It’s taken a lot of time and thought to realize this, but these past four years theater has made me understand that sometimes it’s what’s under the surface that really makes something great.
A few weeks ago I was filling out the “post-high school questionnaire” (that was definitely not supposed to be done before summer)* and one of the questions asked how an extra-curricular has affected my life. I’m certainly not involved with it because of all the glorious solo stage-time I’m getting (I’m not) or for all of the musical rehearsals where I need to be privately taught by the choreographer in order to grasp a stupidly simple step — so why have I done every show I could and why do I keep coming back to it? After further reflection, I think I have an answer for it, and for my obscenely overdue questionnaire.
It’s the little things. It’s not about how many times I fall on my face (I’m using that phrase literally and you know it) during my freshman dance audition, it’s about the senior who sacrificed her own time to pull me aside and teach me the steps herself. Theater will put me in a situation with a particularly … difficult improv audience volunteer but provide me with an ensemble who supports me through the chaos. It keeps me coming back for more because it keeps putting people in my life who make dealing with it enjoyable. The rejection brings us together and the stress makes us closer.
Sure, it can bring out the worst and the best in people, but it cultivates an environment of acceptance and love because everyone who knows this knows how bad the sting of rejection can feel. Nobody wants to make anybody else feel the way that not getting a callback feels, so the majority of people make a real effort to be genuinely inclusive. After my first rehearsal freshman year, a senior and junior took me out to get donuts just so I could feel included. When a person is upset by harsh decisions, a group of others will drop what they’re doing to cheer them up — be it with funny videos or an outing to Orem’s for mounds of comfort food. When people notice that someone is even slightly downcast at rehearsal, five or six people will assure her that they’re there if she needs them. Theater can do a lot of harm to a person’s self-esteem without even trying, but that’s nothing compared to the good that all the other kids do to counteract it.
I can’t believe it’s gotten to the point where I am in a position of leadership. I can be that senior bringing unsuspecting freshmen to get donuts or make them feel undeniably included. This has given me three years of students who made my time something I looked forward to, even if my name wasn’t where I wanted it to be on the cast list. That’s something I want to pay forward, and I’ll try my hardest. Anyone who’s willing to put him/herself out there to be critiqued and judged and worked to the max deserves to be treated with kindness and love by the people doing it with them.
I guess I’ve stuck around so long because it’s made me better, onstage and especially off. It taught me a lot about singing and acting and inclusivity. It’s not about if my name is on the callback list or not, it’s about having the support system to handle whichever. It’s not about someone’s mistake onstage, it’s about them knowing that they’re walking offstage into open arms and voices telling them they were fantastic regardless. Theater is supposed to create a competitive nature, but all I’ve seen is love and people working together to make stress bearable and even enjoyable. So thank you, WHS Theater, for allowing me to learn how to handle rejection in a healthy way, for some wonderful teachers who are guiding me to becoming better onstage, and especially for the incredible people of all ages (from freshmen in high school to juniors in college now) who have shown acceptance through their actions — not just words.
Oh, and to everyone reading this, come see The Pajama Game in May!
*I started this article in the fall, and just now finished it. I promise, the questionnaire wasn’t that late.
Brooke Amodei is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with four classmates.