The Value of Drama
- OnStage Columnist
Speaking from personal experience, I know that drama gives kids much more than just confidence. Growing up I was never athletic, so I was never part of any organized sports team. Sure I took Physical Education, it was required, but being painfully shy, and having no natural athletic ability left me standing waiting to be picked when team captains began choosing their teams.
Luckily for me, I found another sort of team I could join. The summer before my freshman year in high school, my mother signed me up for the summer musical production. It was an original rock musical that the students and director had collaborated on to create. As a rising freshman among much older students, I was nervous, but very excited. Fortunately for me, my high school had a director who knew how to make every member of the cast feel valued regardless of the size of their role. It’s that summer that I learned what being part of an ensemble really meant.
I remember riding my bike every day to the school just to be part of something that made me feel special. For someone as shy as I was then, and the youngest in the production by far (I was only 13 when I started high school) it was the first time I felt like I really belonged somewhere. That’s what being part of an ensemble can do. It takes an extraordinary director; however, and in the 30+ years and many productions since, I’ve only encountered two such talents. My high school drama teacher, Mr. Shaw, was one. The other was a director I worked with years later in Raleigh, North Carolina, Glen Matthews. Both men knew and understood the importance of everyone in the cast and made the ensemble feel just as important, if not more so, than the lead actors. They understood that just like an athletic team, there are times when only one person is up to bat with the rest of the team rooting them on, and then there are times when the whole team is working together in the outfield toward a common goal.
In more recent years, as I became a teacher and director, I’ve tried to instill those same values into the children and adults I’ve taught and directed. The performing arts truly are a team sport where everyone is respected for their contribution, including those on stage and those working behind the scenes making the magic happen. That is the beauty of the performing arts; just like any team, everyone involved must learn to overcome obstacles, trust their instincts, work together, support one another, and practice. And, if you’re lucky, you will find a place where you too understand the feeling of being part of an ensemble.