Robin Smith '05

Robin Smith

Robin Smith '05

Hometown: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Major: English and Theater

Why did you come to Bowdoin?
I knew that I wanted to go to a school in New England. There was a college fair at my school and I just picked up pamphlets from colleges in the New England area. My mom was a major help. She did a lot of research for me and every day, when I would come home from school, she would have a lot of information on something.

Then the summer after my junior year of high school, we went on a two-week college tour - I went with my parents and my grandmother - and we drove all around New England and looked at fifteen or sixteen schools. And, it's so cliché, but seriously, the minute [I arrived] on the campus, I knew that I wanted to be at Bowdoin. It seemed like the perfect size, and the guide was really cool and I'm actually still in touch with him today - Jay Stull, who graduated in 2001.

So I showed interest in the school and I applied early decision. And actually, after I sent in my application, there was the [Bowdoin Experience] weekend, and the College flew me to Bowdoin. You know, you go in the summer and there's nothing really happening on campus, so going in the fall of my senior year really enabled me to see the campus in all its workings. I was able to stay in a dorm and interact with students and interact with other kids who were visiting that weekend. I thought it was really well put together and there were all these activities for us to do. We had speakers and I had such a fabulous time. And everyone was just so kind. That was one of the things that really got me. Everyone was just so kind and so welcoming and really willing to share as much information as I wanted. That was great.

So I wiped my brow after that weekend because my application was in and I [thought], "Great, I made the right decision." I was one of the first people in my class to know - I found out December 18th! I was really lucky because it was the only school that I applied to. If I hadn't gotten into Bowdoin I don't really know where I would have applied.

How did you decide on your major?
I believe it was during our freshman year that the interdisciplinary major of English and Theater came about, and I was really happy about that. I started doing theater my junior year of high school because I was afraid up until that point to perform. So I did a musical my freshman year at Bowdoin, and then took Gretchen Berg's Women in Performance class the fall of my freshman year. I think the combination of the two really got me psyched about theater. I had been pretty psyched upon arriving at Bowdoin, but I remembered how much of a rush you get from performing, and I [thought], "Wow, this is something that I would enjoy doing." Then I found out about the English and Theater major and I [thought], "Great. I'll do it. Why not?" I think it's kind of funny that the English part is in there because I'm not the best writer in the world, but [the two disciplines are] very complementary and I'm pleased with the classes I've taken for the major.

What has been your favorite class at Bowdoin?
Oh, wow. It has nothing to do with my major. It was an Africana Studies class that I took last spring: Issues in Black Photography with Julie McGee. I was surprised by how entangled I got with the material. Everything sucked me in and I absorbed everything like a sponge. For this class you had to really dig deep into the material and some of the concepts were a bit difficult for me to grasp, but I enjoyed that struggle so much.

I sort of shied away from taking an actual photography class, so this class was nice because you didn't have to be a visual arts major - you could just sit back and view and analyze and critique. It was a nice-sized class and everyone seemed to be highly involved in the work. The readings were great.

And the teacher! Professor McGee is such a nice woman and she really knew her stuff. She was always going to these various conventions about Africana Studies, and she had been to South Africa on many occasions. She really knew what she was talking about. I think it was easy for students to have a great relationship with her because she was really easy to talk to - I think eighty percent of my [email] inbox last spring was filled with emails from her! She would find all these articles from The New York Times or other newspapers and [the articles] all related to the course material.

I think she's a great professor and everyone that I've spoken to about her says the same thing. And that class, in particular, was amazing. That would have to be one of my favorites, and I think it's interesting that it has nothing to do with my major at all.

What extracurricular activities do you participate in? Do you have an on campus job?
I have two things going on. Starting my sophomore year, I began work-study with the Theater Department, and I love that job. [Theater Department Technical Director] Michael Schiff-Vere and [Assistant Technical Director] Deb Puhl are great, great people to work with. I always enjoy going to work. There's always something different going on. This semester I'm doing a lot of work in the costume shop, but on Fridays I usually work with lights or props or carpentry. What I like most about the job is that you get paid to learn. And they make it a lot of fun and you work with great people. It's sort of like I have my own little theater family.

At the beginning of this semester, Urban Bush Women came [to perform on campus] and I was able to work on that show. It's great because you're able to get a behind-the-scenes [view] of the performers and how they work. I did sound for the first time this semester. What's great is that they talk with you and they want you to feel comfortable, [but] they also want you to learn. And there's always someone there to guide you. They don't make you feel stupid. It's wonderful. We do a lot of fun stuff - [like] an egg hunt and a Christmas party.

And my other extracurricular is Chamber Choir. I took a little year hiatus, but I'm back this semester. I joined my freshman year and I love it. [Chamber Choir Director] Robbie Greenlee is amazing and I'm kind of scared - I would like to join a chorus after I graduate - but I don't know...Robbie is just so unique and he's [so] good that I doubt I'll find anyone [else] like him. I really enjoy singing and it's a nice release.

Have you studied abroad during your time at Bowdoin?
I did. In the fall of 2003 I went to London on a program through Sarah Lawrence College called the British American Drama Academy (BADA). It was wonderful. It was mainly acting. BADA has two programs. There's the Shakespeare program, which is much more written-based, and you write a lot of essays; [but] I did the London Theater program, and that was awesome. [The program brings American students to England to be taught by British professionals.] It gave me a chance to really focus on acting for a semester, for three months.

There were only sixty students on my program and we were split up into four groups, sort of like your elementary school homeroom, so you would have all your classes with that one group. You didn't have the same classes every day. I think I took eight courses total. There was a physical comedy class, and a stage fighting class, there was Shakespeare, there was dramatic criticism, there was high comedy, there was movement, voice. There were a lot of courses and you sort of dabbled in everything. And there were tutorials every other week [where] you'd work on a monologue one-on-one with someone.

There were master classes - [Irish actress] Fiona Shaw came to speak. The last month is spent on final productions and there are three. I was in a production of Pericles. Everything ran so smoothly, and that last month was really a joy. That was what you were there for. You got to work with a cast and this director who was not one of the [BADA] teachers - [like all the directors] he was pulled from the outside. And so you work with them and they worked on a professional level. Then the performances are performed once [each], three days in a row, in a small little black box theater in London. I think that was one of the best performances I've ever done. And the people that I met there - it's just great. Study abroad is so essential. If you can get away - I know it's really hard for science majors - but it's such a key part of your college experience, even if it's only for a semester.

What is your best Bowdoin memory?
Actually, that's pretty simple. I took French my freshman and sophomore years, and [every year] the French Department takes a group of students to Quebec. That was really a lot of fun because I was a freshman and I was still getting to know people. It was so exciting, because Quebec is like a little European country in North America. It was great. We had a lot of free time to walk around. That's something that sticks out in my mind. It was [Assistant Professor of Romance Languages] Margaret Vété-Congolo and her husband, and [Associate Professor of Romance Languages] Charlotte Daniels and the two French [Teaching Assistants]. We were speaking French and we struggled, but it was fun. When we got there at night we immediately went to a crêperie. It was nice to see teachers out of the academic environment. C'est très bon.

What are your plans after graduation?
Aaaah! Explosion! I'm looking at internships at various theaters, mainly in the D.C. area, but I'm looking at one in Philadelphia, as well. It's mainly technical work, but I've been doing technical work for the past year and I would like to stick with that for a bit before I try acting. Stage management is one of things I enjoy most about technical work. So I'm just applying to various places and if someone would snag me, I would be most grateful. As long as I am doing something in theater I will be happy. So that's what I'm aiming for - theater, theater, theater.

What advice would you give to a prospective student or first year about the Bowdoin experience?
You have to say no to some stuff - you can't do everything. And there's so much stuff that I wish I could have done, that I would have tried. I really enjoyed the Pre-Orientation trip, and I would like to have gone on an Outing Club adventure. I think that would have been a lot of fun. But try to find a happy balance. Just take advantage of as much as you can without driving yourself insane. Have fun - we're young. I'm not saying don't go to classes, but just enjoy yourself.

Story posted on March 29, 2005

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