The Oberlin Stories Project

On the “best kept secret in the Midwest”

Holland Hamilton ’11

“Before coming to Oberlin, I had sworn off theater completely. In fact, I was done with performing in general. But looking back, I have no clue how I thought I could have gotten away with choosing anything else.”

Holland holds a young boy in her arms

Way back in the day when I was a young ‘hopeful’ looking at colleges, my mom and dad took me on a whirlwind tour. I saw big universities and tiny liberal arts colleges &mdash 18 institutions in 14 days. Everywhere, they told me, “You’ll just know when you’re at the right school. You’ll feel it.” I thought that was the biggest cop-out I had ever heard... until I got to Oberlin.

Walking down the street in front of Gibson’s, with my huge ice cream cone, I felt like I was already a student here. But I still had to apply. After I stayed overnight for a weekend and met Paul Dawson*, professor of politics, I did something I swore I would never do: I applied Early Decision.

I had attended a performing arts high school in New York City, so when I arrived at Oberlin, I was done with acting, dancing and singing classes. In fact, I was done with performing in general. I was going to go to law school.

As fate would have it, I had signed up for too many women’s studies courses my first semester and needed to complete my schedule with something different. I decided to just suck it up and take Theater 101. On that first day, I swore that I would not take anything in the Theater department beyond that class. I was going to get my act together, become a lawyer, and really DO something for the world.

Eventually, after I “somehow made it into Theater 100” and “narrowly got into Theater 200,” I finally gave in to theater. I was sure there was some kind of crazy magic affecting the professors. There was no denying that the students were smart, funny, and ridiculously talented. And the teachers are professional, treating us like the mature performers we hope to become. The standards are high and the classwork is rigorous. Looking back, I have no clue how I thought I could have gotten away with choosing anything else.

One of our amazing professors once said to us: “Oberlin’s theater department is the best kept secret in the Midwest.” And that’s the truth! We produce high quality, socially relevant, and fun theater: the kind of stuff I’m not sure I would have had the chance to do had I attended a theater conservatory.

As a student, I stage managed three shows and acted in main stage and black box productions. Last semester, I studied Acting for Film at the Prague Film School; this semester, I’m interning in Windhoek, Namibia with the Ombetja Yehinga Organization (Red Ribbon Organization) and AIDS Care Trust. I’m doing research on the impact of arts programs and I’m creating an after-school arts program. I don’t think I’m going to live in a cardboard box for the rest of my life.

These days, I’m learning more and more that theater IS an integral part of education, especially when teaching a second language. It teaches confidence, love, and values. I can proudly say that I graduated with a Theater and African American Studies Degree, because I know that it meant so much more than what otherwise might simply make me money or grant me fame. It was an education in passion, critical analysis, and personal growth — beyond my wildest dreams.

*Author’s Note: if you get a chance, sit in on one of Paul Dawson’s classes or, if you go to Oberlin, take all of his classes!