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Waking Up to the Sound of Cathartic Music

The Rise and Fall of Small Town Theatre

I came across this piece of decor over the holidays and had no other choice than to laugh. I also had to take a picture of it, which I am not one hundred percent sure I was supposed to or allowed to, but I did it anyways. I felt compelled to, actually. Then I deleted it, because I felt guilt. However, for interest sake, it was a canvas with the lyrics "There will be an answer, let it be."

The Beatles were like Gods to me at one point of my life. All powerful, all knowing, and untouchable. Their music and message were gospel. Whatever they did was gold and the legacy they left for themselves is eternal.

But even the mythical Gods had their tragedies. In the height and glory of their legends, all Gods failed in one way or another. Weaknesses or some sort of personality flaw or misunderstood genius always seemed rock their world and immortality. I learned at a young age that very little lasts forever, but the impact of that thing can transcend or, in my case, haunt. Although I learned that lesson young, it didn’t set in until much later in my life.

Let it be... truly these are words of wisdom. A message that offers hope, peace, and understanding to the down trodden or troubled. However its meaning changes little by little the longer I live my life. Now, I know some experts out there could tell me exactly what Paul McCartney meant by it, but it doesn’t matter much to me. It’s what I make of it that matters. It is the connection I make that makes the song magic. It’s art, subjective to my point of view and for me, I’m still holding out for promised answers.

What do you get when you pump a kid up with hope and confidence? An overly inflated ego. Is that such a bad thing? Not entirely, but it comes with wicked reality checks for sure.

Theatre was everything. It provided everything any teenager would want: friends (some real, some fake, some temporary), a pseudo family, often questionable fun, dramatic feuds, loads of freak outs, but above all, it gave a kid a purpose. A little direction is all any teenager needs to find themselves in the blur of existence. Having all of this kept us amateur thespians going day after day working towards the dream.

As a student, I had ample opportunities to perform and act. There wasn't much competition for roles or parts. Access to different areas of the theatre was readily available. Learning the in's and out's of the stage was very hands on and extremely accessible. Theoretically, I should have been set for a career in the performing arts. Streamlined for it, as a matter a fact. I had extremely experienced teachers, directors, and mentors who coached and instructed me to perform professionally, but none of that made a difference when schools and communities gunned and fought for top class athletes every day, over talented performers.

To this day, my alma mater still schedules their academics around the their athletic events. Students are excused from class, school, assessments because they are honouring and representing the school as a member of the team. Sure, there are schools that have academic requirements for students to play. Even codes of behaviour or contracts of excellence are administered and upheld to ensure the popularity and fame doesn't go to their heads. That being said, how many times are those students catered to and tutored or excused or modified or adapted for so they can play? And how often are those same kids the ones causing the most trouble or presenting the most defiance in the class?

Now, I don't want to paint every athlete as a egotistical power driven deity; but in comparison, as a drama student, we were not offered the same privileges or perks. There was no pride in the school drama team or club, it was more of a mandatory obligation to announce their accomplishments over the intercom. Secondly, we were responsible for getting caught up on any work we missed do to rehearsals or performances. We would be marked as absent, and our parents would have to call in to explain we were not absent, that we were with the drama club rehearsing elsewhere, because the school dumped thousands of dollars into demolishing the school auditorium to build the newest state of the art gymnasium. You can't tell me there is any form of social equality in this.

Sure, we played it off as temporary injustice in a dramatic sphere of being, but there was no justice to been seen. We all believed that it was the turmoil we had to face before our happy resolutions miraculous appear. We lost everything; our directors, our space, our time, our hopes. Reality hit us all extremely hard. Two out of the thirty of us that went through the program moved on to pursue fine arts in post-secondary education. According to my knowledge, only one of the them still works in the industry and the other (like me) only dabbles in it now and then.

The phrase, "Those that can, do. But those who can't, teach" is too real. I knew better than to pursue fine arts as a career. If high school or community theatre was an indication of the sort of reception I would get, I knew that path was a path of instability both financially and mentally. Statistically, the odds were entirely against me, and if you ask any of my theatre friends today—it wasn't worth the gamble for them either. We often look back with fond memories or inside jokes of those times, but that's about as far as it goes for us. It didn't matter how much training, rehearsal, or runs we had. It never made a difference. So, instead, I teach. I direct. I give what I have been given, but I fight the status-quo daily.

In retrospect—it’s all non-sense. Big breaks are fairy tales. Making it big was never a realistic dream. The Performing Arts is not welcome, and is totally prosperous in a rural setting. Believing big things can come from little places is a lie, at least in the arts.

Sure that kid from nowhere might be the next big thing, but he sure as hell didn’t make it without paying his dues first. Dues in the city where credit and merit finally counts for something. Where people give a damn about something and everything. The kid from nowhere is just a kid that left the town and worked his butt off somewhere else.

Small town arts is dead, and there is a reason. Growing up in rural Canada, it wasn’t theatres or auditoriums I saw being built and set up in every small town dotting the country, it was arenas and rinks. Athletics over the arts, hands down, every time. Thanks to the fear of socialism, the nurturing of a strong and fierce generation of youth over the past few centuries has enabled a dog eat dog mindset. Who needs tact and character anyways? Only the natural born leaders, right.

God bless the brave souls who had a dream and dreamt that dream so damn big that it exuded potential out their ears, nose, mouth, and the little gaps between their pearly white teeth. You gave us nobodies something to live for and we never questioned it. We wouldn’t dare. Because we didn’t want our pipe dream to die, like we all sensed it would. Because we couldn’t see at the time that the light at the end of this illusive tunnel of hopes and dreams we shared was the high beams of a charter bus full of hockey players heading to their next tournament and running us down on the way. That’s what we get for following our dreams. You can’t get much more dramatic that being figurative road kill.

But our beloved Prime Minister... was he not a drama teacher? He was. Doesn’t that just warm our little fine art hearts? Should we not dream for a better future where artist and athlete can stand hand in hand and be treated as equals? We should, but Canada has bigger fish to fry than singing kumbaya on this hill where many have died on trying to make a point that nobody cares enough to do anything about it.

In other words, wake me up when carnal nature and competitiveness is ready to play nicely with freedom of expression and creativity on the playground. Survival of the fittest caused wars, can we just stop now? I’m just not sure if I am ready to pick up my gloves and go to fight. You see, I can still see all the people that died on this hill so far. Was it worth it? Did it ensue change? Have we gained ground in this war of recognition? Depends who you ask. Last time I checked, I wasn’t seeing thousands upon thousands of people sitting around their television sets in matching t-shirts to watch a revival of the latest productions or plays, singing or reciting every word in tune on a Friday night across North America.

I think I should just let be. I don’t think the world will ever be ready to accept change, let alone greatness again. It’s not that we don’t know how, the answer is basically scripture. All we need is love. Love is all we need.

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