It's the theme of Glee. Theatre nerds, the social outcasts at their high school, bonding together to form their own community though their school's glee club show choir.
The original Time review of Glee says it's this way, "...it's about a journey not just to college and career but to identity and conviction, the price of popularity, the compromises we must make between what we want and what we need." And what all teens need is a sense of belonging. The affirmation that they are special. This affirmation is the magical fairy dust that the theatre community has always provided it's devotees. As one of my parents said, "The high school theatre department was home to my child. Simple as that. It was comforting and accepting."
I can remember when I was first struck by that community. It was 1967. I was 15-years-old and taking summer driving classes when I looked out the window and was immediately drawn to a group of unusual looking teenagers. Long-haired nerdy boys and un-glamorous girls in long black rehearsal skirts improvising and exploring relationships for a Bertolt Brecht play they were producing for a summer stock theatre company. They were outdoors under an enormous live oak tree and it was clear they were having some serious and unusual fun. Infinitely more appealing that my drivers ed class. I was immediately struck by a sense that THAT was where I belonged. I had to be with that group. My gut told me so clearly and powerfully. I will never forget it. And I have remained a member of that community for over 50 years.
I asked some respected theatre veterans and educators who work and teach in America's college theatre arena to comment on the role "theatre as community" has played in their own lives. This is what they said. Much of it candid, profound and personal.
"Theater offers us a home, a place where we are accepted unconditionally for who we are... to be who we are, to explore humanity, and to make a difference in the world; to breathe freely. Theater offers us the gift of a home and something to be part of, often saving us from our own personal histories, and in turn, it heals us."
Kaitlin Hopkins, Head Of Musical Theatre, Texas State University
"From personal experience, I can attest that joining Choir, Drama Club and Band, while may be considered "for nerds only", was a life-saver for me. Knowing I had a safe place to explore my own talents as one of the un-cool kids really increased my feelings of self-worth and boosted my confidence in that wonderful community of budding artists in High School."
Gary Kline, Professor And Coordinator, Acting/Music Theatre Carnegie Mellon School Of Drama
"I've seen theatre connect students both within a room and across the globe. What's created as a result is a diverse community of aspiring artists -- all thanks to the bonding power of theatre."
Annette Tanner, Director Of The Broadway Dreams Foundation
"In high schools, theatre artists seek each other out to create communities. These tend to be inclusive and welcoming to people...a safe haven for students who are seeking a non-judgmental group of like-minded artists who are working to create collectively. This is often the first time young adults feel a sense of freedom to truly be themselves, express their ideas artistically, and form a sense of identity."
Joe Deer, Director Of The Musical Theatre Initiative, Wright State University
The theatre community provides a lush garden of lasting friendships to flourish. From it's rich soil of tolerance and acceptance it nourishes understanding and trust. A place to harvest your true creative spirit and take it out into the world. Those of us who have been lucky enough to be a part of it are still reaping the crops sown out of its unique culture and inclusive community.