A valuable tool in any artist’s bag is the ability to simplify, subtract or just plain leaving something alone. Let the work speak for itself. No embellishments necessary. Now, we could debate the role of the artist in the art all day long. Are art and artist interchangeable, intrinsically linked, one and the same? I dunno. All I know, is that I was asked to write an intro to the first in a series of blog posts from the students in our BTW’s Norma Young Advanced Learning Lab.
I present to you Ella Prieto and a damn fine blog post:
There are only a few times in my life that I can remember when everything seemed to align perfectly, a full-circle moment that unfolded in a remarkably orchestrated way. When it is almost scary how perfectly things work out, where the puzzle pieces float gently into place. As I sat in the audience on the opening night of Lizzie, watching four women pour their hearts out on a blood-stained stage, I felt that feeling. Across the aisle 5 years before, a much shorter, much more awkward girl had sat at the edge of her seat, wide-eyed, falling in love with the art unfolding in front of her.
Who is this writing to you, oh Theatre Three reader? I probably should have led with that. Hi. My name is Ella Prieto, I’m 17, and I am proud to be a student in the Booker T. Washington Norma Young Advanced Learning Lab Class, an audition-only course for seniors. This class is not your average acting class; not only do we get to learn from an incredibly talented, professional actress (we love you, Mrs. LeBlanc!), we participate in a year-long internship with Theatre Three, observing the rehearsal process from the first day to the last preview.
As a little child, I was very loud – always talking, always singing. I was the kid that was oblivious to the danger, walking right up to strangers, ready to chat their ears off about anything and everything. Naturally, my mother signed me up for acting classes, placing me in the kindergarten production of The Wizard of Oz. My role? Dorothy! I’m kidding. I played Narrator Yellow. Not even just the narrator, but they had to attach a primary color to us just to stretch out the lines (I had 7…still remember bragging about THAT).
But I loved it. This pent up need to be loud and seen had a place to go. So I didn’t stop. I was in other shows throughout early elementary school, my favorite being Annie (playing Mrs. Hannigan was a big deal for 1st grade Ella). I loved playing pretend–especially in front of a crowd. I treasured being someone else, at least for a few hours. I loved being the center of attention.
Mrs. LeBlanc tells us that there are two types of actors: those who want everyone to look at them and those who want no one to look at them. As a young child, I was the first type. But as I grew up, sprouting into a tall, gangly, awkward preteen, I became the perfect example of the second type of actor–I wanted to be invisible, so unsure about myself that I wanted to disappear.
My childhood love of theater quickly faded into the background. I was just getting through middle school, all angst and anxiety, so uncomfortable in my own skin. But, remembering my earlier passion, I chose between the two options of electives at William B. Travis TAG and enrolled in drama. Something unique about that drama class is that, being less than 2 minutes away from Theatre Three, we would read the script of the show being produced and then go see it as a class. In 7th grade, we started with Once.
I can still remember the walk to the theater. Sixty-seven young teenagers, sweaty in the September sun, making their way to the box office, scrambling to get tickets with their friends. I was handed a random ticket for the East section and was ushered in.
Watching that show altered the trajectory of my life. The musicians, strumming their guitars or gliding their bows over their violins, entrapped me. The singing, haunting, upbeat and heartbreaking, captured me. And the acting–watching as those real people, real adults, told such a groundbreaking and melancholy story, watching as they spoke to the depths of our hearts, changed me. I realized that acting, that theatre, was not just something that children did to entertain themselves. It was a commentary on who we are as people, a glimpse into the very condition of our own humanity, of our nature.
Shell-shocked, actual tears streaming down my face even after the actors had taken their bows, I sat in that seat, waiting for the talk-back. I was astounded–it had never occurred to me that people pursued this as their profession, that they could take something I had previously considered elementary and elevate it into something real. Following the conversation with the actors, where I asked no more than 4 questions, I bounded onto the stage, shaking Ian Ferguson’s hand. In a most-assuredly ineloquent way, I explained just how much I adored the show. I hadn’t realized, at the time, that this show was what ignited my passion.
Following Once, I signed up for acting classes, took part in Ebenezer Scrooge at the Pocket Sandwich Theatre, and eventually auditioned for Booker T. Washington. Theatre became my outlet–instead of wanting to be seen, I used theater, as many do, to express myself. As I grew into the (almost) adult I am now, theater helped me to be comfortable in my own skin. It showed me that these feelings that I felt are shared among us all.
Therefore, sitting in my seat at the opening of Lizzie, witnessing my teacher sing her heart out, I felt a sense of a journey completed. I had started as a quiet, small 7th grader and emerged as a senior in high school, an intern of the very theater that had sparked it all. So, to everyone involved in T3: the producers, the directors, the actors, the designers, the stage managers, everyone – know that you have quite dramatically changed lives. I only hope that I can impact others with my art in the same profound way that you all have impacted me.