Gaby Alezard, a junior in Thespian Troupe 2267 at Hatboro-Horsham High School in Pennsylvania, is the first runner-up of the 2020 Democracyworks competition.

This year’s essay prompt, “How does theatre help bring diverse communities together?,” was inspired by 2019 Educational Theatre Association National Conference keynote speaker Jane Chu, former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, who spoke about how theatre promotes a culture of belonging that honors different perspectives while bringing people together.

I AM A LATINA living in the United States; therefore, the topic of “diversity” makes up my whole life. I was raised in Venezuela and moved to the U.S. when I was just 9 years old. Theatre really helped my transition more than I will ever be able to put into words. However, as I was thinking about this essay, I didn’t want to write yet another paper about my immigration story and how much it impacted my life. This time, when I thought about the definition of diversity, I saw it from a new perspective. I saw it was not only about me or my race. I saw it from an insight I recently gained.

A while ago, I was introduced to Harmony Theater, a small theatre company for adults with special needs that meets every Saturday. As soon as I set foot there my first day, I felt my heart grow a little bigger. I was immediately introduced to so many amazing people whose sincerity and unconditional love made me connect instantly with all of them. Theatre should be available to every single human who loves to get up onstage and perform their hearts out. Sadly, it isn’t.

Gaby Alezard

Gaby Alezard

After working with this company for a while, my whole view in theatre started to change for the better. They taught me that the real gift of theatre is the happiness it brings you and to cherish the experiences and opportunities you are given to the fullest. At Harmony, the participants have an opportunity to be themselves, to belong — to have a moment when they are onstage and their disabilities disappear. These people are a gift from above, filled with happiness and love in their hearts. Without theatre to bring us together, I don’t think I would have ever understood what these amazing people are capable of and how deeply they feel, understand, and love.

It is unsettling to me to think that if it weren’t for programs like Harmony, people with disabilities wouldn’t have the opportunity to show their talents to the world. I know so many young kids with disabilities who would love to do theatre, and they aren’t involved because of the harshness of casting and the competitive environment you normally see in high school departments. This breaks my heart because if directors could see what these kids can do and how much joy and enlightenment they can bring to the sometimes overwhelming and tension-filled environment of high school theatre, maybe their eyes would be opened and they would be more inclusive and creative in their casting.

Theatre is the perfect setting to let everyone be who they are and express themselves to the fullest. It is now time to make disability as important as gender or race in the definition of diversity. I would give everything in the world for it to be Saturday every day and to be able to go to Harmony, get hugs and stories from my favorite people, and be able to watch them be swept away by their joy of music and passion for what they are doing. I cannot explain the chills that run through my body when I see them take the stage and have the most fun they have ever had.

Diversity in theatre is so important. Diversity enriches productions and makes them stronger. It magnifies who we are as performers; it gives us unlimited perspectives. People with disabilities deserve the opportunity to be included in this marvelous world. Let’s practice that inclusion and give a chance to these big-hearted individuals who absolutely love what they are doing. Let’s show that we appreciate and respect each other’s differences. I truly would love to make an impact in the theatre world with what I have just shared with you and open the eyes of the people who have the power to make this happen. I promise you it will change your life as much as it did mine.

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