It’s a pretty common parental trope – My kid is shy, so how about some theater classes, dance troupes, or singing lessons to pull them out of their shell? My grandpa used to chuckle in reference to the way I would enter family gatherings – he referred to it as “walking in the room backwards.” So how did that girl end up with a Madonna-style earpiece on her head, leading the school’s major pep rally, and performing as a pseudo-DJ? (Yep, that happened…) Well, I attribute a lot of that to my experience as what has been termed a ‘theater kid.’
Throughout those formative years, I closely associated my showbiz experiences with shifts in my identity. The feeling came like a slow burn, its flame flickering in a way that was always there, but that had to be developed in its own time. I am now convinced that had I not played governess Maria von Trapp in Sound of Music, there would be no fourth grade teacher Stacy. On a deeper level, aspirations for storytelling and community building pierced through me the day I watched in awe while the oldest dancers at my studio performed an impromptu 9/11 requiem, still reeling from its effects only weeks prior. I learned that when you allow yourself to become fully immersed in the performance, to let its emotions own you as opposed to the other way around, that feeling of being seen is less about the viewers on the stage but the resulting impact on your own sense of self.
Now, don’t be fooled. I can be a damn good introvert when I want to be, and there are still plenty of situations that make me cower and long for the solace of my couch. Yet there is space for that as a learning moments as well, as the four protagonists in these stories do their own fair share of hiding or retracting from their shine. From a young piano player and a Broadway enthusiast to a drag queen and a Top Chef host, these protagonists stumble upon and rush towards their spotlights – sometimes within the same chapter! The personal payoff, their lessons and identity evolution make you want to walk into their room face forward.