In high school I spent a lot of time on the stage. It was a place where I could creep out of my own life and become someone else. It was a place where I could perform. It was a place where I could speak slowly and meaningfully and feel as though I was being heard, listened to, applauded for. It was a place where I could feel brave and passionate and exposed, in the best sort of way. It was a place where I could pretend to be different people. But it was also the place where I discovered who I am.
I considered myself to be a quiet person, although in hindsight, I’m not sure if that’s ever really been true. On the stage, I was an actress and a musician and a speech giver. I loved these pieces of myself because they felt so different from the person I was off of the stage.
But that was never really true, either. I wasn’t just playing roles. I wasn’t just becoming someone else. I was learning how to be myself. I was becoming brave and passionate and articulate. I was learning when to be quiet and when to be loud. I was learning how to transform.
I learned about body language and dialogues and monologues and timing. I learned the importance of comedy and tragedy, how each have their place, how each are essential to the overall plot. I learned how to pay close attention to what was happening around me, the entrances and exists, the spoken words of others, the unspoken emotions of each scene. I learned how to react appropriately. I learned how to fit into it all.
And I learned about audiences. I learned how to recognize what was working and what wasn’t. I learned how to be pleasing. I learned that I could make people laugh, and make people cry, and make them feel an entire range of emotions within a single speech. I learned how to change my voice to emphasize the meaning of words. I learned how to speak slowly, how to pace my words, how to express myself. In many ways, the stage is also where I learned how to read and how to write.
These were important lessons, and I learned them at a crucial stage in my life. I was trying to find myself, to create myself, to understand how I fit in. I was trying to fit in, and also trying to stand out, and also learning that I could do both. I could be both. I could be so many things all at once – an actress, a musician, a giver of speeches, a leader, a writer, a nerd, a friend. I could be both weird and popular. I could be both myself and likeable. And I was. And I am.
And people have watched and listened and sometimes even applauded. And even if you have never stepped onto a stage, I know that you understand about dialogues and monologues and timing. You understand about masks. You understand about trying to become someone else. You understand the unexpected joy of discovering yourself in the process. You understand speaking, and listening, and paying attention. You understand comedy and tragedy. You understand what it means to have an audience.
Because we all have one, at every moment, throughout every stage of our lives. People are watching. We want them to like us, to understand us, to cheer us on. We want to connect with them. We want to be heard.
And I just wanted you to know – I am here. I am watching. I am listening. I am applauding for your life. And I will continue to cheer you on throughout every stage.