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Taking center stage: The thrills of a theatre major's first week

The hum of cicadas cuts through the late-summer heat as the sun drops lazily below the horizon, marking the end to another blistering day. As the light fades from the sky and students meander back to their houses and dorms, classrooms and laboratories become vacant -- all except for the Center for Performing Arts.

In the Center for Performing Arts, students stay late. While the halls are quiet, there's a tangible feeling of anticipation lingering in the silent corridors. A door opens and a tired student shuffles out. Looking up at the clock and realizing she missed the band practice she'd been hoping to attend, Annie Watson lets out a sigh and heads home.

Every year when the month of August draws to a close, a slew of articles and information appear to mark the start of a new school year. First-year survival guides, advertisements for new clubs, step-by-step scheduling manuals and lessons on how to make new friends flood the internet like clockwork. And they do so for good reason: starting college is hard.

While the first few days on campus are a battlefield for all incoming students, there's one group here at Miami who face a particularly brutal beginning: theatre majors.

For Miami's first-year theatre students, the first week on campus is packed to the brim with orientations, auditions and evaluations. The Miami University Theatre Department wastes no time in throwing first-years into the thick of things.

On their first Monday, the majors attend the department orientation. It has a casual, upbeat atmosphere that is different from most convocations and general orientations new students are forced to muddle through. The Theatre Department raucously welcomes first-years into the fold. They're informed about the various opportunities and events that they can participate in, to the sounds of enthusiastic whooping and cheering from faculty and fellow students alike.

To help them through the process of entering the world of Miami theatre, each incoming student is paired with an upperclassman who can offer advice and guidance. This big-little system serves to further bring the first-years into the theatre fold.

With orientation under their belts, the incoming theatre majors immediately launch into the audition process. Taking place on the first Tuesday and Wednesday, these events require students -- the same students still forming their friend group and trying to find the right buildings for a class -- to step on stage and pour their heart and soul into a minute-long monologue they've likely spent weeks preparing.

After the first-years have made it through auditions, the callback list is posted early the next morning and callbacks are held that night. Filled with plenty of pre-session pep talks and an air of cautious optimism, Thursday callbacks serve an even more scrutinizing evaluation of the student's theatrical abilities.

"[Friends] will ask me what classes I'm taking and I'll say auditions or a costume design class, and they won't understand the hard, focused work we do in class, and the hard work we do outside of class, how much time these things take up, if I was to be cast in a show," said Rachel Scardina, a junior theatre major. "It takes up all my evenings Monday through Friday and then a weekend day. It's hard."

Annie Watson, the student who lingered in the halls of the theatre building late into the night, managed to make it through her first week with a smile.

At the department orientation, she was inspired to audition for Echoes of Miami, an original production conceived by Miami's Assistant Professor of Theatre, Saffron Henke.

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"It was kinda crazy," Annie said. "I wasn't actually planning on auditioning for the plays until [the night of orientation], and when I did go in, I knew I had steel band on Tuesday nights, so I had to sign up for a really late time slot on Wednesday."

At 10:20 p.m. on Wednesday, she dove into her audition with a fully memorized monologue and secured a callback for the following day. She soon found out she was cast in Echoes of Miami -- her first-ever college audition process was a success.

Despite the packed of her first week, Annie said that she felt hopeful about the upcoming year.

"I know it'll be really busy," Annie said. "As a theatre major, it's a lot to take in at first, with all the required classes, but I do feel excited and I'm looking forward to the year."

Annie isn't the only theatre first-year to grapple with the challenges of week one.

Coming out of her first Miami audition, first-year Julie Whapham commented on her experience so far.

"I like being busy," she said. "There's a lot going on [in the theatre department]. As long as you manage your time effectively though, you should be okay."

After callbacks, the cast list goes up on Friday, and to celebrate the conclusion of their busy week, theatre majors new and old gather to send off the week in style. The evening that the cast lists are posted, a department-wide house party is thrown to welcome all the first-years and celebrate the start of a new year.

More so than almost any other major, Miami's theatre students truly commit themselves to their curriculum. The nature of performance, the rigorous rehearsal schedules and intense auditions require more out-of-class time commitment than most other subjects.

Even so, Miami's theatre students look like they're having fun.

From the whooping and cheering of their orientation, to the enthusiastic audition performances that rang through the halls late into the night, the theatre students didn't seem intimidated by the intensity of their lifestyles.

A veteran of many audition cycles and late-night rehearsals, Rachel summed up her feelings for her major simply:

"Theatre rules."