Ella Spoelstra '21
All Stories

The question that all seniors in college quickly become accustomed to being asked is: “What are your post-graduate plans?” To be totally honest, it’s something I dread being asked. Well really, I have always gotten a little knot in my stomach when I am asked questions like “What do you want to do with your theatre degree?” or “What exactly do you want to do with your life?” Most people are genuinely curious and intrigued by my theatre degree because it is often assumed that everyone with a theatre degree dreams of being on Broadway. But in the spirit of transparency, that’s never been my dream. Aside from the obvious pursuits of being a performer or director, there is also work in the technical side of theatre, in being a dramaturg, teacher, playwright, being on the administrative side, and a myriad of other positions in theatre. And most of these available jobs are not found on Broadway.

The beautiful thing about having a theatre degree, especially from a liberal arts college, is that there have been plenty of people who have gone on to work in fields outside of theatre and found great success and contentment in their careers. I am grateful that through my degree and experiences at Carthage I have not only grown as an artist but I have also gained irreplaceable experiences and transferable skills that have prepared me for whatever comes next: theatre or otherwise.

Now on the other side of that coin, there are people who ask these questions with the undertone that a degree in the arts is useless. And truthfully, I understand the skepticism. As much as it is a wonderful community, the reality is that it is also a competitive industry. If you had asked me a year ago where I thought I would be today, I would have said that I would be doing auditions, sending out my resume and headshot, and doing research on the theatre companies and places I want to work at. I would have said that I’d be anxiously awaiting graduation. But life has changed and I have changed. A year ago, the thought of an uncertain future or a lack of any foreseeable plans at all would have paralyzed me with fear. Today, I accept that my dream job is not going to be a reality at age 22. I am at peace with not having it all together in any facet of life. I am here today, doing my best, and that is good enough.

I’ll be completely real with you. Studying theatre in a time when there is virtually no theatre going on outside of virtual presentations and the select few schools that are still in-person has never felt more useless. But at the same time, it has also never felt more relevant. Perhaps we in theatre will not graduate with any solid plans or jobs in the arts lined up, but we will be ready for when theatre returns. In a time when people desperately need joy, so many have turned to the arts for comfort, for clarity, and for hope. The arts are not useless and never have been. And we do not need jobs in the arts to create our art! Although it has been difficult at times to remain positive in the face of so much uncertainty and fear, I count it a privilege to be back with my professors, peers, and friends making art, learning, and growing together despite it all. It’s been humbling to know that we have had more opportunities to do our work in the last few months than many theatre industry professionals have had.

This year, and particularly this first semester of senior year has taught me that none of us are defined by our achievements or perceived successes. Your worth does not change based on your grades or your job or the number of awards you’ve received. My definition of success has drastically changed over the past eight months. I have come to realize that pandemic or not, I am not defined by what I “achieve”. And that is not to say that we cannot celebrate or be proud of our successes, because we should be! But, at the end of the day, it is okay to not have it all figured out. That would make for quite a boring life, don’t you think?

Now we have a tradition in theatre: whenever the theatre is “dark”, aka when the theatre is closed, we leave a “ghost light” on. The ghost light is a single, bare bulb that is usually left out in the middle of the stage. There are reasons for this, ranging from practical to superstitious. But since the pandemic started, the ghost light has become a strong symbol for hope. While most theatres may be dark right now, many of these theatres have left their ghost lights on. Why? Well, as Albus Dumbledore said, “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” So while my future, and the world at large feels uncertain right now, hope is not over. We need only remember to leave on a light.