It doesn’t matter why, but a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to watch a group of teenagers whom I don’t know be inducted into the International Thespian Society. I watched them have their names called out by their peers, watched them walk across the stage in their professional best– which for one kid was a red velvet duster ROCK ON– watched them afterwards have cupcakes and punch, watched them shout out song requests to the sound booth: Greased Lightning! Dancing Queen!
Sweet theatre nerds. Never change.
I felt so proud of those kids I’d never met before, but I also felt horribly jealous. My school didn’t really participate in things like Thespian Society or ThesCon. My high school theatre teacher was a straight up bad person, and one of the first emotionally abusive influences in my life. I watched this man laugh at students for crying, make fun of students for turning their ankles onstage under his direction… And then on one particularly big LESSON LEARNED day, I walked into the theatre to hear him reading aloud one of my LiveJournal entries from the booth. (I am old.) See, I had written about my displeasure about the state of our bullshit One Act show, and he had found it, and, again, had decided that his best course of action as an adult was to read the entry out loud to everyone in our theatre class.
(You’d think I’d have stopped being quite so open on the Internet, but alas. Also, go to hell, Mr. Cate.)
I am leaving my full-time theatre job in just a few days, and I actually feel more in touch with my inner high school theatre kid than ever before. The act of leaving has forced me to consider the ways in which theatre will no longer happen in my life purely out of momentum. I have grown lazy and comfortable with so many resources at my fingertips. In this brave new world ahead of me, if I want theatre to be a part of it, I’m going to have to make it happen.
But watching those kids onstage yesterday made me think about the theatre kids whom I DO know. The completely bizarre nerds who break and remake my heart every summer. I watched some of them perform Much Ado About Nothing recently, and, as usual, it served to re-invigorate my feelings for theatre and for Shakespeare specifically. Watching our students speak Shakespeare always reminds me why I do what I do.
(What we do is hard.)
I might not be in a play again, it has occurred to me very frequently over the past few weeks. I have never been cast by a theatre outside of the one I’ve been employed by full-time, and even there, my last two shows were a year apart. But I feel more served as a former (always) theatre kid lately than I have even when I was doing lots of shows a year.
Because the best part about being a theatre kid was always time spent with my fellow theatre kid friends. And I am confident finally that my theatre kid friends are going to stay my theatre kid friends even after I’m not in our building every day. All of my enduring best friendships started by first circling up on a stage somewhere. From One Act to the Renaissance Festival to college theatre to my professional career and, hopefully, beyond.
And I will be a theatre kid even when I leave my job behind. I’m going to spend December crying about it, and then my plan is to wake up on January 1 and go full Tracy Turnblad on this new decade. Eating some breakfast, and changing the world with theatre. All I want to do is make art for and with my friends. I am done with emotionally abusive theatre gatekeepers telling us when and how we can do what we do.
This has been an incredibly significant year for me, and I am very aware that I wouldn’t have gotten here without the friends I’ve made while sitting quietly (okay, and not so quietly; sorry, stage management) in the dark, waiting for an entrance. I so frequently wrote to myself at the start of this year: What are we doing? What do we want? What do YOU WANT TO DO? And I couldn’t come up with an answer. But I know now. The best thing about my life is all my friends.
My crazy talented theatre kid friends.
You all have made me brave without asking me to compromise my softness. And all my soft brave heart wants is to create opportunities for you. To write you plays. I won’t be that good at it at first, but I feel courageous for the first time in years. I am ready to be bad, so that I can eventually be good.
I am so scared about leaving my job. I never ever thought that I would be able leave because I was so scared. But I know that this is what I need to do. And, because I don’t hate myself right now, I’m able to do the things I need. And y’all, that is a huge fucking deal for me. And you are a huge fucking deal to me.
So, let’s cry, have some breakfast, circle up onstage, and change the world.