Sunday, May 15, 2011

Reciprocal Gratitude

ETD ensemble member Craig C. Thompson, who recently appeared in ETD's Stronger than Silence: surviving our secrets, gives us a glimpse into his experience rehearsing and performing the show.
Selfishly, I like getting a quick fix. Now that family life and my non-acting career take up a more significant portion of my life, I relish opportunities to perform with ETD.  After one or two rehearsals it's show time.  Most non-ETD gigs require at least 5-6 weeks of rehearsal before the show even opens for a 5-6 week run.  So, being the adrenaline junkie actor that I am, I love the condensed rehearsals and more instant gratification of shows like Stronger than Silence.

But on a much deeper level ETD has affected my life, and the way I think and feel, in a pretty profound way.  During a rehearsal for Stronger than Silence, Brighid pointed out the gift and responsibility that each of the actors takes on when we perform somebody else's story.  The people who share their stories to be performed (and sometimes crafted) by ETD are the embodiment of courage.  Not only do they open their souls to the audience, they put complete trust in the artists to tell their stories.  I know I speak for the other actors when I say we don't take that trust lightly.

Generally, people don't talk about mental illness, much less their own struggles with it.  But still, there are some who step forward bravely to share their own stories.   They are the ones who deserve applause.  As many of you know, after each ETD show the audience is invited to share their reactions and ask any questions that come to mind.  During every post-show discussion I've been a party to, the audience's gratitude has been palpable.  I believe that gratitude has relatively little to do with the actors who just performed.  Rather, I think audience members are touched most by the true stories that they just experienced and the courage of those who opened their minds and hearts to share.  
Pictured (clockwise from top): ETD actors Cedric Young, Craig C. Thompson, Gaby Mayorga and Jennifer Mathews from Stronger than Silence.

After the Stronger than Silence show, I was approached by one audience member who thanked me.  I'm always taken a little aback by being thanked for performing.  I feel like I'm the one who should be thanking the audience members for coming to see me since the root of my desire to perform is that I was born a ham.  At any rate, the audience member approached me and had clearly been moved by the performances she had just seen.  She thanked me for the way I said a particular line.  I believe the words that touched her so much were, "I remained silent."  It struck me that such a small phrase could've impacted her as much as it did.  But because of her own life experience, those words and the way I said them really seemed to strike a chord for her.  

Stronger than Silence affected audience members in diverse and personal ways, just as every ETD show does.  And this is why I'm proud to be a part of the company, beyond getting my shot of adrenaline a handful of times each year.  I believe most audience members leave the performances a little less afraid to talk about mental illness when the opportunity presents itself.  

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