I won’t get to vote for another five years. Since I can't vote I am guessing lawmakers are not all that interested in what I have to say, but if they would listen, I could tell them why it is a bad idea to not fund the National Endowment of the Arts. The Arts are not just entertainment; they are an important and rich way to learn and challenge your mind. Theatre is the category of arts I know best. In the time that I have been performing, I have learned so much more than dancing, singing and acting.
When I performed in Les Miserablés, I learned about the Paris Uprising of 1832 and its significance in history.
When I was in Fiddler on the Roof, I learned about Russia’s expulsion, discrimination and mistreatment of Jewish people in the early 1900s, and how many of those fortunate enough to leave Russia with their lives, set out to make new homes in America. The cast and creative team discussed the relevance of those historical events to modern times and the difficulties that present day Syrian refugees are facing.
When my Mom took me to see The Diary of Anne Frank, the human atrocities suffered during World War II were made so much more real to me than simply reading words on a page in a history book. I left that show saddened that people would set out to destroy other people because of ethnicity or religion, but also heartened that there are people in this world who even when facing the darkest of times hold tight to beliefs such as those voiced by Anne Frank: “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” After seeing the play, I went back to find that quote in Anne Frank’s published diary, and discovered that the complete quote is very relevant to how I think a lot of people feel today:
"In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again."
Most recently, I have had the incredible opportunity to study Tom Stoppard’s The Hard Problem while taking on an understudy role at Studio Theatre, and I have learned about altruism and egoism, spent time thinking about whether we are all born good and learn bad or wrong behavior, or are we born with a selfish nature and learn to do good only because we realize certain good acts work to our advantage. My little brother asked me to explain The Hard Problem to him right before we were going to see the musical Wicked, and when we were watching Wicked, we realized that it was about altruism and egoism and the nature of good and evil. That show is so much more than a clever telling of the events that happened before the events we see in the Wizard of Oz. It shows us how awful the consequences can be when one segment of society tries to silence another because its people are different; it warns us that there are governments that twist the facts to manipulate or control its people. I am 12 and my little brother is 10 - we are not learning those things in school yet, but we are starting to understand them and their significance because theatre makes history and politics and philosophy come to life. Theatre makes us think and makes us want to learn.
I am lucky because my parents support my love for theatre and see the value it plays in life lessons, but not every child has the same opportunities that I have. The NEA describes its mission as being to "support arts learning, affirm and celebrate America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage," and "promote equal access to the arts in every community across America." Every child should have an opportunity to have their lives enriched through the arts. The arts will make kids smarter, more thoughtful, more open-minded members of society. Theatre teaches us history, challenges our minds and inspires us to be better. If you are old enough to vote, please tell your representatives how important the NEA is to the children of America. For ideas of other ways you can make the importance of the arts known, click here to read this article in The Huffington Post.