A few weeks ago, I had the good pleasure to help work with students as a guest artist at a high school residency program that ETD has been running for the past three months. The final performance by the students was this past week, and I am still brimming with pride and awe at what actually occurred at the show. The students shared personal stories of their own struggles and hopes with different issues they have faced in their lives. Some of these issues had occurred as recently as a few months ago, while other students had been dealing with their problems in some way since they were much younger.
The show was immediately following the end of the school day, and about 50 or so family members, friends, and faculty attended. Having worked closely with a few of the students on the pieces they were going to share, I knew they had to be nervous—some of them were revealing things to their peers and parents for the first time and going further down the road of self-discovery, expression, and healing than they ever had before. There were stories of abuse, sadness, and loss; some of the pieces felt like struggles every teenager grapples with—wanting to be accepted, wanting their parents to understand them, wanting to be more confident in themselves. And the students did awesome! There is always the anxiety of never quite knowing how any performance is going to go until it finally happens in front of a real audience. These teenagers delivered big time—they delivered impassioned, vulnerable, insightful, poetic pieces about their lives to real people in their lives, and they did so with conviction and their heads held high.
What followed the performance was one of the most interesting talk backs I've ever seen (which was deftly handled by Ms. Brighid O'Shaughnessy!!). The actors took questions from the audience about their pieces, the process of working with ETD, and even what advice - if any - they had for the parents in the room to improve communication lines between parent and child so that neither one feels cut off, disrespected, or in the dark. At times the conversation was quite lively, other times touching...but all throughout I was seeing a very important process. A conversation. A much-needed space and time to discuss, without our day-to-day defenses and busyness, the things that really matter and are always under the surface of our most common interactions with family, friends, teachers, the community at large, and most personally - ourselves. The talkback revealed how much we are all struggling to make sense of our lives, and how much power there is in breaking the silence around our pain, our insecurities, our fears, and our griefs. And the adults in the room were not the ones with all the answers. In fact, the students often had the some of the most insightful responses and challenging truths to contemplate.
These brave teenagers showed me the immense value and benefit of approaching problems in our lives with humility, sincerity, and an earnest desire to speak our truth as boldly and simply as we can…and to be heard.
Jason Economus is an actor, writer, teacher, director, stand-up comic, and member of ETD's ensemble. Click here to check out Jason's posts.