The Because Project asks Vermonters to share their stories about people and experiences that have shaped their lives, especially during their formative years — stories that may inspire others to get involved. Because together we can all make a difference.
This month's essay was written by Kim Jordan, founder, program director and teaching artist, Theatre-in-Action, Burlington.
As a kid, I had what I deemed "off-stage fright." I was a pale, awkward, sometimes socially inappropriate white girl with a dark Afro. I had a gravelly voice and used big words.
Then, when I was 7 years old, I joined Riverside Children's Theatre in Riverside, Calif., where I learned to project my voice, tap dance and sing pitch-perfect lyrics to every song in Annie.
Joan Wing was my first teacher there. Joan recognized that I wanted to be famous. I wanted to be Annie.
She played acting and theater games with her students. She'd give us a hat or sunglasses or cane, and we'd create characters and become each other's audience. She taught me to memorize lines — and that no one dies from forgetting their lines onstage.
She showed me that we wear masks all of the time: We play various characters offstage in our lives, and the more aware we are of what we want (our motivations) and how we get it (our tactics), the better we know ourselves (our character).
Above all, she taught me to improvise in front of an audience, to trust my instincts and create something from nothing.
One afternoon, Joan called me at home. A child-abuse prevention organization had approached her in need of a child actress for educational videos they were creating. Joan thought I would be perfect. When the camera crew came to my house, I felt like I was doing something important.
Those child-abuse-prevention films were shown in elementary schools throughout Riverside. Once in a while, a kid or parent would stop me in the mall to ask if I was that kid in the video. I didn't feel like just a regular kid; I was an actress. Not one of those creepy child stars, but someone who acted out stories. This is what Joan taught me to do — act out stories believably.
Joan believed in me. She saw a spark in me, which helped me see that spark in myself.
Now I run my own theater program, Theatre-in-Action. I use improvisational techniques to educate youth about bullying prevention, conflict resolution and social justice. I've run workshops in schools and at social service organizations in Burlington, St. Albans and Montpelier and throughout Vermont. I think about Joan a lot — she's the one who taught me that grown-ups can ignite a kid's passions. That improvisation builds resilience, collaboration and acceptance. That theater can be a tool to help a child know herself.
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