What if you don't know? By LOEY JONES-PERPICH


Sam Major was sitting in the sound booth, her fingers on the board riddled with tiny buttons that could transform a performance, when she realized that she was good at technical theatre. The booth, a hole in the wall with its door disguised by a blue and green mural, sometimes felt big with only two people inside, and sometimes felt claustrophobic with eight or nine people squeezed inside. And though Sam, then a sophomore, hadn’t spent much time in the booth, in that moment she had the most power in the theatre — she was the stage manager of Community Ensemble Theatre’s (CET) fall production of “Into The Woods.”

Sam Major sits in the sound booth, where she's sat so many times before. During the parts of shows when there aren't many cues, she said, she dances in the booth. She has to be careful to not make too much sound, though, or the audience might hear her.

She sat wearing all black, headset on, calling lighting and sound cues through her walkie-talkie. With the fate of what was then CET’s most technically advanced production at her fingertips, she had no room for failure: One misspoken cue, one slipped finger and the show could fall apart. So with a deep breath, she threw herself into the show, and when opening night was over, she breathed a heavy sigh of relief.

“I was sitting up in the booth, just looking at everything, and I was like, ‘Wow, I really enjoy what I do and people say that I'm really good at what I do,’” Sam said. “[I thought], ‘I could do this for a career.’”

But when she climbed the ladder and stepped into the hallway, the real world came flooding back.

Outside of the utopia of the booth, Sam was beginning to be faced with the decision that would continue to confuse her for two years: technical theatre or biology?

Sam Major gazes lovingly out the tiny window overlooking the theatre and runs her fingers over the light board. She takes the booth in — with memories written all over the walls — and focuses on just being in the booth. One of these times, it just might be the last.

Sam had fallen in love with biology when she took her first high school level science class in eighth grade. Her class, taught by one of her favorite teachers, looked at the complexities of cancer, and she came to be fascinated by all of the different problems that researchers had to solve. In high school, she took as many science classes as she could and continued to TA lower-level classes. Her plan for years was to go to med school and work in pediatrics, but now, a rising senior in the midst of applying to college and faced with the decision to leave biology or technical theatre as a hobby, she’s not so sure.

“I feel like every day I change my mind,” Sam said. “I wake up and I want to go into biology and then by the end of the day I want to study technical theatre. It's just a lot knowing that my decision has a lot of weight, and I'm so young and unsure of life at this point, but I'm making such a big decision. I don't really know who I am because of it.”

Sam debates her choice between technical theatre and biology every day. On one hand, biology will provide a stable career path and satisfy her family; on the other, technical theatre will allow her to access her creativity that nothing else will.

Yet despite all of her confusion about the two possible career paths, Sam knows that just in going to college, she’s already exceeded most expectations set for her.

“I have a lot of big plans for my life, despite the fact that looking at my past life experiences, I probably shouldn't be where I am today,” Sam said. “Looking at where I come from, a lot of people don't go to college, or they just work in a factory or have seven kids. I am not going down that path.”

No matter what major and career Sam chooses, she knows that she’ll channel the strength it took her to rise above her familial expectations and use it to conquer the expectations set for her as she enters either one of the male-dominated workforces. And though she feels like a different person when she’s doing one as opposed to the other, she knows she has the strength and creativity to do either.

“I think either way, I'm going to end up doing a little bit of both,” Sam said. “It's just a matter of which one is my career and which one is my hobby. These are two completely different things, and I feel like a completely different person. So I really don't know who I am. I know that I'm some blend of both, but [I have to] figure out exactly what that is.”


Bao Polkowski has opened two cast lists so far this year — one in September, for CET’s fall musical, “School of Rock,” and one in January, for CET’s winter play, “The Tempest.” In September, he clicked on the PDF file to find that he had been cast as Billy, a squirrely, fashion-obsessed child. In January, he read that he would be playing Trinculo, a drunk jester. Both times, he read that he was the comedic relief, and both times, he felt conflicted.

Bao Polkowski sits in the tiny backstage area in the Craft Theatre. It's crammed with boxes and filing cabinets full of tape and technical necessities. During a show, he can sit back here and listen to the dialogue or song happening onstage.

Comedy has always come easy to Bao. He did his first play in middle school, and found that the goofy side of his personality was able to shine onstage. Directors saw that he wasn’t afraid to be silly, and they showed their appreciation the only way they could: they cast him in comedic roles.

But as comfortable as he was being silly onstage, he never felt like he was acting.

“I don't like to call myself an actor,” Bao said. “I don't do that much acting really. I feel like once I get paid to do it maybe then I can call myself an actor, but right now, I act but I don't think I'm an actor. I think it's because I make the characters into myself. Billy is the gay child in the Broadway version, but I just made him loud and angry all the time, because I feel like that's what I am — or what I can be.”

Bao learned to love being onstage — he was exhilarated by the unpredictability of live theatre. Now a senior, he’s being forced to make a decision: does he pursue theatre or does he leave it behind?

Having applied to a mix of local colleges and some of the best acting programs in the country, he is faced with two very different futures: if he goes to a local or state school, he’ll most likely have to leave acting as a hobby, but if he goes to a specialized program, he’ll spend all day, every day immersed in theatre.

“I feel like if I go to a program, I'm going to have to analyze and dig deep within myself, as opposed to what I do now, which is just say things loud and try to be funny,” Bao said. “Maybe it'll make me more confident. I don’t know [how to make this decision].”

Either way, he’ll have to decide whether or not he wants to truly be an actor. If he does, he’ll have to push his boundaries, looking past comedy and into deep, serious human connection. But when he compares himself to the other performers he knows, he’s not so sure he can.

“Some of the people that I know from CET, from Community, or even just my friends, I see some of these people and they're so talented,” Bao explained. “They have some sort of human element where they can just connect with an audience, and it's super cool to watch. I always do funny stuff; I've never had a super serious part. I want to be interesting and funny, but I also want to be a person and not just a weird sitcom character or something. I'm not asking for people to cry. That's not what I'm striving for. Laughter is just as important, but I'd like to feel the other side.”

Just weeks away from making the decision, Bao is forced to decide: does he take a chance by going to theatre school and risking failure, or does he stick with the familiarity of comedy, but always wonder what could’ve been?

“My end goal is just to, even if it's not acting, to find something that I like doing,” Bao said. “I just know that I like doing things that people can have an emotional response or some sort of reaction to. I like when I hear people laugh.”

Created By
Loey Jones-Perpich