This weekend I was lucky enough to be surrounded by nearly 6,000 young performing artists at the Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta. My sons participated in the festival for the third year. The purpose of the event is not necessarily to create 6,000 new Broadway actors and actresses but to use the power of musical theater to teach kids important lessons about creativity, self-confidence, and hard work. The funny thing is that every year I think I learn more than the kids do.
I have a feeling that my life would have turned out much differently if I had received the creative encouragement that these students receive. During a break last year, I sat in a hallway people watching and had a revelation. I realized that I was surrounded by a lot of people who were kind of like me. They were encouraged to freely express their creativity and personality without fear that they would be called weird. Everyone was weird, and that was celebrated. It was a beautiful thing that got me thinking about how life would be if creativity was not discouraged because the expression of creativity is misunderstood and weird.
I was a creative kid. I read all the time and created my own games, imaginary worlds, stories, and music. I performed in school plays and even drew the cover art for a middle school production of Pirates of Penzance. I don’t know when that creative flame started to fade. It was not one big, dramatic event. It was probably a lot of small things that happened as I desperately tried to fit into the socially acceptable mold. Unfortunately, it never really worked. How could it work when all you were doing was trying to make yourself into something and someone you are not?