Training Theatre Artists to Make a Difference
As a college student, it is easy to say you’ve have had busy semester but Marie Kottenstette is not just a college student. Cast in the Drama Departments mainstage productions of The Importance of Being Earnest and The Laramie Project (opening this weekend), Marie is wrapping up her first semester as a Resident Assistant in Reagan Hall. I was lucky enough to grab dinner with Marie before her final dress rehearsal for The Laramie Project and reflect on her semester with her.
Marie, just finding the time to sit down with you for dinner was a challenge. Tell me about what’s been on your plate.
Well, I am a junior English and drama double major so I’ve been working on those courses. I am an RA in Reagan hall so I have all of those freshman girls and I have been cast in both of the main stage shows this semester. Soooooo there has been a lot on my plate but it hasn’t been impossible. Something I have learned as the semester has gone on is how to advocate for myself while balancing it all.
You can’t give 100% all of the time because there simply isn’t 300% of you to give. So the challenge is not giving 33.333% of yourself to everything you do rather finding a way to give as much as you possibly can without totally exhausting yourself.
Can you give us an example of one of the challenges you faced this semester and how you tackled it?
One of the jobs you have to do as an RA is schedule two programs a month which is kinda impossible when you have to go to rehearsal every night. So one of the thing I started doing was scheduling these events when I am on-call which is already an excused absence from rehearsal. A lot of these programs are usually planned last minute and, you know, casual, low-pressure events that a lot of my girls will come and go through as they please. I think I have pretty good attendance for them because they are so low pressure.
Some of things I’ll do are ‘cookies and coloring’ or ‘come for a cup of coffee and chat about your day’. It’s therapeutic for both them and me because I’m sitting and chatting and checking in with them on how they’re doing while I’m off from rehearsal. Yes, I am technically still working on my night off but it’s a way for me to do my job and not be super stressed about it. That was one of the bigger challenges I had when I was working in The Importance of Being Earnest but I got better when I was cast in The Laramie Project. I learned to sit down and say “This is what I have to do, here are my conflicts, this is how I am going to make this work.”
It sound like you have a lot of love for being an RA.
I do! I love being an RA. I never realized how much I love interacting with other students. I love being able to sit down, hear about their days and exchange experiences with them that I would have never gotten to hear about. That’s the thing, if I wasn’t an RA, I would never hear this stuff, like the challenges they face and how similar they are to mine.
I get to interact with them on a level that you just don’t get if you aren’t living in the building with them, going through their day-to-day basis, hearing that the AC units keep going off; I get their struggles because I live their struggles to a certain extent.
That’s just something you don’t get if you aren’t an RA. You are connected to the student body in a way you never thought possible which is just amazing and totally unexpected.
How is your relationship with your residents different from your relationship with your fellow cast members in the show you’re working right now and the one you worked earlier this semester?
During Ernest, I felt a little distant from the cast just by the nature of the production. The director had cast a group of musicians to play at various points throughout the performance. So when the main characters went off, we went on and had a blast on stage! We had a million inside jokes and everything was hilarious to us. But with Laramie, I’m a little bit biased because this has been my favorite cast I’ve ever worked with. They’re all so unique and have their own unique method with which they approach the work. We’re all so different but we all mesh together really nicely and to make up a truly great ensemble. I’m so grateful for getting to work on this production. As a ensemble, it’s been the best experience it could have been.
Tell us a little bit about Laramie.
The Laramie Project is a play centered around the Matthew Shepard murder back in 1998. One thing that was lost is that you saw a name and you saw a person which was Matt and just how horrible this was. But the play explores how the town and the people in it were affected by the hate crime. When tragedy strikes, we all have a different way of viewing it and, you know, at the end of the day whether we like it or not it brings us together to a certain extent. We have to acknowledge that evil can come from anywhere and that we, as a society, have a duty to prevent it.
That is, at least for me, what this play brings to the forefront; How when we overlook the cruelty of the world by focusing on our great community and it’s vibrancy, we are forced to look at the ugly parts when tragedy strikes. We need to come together to search those ugly bits out and heal them.
Do you have any advice you would give to a student who’s considering auditioning for a production but already has a busy schedule?
Just do it. It will work itself out. If you’re committed 110% it will work itself out. And it will be stressful and there will be times when you want to go home and curl up in a ball and cry. However at the end of the day it’s worth it because everything that I do is so rewarding that it doesn’t matter if I’m super stressed. I just remember it’s for something greater than me and I’m only a piece of it.
Can you name one lesson you learned that you know you’ll take with you beyond college that we should take too?
It’s never a bad idea to advocate for yourself. I have always found it hard to speak up for myself. I just say yes and go. There are some things that you just have to be firm on and say no to. You cannot make everyone happy which is probably the hardest lesson I’ve learned this semester because I want to make everyone happy all the time. You just can’t do it though.
There will always be people in life who put you down at every chance they get but you just have to say, ‘Okay, what’s next?’.