Theater: The last piece of the puzzle?

David Petrovic

William Shakespeare once posed this question for his admirers: “If all the world’s a stage, when are we truly ourselves?” The fact is, theater has allowed me to discover my true self— to NOT just go through life “reading from a script.” I am a 24 year-old person with autism and Tourette’s who has been involved in musical theater for almost 17 years. It opened the door to a new world of infinite possibilities from the moment I had the courage to step through that door as a little boy.

This is a path I never would have taken if it wasn’t for the encouragement of my first grade teacher. At that time, I was repeatedly mimicking the voices and lines of characters that I had previously seen on TV or in movies and plays. Because I would do these voices in the classroom, it became disruptive for my peers in their learning process; it also cast a negative spotlight on me.

My teacher suggested to my mother that she get me involved in theater to redirect my verbal desires more appropriately. Once I was taken under the wing of a talented, insightful, and compassionate director, I was truly able to soar to new heights in more ways than one.

What started out as a fun hobby evolved into one of my greatest passions, and one that became extremely therapeutic in different capacities of my life. I stand firm in testifying that theater has provided over 20 life-coping, life-altering, and life-benefiting skills and mindsets for me. Some even helped me accept and embrace my autism!

• Emotionally, theater helped me develop a greater sense of compassion, empathy, and sympathy for my fellow man from a very young age (qualities that have continued to blossom into a tree of life-giving and life-fulfilling fruit).

• Mentally, being involved in several productions throughout the school year made me learn to stay organized with school work and accomplish expectations and commitments at home and elsewhere. My parents asserted that these tasks had to be completed before I could go to rehearsals.

• Physically, even though I was initially uncoordinated in the world of dance, I have developed a more confident style, swagger, and grace in how I now move onstage. It has spilled over to how I carry myself in real life and it has kept me healthy and active (both onstage and off).

• Finally, in a spiritual sense, what I’ve discovered is that life takes place on the stage. When the actors come together, speak the lines, sing the songs, and dance the choreography, awareness is brought to life for audiences. This allows the latter to gain a greater understanding as to what the characters might be teaching us about what people are going through in the real world. Every show has a deeper life lesson that can ignite reflection on how we can better ourselves, if we choose to look for it. By pondering the message of each show, I discovered depth that carried over into academic critical analysis. I realized and appreciated the emotional wealth that theatre revealed; instead of only seeing things in black-and-white, “life in living color” brought about new perspectives for me.

On a lighter note, theater provided me an escape from stress and hardship and an opportunity for joy and friendships. For any reader who has a child on the spectrum, or IS on the spectrum, I strongly recommend theater as a way to improve one’s social skills and boost morale and confidence. It could also provide friendships and relationships that can instill and enhance teamwork skills.
I can truly say that I do not know what my life would be like if I didn’t have theater in it. Everyone can apply their gifts in different capacities! Besides acting, take into consideration crew, makeup, costume design, set building, etc.

Never be afraid to fail if you love what you do!

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