Last night I watched the season premiere of RISE, and my heart exploded into a million different pieces of joy. It was wonderful. It was inspiring. And it felt like I was watching my life play out on my television screen.
I have been the English teacher who tries to get students excited about words, and literature, and characters...only to have them sleep in class.
I have been a teacher in a school district that would rather cut it's musical, it's play, and it's music programs, only to put a multi million dollar concession stand on it's football field.
I have had trans students come to my theatre department, seeking a safe space, wanting to be called by the name and pronouns that they chose for themselves - breaking a bit when their parents refused to have a conversation about their transition.
I have had students whose parents would not allow them to perform in "A Chorus Line", because it's immoral. But, you know, "Sweeney Todd" was fine.
I have had to stand on a stage and tell a cast that they were no longer allowed to perform a show, because it was deemed too provocative by the administration, after they had already approved the show.
I have had administrations try to not pay for the rights to shows. They still don't understand that there isn't a discount, and that if the show is licensed by, let's say, MTI, that yes, that's the only place we can get it from.
I have had athletes want to join the play, the musical, only to have their coaches tell them that they cannot do both.
I have had those same athletes find their strength on the stage.
I have seen the light and talent in students that nobody ever thought would be singing - only to have them study theatre in college, and then find themselves centerstage.
I have seen tech students find their home, their purpose, and their focus in the wings and at the lighting booth - only to go on to work in theatre professionally.
I have sat in those seats with the best of colleagues and collaborators - tech directors, music directors, choreographers, and pit conductors who became my closest friends, and they constantly made me better at what I do.
Watching the show last night, I was reminded of a Saturday rehearsal for "A Chorus Line". I asked the students what their dreams were - what they wanted to be and do with their lives. My Cassie said, "like, for real? Or what we wish could happen?"
"You're fifteen," I said. "There shouldn't be a difference between the two If you learn nothing else from this experience, know that. Your dreams can be your reality."
"I never thought of it like that", she said.
"Well now's the time to start", I replied.
Watching the show last night, I was reminded of my Dad, who started a theatre program in a town that, at the time, had like, two stoplights. The school didn't have a theatre - so he, and his colleague and partner in crime, Jon, made a stage in a gym. Yes, they built it. And they built the risers to hold the seats. And they hung curtains to make wings. And they lifted the bar of education and artistry so high, it's continued for 35 years.
Later in their career, a new high school was built. And they got a theatre, and they had a shop, and they had a stage craft program to fit alongside the theatre curriculum.
And it was amazing - for what they built was so much bigger than any sparkly show - it was a community, a family, a tribe of students and adults who learned how to tell a story. The students learned how to fight for others who were different than them, for the stories that needed to be told. They learned the importance of teamwork and of collaboration, skills that would carve out paths for them long after they left the walls of their theatre.
Once, they did The Laramie Project. Initially, the administration wasn't pleased with my Dad, they thought it would cause some trouble. They were right, for soon the threats from Fred Phelps and his warriors of hate came out in full force.
But my father and the administration went through with the play.
Because Matthew Shepherds story was one that needed to be told.
And the students were ready to tell it.
There are so many more stories like that one. So many more stories of my own. So many stories of colleagues of mine, from different schools, in different towns, all across the country who fight for the importance of the arts in their schools.
And they always need your help.
And they always need your voice.
So as you continue to watch RISE - I hope you'll lend your voice to the arts programs that helped shape you into the person you are - regardless of whether or not you have a career in the entertainment industry.
Because as we all know, arts education is what sticks. It's what stays in our blood, our bones, and the message of what we learned is forever kept in our soul.
So go - vote for that school budget. Show up at that school board meeting.
The theatre educators and students could use your support.