Making it up as you go along—Rosalind Phelps

Rosalind Phelps, BA Drama Performance, 2015, director of "On the Verge" and outgoing President of UTS.
Rosalind Phelps, BA Drama Performance, 2015, director of "On the Verge" and outgoing President of UTS.

by Rosalind Phelps

I try to make it up as I go. I like making it up as I go. In fact, I want to be a “make it up as you go”-er. What does it mean to be a “make it up as you go”-er? It means that you value creativity, spontaneity, bravery, and a constant sense of moving forward; all things I hope to keep with me as I take my first steps into the real world.

I have a degree…almost. In June, I graduate from the School of Drama with a BA in Drama Performance. Throughout my four years of study I have cultivated this identity of the “make it up as you go”-er from the bits and pieces of wisdom and inspiration I encountered as an undergraduate.   

“Find the fear in the room and confront it” is a piece of directing and, frankly, life advice that Professor Valerie Curtis-Newton swears by, and it has stuck hard with me as well. Similarly, I admire the writer/director Young Jean Lee for her dedication to creating pieces based on her fears as a director. We all have fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of humiliation, fear of prejudice, fear of the unknown. Fear does not have to be avoided, or ignored. The acknowledgement and defiance of these fears can generate some incredible ideas and solutions both in art and in life.

Fear does not have to be avoided, or ignored. The acknowledgement and defiance of these fears can generate some incredible ideas and solutions both in art and in life.

“Try it.” This wisdom is three fold. First, it confronts the fear. Second, this phrase helped me to accept that I could graduate with only one major. As a sophomore I made the choice not to pursue a second major, which goes against the societal understanding that success level is directly influenced by number of degrees obtained. Looking back I stand by my choice to be a “make it up as you go”-er. I got the chance to try Greek Studies, Dance, Feminist Philosophy, Biological Anthropology, and Business—each foray greatly influenced my understanding of the world and how I might be able to keep up with it as an individual. The third application of the phrase comes from the award winning director and dramatic theorist Anne Bogart, who came to speak and work with the School in 2013. She encouraged the act of “speaking things into existence.” Her words inspired me, and two of my peers, to take a few of the ideas we had been sitting on and, by pitching our ideas to one another, actually “speak them into existence.” We produced three risky, adapted pieces under the name “Project Scorpion” last year, and through the experience we were able to track the process of growing an idea into a reality. Once the ball was rolling, then the creation came pouring out, but only because we were courageous enough to start.

There are many things that I encountered as an inhabitant of Hutchinson Hall that helped to build my value system, but by far the biggest contributing factor would be my participation in The Undergraduate Theater Society. I immersed myself in an organization built by students for students, and learned an immense amount about myself and the theater profession because of it. As a part of the UTS Board, I learned how to put everything I was taught in class into practice, as well as improve as a leader, a business person, and an artist through the discussions and the responsibilities that UTS provides its participants. The greatest part was that we truly were making it up; we could follow or ignore precedent based on our own diagnoses. I experienced firsthand the joys and stresses of attempting to simultaneously provide a professional artist training ground and a fun, engaging community.

As a part of the UTS Board, I learned how to put everything I was taught in class into practice, as well as improve as a leader, a business person, and an artist through the discussions and the responsibilities that UTS provides its participants. 

Now, just because I prioritize being a “make it up as you go”-er, does not mean that I am good at it. I can say all these things to myself, and write them down to share, but that does not mean that I have conquered them all and am now passing along the tips and tricks of the trade. In the last four years I found out that success can be measured—and in a myriad of different ways. For me, writing down these thoughts means taking one more successful step towards fulfilling these values of action, creation, and confidence throughout my entire life.

In the “real world” there are no professors to push you or assign homework, and there isn’t a timeline for completion like a four year degree. Only bills and biology remain as definitive deadlines, so what is stopping me from just settling in for a simple comfortable life of mere survival?

I need to remember that I love being a “make it up as you go”-er, and that taking risks and making mistakes are just as important as grad school—or home ownership—as long as they are propelling me forward. I could continue on in a career in the arts (acting, directing, education, administration), I could go to business school or medical school, I could be a raft guide, a tap dancer on a street corner, or all of the above. As long as each is an adventure.

I need to remember that I love being a “make it up as you go”-er, and that taking risks and making mistakes are just as important as grad school—or home ownership—as long as they are propelling me forward.

I am directing a play about three women who are continually “On the Verge” of one adventure after another, and they continue to jump into the unknown time after time. Although they are often afraid, they are in constant wonderment of what they find. Mary, Fanny, and Alexandra are all “make it up as you go”-ers.

To be a “make it up as you go”-er, you must embrace the music and dance in and out  and around your dreams, expectations, realities, preparations, surprises, achievements, failures, beliefs, passions, fears, and destinies.

I hope to keep dancing as long as I can.


 

Rosalind directs the final production of the 2014–15 UTS season. On the Verge opens Thursday, May 28 in the Cabaret Theatre and runs through June 7. Tickets are available for purchase online. Performances are at 8:00 PM and tickets start at $5 for students.

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