Write Team: Taking part in local theater can teach many lessons

Throughout my life, I have always been interested in theater. The lights, costumes, emotions and songs all intrigued me.

In high school, I awkwardly graced the stage for a few plays that involved no singing at all. The rest of my adult life has been spent using puppets and comedic voices as I read stories to my young students. Luckily for me, my young students at Lighted Way do not seem to mind my out-of-tune versions of “Old McDonald.”

Along with a coworker who also has also never been in a musical, I decided to try out for this summer’s Stage 212 production of “The Wizard of Oz.” I have been fortunate over the past few years to meet many people who have been in plays at Stage 212. One of these wonderful people is Jessica Kreiser, who is both the director of the play this summer and the director of Lighted Way. Jessica has become a mentor for me along my path of self discovery. She has encouraged me and supported me as I have tried to gain more confidence inside and outside of the classroom. Jessica also mentioned there are many other ways one can get involved in theater, from painting sets to ushering to even being in the ensemble.

“Stage 212 is always looking for new talent,” she reminded me before the audition.

I knew I was going to be expected to dance, sing and act. Dancing does make me nervous. I simply do not understand how to control my body. You want my feet to do what? I now understand how much time goes into learning choreography. It takes determination, patience, flexibility and also confidence.

As far as singing goes, I will probably never be able to belt out a note as people clap and holler. But that’s OK. Because I can act. I love letting my emotions loose and becoming someone new. Being able to put on a different facade feels so comforting to me. I feel masked, protected and extremely present. Having the audience laugh at something you said is a reward that can never be given a price.

Since starting rehearsal, I have been able to meet such talented, kind and welcoming people. They have encouraged me, telling me I am doing great and showing me how to actually move my feet.

In the book “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., theater is recommended as a way to cope with all sorts of mental health struggles, such as anxiety and depression. Van Der Kolk says “dancing, marching and singing are uniquely human ways to instill a sense of hope and courage.” I have found singing along in a group, comfortably singing the part of alto two, has made me feel happy and part of a collective whole.

My goal is to continue to keep learning the dances, about singing in a group, and to gain more confidence. Exercise also is an important element of alleviating stress. Dancing has been enjoyable, and I find myself feeling refreshed after a rehearsal. I also sleep better.

I am proud of myself for setting a goal and sticking with it. Often, I have felt jumbled, as if my brain is all over the place, leaving me unable to commit to anything. During play practice, I am focused and all of my worries drift off behind me. I am able to laugh with my coworker who is new to this also. I have also seen her grow and become more confident, finally able to see how talented she truly is.

I now have a deeper appreciation for theater, especially community theater. There is so much enjoyment, fun and understanding. Things come together slowly but surely. Nothing can be done in a day. I am a person who wants everything now. Theater has taught me to slow down, understand that learning is a process, and to welcome challenges as opportunities to grow.

After this experience, I will always get on my feet at the end of a performance to show my respect and appreciation to the actors for their devotion of time and gift of talent.

Brittany Muller lives in Peru and works as a special education teacher at Lighted Way in La Salle. She enjoys writing and has worked on small school newspapers for much of her life.