The Safety of the Performing Arts
Sometimes the people you need the most in your life find you
It’s clear to me that the stage is a place where I can thrive and belong. I credit theatre for my development of strong interpersonal skills, problem solving, and confidence. I also enjoy the rush of being on stage and knowing I have a full support system waiting for me (literally) in the wings. I have had my share of bad times, rejection, fear and sometimes things don’t go well and that can feel terrible, but through it all, I have continued to feel important and I always feel safe.
When I was a junior in high school, I was asked (and it was very aggressively suggested that I oblige) to audition for the school’s spring musical. My choir teacher needed tenors—and male bodies—to audition for the spring show, and since she was also the vocal & music director of the show, she started shaking the bushes in in the music department. I had been singing in the choral program for several years at the time, and her and I got along very well. When she approached me, I reluctantly agreed.
I did what was asked of me: I auditioned and was cast in Folsom High School’s 2003 production of Once Upon a Mattress. The audition process was like nothing I had seen before. The energy was so high, and everyone was there to impress! Even though nerves and irrational fears were running rampant, there was also so much kindness and love coming from everyone who wanted to be on the cast and crew.
Even though nerves and irrational fears were running rampant, there was also so much kindness and love…
I remember when it all became official and the cast list came out; once cast, I wanted to find out more information about the show and what I was getting myself into. This being 2003, I didn't have reliable Google, Wikipedia, or IMDB to rely on, so I had to find tangible research.
I was convinced that I had found the exact replica at a local record store of what we were going to be performing, and I listened to that CD over and over. I loved the music and the quirky dialogue in the score. It felt so fresh and new to me. I couldn't stop thinking about the fact that this music was something that I would get the chance to perform myself.
I was embarrassed when I talked to my vocal director about the cast album that I had and realized it was the wrong one. She assured me it wasn't a big deal and she told me about the original cast album (starring the amazing Carol Burnett) and that it might be tough to find so she would get a copy of it for me.
I knew that this was something that I could do. I felt important, and I felt strong, and I loved that I already had a team looking out for me. It was one of those moments of realization—this important thing had been missing from my life and I had no idea. You just don’t know what you don’t know.
The time I spent chatting with my music director about theatre, performing, and show tunes was one of the highlights of my high school years. It was something that I would cherish and still look back on to this day.
The shows—and making new friends during the productions—are some of the fondest memories I have of high school. I felt that I could finally be myself; I was able to relax and joke around. Even my friends outside of the drama program became more important to me because I felt so at ease with people, and in social situations as a whole. I developed a sense of humor, and learned how to pick up on social cues.
Making friends who had the same passions as I did sharing what they knew about the musical theatre industry and me getting the chance to share the knowledge I had acquired as time went on was a fun and easy way to get to know them. Indulging in obsession with like-minded people is one of the best bonding experiences I have ever had.
I really enjoy the relaxed conversations that I can have with my friends in the theatre community. There was always something to talk about: whether its an issue of which composer is better, which belter is a more competent dancer, or just how great a cast album is. It is never awkward to get a conversation started—it’s such a comfortable feeling.
It wasn't until this year that I had fully realized that—after more than a decade since first starting theatre—how safe I felt. It’s true that the performing arts industry can be brutal. You deal with rejection, you deal with mind-numbing rehearsal schedules, and cut-throat competition, but I never felt unsafe. I unintentionally surrounded myself with like-minded people who would always accept me for me.
Through these groups I continue to learn how to be a kinder person who fights for what they believe in as well as continuing to grow as a performer.
When I moved away from Northern California, the first thing I did was to find a performing arts group. I joined a gay men’s chorus, and I auditioned for shows. I quickly built a safety-net of friends and faux-family that I could rely on. Through these groups I continue to learn how to be a kinder person who fights for what they believe in as well as continuing to grow as a performer.
I witnessed the harsh realities of the world from 10,000 feet, and I dealt with the problems of the world on stage. I would figure it all out through script and score, to empathize with realities I would never face. I felt free not only to live out loud as a gay man, but also have a voice when it came to topics that I felt strongly about. No one ever threatened me, or shouted me down. On the rare occasion I found someone I disagreed with, our conversations about said topic would be pleasant or we would agree to not discuss them.
Starting with a small but mighty choral program my freshman year to flourishing in a drama program as an upperclassmen, the arts where my training wheels into being a more competent, independent human being. I have tried to encourage every person I know who has kids, especially young boys, to try a dance class, visit a voice teacher, or invest in an acting program. The empathy and self-value that can be learned from nurturing programs are things that will be carried through adulthood.
The empathy and self-value that can be learned from nurturing programs are things that will be carried through adulthood.
For a lot of kids and young adults, especially those who identify as LGBTQ, its hard to find a safe space. I have found that the performing arts community is a great place to be free and to be safe, even if performing isn’t your passion. Stagehands, technicians, production teams, and volunteers are a hugely important part of the theater. These people are wanted, needed, and loved, just as any performer would be.
It is a privilege to be where I am. I know that even though I worked extremely hard to get here, I had a lot of factors in my favor. My parents were understanding and supportive, I had amazing educators in high school, brilliant mentors and directors that I worked with in community theaters, and community choruses. This is not a path that many can or choose to take due to how how rigorous this lifestyle can be.
As I have grown older, the time commitment of doing a full “book-show” has become more and more difficult, so I have cut back and thrown my heart into a musical theatre choral group. It helps fill the need to perform, and still hold on to the crazy business that is show. I meet and befriend many like-minded people who can still challenge me in the ways of the world that is beneficial. I still feel safe, and I still feel important.
I count all the performers, directors, stage hands and technicians I have met over the years as true friends and advocates for individuality. I know that I can always learn something new from these people, and I also know that I have something to teach and share that will be accepted.
Plus, it’s just so fun to perform!