It wasn’t until I had tried all sports with a youth league in Rochester that my parents decided to enroll me in drama camp. I was only 6 or 7 years old, but after forcing my parents and five older siblings to attend my makeshift puppet shows in our living room, they thought it would be nice if I could burn a bit of creativity with other equally dramatic children.
Unbeknownst to my parents or even to myself at the time, the theater would become a community for life.
In a class of other energetic children, I felt strangely at home. I quickly got used to working with others to create scenes and perform in a large group. It didn’t take long for me to realize that theater was something I really loved. Camp after camp, I slowly became more and more drawn to art.
My “big break” came soon after. When I was 10, a camp director asked me if I would be interested in playing the lead role in a show at the Rochester Repertory Theater. Me? A track ? Until then, I had only done camps with other children, and now a director had chosen me to play in a real theater setting. With the support of my parents, I agreed and quickly started rehearsing that summer.
I was delighted. I had never done anything like real ones, on stage with real props and costumes, let alone with adults. And while I was only in elementary school, I ended up playing the lead role in “Oliver!” for over a dozen shows over the course of a month.
Unfortunately, my 10 year old voice had left for the closing night. Despite this small setback, from just experiencing this show, I had determined that theater was something I wanted to keep doing.
With small ensemble roles here and there in a variety of community shows, my parents diligently led me to hour-long rehearsals during the Minnesota winters. Show after show, performance after performance, I felt at home among the local artists on stage.
I continued acting throughout college, performing in front of my peers in “Guys and Dolls” and “Fiddler on the Roof”. My parents were excited to see me perform and were delighted to witness each of my performances, the shoot and everything in between. However, my siblings were known to make monetary deals and pay each other to attend another performance of “Oklahoma!” “
Now as a high school student you can still find me on stage singing and acting. More than ever, the drama is second nature to me. The theater has become more than a hobby; it is a community.
My best friends and greatest mentors have come through the theater. Acting skills and learning to memorize lines are not necessarily the most valuable lessons; rather it is teamwork, collaboration, empathy, vulnerability and compassion. Thanks to theater, I developed my voice and learned who I am. On stage and under the lights, I found my home.
I have been asked many times, “Do you pursue acting after high school?” ” Good question. Because theater has shaped me so much, I can’t see myself not doing theater in the future. I realize that I don’t want to play as a career, but rather as a lifelong activity.
For me and for so many others, we have found our belonging. As live performances return and audiences fill the seats again, support for the arts is needed more than ever. By supporting local theater communities such as Rochester and area schools, you are supporting this sense of belonging that I have been fortunate to find.
Will Laudon is a junior at Mayo High School. Send your comments on the Teen Columns to Jeff Pieters, [email protected]