Just because I’m a theater major doesn’t mean I’m lazy

A drama student speaks out

With UIUC’s $30,000 tuition, it’s easy to look at college majors only within the context of their presumed profitability.

Majors like business, law, engineering and medicine are known to open career avenues worthy of their academic price. However, for some, it’s difficult to appreciate majors that don’t seem to easily equate to financial gain: theater, philosophy, journalism, english, etc. Theater majors especially often have to deal with harmful stereotypes about their intelligence, sexuality and work ethic. In order to address these assumptions, the Tab spoke with freshman stage management major Zeenah Hussein.

Zeenah grew up in Morton Grove, Illinois. As a student at Maine East, Zeenah was heavily involved in her school’s stage crew club. Although she progressively became more dedicated to theater, Zeenah wasn’t sure she wanted to be a theater major until she worked in an All-State production of “Pippin” her senior year.

“It’s really cool being able to work with a group of people who share the same love and passion as you do,” Zeenah said. “Having those similarities makes it a greater experience. Through that I got inspired to major in theater, which is how I came to it today.”

"It's very hands on"

“It’s very hands on”

Since joining the theater department this fall, Zeenah has made friends with dozens of other theater majors. Spending hours with the same small group of people, Zeenah believes she truly understands her friends, and she doesn’t think their characteristics match many of the stereotypes associated with their major.

“We’re not all gay, that’s one thing,” Zeenah said.

Other than their sexuality, Zeenah also notices the dedication her classmates put into their craft, a far cry from the assumption that theater majors are just coasting through college with easy academics.

“ It’s very hands on,” Zeenah said. “For example, I worked ‘Henry V’ with the grad students, and I was also being a production assistant for ‘A Midsummer’s Night Dream.’ Those shows happened to overlap, so during my day I would finish class maybe around 3:00, and then from 3:00 to 6:00 I’d be doing some stuff for ‘A Midsummer’s Night Dream,’ and then from 6:30 to elevenish, I would be in rehearsal for ‘Henry V,’ and then literally after that I would have to do paper work for ‘Henry V.’ I would probably get back to my dorm maybe around midnight, and then I’d finally have to do homework that’s due later that day.”

Zeenah loves theater work because of its collaborative atmosphere

Zeenah loves theater work because of its collaborative atmosphere

While other majors can negatively affect students’ lives through poor grades and heavy workloads, Zeenah recognizes that technical theater is one of the few areas of study that put students in bodily harm. Since joining theater as a freshman in high school, Zeenah has sustained a deep puncture from a nail, a broken toe, multiple cuts and bruises on her arms. She said her most painful injury occurred while working on a college production.

On the closing night of “Henry V” Zeenah pushed a cart into a stack of folded tables. One of the tables fell off and “sandwiched” her little finger with the cart’s handle. Zeenah said she knew there was a problem when she was able to see her tendon through the blood pouring out of her hand. A professor with stage combat experience treated the wound.

Zeenah sustained a finger injury while working on "Henry V"

Zeenah sustained a finger injury while working on “Henry V”

“It was actually a really fun experience because I got to bond with my professor more that way,” she said. “I’m actually very thankful that I was surrounded by people that could help me. My professor took me to the emergency room and was with me the whole time.”

Zeenah’s accident left her with six stitches on her little finger. She doubts the scars will ever disappear compeltely.

"I’m actually very thankful that I was surrounded by people that could help me"

“I’m actually very thankful that I was surrounded by people that could help me”

Zeenah doesn’t believe she is the only theater major in Illinois with a high pain tolerance. From her perspective, theater majors are more likely to handle pain better than most people. Zeenah said she has heard “horror stories” of actors and technicians working at their craft while sustaining an injury.

“I don’t think a lot of people are willing to put up with a lot of physical pain for something they love and something they want to do. It’s pretty amazing how they are able to continue an amazing performance despite the pain they’re in,” she said.

Other than their sexuality, pain tolerance and work ethic, Zeenah also refutes the sentiment that theater majors are self centered.

Zeenah on the job

Zeenah on the job

“ I’ve met the most caring and loving people through theater actually,” she said. “Since we all work so close together, our emotions are very important to one another, and communication is very important too. We’re not very self loving, we’re loving to each other.”

University of Illinois