Cameron Krouch of Thespian Troupe 7888 at George Ranch Hihg School in Richmond, Texas, is the first runner-up of the 2021 Thespian Democracyworks essay competition.

The Educational Theatre Association has joined with other national arts education associations to launch the Arts ARE Education advocacy campaign, an initiative that will emphasize the need for schools to continue to fund and grow arts programs in their districts in 2021-22.

One of the important messages the campaign emphasizes is the ways in which theatre education creates safe spaces for students. Therefore, this year’s Democracyworks prompt asked students to share why theatre education matters to them and their school community by answering this question: “How does theatre support your social and emotional well being and foster a welcoming school environment?”

“LEAP AND THE NET WILL APPEAR.” This quote hovers in my head each time I step on stage. As my high school theatre department’s mantra, this quote has guided students under my director since he began teaching.

As students, we often hesitate to take risks and make bold choices. However, the theatre department at my school has been my haven when I feel lost, upset, or need encouragement. When my dad suffered a major accident last year, they were there to support me when I needed it. When I felt like I could barely make it through the days, they were there to lift me up. 

The institution of theatre supports social and emotional well-being by ensuring that each student has a place to discuss their issues without being judged for them and fosters a welcoming environment within the school by ameliorating the level of acceptance and care within the surrounding communityL

Without the arts, students at schools would lack a cathartic experience that allows them to forget their stressors and express themselves in their community. When I step on stage, I transform. I forget about my homework assignments and tests and become a different person, connected and concerned about those around me.

Most importantly, theatre students love one another. Theatre teaches people not to judge others based on what they see on the surface; to look for the subtext behind each person.

Each musical and play is a collective effort that focuses on each person taking care of one another. Whenever someone has a problem on or off-stage, the theatre community rallies around them and shows them that, no matter what society tells them, they belong.

People see themselves represented in theatre. My theatre community has become a group of people I can rely on to support me in my endeavors and to lift me up when I fall. Even during a global pandemic, the theatre community has found ways to produce art, keeping students engaged during a time when mental health issues are on the rise. Without theatre, many students would not have an outlet to express themselves at home, where they may not be able to express themselves comfortably.

The stage allows us to reflect on important events in our community in a way that causes audiences to question their beliefs. The Broadway musical The Band’s Visit is an excellent example of this. The musical contemplates the nuances of opposing cultures and ideologies without explicitly mentioning either. It focuses on the one thing that connects us all: being human. Theatre is one of the most important art forms on the planet because it allows people to see themselves represented when they otherwise might not.

My high school ensures that we discuss the social relevance of each piece we perform, noting its importance. As my director says, it is our job “to hold a mirror up to society.” Our current one-act play features the phrase “laugh, be moved, but don’t leave unchanged” on the front of the script. I think that’s an important reminder of what our purpose is as actors: to show the world the importance of acceptance and loving others for who they are.

The theatre department at my school is one of the most welcoming places I know of. Everyone is absolutely accepting of each other. Theatre departments are also catalysts of change within the community. Many theatre troupes participate in Trick or Treat So Kids Can Eat, providing food to underprivileged kids, and donate to Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS. My theatre troupe chooses an organization to donate to each year, most recently Cameron Boyce’s charity Thirst Project. Theatre troupes are a cornerstone of community improvement and set an example for others to follow.

Theatre has been home to beliefs that challenge the norm and push the envelope for centuries. Without it, people would lack a place to express important social themes. Whether it’s Elphaba belting Defying Gravity in Wicked or Elle Woods reminding us we can overcome challenges in Legally Blonde, theatre shows people they’re capable of more than they can imagine. Theatre is the ghost light of the world. Without it, our lives would be dark.

Editor’s Note: Learn more about the Democracyworks Essay Contest here.

DemocracyWorks 2021, First Runner Up Written by Cameron Krouch Troupe 7888 George Ranch High School (Richmond, TX)
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