We all want to belong.
We all want to walk into a space. Into a community and feel supported, included and accepted in that space.
For me, this is one of the things that makes theater so powerful. By it’s very nature it is about inclusion. It’s about bringing folks, no matter who you are, into community and working together on something larger than ourselves for a purpose higher than ourselves. Of course we are all imperfect human beings. Every community is only as authentic, as inclusive, as life-giving as the folks in that community are willing to make it. In theater we have the advantage of a group of individuals who long for connection and community and often choose theater for that very sense of connection and community.
Encouraging, maintaining, edifying that healthy community is an constantly changing opportunity. It’s like that saying, “the only thing constant is change.” It’s the same in a healthy theater community. The only thing constant is change and for myself as the theater educator; and for all of us within the community, we have to feel empowered enough and connected enough to the community to put in the work to meet the changing needs of a healthy, thriving community.
Maintaining the community is a discussion in and of itself. Today’s chat is about the building of a community. In theater there is a surefire way to build community.
Well, Dancing Queen among other things. As a life-long athlete, one of the things about athletics that is so appealing to me is the sense of belonging. The variety of little rituals, for lack of a better word, that are unique to that sport and that team. Those rituals are often what makes each player feel connected and included as a member of the group. Something as simple as a pre-game chant, or a stopping at the same ice cream shop at every away game…it’s the little things, the unique to that group things, that help build those lasting bonds.
It’s the same thing in theater…cue Abba’s Dancing Queen.
It’s the little things, the unique and often ridiculous outsiders things, that help build that sense of community and belonging.
* We always start our time together with student led warm-ups. Collectively gathering to catch our breath, shake off the day and prepare ourselves for the task ahead.
* We have an ongoing tradition, stretching back decades of non-initiation, initiation called “ritual”. It’s the same singing and chanting that generations of La Sallian actors and crew have been doing with each senior class adding or shifting a little bit here and there. It becomes quite an exciting time for the veteran students to have a chance to teach the new students “ritual”.
* About 15 minutes before the doors open for the audience, we have what we call the Holy Spirit Circle. Another tradition passed down from previous generations of La Sallians. Everyone in the cast and crew gathers in a big circle on stage, we hold hands and we start the show with dedications both collective and individual. We give shout outs and thank yous to others in our community. We practice gratitude and appreciation. We then transition into the chanting and encouraging aspect of the circle which always ends with a collective, “Holy Spirit come down and kick us in the butt!”
* If you’ve ever been to a La Salle show you’re familiar with our unique brand of curtain call, where the cast and crew run out through the back of the house before meeting the audience in the lobby.
* I would be remiss to not mention “Oh, I feel so good!” A movement and vocal call and response warm-up and of course the binding wrap around all of this…Dancing Queen.
It’s silly. Absolutely, these things are silly.
AND they are a part of the identity of La Sallian theater and what it means to be an included, present member of this community. The sense of connection students have knowing that generations of students have done some of the same rituals makes our students feel more connected not just to each other but to the larger community of theater artist.
One of the things I’ve learned during my time as an educator is not to shy away from the silly, little things but to embrace them. Embrace them with open arms. Embrace the nuance, embrace the uniqueness, embrace the cultural aspects of your community and encourage everyone in the community to do the same. It’s important to find the joy in these silly little traditions. That joy, that connection is part of what holds our community together and when we embrace that we are able to see the privilege, the gift it is to be a part of such a community.
In theater, healthy, authentic, inclusive community is everything. It has to be. To support each other, to pursue excellence and our best selves, it has to be. Theater, unlike athletics is subjective. “Artists are not like Athletes. We cannot win gold. We cannot beat other creatives. We cannot come first. Sport is objective. Our craft is subjective. Creating to ‘be the best’ is a waste of energy. Instead, create to connect to the people who need you. Because they are out there. Create your own way, because there is no right way to create beauty. Take the pressure off and focus on your unique brand of magic.”
We are ALL important. We ALL have worth. We ALL matter and can make the world a better place.
And in some way that is the magic of theater.
Yes, it’s true, as a high school theater artist, you don’t win awards and trophies and statues that other folks can look at and say, “Wow, look at that.”
But we get to be a part something maybe even better then that. We get to come together as a diverse and unique community and we get to tell stories. We get to make people laugh, maybe even cry, we get to connect with strangers through these fictional stories and worlds we create and maybe…just maybe we get to have a magic moment where we touch a heart and a mind and forever change a life.
And that is something worth valuing and celebrating and striving for.