Despite the benefits of working with non-Harvard students, the exchange is not particularly two-sided. “The Harvard theater community and the shows and organizations that we have here are all of a pretty high caliber and produce a lot of really good productions every semester,” Prosky says. “You really don’t see a lot of—or I haven’t seen a lot of—people branching and going to Emerson or BU or BC and participating in their auditions or their shows or anything like that.”
Harvard does enjoy a comparatively large amount of institutional support for its productions, a factor that draws outsiders to Harvard, rather than the opposite. “There is a small theater group among the consortium of colleges to which MassArt belongs,” Pattyn writes. “But it simply doesn’t have the resources that Harvard is able to provide in terms of production materials, performance space, budgeting, etc.”
When Harvard students seek theater shows outside of Harvard, they tend to gravitate more heavily towards professional productions, especially students who intend to pursue theater as a career. “What’s really exciting about a lot of members of the Harvard community who do theater here is that they do intend to pursue that in a professional capacity at some point,” Prosky says. “So when you have actors who are really committed to being actors, they, in addition to going through Common Casting and trying to do shows here, also look around and go out and audition for professional productions. And they’ve been cast.”
Given the number of Harvard students who aspire to a career in theater, it might seem strange that there is not a well-known, formal system expressly designed to help Harvard thespians find opportunities to participate in professional shows, especially given the abundance of networking events and on-campus interview opportunities in the fields of technology, consulting, and entrepreneurship. Though Harvard’s Office of Career Services does offer guidance for individual seniors trying to find spots in professional shows and otherwise advance their theater careers, and the American Repertory Theater is a close-by community resource, there isn’t a popular equivalent to the business on-campus interview program for theater.
If Harvard students want to make forays into professional theater, they often have to venture in independently, without the help of major recruiting and advising events like those offered by the OCS’s On-Campus Interview program. “If you want to do it, you kind of go out and you do it,” Prosky says. “There’s absolutely no framework. It’s really just a person-to-person thing, if it happens.” There are informal mechanisms in place to help inform others about professional theater opportunities—friends will often pass along roles and opportunities that may be outside their own areas of expertise. In addition, the HRDC’s newsletter does contain a section which lists potential gigs, but that section relies entirely on submissions—the HRDC itself does not seek out productions beyond Harvard’s campus. Beyond Harvard’s own efforts, there are Boston-wide Facebook groups where directors and producers will post information about shows. But the predominant method for finding productions is still one-to-one interpersonal outreach. “Similarly to how we do it with other schools, people will send individual emails or text messages,” Bergquist says. “In the same way that we see success reaching out to individual people, they see the same success reaching out to us.”
Of course, an acting career cannot be wantonly compared to a career in a tech firm, and networking tools that work well in other fields would not necessarily beperfect fits for Harvard’s theater community. “I think part of it is also the difference in the structure of the theater industry versus these STEM things, where you can work for a company and get retained,” Zhou says. “Most of the time, [in theater] you’re just trying to get gigs.” Since most productions, except at fairly professional levels, are relatively self-contained affairs, burgeoning theater-practitioners have to search for new productions over and over.
Due to this pattern, students think that it could be utile to develop a more visible framework for support in that search, if only so that each prospective theater-maker’s foray into the professional [world might feels a little bit less isolated, a bit more communal. “I’m sure it would be helpful to have these network opportunities, these events where you have representatives from a bunch of companies or labs or whatever industry it might be coming in and talking about what they do to students,” Prosky says. “Certainly that sort of thing would be beneficial to the arts communities as well.”
For now, in the absence of a well-known and well-attended formal system for finding gigs, undergrads, at Harvard and elsewhere, are still finding success in expanding beyond their campuses. “Not only is Boston just a very cool, very artsy city with a lot of really exciting, interesting things happening, we also have so many universities around—so many colleges, so many schools,” Bergquist says. “You have a city that’s not only got such an investment in making good art, but also has so many young people and so many students who are freer to take risks and be creative, I think it’s really exciting what we get to be able to do.”
—Staff writer Adriano O. Iqbal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.