Growing up, I was very active in the performing arts– dance classes, choir, the school play, you name it! However, I always felt a sense of anxiety as the season began because the start to the season meant that auditions were coming. At auditions, I would be judged by my leaders and compared to my peers. I began to dread the feeling of inadequacy, the feeling that all of my flaws were going to be noted on my teachers’ clipboards. Everyone would be pointing out that even though I could remember steps to a dance and perform it with enthusiasm, I wasn’t as flexible or controlled as Kate; even though my voice could hit impressively high notes, my belt wasn’t as powerful as Allie’s.
At such a young age, I should not have had to worry about my peers being “better” than me. I began hoping for my friends to mess up the words to their songs, or wishing that they would try out for a part different from the one I wanted, so I didn’t have to worry about their competition. I would practice hour upon hour, but instead of thinking about doing my personal best, I just wanted it to be better than everyone else. It didn’t matter how good I was, as long as I was better than my peers. Despite the fact that I loved to perform and was passionate about being on the stage, I stopped caring about perfecting my own craft. I was less invested in being the best “me” and more invested in just being better than everyone else.
Then, I found Unified Theater. Unified Theater was an inclusive theater program that allowed me to perform without competition. I got to be any part I wanted to play, because my peers and I wrote our own productions. I could write myself into a skit in the exact part I wanted to play. One year, my friend and I were in a skit group together. Our skit was about a birthday party. We both wanted to be the birthday girl, so we decided to rewrite the plot with two birthday girls– twins! Before long, I loved being on stage again. I no longer had the intense anxiety and stage fright that I had begun to develop from all of the judgment. I just wanted to be the best me that I could be, and I had such a blast cheering on my friends to do the same.
We are all our best versions of ourselves when we build each other up and encourage all of our friends to be the best they can be. During the crazy months of audition time, I rarely cheered on my friends. I was scared that if they performed their best, then I wouldn’t be good enough for the part I wanted to get. Instead of just enjoying my time on the stage, I was always nervous that someone was noticing every mistake I made, every piece of me that was not good enough. I hope that someday, everyone has the opportunity to participate in a program like Unified Theater. I have no doubt that my experience at Unified Theater has shaped me into the leader and citizen I am today– someone who wants to see others thrive, who pushes everyone she knows to be their best selves, and who genuinely measures her own growth against her past self, instead of the people around her. Thank you, Unified Theater. Thank you, inclusion.
–Written by Elise Hopkins, KIT Blog Editor
Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.