May of my senior year of college I was in a show called Deadsville. I remember standing backstage before our final performance trying to appreciate that this would probably be the last show I ever did. I loved doing theater – the check-ins, late rehearsals, camaraderie and silliness. I loved walking into a space and giving myself permission to let everything else fall away. That last performance I tried to acknowledge the enormity of my leaving behind something that I had invested so much of myself in over the previous eight years.
However, that sense of loss was to come slowly over the next three years. It came to me during my post-bac year at a puppet show when I felt dearly the lack of performance in my life, of abstraction, and language that pushes me. It came to me last semester at times when schoolwork seemed tedious.
And then I auditioned for the annual musical roast, the Smoker, and it was like I was a theater kid again. Three nights a week I step into a character with a funny voice and goof around. I work in the shop, painting, using a jigsaw and chatting with M4s about what specialties they’re going into. The shop smells like paint, paint thinner and sawdust – things distinctly not of Taubman library.
With that said, the Smoker isn’t an escape from med school but an expansion of what med school means. The show is all about medical school – it’s filled with allusions, references and inside jokes. Each character is a professor. The program includes a glossary of medical terms and professor bios for the uninitiated. The directors, actors, singers and dancers are all my classmates. One practices surgical knots in the corner, another reads Ob/Gyn case studies between scenes.
It has been strange and so fun to find such an intersection of my interests. My left brain and my right brain are both very happy (if not exhausted). During the day I’m memorizing reproductive anatomy, learning about the HPO axis, or practicing a physical exam. In the evenings I’m singing, blocking entrances and goofing around. At times, finding the energy to accomplish everything I need to has been a challenge, although Smoker rehearsals have certainly been more restorative than taxing. New friends, performance and creativity from so many people (costumes, set-building, the script, etc) goes a long way. It’s also fun to be part of Smoker traditions: I have Dr. Sisson’s white coat hanging in my closet safe from chocolate or coffee stains that have defiled my own white coat. I’ve learned much Smoker lore and even attended Smoker karaoke night.
With three more years at Michigan, I don’t have to worry this will be my last show.
You can see Christopher and the rest of the Smoker cast this Friday and Saturday at Mendelssohn Theater performing Harry Polyp and the Deathly Hematochezia. Buy tickets here: