My WHOLE LIFE I have dreamt of creating something. Growing up around music and an endless stream of Disney movies, I was always drawn toward the power of the arts, and I was lucky enough to have parents that supported me in this passion since a young age. They enrolled me in dance classes at only 4 years old! I loved the creativity and the fun and the energy and the discipline. My favorite was ballet; the structure was always the same, but you could take whatever interpretation you wanted to!
However, things began to change in the world when I was only 10 years old. I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t understand why… until my parents had to deliver the news to me that they could no longer afford sending me to dance classes. I was heartbroken, to say the least. I spent the next few weeks incredibly sad – a rather pitiful image, I’m sure, to my teachers and classmates. I truly feared I had lost my art forever (though now, I am increasingly aware that art exists wherever we allow it to – not only within the walls of a dance studio or opera house).
I needed a miracle.
I was given that in a woman named Margie, a local dance studio owner who believed enough in me to allow me to continue dancing with her, despite the fact my family didn’t have the money. We made a deal that I could dance if my father helped them with their marketing and design. (A freelance artist, I have always looked up to him, and I will always be thankful for this sacrifice that he made for me.) I began dancing again, and I grew a love for performing incredibly deep and as time went on, I found that my heart was in theatre. Today, I am studying at one of the top acting schools in the country, and I attribute that accomplishment to the faith that one woman had on me. I look back on that fondly, and it is always such a treat when I run into Margie in public or see that she’s commented on one of my Facebook posts. I like to know that she’s proud of me, and I hope she realizes what an important role she has played in the story of my life. If not for her, I don’t know where I would be today. Surely, I would not be the woman I am, as I give the credit for my skills and passion for the world to my involvement in the arts. Surely, I would not be studying theatre at one of the country’s top acting schools. Since Margie’s gift, I have made it my personal mission to give to others the way that she gave to me. How can I ensure other dreamers’ have access to the opportunities they need to be their truest self? How can I continue the cycle? THAT is what The Triple A Project means to me. This organization is an ever-growing, ever-changing project meant to give to others what Margie gave to me: a path, a home, and a chance to create, as I had always dreamt of doing.
The arts are whatever you want them to be, and I think that’s the power behind them. In my experience as a theatre artist, I have worked with people of varying abilities, both physical, mental, and developmental. Those that I know that fall outside of the average ability are rarely held back by their ability; instead, it is something that elevates their performance and capacity to connect with different audiences.
Growing up, I was surrounded by the arts; my parents were part of a variety lip sync show at my church, and this opened my eyes to the diversity of the arts world. I was exposed to different genres of music and so many people with unique backgrounds and life. By the time I was 9, children from our church were finally able to be part of the show, and I found a home in this theatre group. The family life I experienced extended past blood. At this time, the youngest member of the group was 4 – my little sister – and the oldest was a woman named Gene with a fiery attitude that was approaching 100. And she never let her age stop her. She liked to be glamorous and took inspiration from Marilyn Monroe and Doris Day.
And yet, there were others in the theatre group with varying backgrounds. One of my first friends was a woman my mother’s age that had been involved in the theatre group for close to thirty years. She, too, had grown up around the arts, and like my mother, she had a passion for working with children and dancing. Though she never had kids, she was exceptional at connecting with those in the cast, and her hugs made everyone feel loved. Recently, she has taken up painting, and I keep a piece she did for my high school graduation close to me. Her name is Kathleen, and many people would judge her at first sight because she has Down syndrome. But what people don’t see is that developing differently isn’t necessarily a disability. It’s just individual compared to my experience. She never has let her ability hold her back; she has excelled because of it.
Today, there are not a lot of opportunities for people with differing abilities within the arts. But involvement in the arts itself can help bridge the gap between misunderstood communities. There are theatres around the U.S., such as Variety Theatre in St. Louis, that produce shows with the goal of including people of ALL abilities. These are far and few between. I grew up with people of varying abilities, and I was never taught to look at people like Gene or Kathleen any different than I look at myself. Because the truth is that there is no huge difference. We all are living in the human experience. The point of The Triple A Project is to foster a community in which we are not taught to see our differences but instead to see the things that bring us together. If I could learn this as a child, anyone is able to do so, but we have to be willing to open our hearts and minds to new experiences.
Written by Elizabeth Hallal As a second-year musical theatre major, I am so thankful to be studying performance art everyday of my life. It’s challenging at times, but it’s worth it, because I LOVE what I do. I love analyzing scripts; I love asking questions; I love figuring out the best ways to manipulate my voice in order to make a high note way easier for me. All of these things fulfill my boundless curiosity. There is something to be found in every aspect or style of theatre and one style that has become a favorite technique used in comedy and pop-culture is improv.
Improv, or improvisation, is a form of theatre where everything is made up in the moment (the plot, the characters, the setting, the dialogue). It takes some serious creative ability and a good sense of humor. It also takes quite a bit of confidence in decision-making. You can’t backtrack. It teaches you to always move forward.
It's an exact reflection of life.
For an actor, improv is a really good way to learn basic (and sometimes advanced skills), such as commitment, not taking yourself too seriously, creativity, and learning how to battle stagefright. Improv is used in auditions, oftentimes, and many jobs can be found for actors who excel in this area in comedy shows or improvisation troupes. In the 2018-19 school year, I was a high school senior at a public high school in Southern Indiana. I feel so blessed to have gotten some of the experiences that I got while I was a part of their theatre program, and I felt especially lucky to have had the opportunity this last year of high school to work with the first year theatre students as an apprentice teacher for the Introduction to Theatre class. This class gave a little bit of everything to the students; they learned about the basics of acting and production, and they had the opportunity, not only to perform, but also to play theatre games and see shows done at our high school or other local companies. Everyone’s favorite day was improv day, which we did once every few weeks, because it meant lots of laughs in class and no assignments due. It took some time for them to understand the importance of the exercises, but I saw it play into their work. The students that particularly committed themselves to the “games” we played went on to develop critical thinking skills that allowed them to keep going while performing onstage. For many students, this class was their first time acting, so it is to be expected that the scenes aren’t going to be perfectly memorized, and while I encouraged them to work hard in this aspect, I was understanding. See, as long as they kept going with the scene and stayed in the circumstances of the play, they were learning everything they needed to. Improvisation helped them push through line flubs or moments of uncertainty while performing onstage.
But the skills learned in improvisation apply to more than acting. Like I said earlier, the continuing movement of improv is a reflection of life, so obviously, the skills used in these exercises are transferable to everyday life. In studying improv, one learns how to adapt to a situation to keep moving forward. And the number one rule – in order to keep this momentum – is never say “no.”
Of course, in life, there are times when we are meant to say “no.” We should say no to dangerous or poor decisions. We should say no when something makes us feel unsafe or uncomfortable. We should say no when we have other important things to do, and we should always prioritize our mental and physical health over excessive work which leads to burnout. However, learning that you cannot reverse a decision that has already been made… that is the important skill here. In fact, to encourage this theory of moving forward, an actor must adopt the phrase “yes, and…” into their work. When performing improv, your scene partner is going to feed you information. Maybe they will assign you a name, a background, or a location. If they call you “Jennifer,” you can’t say “No, that’s not my name.” That would stop the scene. There is nowhere else to go from there. Instead, the actor is responsible for continuing the conversation and action of the play.
Learning to say “yes, and…” is an important skill. Because of this, people who are involved in the arts grow the ability to run with the information that is given to them or the decisions that have been made, whether that is within their work as an artist or aside from it.
I would be lying if I said I had adopted a perfect “go with the flow attitude.” I am a bit of a perfectionist. I like to have a set schedule, and I often get stressed whenever I am not happy with the details of a piece I work on or even the layout of my room. However, I do work well under pressure: whether that is with high stakes or in a short period of time. I’m a good auditionee. I like being in the audition room. I can write a well-formatted essay with credible sources in a short period of time when I need to do so. I have developed the skills, through theatre, to problem solve in any situation. What my involvement in theatre has taught me (and specifically, my improv experience) is how to just keep moving and find the best way to do so. It has taught me to thrive in interview rooms, my retail job, in expressing my opinions, or working with people everyday of my life – whether that is with friends and family or in my job as a local Miss America titleholder. In the world today, communities, countries, and individuals alike are plagued with real-world issues. I believe that the first step to combating these problems is identifying what’s wrong and then using creative ways to move forward. The truth is: all problems can be fixed with a “yes, and…” attitude. Investing in the arts is the first step to understanding one another; theatrical improvisation is just one example of the infinite techniques available for people to study within artistic expression.
How has theatre helped you adopt a “yes, and…” attitude, and what problem are we going to work on fixing today?