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                      Sarah Robertson / Courtesy of

                      It might have been my worn-out DVD of Singin’ In the Rain or an all-consuming Hamilton infatuation (I swear, I liked it before it was cool), but somewhere in that span of time between birth and university, there was a spark in me that lit my passion for the theater.

                      It was a world I was (and still am) obsessed with: the permeating, oh-so-tangible emotion and intoxicating buzz one feels as the lights go down. Yet, for so long, my infiltration seemed impossible. The theater world seemed only to exist to tantalize and impress. Finding that one place, my own place, within the magic of it all was long elusive. So, for much of my young life, theater was only ever a hobby.

                      Instead, I knew myself as a writer. So when I arrived at Barnard as a transfer student, Spectator seemed to beckon with open arms. At NYU London the year before, I had taken a course called Reporting the Arts and learned the basics of accessing the arts through a critical lens while being exposed to more theater in a year than seemed possible for one person to ingest. Thus, upon learning about Spectator’s Arts and Entertainment section, my path was set.

                      In my early days at A&E, making and writing about theater seemed to exist as dichotomies; it was an ethical quandary at first: The more one is involved in theater, the fewer theater groups and performances are left for one to write about fairly and impartially. But then there’s the paradox: The uninvolved critic, by virtue of not being a practitioner, is somewhat ignorant. And it was also a question of feasibility. To participate in theater after having reviewed it requires one to fraternize with and perhaps face exclusion by those one has critiqued; this was a daunting proposition. So I conferred with the majority’s opinion: The theater critic isn’t a theater-maker. And I respected this boundary.

                      But I loved growing within this writer’s sphere, finding and developing my critical voice through the reviews I was penning. Meanwhile, I was making my way home from Riverside a few times a week, always past midnight, among the dearest of friends. I had, as a great wordsmith once put it, that heady feeling that “we’re all in this together.” That a group of students packed into a room lit by multicolored string lights, hunched over laptop screens and exchanging occasional banter, could make such a brilliant thing come to life every night. This all felt quite spectacular (pun intended). I’d pore over pieces by critics from The New York Times and The Guardian and borrow their directness, melodic adages, and clever conclusions. And I apologize to everyone who, for my first few articles (and oft in the semesters since), was tasked with editing down my countless adjectives and diluting my verbosity.

                      A year passed before my eyes began to widen. With the feeling of being situated at Barnard came a renewed desire to expand and reevaluate my relationship with the arts. In retrospect, I might have long been consumed by that wretched, unshakable impostor syndrome. With two years gone by, feeling the clock ticking, and opportunities—to act, produce, and more—seeming to pass me by, the idea that these two spheres were un-mergeable started to feel shortsighted.

                      I ended up infiltrating the theater world during my junior year. I started by acting in Columbia’s annual secular spectacular musical, and then, I went abroad and further divulged; somehow, in only six months, I acted in two more shows and produced five. This gave me a foundation, solid ground to stand on to (moderately) shed that deep-rooted uncertainty. When I returned to Barnard for my senior year, I became the person I had long avoided—a theater practitioner and a theater writer (for productions I was not taking part in)—somehow straddling both worlds.

                      But as my practitioner self grew, previous certainties turned precarious. No longer did the review seem to be a perfect thing. It seeks to teach, to better the community, and to challenge, yet often, it can hurt—making the concept as a whole far less alluring. I understood that a review is not comprehensive—it is impossible for every nuance of a performance to be captured in 800 words. It was further disconcerting to notice this lack of perspective on a grander scale: When writing recaps or reviews, both simply recounted my individual experience or opinion of a final product, either actively or passively. Rarely had I expanded my view to consider the crucial multidimensionality of it all; often, that the process may be equally or more valuable to expose than the product.

                      I did not join the theater community to better my reporting through personal experience, however obvious a maneuver that may be. These endeavors seemed separate. But self-improvement was a byproduct. By straddling the seemingly opposing worlds of critic and practitioner, I learned that I could use each experience to inform the other. I was able to look objectively at these worlds and not only recount, but also educate, suggest avocational and inclusionary improvement, unveil the work of those not in the spotlight, and reveal the enormous amount of work devoted to putting on a show. To put this lesson into practice, I acted as co-editor on a collaborative issue from A&E, The Eye, and Illustrations and later implemented the preview piece into regular A&E coverage. All of the reporting was construed from my own experience; I used my newfound background in theater to document the process of creating a show and listen to the voices of creators themselves, and my background in reporting to look at a production with an understanding, impartial eye.

                      My time at Spec was the buzz in the theater as the lights went down, scribblings of notes, and piles of programs and ticket stubs. It was reckoning with being a force to be reckoned with. But it was also hearing movement through articulation in picking apart what makes choreography distinctively Fosse, learning how a student playwright edits and re-edits their work, and seeing how a classic text is reenvisioned to become luminescent. I had the greatest expectations to find that one place where I could exist in relation to theater—thank God these expectations weren’t fulfilled. What transpired—instead, being amid it all—seemed at one point impossible. But it was a hell of a lot better.

                      Acknowledgments:

                      To Sarah: For being there for me for my very first interview, which was much too long, and very first review, which I was much too nervous for. Then for being there at 3 a.m. on the upper floors of Milstein or hauling bags of bagels down Broadway or that last misty (and misty-eyed) eve before I went abroad. And then for sticking around and being there for me ever since. You are both a light and incredibly tenacious. Thank you for believing in A&E and in me.

                      To Gia and Isa: There’s really not much the two of you can’t do, and you inspire me every day. Thank you for smiling in many of my Huji moments so far and many more to come. Gia, I’m so glad I got to be a small part of your Columbia College journey. And Isa, for being my fellow Shakespearean scholar. My love for y’all hath no bottom.

                      To Fonda, Sophie S., and Lizzie: Thank you for showering me with love, making me laugh, and always being down for an adventure. You are the dearest of friends, and without you, there’s no way Spec for me and many others would shine so bright.

                      To Sam: Thank you for being my theater partner-in-crime, for being the best editor of my reviews, and for sometimes letting me edit yours. I’m so glad we were both able to do the unthinkable and together infiltrate every aspect of campus theater imaginable (almost).

                      To Abby: To think it all started with haphazardly twirling umbrellas side-by-side in XMAS! Who would have thought? It’s been an incredible pleasure to see you grow and achieve so much. Never stop sticking up for A&E; you’re already a pro at it. And I can’t wait to visit you at Cambridge!

                      To A&E 144: I thought I was supposed to be the teacher?! But instead, you all ended up teaching me so much! The joy and life you bring to coverage of the arts are so incredibly important. However, they pale in comparison to the incredible community that’s built each and every year in 420, “Arts and Tomfoolery” and beyond. Keep writing with intention and heart, and keep doing it together.

                      To Sophie K.: The original icon. From Halloweens to Thanksgivings and photoshoots in my 620 closet, thank you for making A&E a place that’s full of such heart and worth sticking around.

                      To Rahil and Katherine: I really enjoyed that time we all went to the beach. That was high-key super fun. Special shout out to the NYC Ferry for helping make that happen. Thank you also, of course, for your leadership and guidance. You guys really are all-stars.

                      To Jadie and Rebecca: To think you were at Barnard this whole time, and it took living in a foreign country to get to know you. Thank you for allowing me to vent (only) once or twice about Spec when we came back. I’m beyond lucky to have you as my friends.

                      To the unprecedented and incredible camaraderie of my spring senior semester class, bonding especially over the great Zoom bombing incident of 2020: Glad to have been “mad smart, no cap” with y’all.

                      To all those who were part of the break-neck-paced adventure that was bringing Bona Varda to life: This was my proudest experience thus far as a theater-maker. Perry, I wasn’t sure if I’d do it again, but I’m so glad you convinced me. Being a small part of CUP was ephemeral but so incredibly special.

                      And to A&Es of past, present, and future: Coverage of the arts is important. It is not always a given for it to be considered as such. And Spectator’s coverage of student performance is vital not just for the moment, but for the future, as a recorded history of the incredibly vibrant talent on our campus. I urge both current and prospective members of A&E to always think creatively and proactively beyond what has long been done and conceptualize what may be better. I encourage you to continue to challenge, but also to strive to establish and maintain positive relationships with the arts community and to always approach pieces with intention and genuine care as writer-artists. My thanks are immeasurable.

                      Enjoy leafing through our 10th issue!

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                      2020 Senior Column
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