Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
I was born amidst the jubilant chords of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, two hundred and fifty measures after my twin brother. I once asked why, of all the music ever written, my mother chose this piece to welcome us into the world. Her answer was simple: she wanted the first thing we heard to be utterly joyous.
Blame it on Beethoven, but the right side of my brain quickly established dominance. At three, I raced my brother to name the instruments in Peter and the Wolf. Soon after, I sat enthralled as Tony furtively serenaded Maria in a touring production of West Side Story. Even while exploring my family’s ancestry in Warsaw, it was the lively street music and costumes which captured my attention. After learning musical theater had its own genre, I quickly resolved to become part of the music, dance, and acting which so mesmerized me. By that summer’s end, I had taken my first closing bow.
To think I would one day find my own role in musical theater in Hartford, Connecticut, a city with America’s third highest poverty rate, seemed improbable. Yet, within this city, I discovered an oasis of ingenuity. The Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts which I attend is a magnet school established to offer the state’s most passionate high school artists unparalleled training. In a city as poor as this, my classmates and I have grown rich with opportunities to live and breathe art, constantly exposed to different rhythms, voices, and cultures. Although 50% of the Academy’s students hail from the inner city, 100% receive equal artistic training.
In the partially-converted Colt gun factory, now better known as the Academy, assembly lines have transformed into dance studios. Today art defines this space – my space – supplanting the revolver as the best weapon of self-preservation. We drop our defenses in this integrated environment which fosters the natural creativity and open-mindedness society needs to make progress. Here I am inspired to catalyze change, because the challenging themes we tackle demand both introspection and interaction to determine solutions. With art as the equalizer, I no longer hesitate to expose my vulnerabilities onstage; I have grown comfortable performing before my talented peers and value their critique. My classmates and I truly are – to borrow a theatre term – an ensemble.
As a student, I lead a “double life,” pulled between public high-school academics in the morning and inner-city arts classes in the afternoon, their only connector a long bus commute. My fourteen-hour school day has trained me in different arts – those of discipline and time management. Often, maintaining balance meant studying biology flashcards in the theater wings, listening for my cues while committing mitosis to memory.
Yet, admittedly, I would be torn without musical theatre, as if missing part of myself. I have discovered my own offstage identity by portraying roles different than myself, both emulating the traits I admire in my characters and learning from their faults. This “work” is my passion; exploring Sondheim’s repertoire, rehearsing intricate tap patterns, and annotating scripts are more guilty pleasures than assignments. I now have outlets for the scenes and musical phrases which accent my thoughts thanks to teachers who inspire and motivate a high standard of achievement.
And while I love the bright stage lights and costumes, the true power of art lies in its connection with individuals, not just a packed audience. I have witnessed the humanity of performance firsthand as a member of Arts from the Heart, a self-directed group of high schoolers who perform for those without access to theater. I sense that my own comfort within musical theater puts others at ease, from residents of convalescent homes and long-term hospital units to caretakers seeking respite from draining days. These stripped-down, humble performances remind me why art is created, and why I pursue it: to inspire hope and a change in perspective – and often, a smile.