01 May 2010


Theater has taken over my life.

I knew that it would. It always does. The second I get cast in a show I don't even bother trying to deny the fact that everything (nearly) takes a back seat to making the show good. I obsess over it. I think about it. I re-think about it. It goes on and on because I am determined to never do a half baked job in a show. Music Man is definitely no exception.

It's all got me thinking though - about my entire "career" in theater, what got me to where I am now and why it's all so important to me that I would devote everything I've got for several months at a time to a production. Recently I was asked to write an article about why the arts are important for schools. These are some of the things I've come up with, most of which will be related specifically to the arts with theater, since it is what I know best.

1. This one is a bit cheap, but you can't cheat your way through the arts. If you're a smart enough student, you can cheat your way through many things. I know this. I will proudly admit to being an expert essay fluffer. I can mooch my way through any last minute essay and still do well on it once I've learned how to give a teacher what they want. Any English major worth their salt can do that. I'm sure that such skills translate into other areas of study as well. But you can't do that in the arts. You either know the song or you don't. You have your lines memorized, or you don't. Now, there are levels of perfection, certainly, but you can't cheat off anyone else's work. You have to put the time in yourself.

2. That said, you learn to work as a team, and, if you're smart, learn that the success of the team is better than anything you can do on your own. I've spent years getting cast in the chorus. Many, many years being cast in the background with small showcased moments or a line here or there. Every now and then I've managed to get a lead. All along the way I learned that nine times out of ten I cared more about being in the show and being on stage and doing my best than I did with getting the starring role. People who learn to really care about the arts, people who learn the lesson that they have to teach, will recognize the truth behind the cliche of there being no small parts. The arts - on stage or off - teach the same lesson taught all around the world in religious education that you are both everything and nothing at the same time. The arts are - or should be - a grand lesson in humility and hard work no matter your place.

3. The arts teach you to trust others. One of my favorite quotes comes in the movie Nicholas Nickleby at the very end when the narration says that "family need not be defined by those with whom we share our blood, but those for whom we would give our blood." The best shows - the ones that have meant the most to me - have been ones where life long friendships are built. You have no choice. In a short period of time you have to place yourself at the mercy of total strangers, risking yourself emotionally and physically as you get to know them. For someone like me who is generally very guarded and wary of people I don't know, theater as taught me to trust that other people will do their part, and that they will not let me down because I will do my best not to let them down. The bond of a solid cast is remarkable.

4. The arts teach you how to walk in someone else's shoes. I think one of the reasons that the Lord has blessed me with so many opportunities on stage is because I learn about myself when I play someone else. I learn about my flaws and my strengths - not just in terms of acting or dancing ability, but because making an effort to really understand another way of thinking refines your own. That kind of intense character study and analysis has taught me to be careful about pre-judging others.

5. It's just fun. Heaven knows how much I love to analyze things to death. I could spend the rest of eternity picking apart books and movies and never tire of it, but being on stage gives me the chance to do something just for the thrill of performance. There's something intensely exciting about the accomplishment of seeing a show progress from start to finish. It's fun to put on a great costume and sing your heart out when saying it just wouldn't be good enough. There's a kind of energy that comes when you know the audience is eating out of the palm of your hand, and that they will leave entertained, or changed in some way.

I am in awe, sometimes, when I think about how lucky I have been to have the theater experiences that I have had. Recently, especially, I've been completely overwhelmed at the weight of it all, grateful that the Lord has seen fit to bless me with experiences that bring me such a huge amount of joy.

1 comment:

Rachel EM said...

"a grand lesson in humility and hard work no matter your place" is a very nice way of putting it.