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 Kacey Feth, is 2022’s second runner-up. (For more essays, click here.)
Reflecting on the shows I’ve been a part of, I can say none of them have ever gone perfectly. You name it, and we’ve encountered it, especially while balancing a global pandemic: misplaced props, torn costumes, forgotten lines, missed entrances, quarantines on show nights, and technicians leaping onstage to catch falling set pieces.
I see these things at every rehearsal and every tech session I attend. If even one light cue is off, it sends a ripple through the entire cast and crew; everyone feels the hardships. We share each member’s successes and each member’s struggles.
Reflecting on the shows I’ve been a part of, I can also say that we’ve never given up. Technicians have stepped in for actors if necessary, and vice versa. I’ve seen members of our troupe sacrifice their wants, and sometimes their needs, for the good of the show. Most notably, however, I witnessed true resilience when we found ourselves in our darkest moment.
My sophomore year, we were hours away from performing our one-act for our regional one-act competition when we received news that a friend of ours had taken his own life.
Instantly, our drive to win and our pre-show nervous butterflies drained from our bodies. Nothing felt familiar knowing he was no longer with us.
Ten minutes before our performance began, we gathered in the green room. We took each other’s hands, and we cried. When there were no more tears, we prayed. We prayed that no one else we loved would slip through the cracks again. We vowed to see and hear each other and serve as a safe place for anyone who needed it. We dedicated our final performance solely to his life.
Two years later, I’m still in awe of how we persevered that day. The show went off without a hitch. Every technician was in their place, and every actor knew their lines. Even so, there was a raw pain that had settled in our hearts. Our show was a tragedy, and though we’d rehearsed it to a science, all of our tears were real that day.
Resilience is defined as the ability to recover quickly from difficulties. In the moments when I have to search for resilience, I draw strength from that day. I draw strength from the extended family I get to see after school every day — the family that’s never given up on each other, no matter what trials we face.
That day is undoubtedly one of the most challenging chapters of my life to reread, but it also proved there can be light at the end of the tunnel, even when it’s too dark to see. From then on, every sound cue that failed to program, every line that was accidentally skipped, and every costume that required last-minute pinning seemed surmountable, considering what we’d overcome together.
The strength I gained from these experiences reached far beyond the theater, though. That resilience pulled me through the most significant difficulty of my life.
I was born with a genetic disability: four different visual disorders. Consequently, as a child, I was told I was so severely impaired that I would never be able to drive.
So, at fifteen years old, I began what would become a three-year journey. If I made a mistake because my eyes were bouncing all over the road, I would inevitably become disheartened. Yet, I couldn’t help but compare those moments to struggles we faced in the theater. We’ve always conquered our issues because we didn’t allow them to stop us, which is exactly what I was determined to do behind the steering wheel. The driver’s license that was finally put into my hand just before my eighteenth birthday made all the work worth it. My resilience was sturdier than the hardship I’d been dealt, and thanks to my time in the theater, practice had produced perfection.
My hope is that the resilience within all of us can shine a beacon on the bleak world we’re currently living in. Everyone has difficulties, but living day-to-day proves they are not impossible to tackle. Theatre creates an understanding for those around us and promotes the courage to stand up to own our challenges.