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Written by: Olivia Stanley
A wise Learning Lab teacher once said, “Life is short… but life is long.” As someone whose calendar is never empty, the “short” part of that statement usually feels incredibly apt. Now that I am staring the end of my senior year in the face and wondering where all the time went, I think of the unknown in front of me and take comfort in these words. I’ve got time. We all do. If it weren’t for Learning Lab and Theatre Three, I don’t know if I would feel that sense of assurance so deeply.
My name is Olivia Stanley. I’m eighteen years old, and I am a senior at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. For the past year, I have been a member of the Norma Young Learning Lab, an audition-only advanced acting class taught by an industry professional (hi, Mrs. LeBlanc!) and combined with an internship at Theatre Three. Over the course of the year, we have participated in mock auditions, attended masterclasses with some of the most talented and prolific artists I have ever met, learned about “the business of the business,” studied Shakespeare, interviewed professionals, read and written plays, and observed countless Theatre Three rehearsals, previews, and performances, alongside other outside shows.
We are affectionately referred to by our teacher as the Lab Rats.
At the beginning of the year, Associate Artistic Director Christie Vela, who I had the honor and privilege of interviewing for a class assignment, promised us that Theatre Three would become our second home. At first, I couldn’t help but find that hard to believe. How could I even begin to fill the same space as the seasoned, polished artists who had been gracing the professional stage for years? How would I ever be worthy of calling such a stellar haven of artistic expression my “second home?” I took the message, as I’m sure many of my fellow “Lab Rats” did, as a kindness. A courtesy. As much as I dreamed of finding the same comfort and ease in the professional world as those involved with Theatre Three’s sensational seasonal lineup, I stubbornly maintained the internal ideation that I was too young, too amateurish, too untalented to “make it” in the world that I was lucky enough to gain unique insight into.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Senior year was a year of hard lessons for me. As much as I love the stage with my whole heart, a shy, anxious, scared little girl from years past was still inside me, too afraid to believe in herself. The closer I got to realizing my aspirations, the more she shrank back. Despite every success, every lead role and callback and showcase, there was still a quiet, nagging voice in my head telling me that I wasn’t good enough. I realized that if I truly wanted to spend my life in this industry, I had to show her that she was going to be okay.
Learning Lab helped these two Olivias, one afraid of the future and one hungry for a life rich and full of theatre and risk-taking, shake hands and make up. One of the most impactful moments of my twelve years of acting was watching the rehearsal process for Lizzie: The Rock Musical, Theatre Three’s season opener. Witnessing four breathtakingly talented women (one of whom WAS MY TEACHER– how cool is that?) take the stage, advocate for themselves, and tell a painfully raw and emotional tale was life-affirming. They did not hold back. They did not apologize. In Lizzie, women rage. They scream. They grieve. They love, but not to fit into an archetype. They love on their own terms. It’s messy. It’s intensely beautiful. And it’s exactly what I needed to see.
In addition to witnessing so many powerful artists breathe life into profoundly heartfelt stories, we learned how to grow and thrive onstage and off. Mrs. LeBlanc infused a sense of humanity into an industry that is all too often viewed as superficial. She taught us how to keep up with a fast-paced world and negotiate and get back up again. We learned about contracts. We learned how to be self-advocates and protect our mental health. We learned that if we showed up on time, treated others with kindness, and, in the words of the legendary and incomparable Adrian Churchill, planted our feet and told the truth, we were going to be okay.
The culminating event of the year was our industry showcase. We were partnered with one fellow Lab Rat and one professional actor to perform an eight-minute scene. I was paired with the tremendously and effortlessly talented Addisun Abeita (one of my best friends and my actual onstage sister) and the brilliant, witty, and amazingly accomplished Natalie Young, who our class had the honor of watching skillfully take on the role of Veronica in God of Carnage only a few months prior. We were assigned a scene from Jeff Swearingen’s Daffodil Girls, a play that quickly rose to the top of my long list of favorites (next to Lauren Gunderson. That’s, like, a super big deal). I played Dana, a similarly unapologetic character who I needed in my life as much as I had needed Lizzie. The rehearsal process went by incredibly fast. “Life is short.” The lessons I learned from it will stick with me for the rest of my life. “Life is long.”
When I performed on Theatre Three’s arena stage, something shifted in my soul. Yes, I had done my text work. Yes, I remembered my lines and my blocking and found my light and did the actory things that we’re taught to do, but more than that, for the first time in my life, I felt completely and entirely myself and at ease. The voice was gone. I was deserving. I was good enough. I was worthy. Christie Vela, in her endless wisdom, was right. Theatre Three had become my second home. I’m still processing it a few days later, but I think that performance may have changed my life.
Thanks to Learning Lab, Mrs. Lauren LeBlanc, and everyone at Theatre Three, I know that I am good enough. So are my classmates (they are more than good enough. They are the most beautifully and fiercely honest, kind, and talented people I have ever had the pleasure of learning
alongside). Some people call the theatrical profession a “rat race.” I don’t know if that’s true, but regardless, this year has taught me that I quite like being a rat.
So I will keep acting. I will keep showing up and trying and making mistakes and hearing the word no and being better because of it, because in the end, the people who stay are the people who care. And I care. If I can approach my work with the same heart, empathy, and passion as my teachers, my wonderful classmates and friends, and all of the incredible working artists that I have had the privilege of observing this year, I will have already succeeded. Thank you, Theatre Three, for teaching me that lesson. It has been the honor of my life to learn from you.
Signing off (for now),
Olivia Stanley: artist, human, and proud Rat.