By Laura Lapidus
I actually did not want to go to Michigan. In high school, I was full of feelings and obsessed with becoming an actor. I wanted to go to an art school out East so I could be far away from home and really learn my craft. When I got into the Acting program at Michigan—which I auditioned for begrudgingly, a bargaining chip to quiet my father, a roaringly proud alumni who was known to gush Blue blood on Saturday mornings in the fall—a wider scope of possibilities came into focus.
There was something to be said for College. Capital “C.” For all of my laser-like intent on what I hoped to become, I almost skipped an entire phase of discovering what else was in the world. And as so many acting teachers in scarves on cold floors under bright lights have lazily imparted so, so many times: being an actor requires a genuine curiosity for everything.
Michigan opened me to this wider curiosity. For all my efforts to keep my eyes on the stage, at such a big school I realized that to curl up in one pocket of it for four years was to miss out on a grand opportunity, and an enormous privilege. I applied for LHSP (now LSWA) out of the instinct that this was true, which really gave me permission to cultivate a more multidimensional sense of myself. Now that I would get my BFA and study acting for four years (!!), I could afford to cling to it less. I could admit that I also wanted to write. That I love to read. That I may fancy myself a poet, or a photographer. I even ended up joining a sorority, a splintering of identity I never saw coming, but one that possibly accounts for 10,000 hours of cumulative laughter over those four years.
Since my schedule was mostly filled by the required theatre courses, in which I was enrolled with the 17 other actors in my year, my classes at Lloyd freshman year felt like a little peephole into the rest of the university. While I joined the ranks of the many who proudly subscribed to the novelty of attending in pajamas, those classes were rigorous. They introduced and connected me to a kind of thinking I love, and allowed my 18-year-old brain the space to make big connections, expanding from a fascination with content to an awareness of form. I had an excellent teacher in Jeremiah Chamberlain, who knew exactly how to facilitate a class discussion—a skill I now know is part rocket-science. While I couldn’t “minor” in English (I don’t remember why—it would take five years? I would have to sell my soul? I would need 13 semesters of biology?), my classes at Lloyd made me realize that my experience at Michigan relied in some way on taking as many English courses as I possibly could. It was really the seed of my believing that there is no use in being one thing. On any level, big or small, no one is.
This side path that started in LHSP eventually led to the woods of New England, where I participated in the New England Literature Program (NELP) the spring between junior and senior year.I think of those six weeks in the woods as the time when I truly, literally, came to my senses. I would not have gotten there if not for my Lloyd instructor Jeremiah, who thought I might like to take classes with Aric Knuth, the Director of NELP, another wildly discerning English teacher.
The spoiler, perhaps, is that I am still an actor! I just returned from London, where I spent a year on a Fulbright award at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and received my Masters in Classical Acting. My Fulbright research hinged on unearthing an exchange between the historical understanding of classical roles for women and the identity of the contemporary female-identifying actor. It came out of the same hunger that inspired me to apply for LHSP all those years ago. My career started to feel like one thing, like I was being hired for a specific niche that was less to do with my skill as an actor than with my aesthetic as a person. This happens to actors, it makes a lot of sense, but I had a sinking feeling that, when given the chance to do something else, I would not know how.
My year at LAMDA offered me those tools and then some. It was a journey parallel to the one I started in Lloyd and took up in New England. It was a way of expanding, looking out to look in. For whatever reason, or because of my simply chronic nostalgia, I thought a lot about that girl in pajamas in LHSP 125. The tables are long wood, connected in a U-shape around Jeremiah’s desk. The room is pretty dark, I think we kept the bright lights turned off, so we take in just the light that makes it through the windows of our ground floor classroom. A high ceiling looms overhead, I picture rafters but I think the poetic mechanism of memory has added those. And then there’s that distinct feeling gathering in me, something more complicated but less scary than being about to jump. It’s that feeling of knowing something suddenly, of having something to say. It feels good.
All photos courtesy of Laura Lapidus.