My Black-Box House

I have a home away from home. It’s not a friend’s house or the strip mall on Dixwell Avenue or the narrow trail on the Farmington Canal that stretches through my town. It’s my school, Hamden High, with a student population of about 2,500. I know it sounds odd – aren’t teenagers supposed to hate school? I don’t, because in a strange way it’s the perfect refuge.

Sometimes my friends and I – after 13 hours of school, sports, and clubs – contemplated staying overnight. We imagined how we would shower and change in the locker rooms, grab a bite from the cafeteria, and sleep on the cots in the nurse’s office. In reality, I have come close.

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During my years here, I have slept on the chairs in the band room after class, changed for badminton practice in the bathrooms, and snacked inconspicuously in almost every class. But during my high school career, I have felt most at home in my school’s black box, Room C103, the place that the drama queens, acting fiends, and crew machines of Hamden High call home.

The old, comfy couch there has been a second bed for me.

In theater, I have always been a backstage participant, like a shy child who prefers to stay in her room – the room being the costume shop. I have been on the costume crew for four years, and in that time, I have felt most at home with the actors, crews, and directors who have led the black-box bunch.

I remember my first play: Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” set in stylish 1960s Italy. With the help of my costume supervisor, I made my first costume from scratch: an evening dress. Lavender and purple with white and purple gems on the bottom, it fit the actress like a glove. When I saw it on stage, sparkling in all its glory and making the character of Leonata come to life, I felt pride. I realized then that I wanted to do this forever, to help create characters through cloth, color, and texture.

Now I am the head costume designer for Hamden High’s Mainstage Ensemble. My costume supervisor has put all her trust in my abilities to research and select designs, colors, fabrics, and trims that will fit each character. Though a daunting task, I welcome and love it! I love the long nights when I run to Panera for a bite to eat, and return to cut patterns, sew fabric, hem raw edges, and fit actors. Sometimes I feel like an older sister or even a mother to the younger actors, telling them to come in for their fitting, reminding them to say “Please” and “Thank you” to us costume girls, and whispering “Shhh! Keep quiet!!” backstage while a show is running.

In a way, theater is like building a home atmosphere, putting together a brand-new house complete with sets, props, lights, sounds, and finely clothed people. Through my four years of theater, I have built a family of friends and mentors in this strange black-box house.

I have seen my theater family come and go – moving on to bigger and better things – and I have felt a lump in my throat each time I see them go. I remember during closing night of “The Crucible,” the actor who played John Proctor cried, knowing that this was his last night in our theater hall, the last time he would see his theater “family” running to change sets and help put on costumes. I know that I will have more than a simple lump in my throat when my last play comes.

Though I will miss my Hamden High theater family, I am excited to make my new home at a school like UCONN – a place where I can experience these feelings anew in a vibrant and spirited atmosphere. I look forward to learning new skills in something I truly love and wish to do for the rest of my life. In Storrs, I will wake up every day hoping for 13-hour days behind the scenes, making the actors on stage look as if their characters have come to life. And, hopefully, I will find a comfy couch in some new black-box house to sleep on and call my own.

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