Higher Education: School’s Out Forever

Barbara Jwanouskos finishes up an important chapter.

Today is my last day of classes and the last official day of the Dramatic Writing program here at CMU. After this, the graduating class of writers flies out to LA to meet with industry professionals, then back to Pittsburgh for commencement, to New York for more meetings with industry professionals, and then we return to Pittsburgh to get things in order. Then, we leave.

It’s a bittersweet moment where I can’t help but be nostalgic, nervous and excited all at the same time. I went into this program because I wanted to radically improve my craft, and it’s happened, but part of me feels like I’m just barely scratching the surface. There is still so much out there to learn and so many opportunities to grow further. Though my official academic stint is coming to an end, it’s cliché but it’s true, now is when the real learning begins. When does the learning process ever stop after all? Now’s the time to apply all of what I’ve learned here while also trying to make sure that I’m still finding opportunities for production, development, and inspiration.

It can be daunting to stand at the precipice of any big change in your life. Part of us thinks, “well, maybe I could have done more…” Over the last couple of months, my goal has been to make it to the end strong. Now I’m here and I’ve been reflecting over the times where I made mistakes, where maybe I could have gone further. One of the most difficult challenges for me in this moment is recognizing the good work that I’ve done over the past two years and acknowledging that it is worth of celebration. I haven’t come to a solution that instantly takes all the feelings away, but what I have come to is that I can feel proud of my accomplishments, while simultaneously recognizing that there are so many people, places, things, experiences, and memories I am saying goodbye to.

As artists we deal with loss on a continual basis. We work in a collaborative medium that asks us to build relationships with other people and create events that inspire a connection from others still. In the process of creation we need to be able to trust one another and lean into vulnerability. We start to understand the people around us in better ways. And sure, maybe we have our disagreements or our spats, but having this collaborative atmosphere is wonderful because everyone brings so much to the table. Then, when it ends we part ways and go onto other projects. And that’s just the nature of it.

A couple guest artists came recently and spoke to the School of Drama students. What struck me was how they anticipate these feelings and adjust their own artistic schedules and interests to make the transition times easier. Andrea Thome, a playwright, came recently and we talked a bit about her process of collaboration and of making art. She said that she gains a lot of energy by collaboration and so she’s always trying to meet and talk to new people to start new work. Alan Alda said something similar. He told us in a talkback session that as artists it was very important to have interests in something other than just acting (or writing, directing, etc.). He said it was important to have interests in other things because it helps feed you during the times when one project might be over and another isn’t in sight.

Their words of wisdom resonated with me as I try and think what is my next thing? What is on the horizon for me? What are the things I care about and want to develop further? Instantly, my mind is flooded with images of sprinklings of new plays, people I want to re-connect with once I return to the Bay Area (that’s right, I’m coming back!!), my loved ones who I’ve been separated from for so long, and all the other inspiring pieces of life I can’t wait to engage with. Then, I remember the other side of a goodbye and the other side of loss, and that is the beginning that is waiting to happening.

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One comment on “Higher Education: School’s Out Forever

  1. […] Jwanouskos has had quite a year! She finished up her MFA in Dramatic Writing at Carnegie Mellon, returned to the Bay Area, re-branded her Theater Pub column […]

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