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Trauma, Pride And Theatre School (A Dangerous Trio)
~Nadya Corscadden
Theatre School Group Circle
What do trauma, pride and theatre school have in common? Why, they’re all “a part of the process”.
It’s no secret that many performance-based training institutions mess with young artists’ mental health. Actually, “many” is a gross understatement.
Why is this blanket statement so easy to make? It’s because there are so many angles where it comes from; it’s really almost impossible to miss. Some attacks are more severe and intimate, and others are more sweeping and general. All those itty bitty issues stemming from race, disability, gender, sexuality, physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse and body size/shape are just the tip of the iceberg.

It’s all a part of the “theatre school experience” that young artists are “lucky” enough to…pay for.

They teach you that being “torn down” is just a part of the glorious process, and then you’ll become an unstoppable and unbreakable force to be reckoned with. They neutralize the process by telling you it’s normal and that they do it to everyone…and because it happens to everyone, it’s alright?
They prepare you for this tear-down, and because teachers are always right, the students anticipate their fate. It is also somewhat, dare I say it…looked forward to? And then somewhere much farther down the line, it becomes a badge of honour.

I survived theatre school.

The “point” of tearing students down in the first place is to build them back up even stronger than before. All too often, however, they graduate still broken and are then released into the real world…which doesn’t exactly scoop them up with loving, caring arms, either.
The point of this article isn’t to propose any specific changes to the training process. That is its own problem which is simply too deep and complex to really even comment on in a mere blog post. Many issues go way beyond theatre school and are significant problems within the whole industry.
(Thank you to all of the not-so-young-anymore artists who have been bravely bringing these issues to light. Thank you for fighting non-stop to make sure young minds and bodies are no longer treated this way. You give me hope that we may finally potentially be on an upward trajectory in this department.)
The part that’s potentially simpler to fix is the fact that somewhere down the line, some of this abuse became a trophy — an “I survived” badge of honour. And what’s worse, after graduation, some of those trophies are quantified, compared and pitted against each other.

Let me be clear – not every story falls into this trap, but some do…and some is too much.

In waiting rooms, in apartments, in chats, these traumatizing experiences become stories that make you a part of the gang. Having an awful tale to tell earns you a place in this oddly proud club of theatre school survivors. Everyone must have an awful experience to be a part of this club, and if you didn’t, your experience was probably sub-par in some way.

You’re supposed to get beaten down in theatre school. So… if you had it worse, was your schooling really “better”?

How messed up is that???
Together, we survive a borderline-traumatizing experience (or fully traumatizing in some cases). And then, we compete to see who had it the worst…as if the worst is somehow superior.
What good does that do? …besides somehow twisting trauma into some form of pride-filled badge of honour…
Don’t get me wrong – these conversations are crucial. It is the only way to potentially change the future of how theatre schools function. Unfortunately, though, any competitive spirit behind it can belittle the most important conversations. Other issues also get normalized and brushed off as “not a big deal” because they are embarrassingly common.
Stop comparing, contrasting and competing, and instead discuss them and direct your attention to the root of the cause. Share your story, and give other voices a platform as well. Nothing’s going to change if we’re at each other’s throats, and nothing’s going to change if there’s an ounce of pride associated with experiencing trauma.

Pride gives these experiences positive value and distracts attention from the cause.

I dream of a theatre school that runs off of positivity and comfort.
I dream of a theatre school that’s built on mutual trust and respect.
I dream of a theatre school that champions and supports all passionate, driven artists, and not just ones from affluent backgrounds.
I dream of a theatre school where students’ voices matter…not because they are paying tuition, but because they are full-on, valid humans with unique experiences and perspectives.
I dream of a theatre school that believes competition doesn’t exist…because every human is ridiculously unique and unparalleled.
I dream of a theatre school that craves diversity so much they actively want to change policies and practices to make that happen.
I dream of a theatre school that believes its students can perform any role they can ethically play and doesn’t encourage upon them roles they should not.
I dream of a theatre school that fosters artists for a new industry that is BETTER than before.
I dream of a theatre school that cares so deeply about the industry’s future that they’re willing to listen to it. It’s not that hard – it’s sitting right in front of them.
These changes won’t happen overnight. Much of it is rooted in baseline industry practices and biases, not just specifically in schools. Until that happens, though, can we please stop accepting its flaws and championing them as a rite of passage.

Trauma is not a competition, nor is it a badge of honour.

Bring it forward, discuss it, challenge it, but don’t use it to feel included in the cool club. That club is not cool, so don’t fight to be included.
Pitting these stories against each other is like throwing buckets of water at each other instead of putting out the fire in front of you.

If your bucket is small, there are plenty of others who would love your help.

About the Author ~ Nadya Corscadden

Nadya is a Canadian musical theatre performer with small-town roots. Once she moved to a bigger city, she became increasingly aware of the unique limitations brought on by location in this huge country - if you don’t have a knowledgeable network, it’s almost impossible to find the right place to start!
Nadya hopes this site is just step 1 in helping create resources for emerging artists across our incredibly talented country.
© 2024, Act. Sing. Dance. Repeat.