After so many years of COVID-induced haze, it’s beginning to finally feel like life is going back to normal.
What’s my benchmark for that assessment? It’s not the many social events that have come back, not the in-person fundraisers and blowout business sales.
It’s the arts.
In the past few months we’ve seen the return of arts to our little community in a big way. It began with concerts in the Rainy Lake Square, never entirely absent during COVID, but certainly diminished. We then saw Tour de Fort make their triumphant return with The Trews, a Canada-class act if ever there was one. Students at the high school staged another successful Halloween play, and yet more of them are gearing up for a return of the annual Musical Revue, set to run this week at the Townshend Theatre. There are more shows to come before the year is out, and who can say what the next year will bring except for more talent, more entertainment, more joy?
Even for those who are not artistically inclined, who don’t play an instrument, paint landscapes, memorize scripts or dance for joy or exercise, we all benefit by the return and expansion of the arts in our community. The arts give people a place to belong, just like the band of buddies who turn out to the sports bar every weekend to watch the game. Arts provide a space for those who might not otherwise feel welcome in certain places or situation. It gives those curious about singing, dancing, acting, performing a safe place to try something new, or learn something about themselves. It provides an excellent form of therapy, allowing creatives to work out the things that are troubling, or just to put their emotions to the side for a few hours and let themselves be somewhere else. It can bring the quiet and meek out of their shells, and let those larger than life personalities among us let go of their excess energy and get in touch with the peace and calm within them.
These things are important for all of us to do, and we do them in our own ways all the time. Watching a hockey game with friends can achieve it, a walk with your family will do it as well. But the arts have always held a special place for many people who consider themselves, or have wondered if they might be, outcasts of one kind or another.
As I spoke with some of the students who have been working hard to get their musical revue ready to go this week, I was reminded of the fact that so many young people struggle to figure themselves out and find a place they feel a real sense of belonging and purpose. If they’re not on a sports team, don’t spend their time in a science lab, or could care less about learning how to perfect a mortise and tenon joint, it can feel lonely and isolating to not have anywhere else that feels like theirs. I have heard so many times about young students who have approached the musicals, plays or musical revues not because they have a burning passion for performing, but because they have gotten a sense of family, belonging, identity from it, even before they step foot on a stage. Many of those young people go on to become stars of the stage in their own right, or the glue that keeps things running behind the scenes. More importantly, it allows them to discover the person they are, the person they really want to be, and then to go for it.
I know this is true, because I was one of them.
I can’t say enough about how important it was to discover the arts during my time in high school. It didn’t magically make me a better person–that takes a lot of extra work and is never a complete process–but it allowed me space to grow and find myself and feel more comfortable in my own skin, and we tend to forget that teenagers need the time and space to do exactly that. That it helped to develop a true love of music is a beneficial side-effect, but the personal growth and connections I made during those times are invaluable.
So for those young people who might see this (I know, teenagers reading a paper? Stranger things have happened!) I encourage you to seek out the places that make you feel like you truly belong. They might not be the music or drama rooms at the high school, but they are out there waiting for you, I promise. And for those parents who have a child or teen who seems a little sad, a little soft, a little quiet, I urge you to give that young person the gentle encouragement they might need to step outside their comfort zone to try something new and take part in a show.
It will be wildly intimidating and scary at first, I know, but if they face that discomfort with your support, they could discover the place that really and truly make them feel like themselves.