By: Jessica Love, Third-Year Drama Student
#1: Juilliard is Populated by the Same Smug Social Fugitives from Your High School Theater Department: FALSE
I came to Juilliard after going to college. And to be perfectly honest, one of my biggest night-terrors about the place was that, as a result of the fact that Juilliard accepts students fresh out of high school as well graduate students (with the ‘undergrads’ outweighing the ‘grads’ at a ratio of about 70/30 in most classes), I would find myself surrounded by a pack of teenagers with whom I had nothing in common. Patently false! It took me about a week to hurdle my own prejudices, but time and again, the zany diversity of this program has proven itself an enormous opportunity for growth and learning. First of all, the undergraduate students are for the most part people of exceptional dedication and maturity (not to mention talent). Second, the pressure of the program really dissolves any notion you might have about a person that isn’t predicated entirely upon your direct experience of them. In fact, I think I have learned more about freedom, confidence, and a buoyant attitude towards working than I have from my fellow grad students. But for the most part, these designations just cease to be something you recognize at all.
#2: I Will Have to Give Up Life-As-I-Know-It, Because I Will Literally Have No Time Outside of School: TRUE
Goodbye movies, goodbye reading, goodbye sleeping in, goodbye weekend, goodbye friends, goodbye strolls, goodbye noodling around on the Internet. The one consistent thing I heard from graduates of this program, upon being asked what it was like was, “It’s…intense.” And that has, in fact, proven to be the only accurate way to describe it. Your life changes drastically. In your first year you are at school from 9am-10pm every weeknight. You have breaks for lunch, and dinner, and the occasional half-hour between classes, but for the most part, if you aren’t in class or eating, you’re asleep. There is certain emotional fallout that results from this. I personally felt robbed of my former life. Don’t they have any consideration for my physical needs? I’m tired all the time! But, BUT, you get used to it. Slowly but surely you begin to learn how to manage yourself and you start to feel like your mind and body is this well-oiled machine of efficiency. You start feeling totally awesome. I think there are a couple of things that are particularly useful about this total-immersion attitude:
(1) Many of the things you are trying to learn, you want to learn by rote. You don’t want them to be conscious choices; you want them to be something your body just knows (for example: letting your breath drop down deep, connecting with your partner, being aware of your relationship to the space around you, etc.). And this kind of learning is like learning a sport. You just need to drill it. Constantly. Then one day you wake up and whaddya know, you can dunk.
(2) Your threshold gets higher. You learn how to not only function, but also how to be productive with less sleep, less time, just less. There is a notion that if you can figure out how not only to survive but to thrive here, you can do it anywhere. It’s practice for the real world.
(3) You learn a lot about yourself and your habits under this kind of pressure, from the mundane to the profound. You find out, ‘Wow, when I’m stressed out I have a habit of lashing out at those around me’, or, ‘When I’m tired I need to eat more protein.’
(4) Turns out that, for the work you’re doing, it helps to be cloistered away. When your beam of focus is this narrow: ‘How do I get better at acting?’ Rather than, ‘How do I get better at acting, have a job, a boyfriend, a drug problem and four hobbies?’ It becomes much easier to make headway with that goal.
#3: Juilliard Is Trying to Turn Me Into an Acting Automaton Who Talks Fancy: FALSE!
One of the biggest surprises of the program, for me, was the tremendous flexibility inherent in the training. In fact, I would say that if any principle is at the core of the program it is flexibility. The curriculum is so diverse that at times you think, but wait, I’m learning one thing in my Suzuki class and what feels like the complete opposite in my Alexander Technique class! But that is the beauty part. The faculty gives you as much information as possible and then you make sense of it yourself. Once you’ve mastered something you are free to throw it away if you don’t find it helpful. The priority is arming the actor with a bristling-full arsenal, and then the actor gets to choose which tools are most appropriate for the task. It’s an incredibly empowering feeling.
#4: Failure is Unacceptable: FALSE
Turns out, failure is one of the best ways to learn. The faculty knows this, and you are applauded when you venture outside your comfort zone and fall on your face. Of course, I’m not talking about failure as a result of laziness. I’m talking about Wright Brothers early experiments with flight. I remember something Laura Linney said when she came to speak with us at a Community Meeting, ‘You have to be okay with falling on your face. If you aren’t willing to be terrible, then you’ll be good for a time doing what you know how to do, but you’ll never get better. And after a while you will become boring.’
I think that is exactly the way to think about your time at school. The reason you are here is not to impress the teachers (they don’t want you to!) or each other (nobody cares!), it is to throw yourself into those things that come hardest for you, pick yourself up, and hurl yourself again. That is the experiment and that is where the learning is. At school, you learn to make trying the scary stuff a habit, so that for the rest of your life you’re experimenting, so that even if at times you are terrible, you are never, never boring.