How community theater changed my life

Guest post by Rachael Dickzen
Photo by David Seidman

One day in fall 2010, my roommate Grace turned to me and asked if I wanted to audition with her for an all-female Shakespeare troupe she had found advertised on Craigslist. I immediately said yes. I had no idea then that that one “yes” would end up changing my life.

I had always loved theater; my parents took my siblings and me to plays at Shakespeare in the Park every summer. My mom’s favorite movie was the 1993 version of Much Ado About Nothing, and it quickly became one of my favorites as well (my wedding processional was the movie’s main theme). As a child, I did not always understand the words or their meaning, but I loved the excitement, the costumes, and the soothing flow of the rhythms and rhymes. Those performances stuck with me, so much that I can still remember details of plays I saw when I was 10. One production of Twelfth Night particularly enchanted me — it concluded with a song that I can still sing today, 20 years later.

Despite that love of theater, I never really considered getting into acting. Sure, I participated in church choir productions and class shows in elementary school, and I sang solos in talent shows, but I never took a theater class or auditioned for a community or school play. I was a perfectionist child, utterly terrified of failing at anything, and trying out for a play meant I could be rejected. I stuck with activities that were comfortable for me, like band and newspaper.

Photo by David Harback of Harback Photography

That’s how I went through my primary school years and college years, doing fine, but not really taking many chances. But then after college, I became roommates with Grace. Grace was bold and brave. With her hammered dulcimer, she had formed her own wizard rock band, writing songs and touring the country with her fellow Harry Potter loving friends. She took up the ukulele on a whim and wrote an entire album with it. She took part-time gigs instead of a full-time job so she could continue to tour regularly. I thought she was the coolest and wanted to be more like her. So when she found that Craigslist ad, I jumped at the chance.

That troupe would become Britches and Hose, a theater company and community I love dearly founded by a woman and now close friend, Arielle Seidman. That first play, Antony and Cleopatra, brought out sides to me I didn’t know existed. I learned to enunciate, to memorize lines, to project my voice, and emote. And despite having zero training, I wasn’t half bad at it! The hard work we put into the plays and the pride I felt in the final product helped me grow so much as a person.

Photo by David Seidman

I gained the confidence to admit my post-college job wasn’t working out. The journalism career I had pursued since high school was not making me happy; in fact, I was pretty miserable. I was an editor running a local news website out of my house for a rapidly growing company. My website was going well, my boss seemed happy with my work, but I was bored out of my mind, despite being incredibly busy. My experiences with theater gave me the courage to face that fact and finally deal with it.

In summer 2011, I quit my job without another position lined up; I would end up working various nanny and office jobs to cover my bills. I applied to law school. I auditioned for the Maryland Renaissance Festival, and spent many glorious weekends wandering about in a Tudor court costume, talking in a British accent to visitors. All the while, Britches and Hose continued rehearsing and performing; that fall, I was cast in my first lead role as Viola in Twelfth Night, which shocked and delighted me. B&H founder Arielle and my roommate Dave (Arielle’s partner) also worked at the renaissance festival, so we would road-trip together for work and then race back for Sunday night play rehearsals at our house.

During the lead-up for our third B&H play, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, I made the heartbreaking decision to leave everyone I knew in DC behind and move to Chicago for law school. However, right after driving all my belongings out there in August 2012, I flew back for a single weekend; I couldn’t miss performing in B&H’s production of Much Ado About Nothing.

The courage I gained from B&H enabled me to participate in law school in ways I never did in college. I signed up for clubs and ran for elected positions. I did better in my classes, made friends with my professors, graduated cum laude, and received a service award at graduation. During those years, I missed my theater community, but carried the strength it gave me every day; all my actions were impacted by it. I took the bar exam, got a job as a lawyer at a medical cannabis company, became engaged to the man I’d been dating throughout law school.

Photo by David Seidman

Then, in December 2016, I flew out for my interview at the
the US Trademark Office, coming out a day early so I could attend a B&H rehearsal. The troupe was no longer all-female, but still cast whatever actor was best for the role, regardless of gender. I remember sitting in that rehearsal, watching actors perform original one-act plays, feeling so pleased and awe-filled by what our ragtag group of thespians had become.

Photo by David Harback of Harback Photography

The rest is history. I accepted a position as a Trademark Examiner, moved to Virginia, and got immediately back into Britches and Hose. I’ve been in five B&H productions since then, worked with another community theater company on a gender-swapped production of Hamlet, and even submitted my first play for an upcoming festival. Our incredibly supportive group of actors has had a group message on Facebook going for
nearly two years now, covering every topic imaginable, up to and including debating the Hogswarts houses of various Shakespeare characters. Arielle stood up as my bridesmaid last year in a VERY Shakespeare-filled wedding; I just served as hers in October. Life is good.

And it all started with a “Yes.”

Originally published here.

Comments on How community theater changed my life

  1. As a DMV local, I am very excited about this as I had JUST been chatting with my partners about wanting to see more Shakespeare!

    I’m super glad that you found a community and got the strength to make life-changing decisions – that’s incredibly awesome.

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