K was our high school drama teacher. He also taught American history, but my fondest memories of K are from the MPHS auditorium. Under K's guidance and supervision, I learned much about the world of theater - auditions, rehearsals, and performances; casting and set building; improvisational games, sword fighting, and breaking props. With K, fellow stage crew, and cast members, we endured an unexpected natural disaster. On stage, off stage, or back stage, K remains one of the few teachers who has had the most influence in my life.
K wasn't the only aspect of theater that impacted my life. It was the room – the vast open auditorium. The auditorium was big enough for many occasions: school assemblies, beauty pageants, battle of the bands styled concerts, and so much more. I'm not sure how many people it seated, but when it was empty...
It's easy to feel small when facing such a grand empty space.
K often made us face that void; at times an awkward proposal. Long walks down the stairs, from the sound booth to the stage, ascending the few steps, and walking to center stage to introduce myself – my audience distant enough that I couldn't make eye contact. Monologues spoken to an audience of one lone observer. One year, I stripped the singing out of Steve Taylor's Cash Cow and preached the verses for an audition; only K and a few other students sat scattered in the auditorium. Simple words spoken to a limited (and sometimes imagined) audience.
At the beginning of many after school rehearsals, K would have us line up along the lip of the stage and recite our lines, or quote tongue twisters. (To this day I still can't get "you know New York, you need New York, you know you need unique New York" out of my head.) While we practiced our lines, K would stand at the back of the auditorium by the sound booth – the furthest distance away from his students.
Back then, I thought I was leaning lessons in theatrics. In hindsight, I recognize that it may have been more than that – what K taught us was academic, but his teachings were also life lessons. Repeating "New York is unique" wasn't just a daily practice in enunciation. K wasn't just teaching us how to talk, he was teaching us to be heard.
We can substitute quantity of speech for quality of content or use big words and never be understood. We can whisper, talk, or shout without notice. Our parents taught us to speak, but many of us have never learned how to be heard.
Maybe, K believed that if we could be heard in an empty room, we could be heard in a crowd.
If one distant person can hear what we have to say, we can be heard by dozens close by.
If we could face emptiness, we could face an audience.
Stage fright is equally paralyzing when no one is watching.
I have always thought of K as a gifted teacher. But now I wonder if he had a grander plan than we ever understood. That man behind the curtain not just preparing us for a performance, he was preparing us for life. In that simple lesson of being heard in an empty room, I am reminded of another lesson that I so desperately need to learn.
If I can be heard in an empty room, I can be heard by many.
If I can be trusted with little, I can be trusted with much.
If I can be content in need, I can be content in excess.
Sometimes we need to sit in an empty room; sometimes we need to face an absent audience.