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Writing My Own Story at Your Story Onstage

I have never considered myself much of a writer. For most of my life, I focused my time on the performance side of art, never really considering trying out a different medium to express my voice. As artists, we are told to use our work to express what we have trouble saying, to help heal society, and to make people talk about and face the troubles of the world. Well, I don’t know about you, but I have heard, read, and seen many voices trying to do all this. So many voices that, over the years, I convinced myself that mine would just be another one. There seemed to be no point in me writing because someone else was doing it, and doing it more effectively.

But I was intrigued when I first heard about Center Theatre Group’s Your

Story Onstage student event, which consisted of a performance of the rock musical Girlfriend followed by workshops on how to incorporate our personal narratives and creative expression in our art.

I left this workshop feeling for the first time in my life that I had a right and obligation to write, and for no one else but myself.

Playwright Ricardo A. Bracho and social and racial justice educator Evolve Benton, also known as Emotions The Poet, led the workshops. Their focus was not only on just getting us to write, but to determine the where, when, and the people behind our stories. It did not matter if what we wrote was true, if it was the most spectacular thing we had ever written, or even if we liked it. We had just five minutes to respond to prompts like, “Write to yourself 10 years from now,” “Take a line from the musical and start a poem,” or my favorite, “Write a love letter to your favorite letter in the alphabet.” Each person, regardless of what state the piece was in, wrote something beautiful, interesting, or thought-provoking, even if it was a love letter to the letter “E.”

Chelsea Barker at the event. Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging. The workshops complemented what Todd Almond, who wrote the book for Girlfriend, discussed after the show in the talk-back. As Almond was answering questions from the audience about his writing process and his inspiration for the piece, he explained that Girlfriend started with him thinking about what has happened in his life over the past 10 years. His inspiration was not so much about finding something to write, he said, but about thinking back on his experience as one of the only openly gay teens in Nebraska during the 1990s. Almond said, “Wherever you go, there you are.” As simple as this statement seems, I began to feel as if there was more to it. Yes, if I am somewhere, I am there, but that is not the end of my story. As another cliché goes, life is about the journey, not the destination. The journey is made up of the places you go, the people you meet, the relationships you form, and the moments you experience. The journey is a mix of the ever-changing and the fixed, the planned and spontaneous, the passive and the active.

I used to think that in order to write, you had to already have a story—something exciting or incredible you have done or seen. I have been blessed to have had a pretty sheltered life. I haven’t had to deal with much adversity. I have never had to worry about where my next meal came from, and I have never been in a life-threatening situation. I’m grateful for all this, and for the values bestowed on me by my parents and Catholic school education. Both stressed the importance of being not only a good person, but a good citizen, which involved learning to place myself in others’ shoes—treating thy neighbor as thou wishes to be treated. Before my experience at Your Story Onstage, I asked myself, “Why would I write if I have nothing particularly moving to share? Who would want to hear the inconsequential struggles of little ol’ me?” I did not write because I felt as if my life story was not worth the time and effort. I did not think that anyone would want to be placed in my shoes.

I left this workshop feeling for the first time in my life that I had a right and obligation to write, and for no one else but myself. Whether it is fact or fiction, I see now how powerful and necessary it is to put one’s thoughts on paper. I see that anyone and everyone should sit down and take the time to write without judgment. I have found a new appreciation for not only myself as a writer, but for other writers, whether published, aspiring, or just scribbling in a notebook. If I left the Kirk Douglas Theatre with one concluding thought, it was that even though everyone has a story, you are the only one who can tell yours.

We asked two of the students who participated in our Your Story Onstage event on July 18, 2015 to tell us about their experience. Read the other student’s story here.

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