One of the most beautiful moments I have experienced is the moment before a show begins. The house goes dark and the audience is holding its breath, anticipating the first note from the orchestra. All eyes are fixed on a stage that is empty, but soon to be full of life.
During this brief moment between silence and song, between darkness and light, I like to glance at the people sitting around me. Gathered in one room are people of all ages, races, political stances, and religions. Yet, in this moment, all have the same desire: to see a beautiful work of art.
This past summer, I auditioned for and was cast as the role of Julie in my community theater’s young adult production of The Theory of Relativity by Neil Bartram and Brian Hill. Theory is a mix between a musical and a revue- audience members don’t realize that the seemingly unrelated scenes and songs have actually been connected to each other all along until the very end. The show centers around the theme “I am nothing without you,” a phrase that may seem simple on the outside, but ended up having more meaning to me than I could have imagined.
I was both excited and intimidated when the cast list came out. I knew I was the only cast member who hadn’t done a show at this particular theater before. I recognized a few names from school and other activities, but I wasn’t close friends with any of them. I knew that there were already close bonds and friendships between many of my castmates, and I also knew that I was entering a world where I might be viewed as an outsider. I was worried that my differences would prevent me from feeling like a true part of the cast, and that I’d spend the next two months feeling uncomfortable or unwelcome.
My worries turned out to be incredibly illegitimate. While a love of theatre may have been all I had in common with some of my castmates, I discovered that just like the characters we were portraying, we needed each other. Sure, on the stage, the need may have been surface level- without each of us, the show would cease to exist. But as we dug deeper into the show, I realized that “I am nothing without you,” meant more than just my role as an actor. In the show, many of our characters had never met each other, and yet their lives were changed by the others. In the same way, I began to realize how many people that I haven’t even met have probably impacted my life. I can conjure a picture in my head of a person who I believe is the exact opposite of me. And yet, there’s a good chance that this person, who I have never met, has changed my life in some way. “I am nothing without you,” means that if you weren’t here, I wouldn’t be the same as I am today, even if I have never met you.
The cast of The Theory of Relativity performing at Beatrice Community Players, August 2017
This isn’t to say that I became best friends with the rest of the cast immediately. Rather, I felt that because we all had the same goal- to create and perform art for someone who may need to hear our message- it was easy to look past the things that made us different. Instead of noticing the things that set me apart, I began to notice the things that connected me to the others. Maybe we liked the same bands or books. Maybe we’d played the same sports, or liked the same bad movies. I began to understand that humans are more alike than we are different.
But “I am nothing without you” goes beyond the stage. I believe that this same phenomenon happens between any group of people that come together with a common goal. In the theater, this also applies to the audience members. The actors on stage all need each other to create their art. But in the same way, the members of the audience need each other. Two people from completely different backgrounds can sit next to each other and experience joy or heartbreak simultaneously. When you experience a beautiful work of art, and the person next to you is experiencing the same emotion, for a moment, it doesn’t matter what makes you different from that person. In that moment, all that matters is that you are both human, and you are both able to feel. You may leave the theater not knowing that person’s story. Had you met outside the theater, they may have been your best friend or your worst enemy. But either way, their life impacts yours, just as yours does theirs. Without the person next to you, your life could be completely different.
I truly believe that my love of theatre has helped me grow into a more kind, compassionate, and accepting person. I feel that I’m more slow to judge, and much more quick to think, “I need this person in order to be alive.” Without each other, we would just be a speck on a marble. Without each other, we’re nothing. I am nothing without you.
“You’re a reflection of me: I reverberate; you reply. If I have a purpose, if I count at all, you are why. You measure, compare, you make me aware that I’m neither small nor obscure. I’m alive. You make sure.”