Playing at Pomona

I never did theater before coming to college. I always maintained that singing was “my thing” and never had the chance to try anything else out anyway. However, when I came to college, I realized that I could explore other potential interests, especially since I already knew my major, so I decided to try out something that was new but not a total stretch from what I was already doing (singing). Thus, I decided to try out an Acting 1 class. After Acting 1 though, I didn’t think I would continue theater until later in my college career since it didn’t fit into my schedule for the Spring semester, but that changed when my Acting 1 instructor, Gio, asked me to audition for his play.

At first, I auditioned just with the intent of being a singer in the play without any speaking roles. Gio, however, wasn’t going to let me slide with that because, being my old instructor, he knew what my acting abilities were like. So, I ended up doing the monologue that I did for my presentation in our Acting class and sung “Say Something” (the audition song) and went on my merry way. I didn’t think much of the audition because I didn’t think I’d actually get in. I didn’t even know what the plays were about. (It turns out that Medieval Mystery Plays are a genre of plays that portray Bible stories!) I didn’t realize how much my semester was about to change when I found out I got in the play!

Okay, so if you don’t know this, plays are a huge time commitment. For the Medieval Mystery Plays, we rehearsed three days a week for four hours each day, and that’s considered a small amount of time compared to the amount of rehearsal we’ve had for other plays. Luckily, you can get credit for doing plays! You get 0.25 to 0.5 of a credit (it depends) per play. The time commitment was definitely worth it, not only because of the credit, but because of the amazing experience it was.

There were 14 people in our cast, ranging from all four years and hailing from four out of five of the Claremont Colleges (we had no CMC students). That means that I probably would have never met most of these people had I not done this play. Going into the play, I only knew three out of the 14 people! I also didn’t think that we would all become so close. I thought that we would go to rehearsal, do our thing, and then leave. I was wrong. During our breaks, we didn’t all retreat to our phones and our laptops by ourselves; we socialized, we talked, we laughed. So even someone as socially awkward as me got to know the cast! This is pretty inevitable when you have a small group of people who spend so much time together so often, but that wasn’t the only reason we clicked. Gio just did an amazing job of picking people who were open to creating a family both on and off stage.

But even after the bonding, I didn’t realize how much the play had done for me until my dad died during our student preview (opening night to the students). During two of our last scenes, I found out via text from my older brother back home that he woke up from a nap to find our dad lying on the floor of our kitchen. I immediately called him, demanding to know what happened to Dad. Only a few people were in the Green Room with me when I found out (the three other freshmen girls and our assistant stage manager), and of course, they saw what was happening. They told me I didn’t have to stay the rest of the night to finish out the play if I didn’t want to and that they would tell Gio and figure things out. I wanted to continue though; I had to wait to find out what was going on and I needed the play now more than ever.

After we finished the play that night, I checked my phone again. The last text from my brother read, “They couldn’t save him. I’m so sorry…” I dashed out of the room and into my director’s arms and burst into tears. The entire cast gathered around as I relayed the news. Support came pouring out from every person along with offers to let me sleep over or have tea or play with one of my castmate’s cat. I ended up taking up Yasmin’s offer to have her sleep over in my room though since she lives in the building next to mine and was a bit closer to me than everyone else already. I thanked everyone for their support and left that night knowing I wasn’t alone.

The next day was a roller coaster of emotions. My director invited me to pray with him since we’re both Muslim. It was an amazing and refreshing experience. I mean, how many people can say they prayed with their director?! I feel like Gio has a way of really making everything feel so personal and so real. I couldn’t think of a more perfect play to be doing at a time like this. In between praying with Gio and rehearsal, I had to go through Room Draw at Oldenborg, which was a harrowing experience (to say the least). Gio found me on my way to rehearsal from Oldenborg and I apologized for being half an hour late to the rehearsal for our real opening night, but he said it was okay. He lead me up the stairs to the balcony near the Allen Theater where I found my cast sitting with a circle of roses and a beautifully decorated box in the center. I thought we were doing some opening night ritual and I immediately started apologizing again for being late, but everyone laughed and told me not to worry, because they were doing this for me. They picked the roses from Scripps (which has amazing roses, if you couldn’t already tell) and wrote nice notes for me and put them in the box. Lydia sang a song for me that she wrote when her own mother died, and we sang one of the songs from our play called “Bit by Bit.” I could tell that that night we were going to have an especially powerful performance.

And we did. When we started working on the play back in February, I had originally planned on distancing myself from it personally since they were Bible stories and I was Muslim. As we went on, however, I realized that the stories weren’t overtly Christian and that my religion actually shared the same stories. Gio brought an element of other religions into the play to give it a wider appeal (for example, there’s a part where I start praying on Noah’s Ark). Gio emphasized the point that, although these plays were originally written in the Medieval Age to awaken Christian zeal in its audience, we were performing them to show these humans with these human conflicts and stories. We were performing them to make people feel.

So if you were wondering what the experience of doing a play was like, here it is in really short terms: It’s a time commitment. It’s exhausting. It’s exhilarating. You will meet unforgettable people and hopefully they’ll never let you forget them, because if your cast is anything like mine, you’ll meet up with them all the time after the play is over. You’ll make a family. You’ll learn about the subject matter of the play, but more importantly, about yourself. And if you didn’t already know this, you’ll definitely learn it: Acting isn’t pretending to be something you’re not. It’s being yourself under given circumstances. I never knew being in a play could feel so real.