How Theater Shaped My Life

Getting ready for the fall musical, The Sound of Music, circa 2009.

Close your eyes, and envision yourself in a white room. In this room are all your belongings, all your thoughts, and worries from the day. Envision all these things being in the room with you. Now, imagine, before you, sits a box. Think about if it's a big box a small box, whatever you want it to be... You're in this room. Now, slowly, one by one, take all the things in the room: your responsibilities, your troubles, all the clutter from the day, and begin to place them in the box... Once you've put all your items in there, the box will disappear until it's just you in this room. Sitting in this open room.

These words are what I remember hearing before every spring musical performance. I was in high school. At the time, our director would have us sit in a circle facing one another, we'd close our eyes as she would recite these words. More or less, it was the same speech every time. Without knowing it, I was meditating.

To this day, when I'm faced with situations where I feel completely helpless, I close my eyes, and I find myself back in that little room. There, I gently place the things I cannot control into a box (one that's large enough to carry my frustrations). This practice is only one of the many life lessons I've adopted from my time in the theater.

As a student, partaking in drama club and the seasonal musicals was something of a magical experience for me. Like most youth, high school was a time I felt misunderstood, skeptical, and sometimes just downright forgotten. I turned to the theater during these incredibly unsettling moments. There was something about being able to escape to another story, and I loved the idea of being somebody, anybody else, even if just for an hour.

At the start of a new show, once roles had been assigned, the director gave each cast member a sheet to fill in. This particular sheet asked questions about each character's family, interests, and quirks. The goal was to compose a rich backstory. Every character (background singers and all), had a story. Every character had a purpose.

At the time, I never considered this particular exercise to be a lesson about empathy. More than anything, I would use it to invent a life that was far different and more exciting from my own, and I particularly felt smitten when another cast member would partner up with me and agree to be my fictional, on-stage boyfriend, but I digress.

You might know the famous quote from To Kill a Mocking Bird where Atticus emphasizes that in order to understand another human being, one would need to physically climb into that other person's skin and walk around in it. The very process of acting, which requires one to create an in-depth story of another human being, feels incredibly similar to that message Atticus shares with the reader. Writing about the life, feelings, and experiences of another person is an exercise I suggest everyone try, as it has helped me throughout multiple moments of my life - including my profession in communications.

I look back on my time in the theater, thankful for the myriad of tools it gifted to me, which I continue to utilize in times of need. I think of my friends, old and recent, who embraced me as I was. Those who reminded me that this space is a place for anyone. Anyone who needs to start new, heal a broken heart, have fun, be heard, be seen, and be loved.

Without agenda, here is my ode to the theater and my unwavering appreciation for the people who make it so special. You have shaped my life for the better.