As I was waiting for my train home to Philly for the Thanksgiving holiday, this young man with a suitcase stood in front of the sixty or so of us, announcing that he needed money for a bus home for the holiday. This is a story many of us have heard before, so some people laughed, rolled their eyes, or just didn't move and stayed silent. After asking people for about five minutes and getting little response, he began to get emotional and even more vulnerable. He admitted that he had been a drug addict, and was diagnosed HIV positive three weeks ago. Since then, he claimed that he has been sober. "I can't spend another Thanksgiving in the shelter," he said, "The governor comes and hands out food, but you know he just thinks he's better than you." He wanted to take the bus to his grandmother's house, and kept saying he needed to be with his family this year. He was balling at this point, and I was just one other person in the crowd avoiding eye contact with him. It's really easy to be jaded in cities and to assume the worst in everyone. I wish I could say this was the first time I heard a story like this, but it wasn't. It was, however, the first time I ever experienced the teller of the story being so incredibly moved and vulnerable.
As artists, we're taught to be empathetic and to challenge silences. After three-and-a-half years of conservatory training at Boston University, I consider myself to be a very open, compassionate human being, yet I contributed to the silence in that station. I love and am moved by theater that makes audiences feel uncomfortable, yet when I am confronted with an actual human experience that makes me as a member of the community feel uncomfortable, I behaved the same way as if I were in the audience of a dark theater. I felt like the war-vet photojournalist, Sarah, from Margulies' Time Stands Still, thinking of ways to make art out of someone else's suffering; distancing myself from what was actually going on in that situation rather than actively engaging in it. With all the training I've had about freeing my natural voice and following impulses, all I did was give the guy the last buck in my wallet and tell him, "Take care of yourself," right before I boarded the train. I waited until the train pulled up to go up to him to give myself an escape route, and my disconnected comment was awkwardly delivered as he had tears streaming down his face. He kept saying how he didn't understand how so many people could just ignore him and be so cruel.
I don't know if it's the internet-centered society today that has left so many of us opting out from engaging with each other, or fear of not knowing what will happen if we engage, but I feel it is my responsibility as an artist to set a higher bar for how we communicate with each other. I feel I do my job inside the walls of the theater, but once I step outside I allow myself to disengage. In honor of the spirit of Thanksgiving, and in honor of being a part of the artist community, I want to encourage myself (and hopefully others with me) to keep my eyes open to the ways in which I can use my artist tools to stay engaged with my community on a human level.—Lauren Thomas, Boston MA
I am grateful for the chance to be part of a vibrant and welcoming regional theater community that does great work and is actively thinking about how to improve, true friends who support me, listen to me, and understand me even when they’re thousands of miles away, my teachers, my training, and my talent, family, cats, color, light, and my camera, Libraries, warmth, and getting paid to work in the arts.
—Lucy Gram, Boston MA
I’m thankful for my passion—the drive to create and enlighten and inspire. I’m thankful to my parents for opening my eyes to the world of theater when I was young enough to appreciate the magic, even though theater was never a passion for either of them. I’m thankful for all the teachers I’ve had in my life, especially the ones at BU’s College of Fine Arts, for giving me the tools to accomplish my goals. And as I prepare to leave school, I’m thankful that such a supportive, innovative community awaits me.
—Ramona Ostrowski, Boston MA
Thankful for me as a playwright is more than a word. It’s an exhilaration of spirit. Thankful to my Muse. Finally, after so many years trapped in the reading circuit. I am free at last, I am so thankful to have the presence of mind to stick to my job and let history take care of the rest. My script The Dutch Play is in workshop performance and that is a miracle. For this I am thankful. A great director, a great cast and a great play.
—Owa, Bronx, NY