Across the Coffee Table
Across the coffee table sits a fifty-year-old Jewish woman. Sandy sips her latte, adjusts her glasses, and reminisces about working at the Tony Awards. My jaw drops as we geek out about nomination snubs and a woman who saw The Go-Go’s musical thirty-five times. Perpendicular to our theatrical line of fire sits my mom, baffled. After all, I’m a seventeen-year-old Catholic male. Our friendship is, at a superficial level, unconventional, but I’ve learned that can be a good thing. While our shared love for theatre brought us together, I’ve grown to see that it’s our different experiences that excite us. Sandy’s cultural background provides a vantage point that I don’t get from my high school peers. Through her, I have discovered how unexpected life stories can enhance my own.
We bow, concluding our pre-ordained scene. The kids at the Boys & Girls Club burst into applause, proud of their contributions. Their suggestions were, of course, strategically extracted to fit our script. Toward the end, Sasha asks to join us on stage for her take of the scene. This isn’t standard Theatre4Change protocol, but remembering the value of others’ experiences that I learned from Sandy, I give Sasha the stage.
A few months later, our outreach director asks the program’s advisory board to identify defining moments from the past year. I think about that day: our lessons of teamwork and compromise embodied as the kids jumped up and built their scenes; youth from all different socio-economic backgrounds united by storytelling; and, most importantly, Sasha’s scene interpretation opening my eyes to life from a different perspective. Unknowingly, I’d become the true pupil.
Later that year, at that same Boys & Girls Club, the children bow, having performed the first student-devised scene. We burst into applause.
Across the Globe
I’m backstage with Judy Garland.
Well, an actress playing Judy Garland. We sit on a musty couch in the greenroom, discussing voices. In some comedy of the fates, we both have been cast in roles with each other’s accents. I’m an American, playing Young Peter Allen in The Boy from Oz. She’s an Australian actress in her late twenties, playing an American movie icon. We pick each other’s brains about the inner workings of our accents and hope to absorb bits of them by osmosis through conversation.
I point toward five highlighted letters in her script: water. Ever since I moved, the girls at my local Australian school have begged me to say that word. Judy points out that perhaps me playing the role of a young Australian pop star struggling to adapt in another country might not be such a stretch. And the cultural gaps I’m missing? Judy helps fill those in with stories of her own. Our conversation shifts, and we trade memories and insights about our lives. I realize that our “voices” are more than inflections and diphthongs–they are how we experience the world.
Across the Proscenium
Theatre thrives on connection: actors, directors, and audience members all finding ways to connect to the script, the characters, and the world of the play. Unsurprisingly, the theatre has provided the context in which many of my most meaningful connections have flourished. In a world where so many boundaries divide us, theatre has provided me the means to reach across age gaps, socio-economic boundaries, and cultural differences and to allow others’ voices to challenge and liberate me as I grow.
So each night that I’m onstage, I reach across. I pour everything I’ve learned from these people into the characters I play, in hopes that the audience might latch on. For some, acting is a skill or a profession, a craft they work at in return for a laugh, cheer, or chance to sign an autograph. I, however, am eagerly reaching out, excited about the next opportunity theatre will give me to make a new connection.