One overarching message woven throughout the narrative of my Sunday school years is the notion that each and every one of us is blessed with unique gifts. As I grew, that conjecture - or belief - sprung up again and again across the various disciplines of my life from performance, education, and an interest in comparative mythology to relationships and multifarious love.
And like The Hero with a Thousand Faces our "road of trials" is managed through rescue from within and assistance from without. It is by placing ourselves inside the mosaic of humanity that we overcome obstacles and achieve something far greater than we could ever achieve on our own. In essence, nature (or God) has designed us to triumph and grow strong by sharing our individual strengths (gifts). Then with knowledge, empathy and good 'ol kick ass determination we develop spiritually, emotionally and intellectually.
In this model we free ourselves from the need to be perfect in all things and take comfort in what we can do, while trusting that help will find us when it is most needed. It also challenges us to be that source of support when called on by others.
Such were the thematic pillars of the most recent Broadway Books First Class guest artist visit from veteran performer Kecia Lewis.
Kecia's career as a storyteller is shaped by portrayals of formidable women either overcoming obstacles (Effie in Dreamgirls), providing help to others to prevail over obstacles (Asaka in Once on this Island) or embodying those obstacles (Matron "Mama" Morton in Chicago).
As she depicts these various roles from divergent vantage points the audience realizes what it is to be human. And sitting out there "in the dark" we join the archetypal hero in crossing the threshold from struggle to triumph and deeper understanding. That is the cathartic journey of spectator and performer. We all exit the theater somehow changed by our time together.
The Pre-K and Second Grade students got a taste of the passion, pain and power of live theater as they sat in my classroom at 10:00 on a Tuesday morning in late January to witness Kecia's roof raising rendition of "I Am Changing" from Dreamgirls. Click here to watch a short clip.
The resolute "pick myself up and start again" lyrics reflect what Joseph Campbell described as the adventure of the hero's transformation.
I am changing
Seeing everything so clear
I am changing
I'm gonna start right now right here
I'm hoping to work it out
And I know that I can
But I need you
I need a hand
The children's book Kecia read, The Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Pena and Christian Robinson, also related to expanding one's perspectives with the guidance of a mentor. In this case, it is a young boy named C. J. who comes to view his urban surroundings in a very different way thanks to his nana and a visit to volunteer at their soup kitchen.
"He wondered how his nana always found beautiful where he never even thought to look." C. J. returns from his afternoon adventure seeing the world in a new way. Finding and appreciating the beauty in everyday events is transformative, such is the gift his nana gave.
And, of course, we all wanted to learn more about Kecia whose gifts are so abundant.
The children asked about her inspirations (The Carol Burnett Show, I Love Lucy and laughter).
How she feels when she performs, "Most of the time I feel really happy. I feel like I'm giving service to the people that come to see the show because sometimes people come to see shows because they want to forget for two hours what's going on in their lives. And they want to laugh and they want to smile or they want to be touched by someone else's story and so it makes me feel good to do that."
Her obstacles (within the context of performing it is going on with the show when things in her personal life are difficult). And her favorite song ("I am Changing" from Dreamgirls), favorite costume (the "trick dress" that went from simple skirt and shawl to evening gown when she sang "I am Changing") and favorite show (Marie and Rosetta).
I believe that after sharing stories, music, tears, laughter, hugs and gifts we were lifted out of the ordinary and transformed. We were not the same group we were when Kecia first stepped into the classroom. And that is a journey worth taking!
Broadway Books First Class
A Visit with Kecia Lewis