I’m not an actor and I always (selfishly) thought it was kind of stupid of my friends to pursue theatre degrees. But somehow I’ve found myself interning at a Shakespeare theatre and, over the course of the summer, I’ve been slowly forcing myself to accept the possibility that this may be what I want to do for the rest of my life. And while the job market is daunting enough, there’s another reason I’m resistant to accepting the idea of myself as a theatre kid.
With so much pain and sorrow in the world, I sometimes wonder if there’s value in the work I do as a dramaturg for a teen camp. Every time I open my Facebook, I’m bombarded with images of the messed up world we live in. I could at least try to do my part and put my time and effort into more important things like social justice or helping the homeless. But instead I’m giving kids lectures about Shakespeare in the morning and spending my evenings watching the professionals perform. I keep wondering if my time and energy could be better spent elsewhere, not because I’m unhappy but because countless others are, and here I am at a tiny theatre in a tiny town in Virginia. I’m not trying to have a White Savior Barbie moment or anything but all the same, how can it be okay for me to sit here and do nothing?
For all the suffering in the world, I believe that there is value in the path I have chosen. I have chosen to spend my time helping build stories and watching them come to life on a stage. And when you get to the final product, there’s something truly unique and beautiful about watching a life play out in front of you. And the fact is that there’s something deeply powerful about a good story, whether it’s a short monologue given by a teenager or a classical masterpiece on a brightly lit stage.
Stories can teach us about ourselves and the world around us in a way that’s both understandable and relatable. Even the most seemingly trivial stories can teach us something. One of the plays running at the theatre I work at is Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and it’s full of guy-liner, tight pants, and crude sex jokes. One of my favorite parts is when John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, Martin Van Buren, and James Monroe sing “Macho Man” and spend half the song grabbing each other’s butts. So clearly, it’s not a Shakespearean masterpiece and it’s probably not going to be taught in classes 200 years from now. But there’s a moment when Andrew Jackson is talking to an Indian chief about forcing him and his people to move out West and he says “Yeah, like totally, you were here first. But the truth is, we don’t give a shit.” And sometimes that gets a bit of laughter. Then he looks right at the audience and says “And we never will.” Then, all the laughter stops and everyone gets really uncomfortable.
And while I’m just starting out as an intern and I have so much to learn, I want to one day create moments like that. I want to provide a time for audiences to escape the harsh world while they watch Senators twerk and I want to speak truth to them along the way. That’s what good stories do. They provide a safe place for us but they don’t tell us bald-faced lies. They give us time to relax, laugh, recuperate, but they prepare us to reenter the world and confront it. This is how I make my contribution. Try telling me there’s not value in that.