'A Dream Come True'

Cailin Smith '18 in Italy.

Cailin Smith '18 in Italy.

Cailin Smith ’18 

Cailin Smith ’18 has always enjoyed singing, but she wasn’t sure she had what it took to break into the opera world. A professor who believed in her talents gave her the courage to pursue the path she’s always dreamed about. She describes her summer internship in Italy, where she performed in Carmen alongside professional singers; the advice that helps her persevere and grow; and the Mermaid Players production that stands out as her “most profound, intense and happy” experience at Dickinson so far.


Music (vocal performance) and anthropology.

Clubs and organizations:  

Music Society (co-chair), Mermaid Players, College Choir, Collegium, Prevention, Education & Advocacy Center peer educator; Pre-Orientation (coordinator).


Kappa Delta Pi, Alpha Lambda Delta and Benjamin Rush Scholarship.

Favorite book:

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.

Favorite movie:

Moulin Rouge.

On choosing my majors:

Anthropology: I've always known that I love learning about cultures, but until my sophomore year of high school, I didn't know there was a name for it. Once I discovered anthropology, I was hooked.

Music: I’ve been singing since I started talking, and it has always been important to me. Singing literally makes me happier! I performed in musicals and with choirs, and I took voice lessons until and through college, but until my sophomore year at Dickinson, it was just a hobby. When I started to study with [Visiting Instructor in Voice Jonathan] Hays in my sophomore year, I didn’t think I was “good enough” to pursue music seriously. Through his mentorship and guidance, I picked up a music major, and it’s probably the best decision I’ve ever made!

On choosing Dickinson:

I knew I wanted a college with a great anthropology program, and with professors who really care. I didn’t want to be lost in the crowd at a big school. When I interviewed at Dickinson, I was asked if there was anything else I wanted to see. When I mentioned the archaeology labs, I was given the instructions to just go on over and knock on the door! So my mom and I did, and we were welcomed and given our own tour. That convinced me that Dickinson was the perfect choice.

Favorite place on campus:

The Weiss lobbies on every floor. You’ll always run into a fellow student or professor and either say a quick hello or delve into a long conversation on almost any topic.

Favorite Dining Hall food:

Spinach and shells at the KOVE.

Favorite class/learning experience:

Dickinson’s production of Next to Normal was one of the most profound, intense and happy experiences at Dickinson for me. The show discusses the stigma of mental illness. It focuses on a mother’s battle with bipolar disorder, but as the show goes on, it is revealed that every other member of her family is suffering in some way—for example, my character, Natalie, succumbs to substance abuse. We had a cast of six people, and we rehearsed for at least three hours a night, five nights a week, so we became a very tight-knit community. The support system we built was truly a beautiful thing, especially as we dealt with these very heavy and personal issues in the show. Telling this story was the most rewarding performance experience I’ve had thus far.

As a kid, I wanted to be …

… the next Indiana Jones. I was convinced I was going to discover both Atlantis and a new terrifying dinosaur species.

Proudest accomplishment:

A few days into my internship this past summer, one of my supervisors texted me and told me that I would be singing the role of Frasquita in Georges Bizet’s Carmen in the next two performances. I had about two weeks to learn the part, and making my opera debut alongside professional singers in Florence was an incredible experience—really a dream come true!

Most important lesson I’ve learned so far:

Not to compare other people’s chapter 50 to your chapter one—meaning, don’t compare yourself to people who have more experience doing what you are trying to do. Everyone has a chapter one with every experience, including the individuals a few steps ahead of you, and it never means that you are inferior to them.

Post-Dickinson plans:

I am applying to graduate schools for opera and vocal performance, so I hope to choose another great school and then begin a performance career.

About my internship:

This summer I interned at St. Mark’s Opera in Florence, Italy. I found it through a study abroad company called Performing Arts Abroad, and was totally hooked with the idea from the beginning! I loved the opportunity because I hope to attend graduate school for opera and vocal performance, and interning in a professional opera house, helping to run the shows every single night, was priceless in my education. I learned how an opera company operates, the demands of a professional performer, and what this very old art form looks like today in our globalized, modern world.

What I learned:

Details matter, for both the performers to convey their messages and stories and for non-performers working the shows. The smallest things can change a person’s night from fine to stellar; for example, at St. Mark’s, we put audience names on their assigned seats. I didn’t think it was a big deal at first, but every single time without fail, people’s faces lit up when they saw that little slip of paper. For the performers, emotion goes beyond how you express yourself with your face and voice. The smallest hand or arm gesture can add an incredible amount to a scene.


Published September 5, 2017