Since I was a young child, I’ve always known that there was magic in the theatre. The process of starting a production with nothing and ending up with a stage full of lights, costumes, music, movement, and sound effects is just the beginning. The true “theatre magic” lies in the transformation of actor into character, and in the universal willingness of the audience to suspend their disbelief and participate in a shared experience with those on stage. Up until recently, I thought that this was the most magical thing about the theatre. I couldn’t imagine anything more special and wonderful. And then 4th Wall came along…
As the Artistic Director for 4th Wall Theatre Company, I don’t just teach classes and direct performances, I also get the opportunity to observe other instructors doing so. One such opportunity presented itself recently, when I attended “A Halloween Happening,” directed by Karen Kron and starring students from the Down Syndrome Guild of Southeast Michigan. The Down Syndrome Guild (or as we lovingly call them, the DSG) was officially the first organization to collaborate with 4th Wall, and so they hold a special place in our hearts. When Katie Mann and I taught our first class at the DSG, we weren’t exactly sure what to expect. So we did what the directors of any production would do: we scripted a show, presented it to the kids, taught them about the basics of the theatre, and helped them to bring their characters to life. You know, the usual “theatre magic” kind of stuff. This is what 4th Wall was founded upon: the idea that the magic of the theatre is something that should be shared with everyone, regardless of their different abilities.
But what we didn’t realize is that the magic wouldn’t end there.
What I saw as I sat in the audience of “A Halloween Happening” was a whole new kind of theatre magic. A transformative power reaching beyond the usual actor to character experience. I saw a student who would barely speak to us during our first session over a year ago, who was now speaking lines of her own in front of an entire audience. I saw a student who was once terrified of being on stage, now smiling and dancing and singing her heart out. I saw a student who needed to be constantly prompted to remember his one line in our first show, now reciting his multiple lines from memory. I saw an entire group of students transformed by the theatre, and in such a fantastic way.
Now I know. The magic of the theatre extends far beyond lights, costumes, and sound effects. It even extends beyond exploring a character, or sharing an experience with a willing audience. The true transformative magic of the theatre lies in self-discovery, in finding oneself and becoming comfortable in sharing with others what you’ve found. I am blown away every day by our amazing students, and I look forward to the future of 4th Wall as we continue to find more special and wonderful kinds of “theatre magic” around every corner.