The other night I was telling a friend about walking straight and simply out of the theater world when I was seventeen years old. In my public high school my reputation had been tied to a stage persona (I actually have an essay about this, "High Status," that I've been shopping around to no avail) but as I approached graduation I realized that theater had wreaked havoc on my body image and personality. In short, after too many musicals I had become sort of a jerk, and it was a relief to head to college as a nerd instead. Only very recently have I realized that I am almost fully submerged in the theater world again and have felt none of the same anxieties as I did ten years ago. Surely some of the difference is the difference between being seventeen and twenty-seven, but I also have come to realize how immensely proud I am of the particular work my theater collectives are doing.
HartBeat Ensemble is a group of professionals who have been poking their noses around the issues that Hartford is sometimes a little too squeamish to address. HartBeat interviews all sides of the community and creates new work based on those interviews. They also run a wonderful program (called Youth Play Institute) in which kids from different schools write a play together. I think I would have had a very different view of what theater could be to myself and to a community had I experienced YPI in my own high school.
And then of course there's Sea Tea. Even though improv is clearly a theatrical discipline, I feel entirely like myself while doing it. Being onstage requires only basic stagecraft, respect for your audience, listening, and responding. That's basically it. Any concern about showing off is only a hindrance.
The basic principle we use in Sea Tea is "make your partner look good." Every moment onstage we are attempting to make the other players look good by accepting what they're offering and going with it. We're also trying to make our audience look good/feel smart by using their ideas and suggestions to create hilarious scenarios. Come to think of it, HartBeat is making their partner look good too- every good work they do is reflected right back into the city. HartBeat makes Hartford look really, really good if you ask me. And Sea Tea too.
Today I'm going to try to figure out who my partners are around here, and how to help them do their best. That's the kind of theater I'm into these days.