by Ashley Slack
There was something palpable in the air that July night. Five hundred kids sat in the main gallery, attentively listening to the opening speech given by Michael Fields, director of the California State Summer School for the Arts (CSSSA).
As the opening speech came to a close, I watched the parents around me – some consoling their kids, others being consoled – head out of the gallery to leave, and I knew I was about to embark on the experience of a lifetime. I watched tearfully as my family left; I was on my own.
For one month, CSSSA would be my home; I would be immersed in artistic creations. I would pursue my love of theatre and explore different styles of the craft. Opportunity for change was at my doorstep and I was going to welcome it with an eager mind and open arms.
Acting is my passion. I participate in numerous productions with my high school theatre class, and CSSSA was the next important step in my theatrical journey. That journey started five months prior when my friends and I decided to audition. We knew it to be a major undertaking, since only 500 students nationwide are accepted each summer into the six available disciplines.
When the replies arrived, I was not expecting more than a condolence letter for not being chosen. Neither of my friends was accepted, so I hesitantly opened my own letter and read the first lines: Congratulations! You are invited to become a member of the 2011 class.
I thought it was a mistake. Once the words sank in, excitement took over. All those long hours rehearsing, learning, and performing were about to be rewarded.
The theatre teachers made it clear that this was no ordinary summer camp. Six days a week, we attended college-level classes that tested our physical and mental endurance and capabilities: tai chi, contact improvisation, and physical comedy were a few of the rigorous courses. Although it was overwhelming and challenging, it made me realize that, while this could be fun, we had to work and commit ourselves wholly to the tasks at hand.
This summer program gave me more than the opportunity to pursue acting; it gave me a sense of self. I rediscovered my fervor for theatre. For one month, I felt a sense of responsibility, individuality, and independence.
From the physical comedy to the mental discipline; from wandering through campus to hanging out by the dorm café; from the strangers I passed in the cafeteria to the friends I made, this experience changed me. I was looking for something that would both scare and excite me, and I found it in CSSSA; in CSSSA, I found myself.