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 has theatre helped you build resiliency in your personal life and academic studies?”
This essay, by Jack Bachman, is 2022’s first runner-up. (For more essays, click here.)
Theatre is why I know who I was. Theatre is why I know who I am. Theatre is why I know who I will be. In my eyes, it’s the only art form that is focused not only on the art itself, but the relationship between its creators, their communities, and their resilience to wake up each day and continue to impact a world that might not always be kind in return. I can unequivocally say that theatre has not only given me the resilience to be my most authentic self, but it has also instilled in me an unshakable determination to continue to strengthen myself and engage with the world around me.
Being a Thespian means having a heightened sense of emotional intelligence that often is not exhibited by the rest of the community. We are able to develop this through the long days and late nights we spend exploring material that highlights the complexities of life, love, and triumph. My first introduction to theatre was in middle school—a time that shaped me drastically. By surrounding myself with peers and theatre educators that cultivated such a safe and emotionally-in-tune environment, I felt comfortable enough to embrace my sexuality and use it as a driving force rather than a looming thought that held me back and intimidated me around others. Taking the time to delve into the adversity I faced because of my sexuality is not nearly worth as much as taking the time to recognize how the theatre community gave me a second layer of skin to persevere through these extremely troubling times. Through discovering my authentic being, theatre has taught me that flamboyance and being an extrovert will always be an asset. My outgoing spirit has allowed me to be blatant and intentful in interactions with my peers while also presenting me with the warmth and sensitivity that performing lends itself to. It has given me the ability not to take criticism to heart but to step back and think about how I can improve myself and my community through communication, warmth, and the incontestable determination that theatre has helped me embrace.
While theatre has brought me a lifetime of confidence and bliss, I would be remiss if I did not mention how it has strengthened me immensely in terms of academics. Besides the obvious benefits of shaping me to be a passionate public speaker and thriving English student, it has given me the empathy and tools I need to nourish my own academic environment. Through all the years of dramaturgy and character analysis I’ve encountered as a Thespian, I truly feel as though it has forced me to look at the human experience from a myriad of different perspectives, not just my own. At its core, theatre is a story-telling mechanism that is not centered around one singular person, but around a unit of artists that are dedicated to telling the stories of those who might not have the means to advocate for themselves. By that ideal, I have used the empathy and outspoken grit that theatre has gifted me with to lead multiple student-led discussions on the inequities that students like me, people of color, and academically-challenged students face on a daily basis. Creating an environment that is comfortable for every type of learner is essential for myself and every other member of the education system, and I wholeheartedly believe that the unwavering resilience and empathy that Thespians embody are best equipped to foster this type of space.
Ultimately, in the inspiring words of Sondheim, “It may not all be bliss, but every wound is treatable.” Through the heavy material that we journey through and perform, I’ve had the opportunity to not only foster my own sense of resilience, but to go on to use this second layer of skin to be forthright and advocate for myself, the community, and students in our education system. While I’ll never be certain where theatre will take me, I know the most beautiful thing about theatre is that it doesn’t define what I’m going to be, but it shapes who I’m going to be and what that will mean for the world around me.