The year was 2001. It was the summer between 7th and 8th grade. I was in drama camp – a day camp that lasted two weeks with a final performance of a musical at the end. We were divided into groups by age - I was in the oldest group with 12-13-year-olds – and each group got a musical number in the show. The first time that the camp went through the entire show together, our group did a really bad job on our song. One of the directors got annoyed and told us that we should have been more prepared and he said, “That stunk!” One girl in our group – we’ll call her Katie – got really upset and stomped off the stage. The director said, “If you can’t take criticism, don’t come to acting class.”
As soon as our group sat back down, we were really concerned about Katie. She had run off to the bathroom, and we kept whispering amongst ourselves about if someone should go and check on her, or if we should let her have her space. Eventually Katie came back, a lot of us asked her if she was okay and she said yes and that she had been having a bad day. We all got into a discussion about how it wasn’t nice of them to come down so hard on us just because we were older and how it was always cute and funny when the younger kids messed up. Someone suggested hypothetically that some of us should pretend to be upset and start crying so that the directors wouldn't yell at us, and we went around talking about who among us could make ourselves cry on demand. It was mostly just a fun conversation – most of us agreed that we didn’t care enough about what happened to do anything.
I didn’t realize just how precious that moment was at the time. I mean, it’s one thing to sympathize with someone who experiences something that you don’t, like if the director had just said something to Katie and no one else. But what the director said was a criticism of all of us, and no one was upset about it except for Katie. And we all still talked about the issue and tried to make Katie feel better. I don’t recall anyone saying that Katie shouldn’t have gotten so upset or needed to suck it up or anything. Not even behind her back.
Funnily enough, the title of our show that year was Free to Be You and Me. The final lines in the play were:
“No one else, no one else
Can tell you how to feel.
For how you feel is how you feel,
And all the whole world through,
No one else, no one else
Knows that as well as you.”
I never even made the connection at the time. None of us did. That’s just the way we were back then.