My college journey was… fragmented, difficult, and confusing, but ultimately quite rewarding. If you have people in your life pursuing theatrical degrees, you probably heard about how many auditions they went through, applying to like, 25 schools across the country and sometimes across the ocean.
Well, high school Bri Ryder didn’t know much about that. In fact, I had one dream school and that was Oklahoma University. I applied to 8 schools. I had been told that my grades probably weren’t good enough to apply to NYU or any of the big name schools, so I didn’t try. I look back on that and kind of regret it because I truly have no idea what would have actually happened but I was a very timid high schooler. I was like, full of myself on the inside but on the outside I didn’t show much confidence at all and if I did, it came off as conceit. I was a very odd duck. I do often think about that and try to laugh at myself but mostly I’m pretty embarrassed. Though, I must have done something right because people from high school still talk to me so I guess I didn’t mess up THAT badly. Bottom line, I don’t think I had the right attitude to get into the big name schools, either.
I applied to OU, Salem State, UNH, Pace, Ithaca, SCAD, Hofstra, and Umass Lowell, I think. I always forget the last one. I sent in a pre-screen for OU and received a generic, “thanks but no thanks” letter that wasn’t signed, and then after that received two more rejections from them academically. I got into Salem, UNH, Hofstra, and Umass. Academically, I was accepted to Pace, SCAD, and Ithaca. I was supposed to audition for Ithaca but never selected a time slot so they sent me a very confused letter being like, “You got in… and we like you, but we can’t accept you to the MT program because you didn’t actually audition for us. So just let us know if you want to major in something else… Okay bye.” and that still makes me laugh like, they were probably pretty confused. I still don’t know how SCAD’s undergrad performance program works. I don’t know if I was supposed to audition or what. As for Pace, I went and auditioned for them and was not accepted. At the end of the day, I wanted to be in New York City more than anything, so I made the choice to go to Pace as an “undecided” major (I used to tell people that I wasn’t undecided at all, the school was undecided about me.)
Long story longer, that didn’t quite work out. I learned a lot about heartbreak and betrayal (it sounds dramatic, but it’s true, send me an email and I’ll tell you ALL about it) and I wasn’t happy so I left. I took some time to figure myself out. I was going to take the next full year off, get my shit together, reapply to the big schools that I did want to attend, and then get a performance degree. I got a job at a daycare, did a production of Rocky Horror, and dyed my hair blonde. Eventually, though, I got tired of hanging out at home with my mom and dad and reapplied to UNH because they didn’t require auditions to be an MT major. Thankfully, I was accepted a second time. I packed up all my stuff, chucked a deuce to my parents, and transferred mid-year. My first semester there, I lived with three girls who were best friends with each other, and I replaced their fourth in the suite who was away studying in California. There were some disagreements, but in all, I think we were pretty okay. I was unhappy at school, though. I wasn’t performing because I had missed auditions for their shows, and I felt very alone because I had come in mid-year, so I didn’t have any bonding experiences with anyone. I joined an a’cappella group to keep my creativity alive, but I just didn’t feel right. My parents told me to come home but I’m not a quitter, so I decided to audition for Anything Goes.
At that time, I was working really hard to lose weight and I looked good (for real). I had been working on my physicality and my dancing and stuff and I really thought I had a shot at Reno, but I was cast as Mrs. Harcourt. I was pretty bummed. Mrs. Harcourt is my girl, but I felt like I could have been cast in that role without doing any work at all (I still feel that way) and I still wasn’t going to be doing any singing, so I was upset. BUT. I didn’t want to burn any bridges or leave anyone out to dry, so I decided to stay and do the show. It brought me to the next semester, and after that, I told my parents that if I was still unhappy, I was going to leave. They supported me, but I think it really hurt them to see me so unhappy where I was. I dropped the a’cappella group because I couldn’t make it work with my rehearsal schedule. (Side-note: I cannot believe my friends who can do both. I have many friends who did both things and I am in awe. Do they ever sleep?? I don’t know???) I had to live my life assuming that something would magically happen to make me want to stay, so I planned on upcoming semesters and auditions. The student-run theatre group, Mask & Dagger, was doing a production of [title of show] and the department was starting a new studio musical program the upcoming semester with Next to Normal. I was talking to my friend Brooke one day and I told her that I was really looking forward to auditioning and that I really wanted to do both shows. She said to me, “I can realistically see you doing both.” and I was flattered but I didn’t really think that was going to happen.
I didn’t know much about [tos] when I auditioned. Back when I was on the message boards for Legally Blonde the Musical in 2007/2008 (shout out to Liz, Erin, Kerry, and Allie B. who I still talk to from the message boards - INTERNET FRIENDS ARE REAL FRIENDS), someone told me that Title of Show was even more raunchy than Spring Awakening (this was back when Spring Awakening was one of the most controversial things on Broadway. SEX. ON STAGE. I thought it was real sex lol wow what a loser) I was like, “woah. gotta stay away from THAT so my parents don’t get pissed at me.” and I found a piece of duct tape with [title of show] written on it in the city once but that was about all I knew.
Well. I was cast.
Honestly, it was the best experience I have ever had in a show and will very likely continue to be. People say all the time things like, “oh that show changed my life.” but, this show, this production, really really did. Because of [tos], I had to stay into the next semester, and that led to me being cast as Diana in Next to Normal later that year as well. Being in [title of show] led me to Susan Blackwell’s twitter which led me to The Performing Arts Project. TPAP led me to NTI. My life was truly transformed being cast in that show.
A few days ago, I received my diploma from The University of New Hampshire. The first degree from the university to ever specify Musical Theatre as a full major in writing. If I had not been cast in [title of show], I can guarantee that I would not have finished school, and I certainly would not be writing this for you right now. I am forever indebted to my cast, for making me feel welcome and a part of a family for the first time at school, and every time I meet a member of the original team, I tell them how important their show has been to me.
So, to wrap this up, I will leave you with this: Life is hard, it is stupid and weird and hurtful. College is ridiculously difficult in many ways, but you will end up exactly where you need to be. It took me 5 years, but I can say that I hold a degree in Musical Theatre from a school that I am not only proud to say I graduated from, but a school that was proud to have me. Your struggles make you better, stronger, prouder.
Go fourth bravely, my children. I’m proud of you.