Although I’m in my early-50s, the impact of having been a high school theatre kid has proven to resonate through a lifetime. First, I finally came out last year—come on, how many theatre kids are straight? We only recruited from the straight side of the fence when we decided to train a football player to be a hunky-looking Danny from Grease, a science experiment almost. He did a decent job, prompting crushes from both girls and boys, and much higher attendance at the gate once we provided directions to the football team on where the auditorium was located inside the high school.
Here are a few life lessons we learned as theatre kids (besides the obvious one from Les Misérables about how the consequences of unprotected sex are worse than war):
1.) “Not Fitting In” is a Resume Builder. Being an outcast at many things—social graces, sports, invitations to in-crowd parties-- matters in high school, college and beyond. But land your first speaking role (or God help your ego, a lead) could mean that not fitting in as a theatre kid is something you now “use in character building” and will eventually help provide the skill set you need to get a job you’ll hate forever.
2.) Project your Voice. Acting teachers will repeat this in echoey voices of empty theaters ad nauseum and insist you use the diaphragm that you didn’t even know you had-- no, not the birth control one. Using your voice in a compelling way and without fear is a lesson that’s important for more people than just an idiot mermaid who sells it out for a man.
3.) Costuming is essential. While most costumes in high-school productions consist of garbage bags, safety pins and other household items, you’ll learn to wear them with flair while singing off-key to non-woke outdated songs by Rogers and Hammerstein. You’ll come to appreciate the concept that whether it’s a top hat and tails or sweatpants and a tank top, the way you dress should be chosen appropriately for each of life’s scenes.
4.) Sing even when you’re terrible. Usually life, like the depressed middle-aged chorus director wearing polyester slacks, will funnel out the talent when it comes to singing. You may as well sing your part in the chorus of All That Jazz like no one’s listening, because they probably aren’t (shout out to the 3-4 audience members who appreciated the freshly minted grad school choreographer incorporating those slick vintage Fosse moves because "the film went so disrespectfully astray."). It’s not like you’re playing Velma Kelly and besides, Catherine Zeta-Jones won the Oscar and isn’t a singer anyway. You’re not a great singer either? Don’t worry, the karaoke DJ will turn the volume down on your mic in the drunken group version of “Dancing Queen” by ABBA, so you may as well go up and have a blast singing it anyway.
5.) Life is an ensemble cast. When you get a shitty part in the high school musical, the overly dramatic, sullen-eyed, closeted-gay highly functioning alcoholic director will give a speech about how no one should worry because it’s an ensemble cast. This means there was only one halfway decent singer and zero good male dancers, which is why you can never do West Side Story and they have to keep pulling garbage scripts of dead musicals from the 1950s. Embrace the opportunity to have fun, sneak booze into rehearsals, don’t worry about forgetting lyrics or choreography because that other rich-ass high school across town always has the better sets and costumes anyway. Have fun—life is always shorter than a bad high school musical.