IN SPRING 2019, I presented a reading of my original one-act play, What Can I Do?, the culmination of my senior project at Albuquerque Academy. This was a significant personal achievement, and it took a lot of work, a lot of soul-searching, and a lot of rewriting to make the script performance ready. The reading was also the happy ending to a journey that didn’t begin happily.

Before I started this project and embarked on a journey to learn about myself, I had been very depressed. My depression consumed me, so I did nothing about it. People around me started to notice, and I received many suggestions to try writing in a journal. Journaling didn’t feel right to me, though. Something was off, and for a while I couldn’t understand why. So, I wrote rants in a Word document. It felt strange to write about my thoughts and emotions and not have them result in a final project of some kind. Later, I read over what I had written, and something clicked.

Samantha Squires

Samantha Squires

The truth is that my life was a mess. My mother, who was my main parental figure, had passed away after a five-year battle with cancer. My home life had been torn apart because of her cancer, and the final blow to our family unit was her death. It was difficult to look at my writing about these issues, but after forcing myself to take an in-depth look at what my rants were really about, I saw movement from rants to monologues. The prospect of creating a play from the monologues and imagining what the ending could be gave me reassurance and even hope. Thinking about things in that way made my experience seem easier and more accessible. I could look at my life through a different lens. My monologues didn’t necessarily have to be MY story.

What I had started was a project I never expected to share with anyone. I thought it was too personal to show anyone else. But as I worked more on my writing, I grew proud of my work. I wanted to share what I had learned about myself. I wanted to show my truthful account of what happened to me because I know other people go through similar challenges. The perfect opportunity presented itself through my school’s senior project.

By spring, I had gone through most of the process of getting my project approved, and every step of the way I had received reassurances. Finally, I was down to the last approval. I shared what I intended to be my final script. I thought it would be an easy yes, but everything seemed to change once my advisors read it. They had concerns that the story was too personal, and they weren’t sure I was ready to share something so serious. They also questioned my emotional stability.

While I understand that they were concerned about my well-being, it felt as though they were using my emotions against me, which made me feel violated. Out of frustration, I left my piece alone for a while. I couldn’t look at it without wondering what was so wrong with it.

Then Laurie Thomas, my theatre teacher and mentor as part of Thespian Troupe 740, reached out with an offer to collaborate on the piece toward the goal of a staged reading. She made me realize once again that my story was worth telling. We started working on the script to see how we could improve the storytelling. Even though I felt mine was a relatable story, there was so much room for growth. She suggested I needed universal themes for the audience to grab onto and grapple with. 

To that end, we explored the irrational guilt children often feel in family crises, as if they themselves have brought on the situation. On the flip side is the guilt and sadness of parents subjecting their children to hardship and forcing them to leave childhood too early. We realized that, because I was the only daughter, certain expectations of me as a caregiver and nurturer to my mother were at play due to stereotypical gender roles. Those realizations allowed us to look at the story not only through the eyes of a child, but also through the deeper dynamics of mother-daughter relationships.

After the initial rocky reception to my story, the sheer fact that my play was going to be read for an audience was an amazing opportunity. Afterward, I participated in a talkback, and the experience made me see the audience in a different light. There was an outpouring of encouragement and understanding. Throughout the process I had feared that my experiences would be diminished, but I was proven wrong. People volunteered their stories and their empathy. I felt validated not only as an artist but also as a person. Everyone gave me feedback and treated me seriously as a playwright rather than as a 17-year-old who “still has so much to learn from the world.”

As humans, we are natural storytellers. We love reading, we love watching, we love seeing stories unfold so that we can interpret them. But we also love telling stories. For that growth to be possible, we need people to tell their stories and feel confident doing so. We can only grow if we are open to different perspectives. We must cultivate this way of thinking because shutting down creative processes is harmful to ourselves and others.

Age is relative to experience. To diminish someone’s experience can affect them for the rest of their life. A rejection of who they are and what their story is can shape them into believing their story doesn’t matter. The truth is that everyone has a story worth telling, but we must be willing and able to listen.

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