Sometimes, images pop out of life, and clearly demand to be told. The story pops out of them so clearly, demanding to be given a voice.
Like, the image of a little sister from the Bronx, looking for all intents and purposes like one of the three fairies from Sleeping Beauty, her blue dress and gown traded in for practical black jumper and wimple with straight-forward black veil, sitting in the middle of a circle of high school students.
My high school students are so much cooler than I ever was or will be. And they project a New York insouciance, their street cred lightly resting on their shoulders with their beats by Dre headphones.
But they sit in that circle, looking up at Sr. Jude, with unabashed interest and excitement. Because, we are in drama club. And drama club is a magic circle where you are allowed to say swear words, and speak all the silent thoughts you keep in your head, but this character somehow says on this page.
One of my favorite things is watching a student read through a monologue for the first time. They are so unsure. They read through the lines either quietly and with an awkward, stilted rhythm, or with Too Much. Too much emotion, overcompensation for the terrible vulnerability that is eating away at their insides.
As I watch, I look for what is standing in their way. Where are they trapping all the emotion, that should flow out of their breath, onto their words, and off their tongue? They are hiding the tension of desire somewhere in their body. Is it tensed up in their shoulders? Are they carrying it in their jaw? Is it being pushed down, down, deep down below their lungs. Our breath carries our hearts with it. We hold our breath to keep the world from damaging our hearts.
So I clap for them, after the first time they read through their speech. And applaud them for their bravery. Because telling a story always requires bravery. First and foremost, bravery. And that is something to encourage in another human.
Then, depending on what is holding them back, I ask them to try something. Something they didn't think was acting, something they are unsure about, something they don't understand quite why they are doing it. But it frees up the breath inside of them, and it frees them from their stifling self-consciousness. It lets the desire of the character: to be heard, to be loved, to be understood become free, untangled from all the encumbrances we put on our desires.
It is in these moments, which I wish everyone could witness, when I truly believe in theatre. I see what great goodness this form of story-telling and this form of art can give to humans. It frees us from ourselves a bit, and also helps us to discover ourselves.
Not ourselves as we wish we could be, but ourselves as who we truly are.
It breaks down barriers; the barriers we place in between our breath and the world outside.
It breaks down the barriers between our hearts and our heads.
It breaks down the barrier between our stories and others' stories.