Sponsored by Concord Theatricals, DemocracyWorks is the Educational Theatre Association (EdTA)’s annual essay competition, designed to grow student advocacy for theatre education. Each year, students submit inspiring essays on a timely prompt surrounding the value of arts education, and three winners receive prizes and recognition. This year, DemocracyWorks asked high school students, “How have your theatre education experiences helped prepare you to actively participate in our democracy?”
This essay, by Avishi Pandya of Wakeland High School, is the 2023 winner. (For more essays, click here.)
Ever since I was a kid, I said I would be the first female president. A hefty goal to set as a five-year-old, but I had my priorities straight.
I’m not sure when this childish joke turned into a driven dream, but after that, every aspect of my life has been dedicated to achieving that goal. I have taken government-oriented classes, participated in clubs, and have extensively researched the most ideal colleges to prepare me for a career in politics. Moreover, I have carried my passions into the field by personally advocating for pro-choice and anti-racism campaigns, working on political campaigns with the Frisco mayoral committee, and writing for government-based magazines, all in an attempt to get as close to my passion as I can as a high schooler.
The only thing in my life that isn’t government-focused is theatre. I have been passionate about theatre and the performing arts since I was four, from belting out show tunes in my dad’s car to performing with zeal in front of a live audience.
Throughout my eight-year theatre career, I have been told to quit time and time again. To others, it was not beneficial to my future aspirations and would get me nowhere, and I should focus on academics and college prep instead of wasting my time on silly little dancing and singing.
But looking at all of the paths I have explored, theatre is the one that has prepared me the most for participating in our democracy. It has taught me to have the number one thing a person needs to be a part of America’s government – a voice.
Looking back in time again, as a child, I struggled to make close friends. Growing up with these issues, I wondered what set me apart from the other kids in my grade. Then, through intervention by my peers and self-discovery, I figured it out. I never shut up. My family, my counselors, and every other adult guidance figure in my life reassured me that my loud nature and confident voice were strong traits that would benefit me in the future. But I didn’t care. Looking back, I see how preteen me quieted herself in a desperate attempt to get people to like her. For three years, I went to school every day and talked the way the people around me spoke, listened to the same music as they did, and watched the same TV shows, quieting the confident voice inside me and conforming so people would notice me – that was until I started high school.
On the first day of ninth grade, I walked into the auditorium, an excited bundle of nerves, not knowing what to expect during my first theatre class. Would the kids talk about their favorite movie I had never seen or secrets from past years that nobody had ever told me? I took my first steps down the stairs, and the first thing I saw was a group of kids performing choreography to “Good Morning Baltimore” from Hairspray.
Looking at these kids I had just met, it struck me. They didn’t care that they were surrounded by people they didn’t know. They didn’t care that they were loud and big, overtaking the voices of the people conversing around them. They didn’t care that people were watching.
They just loved theatre. The thrill of performing on stage, appreciating the arts with the people you care for. It didn’t matter who was watching or what they thought; they were doing what they truly loved.
At that moment, I knew I’d dance along with them as long as time would allow. I embraced the loud and confident voice inside me, free of the chains of judgment.
Being a theatre kid and being offered an education in theatre has taught me that my voice is meant to be heard, not concealed, and that is what being a part of democracy is – sharing your voice for the world to hear. I apply my theatre skills to every government class and activity I explore, and I know one day, when I am elected the first female president of America, I’ll know what I was first and will always be – a theatre kid.