Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Play(s) That Changed My Life

So, I’m about a month late into this, but in conjunction with the American Theatre Wing’s release of their book, The Play That Changed My Life, in which various playwrights recount their own first theatrical experiences that inspired them. I may be no theatre legend, but I thought I’d do my take, anyway. Here’s my bit:

I am lucky to say that I had not one, but two plays that changed my life. One of them was really technically a play; the other was, in fact, a musical…called Rent. Some of you already know of the impact the show has had on my awareness of aids, but it also affected me greatly in terms of my love of theatre, as well. I actually first encountered Rent when I saw the Chris Columbus-helmed film with two friends back in November of 2005. It was only later, when I’d join my high school drama club in 2006 (my senior year) that I’d finally seen the staged production. The film, as we all know, wasn’t the best and those who have seen the show know that the production values were minimal, so it wasn’t necessarily its presentation that enthralled me. Rather, it was the music and lyrics that, as corny and cheeseball as it sounds, spoke to me. And, I have to admit, I was also quite moved by the story of composer Jonathan Larson’s tragic life and death. In many ways, I very much related to him, in that I felt that life should be lived simply, and felt connected to the “bohemian” lifestyle he led. I, even at the age of seventeen, felt it urgent to change American Musical Theatre in my own way, much like he did. It was through this connection with the show (and its creator) that I realized how much I really wanted to be a part of an artistic community. It wasn’t about having money or power, but rather being fulfilled artistically, and Larson’s message of La Vie Boheme stuck with me long after I exited the Nederlander.


The other play that changed my life was columbinus, a piece produced by The United States Theatre Project, which had toured around the nation (it had its World Premiere at the Round House Theatre in Silver Spring, MD, along with a co-World Premiere at Perseverance Theatre in Juneau, AK), eventually finding its way to New York Theatre Workshop. The play — which featured blogger and actor Karl Miller – revolved around the Columbine High School shootings back in 1999. The day I went to see this production, it was with my AP English class — our last trip of the year.  My AP English instructor at the time (and the inspiration behind Youth Arts New York), was quite instrumental in encouraging his students to experience and see the theatre; the same year, he had Judith Malina and Hanon Reznikov from The Living Theatre come into our classroom to speak. Anyway, upon viewing columbinus, with its innovative presentation and incredible acting, I immediatelyknew that what I had felt at Rent, in terms of belonging in the theatre, was cemented as I sat in NYTW’s small stage space. I can’t really pinpoint what it was, but I remember thinking that what I saw happen right before my eyes was a piece of art, and that I wanted to be a part of a community that made such thought-provoking, intensely emotional pieces of art.


Following that trip, Mr. Croonquist gave us an extra credit assignment to review the play, which I nearly jumped at the chance to do, since I felt I had so much to say about what we’d just seen. Once I’d handed it in, I remember my teacher raving about it over the next few days, saying how impressed he was with what I’d written, and how he thought I should go into the theater. Indeed, his yearbook message even read:

You belong in the theater! I really saw you in your power there. The world is ready for you — you have so much to offer. Nurture your creativity. Follow the path of the artist.
I didn’t know then how big a role criticism would later take on in my life, but that first review, I knew, wouldn’t be the last I’d write.  However, I wouldn’t be able to follow the artist’s path until a little more than two years later. In the span of those two years, I’d taken up a pre-nursing major, during which time I’d felt conflicted between reason and passion. It was during this time that, interestingly enough, it would be Miller (whose blog I’d just happened upon, then) who’d dispense some very insightful advice about my Life Choice ruminations:
Knowing doesn’t make it easier, but doing it will make it easier.
I took those words to heart, more than I realized myself, and now — as you all know — I’m at a much better place than I was then, and have achieved more than I could have imagined in terms of my involvement with theatre (though, a lot more needs to be done — I shall elaborate on this on my next post). So as you can see, my association with columbinus, NYTW and just that last trip in general will always hold some significance to me.

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