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Surviving the MSBS Program: Side by Side by Side

By: Daniel Mollett

Before I launch into my MSBS saga, I feel it necessary to hit a few key points that could help you know where I’m coming from. To start, I’m a musician, pianist, and musical theater creative, and the place I still call home is New York City. So, you can imagine the epic tale that brought me all the way to Ivins, UT and Tuacahn where I found myself in a long-term committed relationship with an aspiring doctor. Prior to 2019, I spent each summer in more than one city while working on several shows and seldom staying longer than a few weeks. Fast forward to 2021. Kris and I had been together for roughly a year, half of that spent on opposite ends of the country, and he told me that he had been accepted to the MSBS program at Rocky Vista University around the time we were opening Beauty and the Beast and Annie at Tuacahn. That is what set the stage for the things I learned with a partner in the MSBS program.

We both knew that it was going to take some creative scheduling and more than a few sacrifices to guarantee that our time together was optimized. For me, that was the easy part. I was used to focusing on my own schedule to a degree that I didn’t notice the dip in how much Kris time I was getting every week. But for him, it hit harder. My advice here is to know your partner’s attachment styles and love languages. If quality time is important to either one of you (be honest with yourself), then it needs to take precedence over other activities. Fortunately, we knew this, had handled it well during our long-distance interval, and scheduled daily time together or weekly date nights to ensure that our connection didn’t suffer. After all, “it’s the little things you do together that make perfect relationships.”

The one thing I heard the most at the onset of the MSBS program was that it was demanding, or grueling, or rigorous. Yes, it is certainly all of those things. You’ll notice it most especially in your partner’s stress level and you’ll want to note how they handle that. You won’t always be able to help (more than once I got complaints about how I was keeping the apartment, but when you’re tech-ing a show until 1:00 a.m. some things fall by the wayside). We had to give each other some room to be grouchy when one of us had to wake up early after the other worked late. But it’s crucial to note that responses to stress are not responses to each other, and sometimes the most efficient way to help is to be present for them when something has gone awry at school.

As it turns out, having a partner endure the throes of the MSBS program will teach you vast amounts about yourselves and the relationship as a whole. Survival is dependent on how well you function as a team, but it also will hinge on how much you’re willing and able to integrate yourself into the program. For instance, during exam weeks, it was an exam week for me, too. I wouldn’t dream of touching the subject matter, but I did beef up the daily routine: I’d try to make sure his business casual clothes were ready for the week, try to meal prep so we didn’t have to think about it, and try to make sure that we got breakfast and coffee each day. An early day for him would often mean an early day for me, but fortunately I had plenty to practice and a caffeine addiction. I also tried my best to radiate stability and calmness, like I would in audition rooms or recitals. Trust me, someone has to bring serene waters when the tide of block exams starts flowing. It will not all be on your shoulders, but the anxiety surrounding Friday will be affecting you less.

Honestly, the more fun thing to do was become friends with his study group. Then, I could see the at-school support system and fill in the gaps; they even added to my own circle of friends. I guess you could say it was easier to tackle it all side by side by side. They came to several of my shows and I joined them for some events. It’s nearly like forming a secondary family that commiserates about studying and gets together for food after an exam. Side note: when they start talking about the questions they missed, just nod accordingly and say, “ah yes, the amino acids.” I’d be remiss if I didn't point out that MSP also offers a way to connect with the other spouses and SO’s. They recently began to incorporate more MSBS partners and families into their events and I know they form a strong support system with so many ways to get involved. I hope these snippets might be helpful, enlightening, or encouraging to your journey. Just know that MSBS will be quite the gauntlet run, but surely worth it for the outcomes and new friends!

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