I believe in the power of the arts to transform. There is no lesson that cannot be learned, no difficulty insurmountable, when a person is given the chance to creatively express who they are and what they can do. My life has always revolved around the theatre, but I was not positive that my calling was in theatre education until my first week on the road with a national children’s theatre.
In the summer of 1995, my tour partner and I were in Nampa, Idaho to mount “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” with 75 local children ages 5 – 18. As the 2 hour audition drew to a close and we announced the cast, a mother approached me. She proceeded to tell me that there was no way her daughter could handle the part. “She can’t read,” said her worried mother, “there’s no way she’ll learn those lines by Saturday. It will be robbing another child of a great opportunity.” I asked the mother to do one thing for her daughter this time around: don’t tell her she can’t do it and let’s see what happens.
As the week progressed, the little “dwarf” had trouble remembering her lines, just as her mother had said. She was dyslexic and would put the script down whenever we started to block a scene, embarrassed to be unable to read the words on the page fast enough. Her mother was a nervous wreck come show time. I remember her sitting in the front row of the packed auditorium, ready to run up and rescue her daughter from the stage if need be.
It was then I learned the true transformative power of theatre. The entire cast herded on the stage for their final bows. As they all bowed together, saying silently “hello, shoes!” as the magic measure of time to stay in a bow, the audience spontaneously jumped to their feet and were thunderously applauding. When the fourth dwarf raised her eyes from her shoes, she faced 2000 cheering, smiling, waving and clapping adults and peers standing up for her. One of the luckiest moments in my life was when I happened to look at that little girl as she raised her head and felt, for the first time in her life, a victory over something she thought she could not do.
I believe in the transformative nature of the arts. I believe in the beauty of a person’s imagination. I believe that children need to hear that they can indeed accomplish miracles, and the adults around them need to move their cynicism aside and believe right along with them. I believe the arts can heal enormous wounds of self-doubt and self-criticism.
The image of wonder on that little actor’s face as she looked out at the audience is as vivid today as it was 11 years ago. It is a personal talisman for me as I struggle to overcome my own self-doubts, cynicism and the sometimes overwhelming negativity of a world living in a time of fear and suspicion. I believe my art can do more than delight and instruct, it can save lives – it will help our children dream a better world, believe in it and act it out.
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