It was a little after 9pm on my first Thursday night at Bowles Hall. I didn’t have any friends yet, so I was wandering around, looking for some. I overheard some residents in the dining hall talking about “Theatre Thursday”. I didn’t know exactly what it entailed, but it sounded fun.
In a totally not-creepy way, I followed those residents (who I didn’t know yet) out into the parking lot, where I saw a small crowd gathered in a tiny theatre that was tucked up next to the hall. The seats were dug out of the hillside and topped with hay bales, sandbags, and chattering students. The stage was made of hay bales and tarps, framed by two long-dead indoor plants in weather-worn pots. Portable stage lights and party lights lit up the wall behind the stage.
It was what my dad would’ve called, “very college”. It was built with love, but definitely by students.
I climbed down into the little theatre and took a seat between two strangers who would soon become dear friends. Overhead, people were playing music out of open windows and calling to their friends below. There was a warm breeze in the eucalyptus trees. The jumble of sounds was like an overture, and I felt remarkably at peace listening to it under the starry sky, sitting on my dusty sandbag.
I felt like I was at the beating heart of something. Like the center of a bustling family room on a holiday morning. It occured to me then that I wasn’t just sitting next to a parking lot, waiting for people to tell stories; I was in somebody’s home, and slowly, it was becoming my home too.
When I first moved into Bowles, I was terrified that I wouldn’t find a community here. My freshman year at Cal had been one of the worst of my life and I was truly, deeply afraid that Bowles would be just another building for me to be alone in.
But instead, I sat in that little theatre and watched the strangers around me take turns getting onstage and telling jokes and stories. And when they bowed and were cheered offstage, they weren’t strangers anymore. Every time someone sang a song or told a cheesy joke, I felt less afraid and more hopeful. I remember thinking, at the end of the night, “I’m going to be happy here.”
And I have been. Happier than I can remember being in my life.
The next Thursday I worked up the courage to tell a story. The Thursday after that I sang a song. And I kept going, every week I could. Sometimes I sang. Sometimes I went just to listen. Now, I run Theatre Thursdays, and I get to feel luckier and luckier to live here every week.