Musings from Seventeen Year Old Erin on Theatre

Photo of a news article titled Stage a Great Place to Learn About Life and the World, written by 17 year old Erin Joy Swank
I loved that Debbie Gibson-esque hat. And I was pretty excited to meet her backstage at a recent gig - much more than my young cast members who were unfamiliar with her...and her hat.

This weekend, while in between assigning Zoom breakout rooms for USITT's Portfolio, Resume, & Interview Materials Prep (PRIMP) sessions, there was also some down time for the three of us managing things behind the scenes. It turned to sharing old photos of each other, and laughing at the "style" we had as teenagers, especially for senior photos. I ended up digging up my old Jostens memory book from my senior year of high school. Taped into the clippings section, I found this newspaper article I wrote when I was seventeen, and ready to take on the world. It's interesting how a lot of my philosophy of life hasn't really changed, though I didn't know what stage management really was at that point. Little did I know that the "Assistant Instructor" job I had with an acting troupe was TOTALLY setting me up for stage management - being in charge of load in/out, adapting to each new venue, and figuring out covers for those who were out. But meanwhile, my own words make me smile, so I figured I'd share them with you.

The full text is below, but here is the original post I shared with Facebook friends.

VOICES: WHAT MIAMI COUNTY'S YOUNG PEOPLE ARE SAYING

Stage great place to learn about life and the world

BY ERIN SWANK

[Their choice to leave out my middle name, not mine! Also, handwritten in the book: "Edited by Joyce Swank" (She says she never gets credit)]

Miami Valley Sunday News, December 27, 1992

[Another hand written note: I was even mentioned on the front page! -> INSIDE - VOICES: Theater can be an important learning experience. See page 5.]

"Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got. Taking a break From all your worries sure would help a lot. Wouldn't you like to get away?"

These words from the popular television show "Cheers" seem to hit home with most people. There are times that it would be nice to just escape from the world for a little bit.

Well, I have a perfect place in mind to get away to, complete with cruise ship, visits to far-off South Pacific islands, foreign countries, mountains - anywhere one could want to go, and it's not an expensive vacation, either. It doesn't cost anything but one's own time, and perhaps a little imagination. Where is this wonderful place? It's in the theatre.

I first traveled to this mystifying vacation spot when I was in first grade, to see a civic theatre production of "Snow White." Right before my eyes, a classmate of mine was transformed into a fluffy bird and another friend turned into the hideous Wicked Queen. I thought this was really neat. I was already known to march to the beat of a different drummer, and this appeared to be a place where it was OK to be different. It might even be "normal" to be "different." I decided to go for it.

I auditioned the next year for "The Wizard of Oz" and was cast as the Wicked Witch of the West when she shrank. The part was less than 10 seconds long, but I was hooked. Since then I've made many return visits to the theatre, and I also try to get others to visit there, too. I think everyone should become involved in theatre at some time in his or her life.

The best part of theatre, in my opinion, is this encouragement it can give people. Of all the people I have met, those involved in acting seem to be the most open and supportive. And theatre invites all kinds of people to be a part of it. For example, I have worked with some talented, "handicapable" actors. The stage is one area in their lives where they can forget about their limitations and fit in with everyone else. Their disabilities do not affect their performance; in fact, these performers are often the best actors in a troupe.

Right now I'm involved in trying to bring the excitement of theatre to kids. I work part-time as the assistant instructor for Studio 3, a school for the performing arts. In the short time I have been there I have already seen dramatic results in some of the children.

One student in particular was shy and seemed to be relatively unimaginative when I first met him, but through role playing and various creative exercises, this child has had his self-confidence boosted - he has learned to open up more, and at times, we can't get him to stop talking!

After seeing these changes, I'm even more interested in introducing kids to the theatre. While theatre is a good way to boost their spirits, there are other ways that acting can help them.

One example is learning how to focus their minds - making them able to concentrate on only what is important at a given time. In drama this includes memorization of lines, listening to cues, and disregarding outside distractions, but this can carry over into other areas besides the stage, too. For example, focusing can be used as an aid in concentrating during a test or trying to keep one's mind off other things when preparing a presentation.

If I had to write down all the reasons I like the theatre, I would end up with a pretty long list. Not only does it provide a creative distraction from everyday life, it also gives one a chance to see things in a different light, in another person's shoes.

The love of theatre was instilled in me at an early age, and I believe it has helped me become a stronger, more creative person. If I can introduce children to the theatre, and by doing so encourage them to have faith in themselves, I believe they will want to stand up for themselves, and will try to make a difference in the world. Some of them might even look back on their lives, realize how much theatre has meant to them, too, and encourage their own children to participate in drama, creating a ripple effect of self-confidence and enthusiasm for theatre.

The possibilities are endless, and although I'd like to take credit as being the drop that started all the ripples, I, too, am only a ripple, part of a whole system. I do feel that I can help in some small way to make the future an encouraging place for our children to grow in, one where people are secure enough in themselves that they are able to be supportive of those around them.

And who knows? Maybe America will follow the rest of the Cheers theme and end up being known as the place "where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came."

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Thanks, seventeen-year-old Erin. I hope I've done you proud. You inspire me, too.

Photo caption: Erin Joy Swank, 17, is a senior at Miami East High School. The daughter of John and Joyce Swank, Erin is active in Troy and Piqua community theater, is a National Merit semifinalist, and plans to attend college and major in the performing arts. [Update, 2021: She became a National Merit Finalist soon after, which resulted in a full-ride scholarship to one of the colleges where she auditioned and was accepted as an Acting major...then she found out what real stage management was, and how it suited her much better, switched majors, and graduated with a BFA in Directing/Stage Management.]

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You may want to read a similar article on my Puzzle Philosophy of theatre.

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