So, ‘what’s a theme house?’ you ask. Well, a theme house is a pretty unique residence that tends to exist only on small, liberal arts college campuses. A textbook definition may describe it as, “a building in which members of a group or organization reside together with the commonality of a specific interest.”
However, as is usually the case, the textbook definition falls short of explaining and describing what a theme house actually is. So, this is where I can help you.
I have lived in a theme house called the Arts Annex for the past two years here at St. Lawrence University. In a way, the Arts Annex is a kind of social experiment: The University throws 26 performing artists in one house, sits back, and enjoys the show. But it’s also a remarkably unique lifestyle, and college is probably the only time in your life you’ll get the chance to live with a bunch of your peers who share your interest in the arts, the outdoors, feminism, what have you.
When I came to St. Lawrence, I had never heard of a theme house, but my Orientation Leader, Luke, was the theme house coordinator (basically a student leader) at the Arts Annex. So, he invited me and some of my other first-year friends to come over for the Fancy Party. This was an event that Luke and his housemates held every fall when the Alexander String Quartet came to campus to perform. The residents would get dressed up in the nicest garments they had toted to school, go to the show, and then have a cocktail party at their house and act like the professional adults they were all about to become.
The people that I met at the Fancy Party were friendly and interesting, and made me realize how much I missed hanging around artistic, zany folk. The friends I had already made in my first year were wonderful, and to this day remain my closest friends, but they weren’t the kind of ‘band geeks’ I was used to spending time with in high school.
My first year flew by and soon enough it was time to decide on housing for sophomore year. Luke suggested I apply to live in the Arts Annex, as he knew about my interest in music and dance. I was a little nervous about it since I regarded those students as very serious musicians and artists. For weeks, I went back and forth trying to decide if I wanted to live in a theme house or in a residence hall like the rest of my friends. I knew I was decent at dancing (I better be since I’ve been doing it since I could walk) but I wasn’t as confident about my musical capabilities. Finally, I decided that applying to the Arts Annex couldn’t hurt, so I did.
One Monday night as I was getting into bed, I received an email from Luke. The subject was, “Arts Annex decision…” and my stomach flipped a bit, thinking the ellipsis meant I wasn’t getting in. The first few lines were jibber jabber asking about my day and talking extensively about the weather, and I thought, “How Luke-esque this already is.” After four paragraphs of nonsense, which I was certain translated into a hard decline, Luke concluded with, “We would like to welcome you to the Arts Annex, have a great night!” I smiled and turned out the light.
Though it’s been a roller coaster ride, living in this house has been one of the best decisions of my college career. Yes, I have had to deal with difficult situations like resolving conflict with my roommate after we both snapped at each other with words we didn’t mean. But I’ve also spent evenings with that same roommate strumming guitars and pretending I can sing well.
As a senior, I am now the theme house coordinator at the Arts Annex, which is always rewarding, and almost always fun. My housemates and I plan and host performance arts events on campus such as open mic nights, talent shows, and even acting and dancing workshops. We create a cohesive community by working together to help foster the arts on campus, and our own talents within the house. I’ve acted as friend, counselor, dance partner, mentor, and sometimes even Mom for these wacky kids. And I wouldn’t give it up for the world.
There is nothing quite like the theme house community. I have grown since being a part of it, I am becoming more patient and understanding. I am learning how to work with people that I don’t naturally get along with. I am pursuing my performance arts talents and being supported by my housemates along the way. I have been lifted by my peers, and I have helped lift my peers, and most importantly, I have made life-long friends.
Though of course there have been times that I wanted to drive home to my mother crying, I wouldn’t trade the last two years for anything. The Arts Annex is a part of me and always will be. I put in my best effort to create a comfortable and supportive place to live, and in turn, the Arts Annex has given me confidence, love, and a place to call home.