A Theatrical Part for an Aching Heart

As I sat there at the Crucible cast party, surrounded by a group of people I absolutely adored, I found myself thinking, “What would I be without Swamp Meadow Community Theatre?” But sitting there in that plastic chair, so content with my life and the way the world had been treating me, I realized that, amazingly, I knew the answer to that question.

I like to think that music taught me how to live, and that theatre taught me how to be happy. I wouldn’t know how to live without song. I have been a guitarist nearly as long as I can remember, a vocalist even longer than that. But I only started acting around a year ago, and it wasn’t until then that I truly learned how to be (and stay) happy.

I know exactly what my life would be without SMCT because I can still clearly remember what life was like before. I’d wake up each morning wondering what I was doing with my life and why I even bothered getting out of bed. I found myself crying all the time, wishing I knew why I was so upset or what could possibly fill this void I felt, deep in my heart. And the uncertainty would only kindle the fire—the fire that became my depression. It’s kind of ironic, actually, the way I used to claim ownership of my depression with the possessive pronoun. As if I had any amount of control over it. In reality, depression had completely conquered me; it had become part of my definition of my identity.

Of course, redemption didn’t come over night. Happiness was a trade that I had to re-learn rather tediously, to be honest. When I auditioned for my first role in Jesus Christ Superstar, I was almost compelled to introduce myself with the information that I was indeed depressed; it was as much a part of me as my own name. At some rehearsals early on, I would run to those elementary school bathrooms, stare at myself in the mirror, and try to let out whatever the emotion it was that I was feeling, only to have no clue what it was. It had to be some combination of self-hatred and pure misery, and for what? Nothing. Not a single reason. I spent hours—every free moment of my time—trying to figure out what was bothering me so much. And boy, the inability to understand the cause of my depression aggravated me. Frankly, it still does.

And yet, theatre (more specifically, Swamp Meadow) has become the therapist I wish I’d met much sooner. It has literally taken the place of my therapy sessions, as play practices have become numerous and weekly appointments have slowly become obsolete. Being a part of Swamp Meadow has given me a clear, prominent purpose to strive for and goals to which I can continually look forward. I’ve gained an emotional outlet and the challenge of a new art form to take on. I’ve learned to dream bigger, to take risks, to speak out with confidence, to empathize, and plenty more than that. But the most important thing I gained when I became a “swamper” was a family. A close-knit group that I quickly learned was not going anywhere. Theatre acquainted me with people who were not perfect, but as a whole, were exactly what I needed. People are what make life worth living, and no amount of trying to “figure out” my depression could bring me to that realization quicker than SMCT did. The cast, band, and crew of Superstar became the training wheels I needed, whether they knew it or not, and I could never thank them enough for that. Thanks to Sara, I learned that not all teenagers bite and, thanks to Izzi and Molly, I learned how to have fun, let go for a while, and realize that it’s alright for me to act my age. Thanks to Preston, I learned how much something as simple as a hug every now and then can do for a troubled heart. And thanks to Bob, I learned that it’s all right for me to love myself, too. I could certainly go on. Everyone I’ve met through Swamp Meadow has impacted my life tremendously (and I cannot stress that enough), both individually and as part of this loving community. I’ve met role models and friends that I would never have met otherwise, all because I said “Why not?” to an ad in The Foster Journal. And although I could have discovered SMCT sooner, I’m actually kind of grateful that it took so long, because the gratification was so much greater. Depression gave me one gift I’ll surely cherish forever: the ability to comprehend just how blessed I am.

I’ve never been fond of voyaging back to the most troubling seas of my past, but something inside told me that this was a story worth sharing. I apologize for perhaps being too blunt at times, but Swamp Meadow has a really good thing going, and to that this letter is my testimony.