I grew up as an only child in a very broken home. My parents were both dealing with mental illness, but were also strong, supportive, kind, and understanding people who, despite their illnesses, managed to instill in me good moral and personal values. And while stability was hard to come by, they tried to keep me engaged in whatever extra-curricular activity they could find.
When I was in fifth grade, Missoula Children’s Theatre (MCT) came to my school. Eighty kids, were asked to go to our school’s gymnasium to audition for the show Red Riding Hood. I didn’t know what to expect, but as auditions got underway, I was captivated by the whole process, and I started getting excited. They told me that I should be loud and expressive when I was auditioning. I was always a naturally energetic kid and adults told me to be quiet or settle down. But in this case, not only was my spirited nature acceptable, but it was encouraged! I could hardly contain myself! Despite my enthusiasm, I never did get a part in that show and I was devastated. Noticing my disappointment, my teacher pointed out things I could work on and encouraged me to keep trying.
I didn’t continue pursue theatre again until I was thirteen. That year, my father passed away unexpectedly and my mother attempted suicide and was admitted to the hospital for psychiatric treatment. I was left alone and unsupported, save for my grandparents, to deal with all of this, and I needed to find something to latch onto.
A girl who I liked at the time said, “Hey, when you get to high school, you should do theatre.”
I immediately thought, “Are you doing it? Because, if so, count me in.”
The theatre became a sort of catharsis, allowing me to leave behind any turmoil in my life and just become someone else, even for a moment.
As I was starting to get into plays, my home life continued to deteriorate. My mother attempted to commit suicide again and was admitted to the hospital, and I was left to live on my own for a year as a sixteen year old. I was fortunately supported by the Social Security we received, but I still had to work a job, pay for bills, and maintain a household, all while attending school. One of the only things that kept me stable during that time was my participation in theatre. There were plenty of opportunities for me to just give up; maybe drop out of school and turn to drugs or alcohol to deal with my issues. Instead, I escaped by pouring myself into the character I assumed on stage. I put my heart and energy into my theatre work and I was able to channel the negativity going on in my life into something positive.
In college I majored in English and Theatre, hoping to someday go to law school. I was in 10 separate productions and even wrote and produced a full-length play that incorporated drama therapy. When it came time to graduating college, however, I was scrambling. I didn’t want to go to law school immediately but I also didn’t have a decent job lined up.
During that time, I was in a production of The Importance of Being Earnest, and one of the actors I was working with just so happened to work for Missoula Children’s Theatre. After seeing my work ethic and acting, he asked if I would be interested in touring for MCT.
Now, two years later, I’ve taught an hour long musical to over 3500 kids and traveled to 65 separate communities across the United States. What I do isn’t easy – constantly moving, sacrificing aspects of my personal life, adjusting to new places every single week, and handling any and all inherent obstacles – but I want to give every kid an opportunity to have some fun, be proud of themselves and experience something they will always remember.
Some kids participate just for fun; others because their parents want them to. But for the few who need theatre in their lives as much as I did: those are the kids that show me that all of what I do is worth it, and is absolutely what I need to be doing with my life right now.
And for those who I have to turn away, like I was, I always tell them to keep trying. Because who knows? You may be a fifth grader who didn’t get a part now. But in the future, you could be someone who works hard, continues to improve, and eventually goes across the country teaching something that you love. It could be one of the most important things to you.