Off the beaten path: Zoe Bowen Smith ’21 uses unique experiences to fuel passions

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The game entitled “Get the Cheese” might not be familiar to most, but for Zoë Bowen Smith ’21, it taught her a lesson she will always carry with her. During her five weeks spent at Vassar College’s Powerhouse Theatre training program, her favorite memory was a blindfolded journey to obtain a water bottle located fifteen feet across the room.

“It sounds incredibly easy, but what we learned very quickly is that you get to a point about five feet away from it and you get really scared,” Smith said. “Don’t try to figure it out or quantify it, or don’t get scared when you hit the vortex of fear where you think it’s there and then tip-toe around feeling around for it — just go and pick it up.”

The vortex of fear is something Bowen Smith has dealt with during her theatre auditions at the college of William and Mary and the other activities she engages in both on and off campus as a Theatre and Public Policy double major. She hopes to apply the lessons she learned from “Get the Cheese” to her upcoming year at the College.

“You really have to trust yourself,” Bowen Smith said. “The whole lesson we got from doing this exercise was [to] just walk there and pick it up. That is a lesson that I carry with me all the time now.”

The reason why Bowen Smith ended up at the College with a unique combination of majors traces itself all the way back to one special project she completed in high school.

“My [cumulative senior] project was on drama therapy as a practice to help veterans and survivors of trauma,” Bowen Smith said. “Theatre is a perfect environment where addressing trauma is done in a way that is constructive, and you can create something positive from it.”

Currently, Bowen Smith hopes her studies will help her address two important questions that she has been pondering for a while.

“I am always wondering: where does art fit into society and how can our institutions promote it?” Bowen Smith said.

Taking part in William and Mary’s theatre program has left Bowen Smith excited to learn, grow and expand her interests even further. Last year, she had a role in the school’s production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” She also wants to encourage incoming students or any student even a little bit interested to get involved with theatre or dance.

“[Theatre and dance are] really great program[s]; there are both main stage productions, and then the department will also sponsor a senior directorial project,” Bowen Smith said. “There are also a lot of different classes, and the beginning classes aren’t closed to nonmajors, and also anybody can audition for mainstage productions, which I think is really nice.”

Bowen Smith was one of 50 participants in a summer theatre program sponsored by New York Stage and Film and Vassar College which focused on three key areas: acting, directing and playwriting. She took six classes, acted in two productions, completed workshops and attended question-and-answer sessions with industry professionals.

“It was intense,” Bowen Smith said.

Bowen Smith is also a member of the student-run improvisational comedy group IT. While at Vassar this summer, Bowen Smith learned about sound painting, a concept that integrated her love of both theatre and improv.

“Sound painting is a language that a man named Walter Thompson invented; he is a jazz musician and composer. He invented it so he could communicate with his improvising musicians while they were doing the show. So, it’s like a live, gestural composing language,” Bowen Smith said. “It is kind of like sign language, but it can influence the performance while it is happening.”

Through sound painting, Bowen Smith essentially combined the elements of theatre and music in what she describes as “one of the coolest things [she has] ever done in [her] entire life.” Smith has a vision of how sound painting could become a part of IT.

“We used [sound painting] to, in real time, create scenes and songs that were completely improvised but were being directed by our director while he was sound painting us,” Bowen Smith said.

One of the biggest lessons Bowen Smith has learned from her experience in theater, both at Vassar and at the College, is how to deal with rejection. 

“I know it’s really easy to get discouraged when somebody tells you no, and I think the thing to remember at the end of the day is that you know what’s right to you and somebody else’s no can be somebody else’s yes,” Bowen Smith said.

Bowen Smith has learned to take pride in her hard work, knowing that it will resonate with the right person in time.

“You have to think, ‘Okay, what I am putting out there doesn’t work for them,’” Smith said. “But it will work for somebody else, and I am going to stand by it, and I am going to own it.”