I am a senior this year, and I have worked my way up through the levels of theatre over the past four years. With the help of my theatre teacher, Carol Cadby, and with the support of my peers, I have explored the artistic depth of the stage, and as the curtain slowly closes on my high school experience, I — like many in my class — am forced by time to reflect on what I have learned through instruction and what I have discovered for myself in the theatre program.
Theatre is to me a conversation. It is not a medium that isolates a creative mind, but rather one that expands it. To be part of a theatre production is to interact with a community, a constant give and take that breathes life to a work of art. Dialogue with a cast, a director, and an audience is what gives theatre its unique sense of involvement; without the active exchange of ideas that fuel an evening’s performance and that forms a single prolific body of actor and audience, theatre becomes just a movie. I have discovered the overwhelming creative power of a group, and experienced the thrill of being a single unit in an ensemble production.
Communication is the heart of theatre on and off the stage. Last year, playing the role of Henry David Thoreau in “The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail,” I was struck by the strength of the network of support among the cast and crew of the show. I had the responsibility of representing the mind and soul behind one of the most famous acts of civil disobedience in American history on stage, and yet the spirit of Thoreau was not realized through my own characterization or through the direction of the script. Thoreau’s spirit came to life only because each member of the ensemble believed in it. Similarly, I found that the integrity of a scene could not be preserved by one person alone, but by the group’s focus and commitment to the context. I found myself relying on my fellow actors to live the reality of the scene and endow each individual with the qualities of his character. Without this interaction, the illusion of theatre is broken for the viewers. I became Thoreau during the performance because my peers communicated their faith in me and in each other.
A director must also be open to dialogue. In order to successfully layer disparate artistic media such as lighting, dance and music, he must balance community participation with his own vision, and embrace external influences. Earlier this year I had the opportunity to student direct an adaptation of Mary Zimmerman’s “Metamorphoses.” At first, having a leadership role among a group of students my own age seemed stressful and intimidating, though I quickly realized that the cast’s collective enthusiasm transcended any status conflicts. The responsibilities of a director are cushioned by an atmosphere of mutual respect and the sharing of ideas, and “Metamorphoses” was no exception. The show organized itself as the actors voiced their opinions and followed my instructions and no single individual owned the final product.
I believe that my development as an artist should be founded on a symbiotic relationship with what is around me. Lessons learned have taught me that a performer cannot speak to his audience; he must speak with his audience. A director cannot merely direct; he must also listen. Acting has the potential to be an intensely personal means of expression, and too often theatre programs encourage actors to develop emotional tunnel-vision, but as Ms. Cadby frequently reminded me, “To act is to react.” An artist must be swayed and affected by his environment in order to articulate an inspired insight. Theatre has generated a sense of belonging for me, and has given me the tools I need to pursue a medium that promises deep artistic fulfillment.