I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I work in theatre. Some people might think it’s a no-brainer: thought-provoking art, talented performers, glamorous opening nights – and it is that. I love those exciting things, don’t get me wrong, but I’m talking about my theatrical beginnings. My ah-ha moment of “Yes! I want to do this for the rest of my life.”
Let me use this online platform to personally thank my reason and the initiator of my ah-ha moment: Jill O’Dell, who may be surprised she’s the reason, if she ever reads this.
Let’s time travel. I was in 6th grade and Jill, a family friend who was a sophomore in high school, took me to see two local high school productions. I grew up admiring Jill, and our families were close, so it was HUGE for me to “hang out” with this older, cooler girl. My guess is that this was a clever scheme by my parents to hire Jill to babysit me, an eager, young performer. Still, Jill took me with her to see a few shows. I believe we saw three or four in total, but LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, THE FOREIGNER and WILL ROGERS’ FOLLIES were certainly in the list.
At the performance of LITTLE SHOP, I experienced the most personally revolutionary moment of theatre I can remember. In the opening song, insignificant Seymore swept the front steps of Mushnik’s flower shop meekly while the chorus overwhelmed him. Suddenly, timed perfectly with the music, he was struck in a blinding, white overhead light as the rest of the stage lights went out. His first words were “Poor, all my life I’ve always been poor…” and I was hooked! My sixth grade mind was amazed! I didn’t know that lighting could do that in productions! I didn’t know high schoolers could sing as well as this. I didn’t know that costumes could look as great. I was absolutely spellbound, and I knew, “I want to do this, and I want to do it for the rest of my life.” Something SO simple had a huge visual influence on my experience.
Since then I have been in remarkable productions, I’ve deepened my mental library of American plays, I’ve seen outstanding and moving professional productions, and have been changed deeply by the power of theatre. But that one moment stays with me. It was the turning point for me. What was yours? Was it watching a professional, theatrical drama? Was it seeing a modern dance performance? Was it Shakespeare? Was it reading the script of ALL MY SONS and being unable to wait to see it onstage? I’d love to know this. This is why I work in theatre. Our experiences and how we got here are so different. For me, it was that an older friend took me under her wing, but for you it might be seeing your child onstage at a talent show or remembering a line from Shakespeare that fits a situation perfectly. For others it might be the first grade play they were once in when they played second tree to the right (I may or may not have just given you the entirety of my theatrical resume). Theatre moves in so many ways! Why do you support and attend the theatre arts, and how did that start? We’ve all got one.
Gulfshore Playhouse’s education program ARTSMART is at work in our schools and introducing young people to theatre and improv and movement, allowing them to think in different ways and solve problems from a new perspective. Our synergy series includes panel discussions and interactive activities and actor talkbacks and book clubs and so much more. There are numerous ways to participate and talk about theatre. Join us please!
My hope is that we continue to sponsor education of theatre arts in our schools. My hope is that we continue to sponsor learning opportunities for every age group in our community. My hope is that we learn more about ourselves and our community through theatre experiences. And my joy is that the Jill O’Dell’s out there continue to introduce young people to art.