Throughout high school, I have had the pleasure of being involved in a vast variety of theater productions. Whether it be a classical musical, improv show, vignette play, or dramatic play, each production impacted the audience in a different way. When I realized I was walking into my last first rehearsal of a Wilton High School show, I was inspired to reflect upon what theater has meant to me over the years, what it has meant to our community, and why I am truly so passionate about it.

Theater brings me joy. The collaboration, challenges, hard work, and pure thrill of performing (whether in a primitive rehearsal or final performance) provide me with unbridled exuberance. My freshman year, as I waited backstage to enter for the opening number of “The Pajama Game,” I remember hearing the overture underway and feeling utterly giddy. Magically, that sensation is not unique to performances for me. Witnessing night after night as a world within a script transcends the bounds of our reality in Wilton, CT, is captivating and enchanting. It is mainly the process which we learn from, not the product.

Beyond its entertainment value and provision of joy, I realize that theater has a strong impact on our community. Theater productions are often microcosms of humanity. They connect us, reflect tragedies and triumphs, and provide us with a safe place to discuss otherwise daunting topics. Art offers a sense of connection and comfort in times of sadness and fear.

This year, in collaboration with the School Climate Committee, Wilton High School is producing the play “26 Pebbles” by Eric Ulloa. The play is about how the people of Newtown regained their strength and sense of community following the Sandy Hook shooting. The play is uplifting, hopeful, and inspiring. It is also raw, truthful, and uncensored. It rips open your soul and fills it with complicated emotions and questions, not shying away from unpleasant topics that require more discussion.

For me and the other actors involved, the emotions involved in performing “26 Pebbles” are heightened by our proximity to the characters that we are portraying and stories we are telling. There is a line in the play where a mother who lives in Sandy Hook says, “People here are afraid. You know? It’s scary to talk about it because you don’t know who’s been touched by what.”

When I first read this line, it resonated with me because it is intensely accurate. Everyone in our community was affected by this tragedy, thus nobody wants to provoke pain in another’s heart by talking about it. But the play is about coming together, pooling your strength, and overcoming adversity hand-in-hand. In performing this play, we hope to spread the message of love, to inspire kindness, and to combat isolation and reticence. The play can benefit and connect our community, because art alleviates the pain of silence.