I screamed and jumped up and down when I saw my name on the Youth Player’s cast list. The day I was cast in troupe felt like the first chapter of a New York Times bestseller. Every experience in the last six years has been impactual, but what has meant most to me is the positive impact this theatre has on the community. We act as a reverse tornado ripping across the community, leaving a path of construction rather than destruction. My first troupe performance was at a summer camp at the Creamery. I grinned as we entered the room to perform, but my smile fell when I noticed the apprehension and fear on the camper’s faces. As the music in “Joyful Joyful” began to pick up, however, I could literally see the intimidation melt off the camper’s faces. This was not another “song” to them. They genuinely believed every word of the motivational lyrics. We communicated more through a three minute song than we could have in a long speech. I quickly learned that, through the arts, joy can be brought to any person in any situation.
Another troupe performance that left a lasting impact in my mind was our first dance at the Montclair Retirement Home. I remember the overwhelming stench of disinfectant and the sound of my dress shoes on the tile floor as my friends and I entered the room. The wrinkled residents of the nursing home sat around the dance floor, smiling and awkwardly tapping their feet to the blaring jazz music. Without hesitating, I grabbed the hand of an empty eyed old man, and his face glowed as I lead him to the dance floor. He quickly warmed up to me. His hands shook violently as he told me his name was John, showed me some new dance steps, and recited long stories about his career as a music composer. When the song ended, he thanked me over and over and told me that I reminded him of his grand kids he had not seen in a long time. I looked into his eyes, and they did not seem so empty anymore.
Even after years of volunteer activities and performances, one of my favorite troupe experiences ever took place at the beginning of my senior year. We visited the Art Inspired Academy, swinging open the door to be blasted with warm air and loud music. My eyes were immediately drawn to a student with her chin tucked to her chest and her eyes squeezed shut. The teacher called that the girl needed a dance partner, and my heart reached her before my hand did. I grabbed the little girl’s hand, and she told me her name was Jade. She had no vision, and yet when it was time to dance across the floor, she danced confidently, with a bright smile on her face. As everyone began to cheer, her smile grew wider and she danced more vigorously. When the song ended, she hugged me tightly. Jade couldn’t see my face, but she could feel my proud smile as I squeezed her small body. My heart swelled as I opened the door into the cold November night, and I looked at all the things Jade could not: the streetlights and the stars and the sidewalk and the gray cars and my blue tennis shoes. I closed my eyes and felt what Jade could feel: grateful and humbled and content.
While so many are positively affected by the productions, volunteering, and performances, I feel as though no one has been changed more during my years at SLT than me. I have learned to find joy in the oddest of places, much like the apprehensive children at summer camp; to find characteristics in others that remind me of people I miss, as sweet John did; and to take advantage and appreciate every situation, a lesson tenacious Jade lives out. So many relationships have flourished between the people in troupe as well; the numerous heart melting experiences have created impregnable bonds between us. Certainly, wherever I end up in my life, I will always remember those dance steps John taught me and Jade’s radiant smile. I will remember that people who are different can be the most fantastic teachers. Most of all, I will remember to never acknowledge the dissenting glance or seemingly impossible situations, because life is much more than what is right in front of my eyes. I will smile as hard as possible and dance even harder. Being cast in troupe and was the beginning of an awesome book full of love, life lessons, and friendships. Now, it’s time to put the book on the shelf, but I know I can always take it down and smile at the memories.