by Tim Chase
“I think I’m going to be sick! Why did I ever sign up for this? I just wish I was somewhere else right now…No, I’m not ready!” These thoughts permeate the minds of many performers before their first time on stage. Some of us never shake these inhibitions about performing, but I try not to let them hold me back. They are constant companions to many actors, singers, speakers and dancers, regardless of their extensive experience or lack of experience. These sickening feelings mostly attack new performers who are still getting over their initial stage fright. However, a great time to learn how to confidently perform in front of people is in high school, participating in plays and dramas. In fact, there are many different outlets for theater opportunities out there for high school students. The two main options are their high school theater program or a community theater, but the community theater experience is more desirable.
In my experience, high school theater was intimidating and unwelcoming. The atmosphere was almost constantly competitive. As a result, I felt dejected and defeated. In spite of disliking theater in high school, I begrudgingly auditioned for the show Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (which has not necessarily been true in my experience) at Corbett Children’s Theater in the winter of 2006. Actually, I had been planning to quit theater in my freshmen year prior to discovering this oasis. I was cast as the role of the ship captain, and, at last, the environment I found myself in was welcoming and encouraging rather than competitive and suffocating. Although I only had six lines in my first Corbett Children’s Theater play and still don’t know the plot, this moment marked the dawn of something beautiful. Since then, I have participated in a total of ten Corbett Children’s Theater productions and will be helping to build the set for this year’s performance of Anne of Green Gables.
Throughout my four years at Corbett Children’s Theater, I found a family that supported me in difficult and beautiful seasons of life. When I felt like giving up, they were my encouragement. Together we inspired audiences, making them laugh and occasionally cry. When I participated in my high school’s theater program, I never found such a family. Instead, I found a group that was largely difficult to be accepted by. It was full of cliques and a hierarchy of favorites. They were their own kind of family, but one I didn’t feel welcome in. Rather than being welcoming, it felt judgmental. In contrast, Corbett Children’s Theater welcomed me with open arms. The directors worked with me individually to inspire me to become a better actor and a more confident individual in general. Furthermore, my fellow actors befriended me early on, making me feel accepted. In addition, newcomers to Corbett Children’s Theater were intentionally welcomed and loved. The family was ever growing and changing as people came and moved on, but our core group remained solid and consistent. Rather than go out partying after prom, we chose to pray together. We fought, reconciled and loved the way that all families do. Through it all, we were together, because that is the meaning of a family.
Regardless of my poor experience, I have known many high school theater programs that put on very quality and respectable productions, just like many local community theaters. The cast of Fiddler On The Roof at Gresham High School blew me away with their music and Corbett Children’s Theater’s performance of Godspell combined comedy and emotional moments flawlessly to create an enriching experience that I enjoyed enough to go back a second time. When considering the options, both community and high school theater programs have the potential to put on wonderful plays. Although high school theater was not a positive experience for me, they do have better resources such as a more solid budget and a permanent performance space. The most positive experience I had with my high school’s theater program was playing tenor sax in the jazz combo for the production Angry Housewives. Contrary to my prior experiences, this one proved to be enjoyable. Although I wasn’t accepted as a cast member or invited to the after-show party, working with the actors, director and conductor was overall surprisingly fun.
Even though I’ve had many friends who thoroughly enjoyed being involved with theater in their high schools, I found a beautiful home in local community theater that was unquestionably worth the near half-hour commute. It was welcoming to people from all backgrounds, locations, social groups and ages of youths. Since Corbett Children’s Theater is intentional about acceptance, many unique people could find a positive experience there, including making more friends than they’d had before. I found in a community theater an environment where I could learn and grow without a fear of being rejected or denied, which was a tangible fear at my high school. Rather, I was accepted and loved, making my high school years all the more memorable.