I started working for NEYT, as a summer camp counselor, when I was 15, only a few months after my first show. After I graduated from High School, I continued to work on and off at NEYT as a counselor, but also as an assistant teacher, stage manager, show director, etc. This was in part because I continued to live in Brattleboro when I went to Greenfield Community College. I left to for North Carolina to get my bachelor’s degree, but I always returned to work in the summers. I didn’t stop working for the NEYT until I got my first internship after college, in the Fall of 2014. I worked for NEYT on and off from ages 15 to 25.
All this is to say that NEYT has been part of my journey since the day I started. My relationship with NEYT has evolved over time, but it has never left me, and I have never left it. Some of my closest friends are the people I met at NEYT, not just my fellow students, but also my teachers. In my own becoming an adult, it was wonderful to see my teachers become my co-workers and then become my dear friends. All this was through my years of work at the NEYT.
After I graduated from Brattleboro Union High School, I went to a college in Wisconsin. It was a wonderful place, but I just was not ready for college. I got very depressed, and then ill, and in my spring semester decided to come home. After I had recovered some in Brattleboro, I got a job with the Latchis movie theater, and started karate classes at the Brattleboro School of Budo. But I also connected with my friends Peter Gould and Sandy Klein. They were both going through hard times themselves (much harder than me frankly, but in my 19 year old mind, I could imagine that my troubles made me their peers). Peter had just survived a major heart attack that spring, and Sandy was struggling with cancer. Fortunately we all did just fine. I could write a lot about this time, but the gist is this: I came home and I found community. That helped me ground myself, and to become more self-resilient, ultimately. A big part of that community, for me was the NEYT.
In the summer I worked again for the Melodrama camps at the NEYT, as I had done since the fall, but I began to be given more responsibility. This continued as I started community college in the fall, but continued to be involved at the theater. This culminated with my being the assistant teacher, and coordinator for the Arts for Social Change Class, which was a high school class for college credit. It was the result of a collaboration between the School for International Training, BUHS and NEYT. Folks at the Youth Theater saw something I had not necessarily seen in myself at first: a capacity for leadership and hard work. Even though it was not how I saw myself at first, this encouragement resonated with me. I began to thrive in classes at community college, and to take on increasingly more advanced work.
As I reaped the benefits of a supportive community at the NEYT, it dawned on me that I could try to recreate this experience for myself in other parts of my life. I took full advantage of the community part of community college, becoming a peer tutor at the college’s learning center, building relationships with my professors, and becoming friends with my fellow students. One of my best friends, who now works as an immigrant advocate in Northampton, is someone I met in my English class at community college.
When I graduated from community college, I felt ready to launch from Brattleboro. But I kept the lessons I learned at the NEYT close at heart. I chose to go to a college, Warren Wilson, with a work program and a deep sense of community. Every student was required to work 15 hours a week for the school, and much of the school was run via student work , from janitorial services, to cafeteria, to administrative offices, landscaping, and even growing our own food. I had a great experience at Warren Wilson, but I was able to make the most of it due in no small part to the lessons I learned at NEYT. Working in community, working hard, making compromises and taking risks. I was able to build positive relationships with my professors, relationships that helped me find my way academically, in large part because I had already grown used to my teachers being someone I could approach. I learned this at NEYT first. When it came time to compete my senior thesis, I was able to carry such a large project through to fruition in large part because of my experience in putting on a play.
After I graduated from college, tried on several different jobs. But I kept being drawn to youth theater, and its sense of mission. I got a job as the director of a summer arts camp at a low income housing community in Barre, Vermont. I had a dual reaction to that job. I loved being involved in a community, working with families and providing an important service. However, after 10 years of being in, or teaching theater, I wanted to find a different way to be of service.
I started looking for internships with environmental organizations. Molly, Peter’s wife, recommended I apply to be an intern with the Vermont Natural Resources Council. They took me on as an unpaid intern, and I move to Montpelier. Again, I took the lessons from the NEYT with me. I dived into my work with passion, finding the thing in any task that would make me excited. Despite having multiple supervisors, I worked well moving in several different directions, lessons I learned from being in shows with multiple directors. I was proactive, and would ask for more projects. Something I did impressed them, because they hired me to help them track the Vermont legislative session that spring.
Despite being a paid job, legislative tracking was temporary, as the legislature in Vermont only meets for 4 to 5 month sessions. I knew I wanted to go to Graduate school and move towards a profession, but I was still unsure of exactly what I wanted to do. Again, my lessons from NEYT served me well. I took notes during the performance of others, in this case the testimony in committee that I was tracking. Any time someone had a job I liked, or gave impressive testimony, I would write down what kind of training they had received. Overwhelmingly, people with jobs I wanted, or who presented in ways I wanted to be able to present, were all lawyers. Almost all of them had graduated from Vermont Law School.
Not knowing what kind of law I wanted to go into, or even exactly what becoming a lawyer would entail, I applied for, and got into Vermont Law School. Fortunately for me, I jumped and the net appeared. I had a great law school experience. And again, I took my lessons from NEYT. I learned at NEYT that I learn best by doing. I took as many experiential classes as I could, working in clinics and internships. My ability to dive in and take on projects, as well as being willing to make mistakes and learn from them, served me well in law school.
As I neared graduation, I started looking for my first job post law school. I took a chance and applied to a firm in Brattleboro. To make an already long story slightly shorter, I passed the bar, and am now working at Phillips, Dunn, Shriver and Carroll as a new associate. I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know what my present looks like. I will be living and working in community, doing my best to serve and give back to the community that gave me so much: Brattleboro, and NEYT.
NEYT is an incredible opportunity for the students. I can’t remember other situations where I or my peers were given that level of responsibility in a safe and supportive environment. Helping kids grow up is all about balancing their need for challenge and their need for nurturing. NEYT provided me that balance in a way that would be hard to recreate in other situations.
To be frank for a moment too, often socially awkward kids are drawn to theater, (at least I know I was). For kids who might not fit in so much at school, or who aren’t finding the social development they need in other extracurricular activities, the Youth Theater provides a very useful tool. They get to try on different characters in plays, which is really just another way to try on different roles in life. Working on a big project like a play together, striving towards a complex goal like that, requires collaboration, communication skills and work ethic. These are skills that are not only invaluable in one’s academic career, but also in professional life and life in general. The NEYT helped me hone all those skills.
My role as Groucho Marx/Otis P. Driftwood in Night at the Opera (2008) was a perfect role in a perfect play. Chaotic, half-improvised, but with a kinetic genius that can only come from a group of committed, persevering and rebellious group of kids. It was a near disaster every night, and somehow it always became a triumph.
As a director, it was seeing kids start as little bitty, shy and awkward Melodrama campers, take the stage and make people laugh, often from bits they came up with themselves. That pride would only multiply when I would see those same kids, like Alec, or Cassie, or Elijah, bloom into full blown actors. I know that later part has a lot more to do with genius of the likes of Hallie, Keeley, Jon, Peter and others, but I can’t help but feel joy when I see someone give a killer performance, and remember when they first got to the point where I could hear them from across the theater, after I shouted “project!” about ten times at them. It’s also great to see those same people come back after starting college (or finishing college! Now I know I’m getting older). There’s so many different paths people take after graduation, but I feel a certain pride always in having known them.
I am still friends with many of my fellow students, but also a lot of the people who were teachers as well. Even after a long time apart, there is something about that shared experience of putting on a play together that creates an instant connection. Two of my dearest friends, who have become like family, I met when they were volunteers at the NEYT. The NEYT brings kids together, but I also believe that its importance is in the inter-generational connections that can be made as well.
But also, countless of other small times. NEYT was often the place I would go to cheer up if I was having a bad day, or going to my friends at the NEYT to talk through some tough decision. I believe I am not alone in having this experience.
To sum it up briefly: NEYT is like my second family. It was the place I would go to cheer up if I was having a bad day, or where I would go to talk through a tough decision with friends; like family, it was never perfect, but it was always essential. So much of who I am today I owe to NEYT.