Perhaps my favorite perk about being in a residential college community is the trips that the college council puts on. An incoming first-year student’s assignment to one of Princeton’s six residential colleges is completely random. This system was developed to encourage students to form relationships with diverse groups of people not restricted by academic interest or extracurricular involvement. Each college functions as a small community among the larger Princeton population, hosting its own events that mainly serve the students within that college. As a result, there is a lot of variety from college to college, with one of them being the sponsored trips.
Because I live within my college, I am afforded a free first trip courtesy of Rockefeller College. Every subsequent trip costs $25. Trips range from Broadway shows to basketball games, and from escape rooms to amusement parks. As an avid theater fan, I am naturally drawn to the Broadway shows. During my time at Princeton, I’ve seen a total of five Broadway shows. Only one of which was not through Princeton (I saw Hamilton with a friend who won tickets through the lottery system!).
As a first-year, I saw the original cast of Waitress and The Color Purple. Both musicals left similarly vivid yet distinctly separate impressions on me. I had come to love them through different means.
Waitress was my first Broadway show, which made every part of the experience that much more exciting. I was introduced to Waitress through a song I didn’t know was part of this larger production. Before, I had simply known it as a song written by Sara Bareilles, an artist whose work I greatly admire, so imagine my surprise when I learned this song was only one of many quality songs pieced together to make a fantastic musical.
The Color Purple, on the other hand, is one of my all-time favorite books. This meant, unlike Waitress (which is also based on a book), I was already quite familiar with the plot. Thus, my fascination with this show lay in its transformation into the musical format. I had not listened to the soundtrack beforehand, like I did for Waitress. I was experiencing these songs for the first time in the audience. The Color Purple taught me how the powerful medium of musical performance could bring a beloved story to life, in ways different from reading the book or seeing a movie.
This year, I saw Be More Chill during its preview runs! I did not know anything about the plotline nor had I listened to the soundtrack, which meant that this was a show I was not guaranteed to love. Instead, the musical slowly grew on me after the show. It was also a musical that featured an Asian female protagonist, which, in an industry that's working on its diversity, was very empowering and impactful to see on stage.
The most recent show I saw was Aladdin. Although I bought into the story less because of its idealistic nature, I was absolutely awestruck by the set, lighting and costume designs. The combination of these details made each scene shift very convincing. My favorite one was the magic carpet scene, which was simplistic in design yet effective in execution. The flying carpet was set against a black backdrop embellished with stars. At one time during one the songs, some cast members were rippling a large sheet on the stage. This mimicked the changing landscape and gave the illusion of movement. Aladdin involved a lot of choreography, which contributed to the energetic charm of the performance.
I’m incredibly grateful for the role Princeton has played in encouraging and fostering my passion for the arts. Onstage, Princeton has allowed me to explore a side of me I had never considered before coming to college. I never imagined myself singing or acting in public, but here I am, three years into college, involved in both the Princeton Triangle Club and VTone, an East Asian music group, while having also directed shows. Princeton offered me a space to take up my creative pursuits. Offstage, I can’t imagine how I could’ve afforded to see these shows on my own. One of the biggest barriers with attracting non-traditional audiences is accessibility. Having opportunities despite these barriers has made me appreciate and treasure those moments when I'm sitting in the audience in front of a Broadway stage, waiting for the curtain to rise.