I was recently asked what experiencing a creative art taught me, if I could quantify its effect on my life, and what “good” came from it.
As a self-proclaimed “arty farty” person, my first reaction is to soap box the importance of art in our culture. How it shapes us and our reality. How it’s used in marketing, film, politics, and is statistically proven as valuable for test scores and SAT’s. I could explain to you all the things we say we don’t even realize are Shakespearian lines…but that’s not this post.
Instead I’m going to take this deeper and tell you about my story, my intimate lifelong love story with art.
My father was the head of a music program at a small college. I was raised surrounded by choral and classical songs, music, and instruments. I knew how to “breathe correctly” and use my “upper vocal register” before I knew how to do long division. But my passion officially started the first time I made an audience laugh.
I was 5.
The college was doing Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” and they needed a little boy and girl to be on the stage for about 45 seconds. I was volunteered. I still remember the labyrinthine backstage, special costumes, makeup, the set…there was something incredibly magical – like I had been whispered a secret. My role was to walk out on stage, complain about bedtime, go up the stairs, and exit. On opening night, this is what I did.
And they laughed. I had never known such bliss.
SO, the next night I made my moment a little bigger – I extended my lines (that I was making up anyway) and I got a bigger laugh. By the final night I was talking all the way up the stairs – and I was hooked.
I would create elaborate radio shows with my brother that we’d record on tape. I would improvise extravagant surprise endings to my piano recital pieces. I’m sure my instructor was terrified when it was my turn to perform. My parents always joked that no matter where I was supposed to be in a performance, somehow, I would always find my light, and it would be center stage.
My worldview was shaped through this lens. I was forced to learn how to work with people of all ages, backgrounds, and demographics. I also learned how to handle myself and appreciate me for who I was – a particularly difficult lesson through those awesome pre-teen awkward years. I had to accept my body for what it was and explore the boundaries of my possibilities.
I made lifelong friends.
There’s a vulnerability to performance, an exposed helplessness. Especially when music is involved. The personal strength it requires to be on a stage is tangible. Walking in front of an audience prepared to be booed, heckled, or hated is terrifying…but to me it is the same terror I feel when at the front of a roller coaster, more exhilaration than fear. There’s a freedom in putting everything out in front, no matter what the outcome.
The required trust that it takes sharing a scene or song with someone and have confidence that they will support you – fly or fail – syncs you to one other in a way I have only alternately experienced when physical intimacy is involved. I will forever love the people I have shared the stage with. Even now, 20 years after a production, I will feel as comfortable with someone I haven’t seen in that length of time as if our time together was yesterday.
Today, some of my closest friends are still those with whom I have shared art – though not all on the stage. Whether this be midnight pottery, multi-media painting, hot gluing Halloween costumes, or even just baking together – sharing the creative experience ties us together. The ability for me to explore the depths and reaches of my talents (and sometimes lack thereof) was vital in shaping my comfort and freedom with failure, as well as other coping mechanisms for real world problems.
I am one of the few people in my current “adulty” job who is a confident public speaker and can organize a strong PowerPoint to sway an audience.
I don’t suffer from a constant fear of failure. When I do fail, I know that it’s often just not the right thing that time. I have auditioned and not obtained more parts than those I got. I understand the deep sorrow of rejection and learned how to overcome it at an early age because of theatre.
Performing and art became my release, my coping mechanism. Some people run, some people swim, some people meditate, I get in the middle of a spotlight and make a fool of myself. And I love it. One of the lessons that I learned early on is to not apologize for yourself. When on a stage, it’s the person who is unabashedly making a choice (right or wrong) that is the most fun to watch – not the one feeling insecure and uncomfortable, constantly covering up their soft spots for fear of rejection. Owning myself, my body, my flaws, and embracing them all was a key part of my experiences with art.
In all honesty, I have had to change a few life goals over the years. When I was young I only ever imagined a life in New York City, obtaining my first Tony award before I was 25 – and then I fell in love, got married, had kids…and somewhere along the way my life goals changed.
I now understand that the act of creating, the process of art and performance, the release and freedom of the craft are what I crave. I want to always be creating – whether it be a baked good, an epic group Halloween costume theme, a song, a local theatre production, or a hot glue project.
I want my society to know that sometimes my socks won’t match, I may sing my answer rather than speak it, I see faces in every rock formation, and yes, I do mentally catalog my facial expressions during moments of duress to filter away for later performances…and I need the people around me to be ok with it.
I want my kids to know that they can make things, that they have the freedom to fail, that self-expression is elemental, and that finding your release is key to a healthy mind.
At least, it has been for me.
This post reflects the views and experiences of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!