I got into theater when I was a freshman in high school. I was looking for things to keep my mind busy amidst a lot of stress at home, and figured hanging out with my friends pretending to be someone else would be a good way to cope with the days that I just didn’t feel like myself. I wasn’t totally wrong. Theater gave me an outlet to be whoever I wanted to be. It gave me a chance to feel, to laugh, to cry, to scream, to whisper, to just be. I loved it so much, I went to school and got a Bachelor’s degree in it.
In college, I spent hours learning about the theater and the range of human emotion. I learned all about how to tell what emotion someone is feeling just by the way they walk or cross their arms. I learned about communicating and being clear in my goals. I learned about how people have used theater to come together to overcome racism and natural disasters. Yet, the greatest lessons I learned from studying theater were the ways it can help to empower us and help us to heal.
Telling someone’s story and respecting the backstory
One of the greatest tools a person can have in their “life toolbox” is empathy. We never truly know the weight someone is carrying in their shoes. Acknowledging that people come from all different walks of life can help us to understand where someone is coming from.
Conflict & communication run the storyline
A brief period of my time learning theater was spent writing plays. A lesson they teach in play-writing is that conflict runs the plot. As soon as the characters stop talking, the story line inevitably ends. Such is life and expressing ourselves. We need outlets to talk, and we need people who will listen to us… just as we need to be there for others to talk to.
Giving your self-confidence a boost
Acting is a lot of fun, but it is also a lot of work! It takes some serious guts to get in front of a crowd of hundreds of people to share someone else’s story from memory. But, once you get up there and do it, you realize that you are capable of more than you maybe even realized. Acting is a huge self-confidence boost.
It’s hard enough to learn your own movements and lines, but in theater, you must trust that other people are going to learn theirs just as well. When we are working on healing ourselves from a trauma or loss, letting others in and trusting them can be a daunting task. Theater helps to break down your walls and forces you to rely on others… on and off the stage.
Anger management skills
I know first-hand how hard it can be to change bad habits. I used to slam the doors as hard as I possibly could and scream at my family members when I was upset in high school. Acting gave me a place to explore anger as an emotion and the many reactions one can have to it. Some of the parts I’ve played have been angry, but gentle. Some of the parts I’ve played have been angry, but loud and aggressive! Theater has given me a chance to explore how I react to the emotions I feel.
Allows for taking risks in a safe environment
Theater people are my kind of people. Theater people are so non-judgmental. They are funny and kind and determined. They are great people to learn with and explore emotion with. I have taken many risks on stage, and I owe that to being in a safe space (and with an encouraging group of people) to make them.
If you are interested in getting involved in theater – whether to learn something new, get an escape from your grief, or just to have fun – check and see if there are any community theater groups where you live. Jumping in and getting started in the theater was the best decision I ever made for my mental health, and it is my hope that others find some comfort and solace in it, also.
Kailey Grubb, LLMSW