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  • Writer's pictureVicky Zhuang Yi-Yin

What Theater Taught Me

I love the theater. I love the stage. I love letting yourself go and getting into character. I think ever since I did my first school play in Grade 3, I wanted to become an actor; or something related to the stage. Little did I know back then how hard that can be. In Pakistan, theater is often frowned upon. But a group of young people are doing what they can to prove that performing arts is a legitimate form of expression and can bring positive change in the country.

I didn't get to act and that's a whole other story. But I did get to stay and do things in the theater. I teach drama for example, and I run this company with my awesome friends called OLOMOPOLO Media. In doing so, theater has taught me a lot of great things.

Teamwork = Family

In theater, we learn about teamwork. However, it goes a step further, when you work together on a play, you not only become a team; you become a family. Some of the best friends that I have made are from my time in theater. My oldest friends are still my friends because we did a play together. Shout out to my Oscar friends and Corpse Bride! So much so, that even if we get into an ugly fight, a few moments later, we're hugging it out. I kid you not.

I think this bond is spawned from the fact that everyone puts in their energies in creating something. Everyone tries their best because if one person fails, the entire thing fails. That's one thing I took away from doing productions. It especially hit me, when I was in Corpse Bride with Hashim Ali, who was leading and directing the whole thing. By the end of it, his pain was our pain. Our pain was his pain. The same happened when I co-directed The Forsaken. Hamza Ghaznavi, who was also co-directing, and I would fight like mountain goats. All because we cared about the production in the end. And to this day, we speak to each other, and help each other wherever possible. To me, all the teams that I worked with are like family away from family (I know that's not a thing, but I am making it a thing). And we developed great respect for each other through our collective experience.

Giving Space and Coordination

We learn to coordinate really well, and give each other space. Those exercises and scenes where it gets too intense, they don't just happen. It requires complete synchronization between everyone in the team. To allow the other person to speak, and yet find space for your character's voice to be heard. It is so important in our real lives as well. So it's super lesson for me. Especially as a teacher. When do I stop the lesson to listen to what a child has to ask? Or should I just go on and keep the lesson going because that's what the lesson plan said I had to do.

This natural form of coordination requires people to be in tuned with their environment and the people around them. I learnt awareness, alertness and being able to read what's going on. That happens with a lot of practice and a lot of letting go. I learnt in an acting masterclass that you learn to see in a script the power between the two characters.

It is OK to Rely on Others

We are often taught when growing up to be self sufficient. While that is good advice, it has brought on the whole idea that self sufficiency is the only way to go. We have also learnt to not rely on others. But in theater, you have no choice but to rely on each other.

You can't be in the light if the lights guy misses the cue. You can't dance if the music isn't switched on by the sound technician. You can't say your response line if your fellow actor hasn't given you the cue. You need to rely on each and every department of theater in order to make sure your production goes well. This concept of knowing that you can rely on each other in order to make something good is beautiful. It brings down the hard rule of wanting to be self sufficient. It breaks down the barrier to ask for help. And in our real lives, we need to relearn that it is OK to ask for help. Often times because of ego, people refuse to ask help, for even the most basic things. Through theater, I learnt that it is OK to say 'I don't know how to do it, help me' or 'I need your support.'

You Can Be Who You Are

OK, this may seem weird to hear, but in theater, I learnt through many exercises and through productions the importance of self. If you can't be open to who you are, you can't be open to your character. It's philosophical. But it is true. Embracing yourself is sometimes really difficult, especially when you know yourself really well. You know how dark you can be. And you know how far you can go. But sometimes accepting it is difficult. Because there is doubt. But I learnt that it is OK to accept yourself, to learn from your own experiences to develop characters. Take your own experiences and understand why the character does what they do in their story. When you accept yourself as human completely, you are willing to accept others as well.

It can also be translated to being confident. Confidence helps you through a lot of things, and that needs to be built. One of the foundations of confidence is knowing yourself. It sure helped me in a lot of places.

Theater is an empowering, inclusive and safe space. I may not be an actor right now, but I work in other areas in it, and I still feel that this will always be something that keeps me going. Maybe it will help you too.

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