Time: The early 1990’s
An obnoxious fourteen-year-old boy argues with his older sister. His motives are strong and pure. He wants to spend the summer doing something awesome like sitting on Tom Mackin’s couch and watching MTV (please note: at this time, actual music videos are played on MTV, as is what the boy believes to be the funniest show of all time, Beavis & Butthead).
The girl’s intents are unadulterated evil; she plots to drag the boy to what will surely be the ruin of his summer, if not the rest of his life: musical theatre camp. Three weeks of singing and dancing, followed by a week of having to do so in public.
The sister, as sisters always do, wins.
Eighteen years later, or last weekend, I went to a gala celebrating the company and the man who ran that theatre camp, Pittsburgh Musical Theater and Ken Gargaro. It was hard not to reminisce about that summer day in 1993, and to contemplate where my life would be had I won the argument with my aforementioned sister and stayed in the car.
For five summers after that fateful day, I loved the hell out of every minute of that program, poorly singing and dancing my way through roles that, to my great dismay, have been preserved on home video that will never resurface under penalty of incredible physical harm to person of the perpetrator. (For a slight photographic insight, click here and never mention it again)
Fortunately, most of the other people involved in the program could sing and dance rather well. In fact, the friends I made have gone on to appear in the Broadway companies of shows like Rent, Hairspray, Crybaby, Shrek, South Pacific, A Little Night Music, Gypsy, Billy Elliot, Mamma Mia, Fiddler on the Roof, and The Little Mermaid.
Yeah, they’re kind of talented.
Being surrounded by all of that talent is pretty damn inspiring. And, having the opportunity to perform with folks like that teaches you a thing or two.
It teaches you about the basic structure of storytelling. It teaches you about character, and motivation, and comic timing. It teaches you about work ethic, determination, and the ability to be endlessly and honestly self-critical.
It teaches you that musical theatre is powerful. Musical theatre is communal. And, above all, musical theatre is fun.
More fun, perhaps, than Beavis & Butthead.