By: Sarit Perl | Opinions  | 

Overcoming Major Doubts

“So, what are you majoring in?”

Up until a few weeks ago, I had reacted to that question with a frustrated little sigh and a string of non-committal responses: “Well, I’m trying to work something out with the dean … it’s not concrete yet, I haven’t been able to schedule a meeting … I don’t know if they’ll approve it …”

I came to dread that question and the doubt and skepticism that inevitably followed my answer. While I still find myself fielding people’s concerns about my academic choices, it feels great to now be able to respond to them without hesitation and uncertainty. I can finally say to them, firmly and proudly, “I have it all worked out with the dean. We put together a list of classes and had my shaped major approved. I am studying theater.”

This is the part where all you readers will be asking the same questions I’ve grown accustomed to hearing: “What kinds of classes are you going to be taking?” “How are you going to get enough credits?” And, my personal favorite, “Wait, there’s a theater major at Stern?”

The answer, of course, is no. But what surprises me the most is how strongly people believe that if there’s no set course of study for a particular subject, it’s impossible to pursue it at YU. I used to believe it too; I had been told my whole life that theater wasn’t the place for a good frum girl. The fact that Stern seemed to treat theater as a hobby and nothing else cemented that idea in my mind. I know people who have left YU to study theater. That wasn’t an option for me, so there was a point where I had given up on it completely. I listened to the voices around me that said, “You’ll never be able to make it work.”  Resigned to accept a more “realistic” career path, I declared a poli-sci major but was determined to take advantage of extracurricular theater while I still had the chance.

The 24-Hour Show was a ridiculously intense experience that reminded me why I was so passionate about theater. During that crazy day, in which all my friends and I did was live and breathe theater, I fell in love with it all over again. I got to experience every element of this beautiful process in a heightened yet playful atmosphere, and the best moments happened while waiting in the wings or wading through piles of costumes, not onstage.  Because this was all happening “behind the emerald curtain,” I realized that to all those naysayers, most of them casual play-watchers at best, theater means bright lights, divas, curtain calls and little else. If that were true, I can understand why they might want to steer me away. But I am drawn to theater for reasons far less glamorous — and far more meaningful.

To me, theater is running lines or painting sets at ungodly hours with my best friends. It’s teaching young girls to step into someone else’s skin while encouraging them to become comfortable in their own.  It is the epitome of human creativity in the way it explores and expresses human nature. It is an artistic vision brought to tangible reality. It’s the most creative, loving and supportive people collaborating to bring an entire world to life.  To have a fulfilling career in theater, I don’t need to be a Tony winner. I don’t need to perform on Broadway. I don’t even need to be onstage. Educating, directing, designing, you name it — I just want to be in the proverbial “room where it happens,” doing what I love and sharing it with others.

So with encouragement from a few mentors and friends, I made the decision to pursue my passion. Once I articulated my perspective and developed a plan, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of support I received from my parents, my peers and even Academic Advisement. Though it will likely still be an uphill battle, getting confirmation that my goals are legitimate and a concrete plan to achieve them has empowered me to welcome whatever challenges I may face in getting there.

For those of you who relate to any part of this struggle, you should know that putting together a shaped major is far less complicated than it is made out to be. Not only should you pursue your passion — you can pursue it here. If YU is the right place for you, don’t transfer just because there’s no established department in your field. Don’t allow the status quo to dictate the path your life takes. Don’t give up something you care about because other people can’t see your vision.

It won’t be easy; it will probably get pretty lonely at times. But if you want it badly enough, you can make it work. The more of us that come forward the easier it will get. Dare to defy the gravity of perceived obstacles, and take a cue from Wicked’s leading lady, Elphaba Thropp: “I’m through accepting limits, cuz someone says they’re so. Some things I cannot change, but ‘til I try, I’ll never know.”

Photo Caption: The author acting in SCDS’ performance of “The Game’s Afoot”

Photo Credit: The Commentator