this woman calls me back and after a short conversation asked if I'd be interested in teaching their Acting Primer class of K-2 graders in the fall. YES! I replied quickly... and so started the beginning of my teaching. Within a few months of graduating I was somehow teaching both the Acting Primer (K-2) and Junior (3-6) classes as well as directing the musical for the 2-6 graders and assisting with the teen musical. Before Christmas of that first year the Missoula Children's Theatre reached out and offered me that job... yet I turned it down because I felt like I knew where I belonged!

By the next year I was teaching both musical companies and teaching all of the acting classes. I am still amazed by how this worked out! I was somehow the go-to theatre person at this organization and it felt AMAZING! My boss urged me multiple times that I should go back to school and pursue my masters... each time this was brought up I thought WHY WOULD I DO THAT WHEN I LOVE MY JOB RIGHT NOW?!

Flash forward to 2015 and things are starting to really frustrate me where I am at. I felt like I was fighting for my program more than I needed to be and was teaching with some really stressful situations. I was told that I didn't have the right experience (all of a sudden) to be doing things which I had already been doing. I was getting help in areas in which i didn't need help and no help in areas that I was drowning in. Grad school was starting to look like a really good idea because at least I'd then have a degree to show that I had this "experience."

So, I began my research and found New York University in which I could attend during the summers and still be able to teach at home during the school year. This seemed ideal as I didn't want to leave my students... (this is what my post was initially going to be about... but now it shall wait for another time).... I decided to make a trip to talk with the head of the program and see what the fit would be like. The first time meeting this department head he seemed very interested in my past experience already and urged me to consider going full time during the school year in order to get the most out of my grad school experience. I wasn't sure about this moving away thing and leaving my wonderful students and these theatre companies which I had developed into such amazing programs!

I get back from my trip to New York and immediately am told by my boss about budget cuts and having to make decisions which I didn't want to have to make. I was done. Getting out of there and going to grad school suddenly seemed like the RIGHT choice! Although my decision was made out of anger I think it was one of the best decisions I've made.

Now I am weeks away from finishing grad school and earning my masters in theatre education! I want to be able to share this love of theatre with other children. I am moving back home to Arkansas and already have some exciting job prospects lined up! I am so excited for the journey ahead of me and so thankful for the journey I've taken thus far!

Share you're story about why you love theatre and the journey it's taken you on! It's fun to be able to reflect on the experiences and dream about the future!