Taking Risks, Reaping Benefits by Ben Snyder, Head of Upper School

At the beginning of this year, Dan Halperin asked the faculty to let him know if any of us were interested in playing adult roles in Romeo and Juliet. Sarah and I wrote back to say that though we had some trepidation, we’d be up for a small part. Dan gave us the roles of the Montagues, Romeo’s parents. These were not big parts – perhaps a dozen lines in three different scenes – but given that I had never been in a play before, there was certainly a touch of hesitancy on my part.  As we began rehearsals, I quickly discovered a few things I had to become at least somewhat skilled at. First, memorizing lines was hard (even with the few I had, the Shakespearean language kept tripping me up) – the intonation, cadence, rhythm and projection of each line was critical to my being able to be understood. Second, I had to “fight” Peter Raymond/Capulet and develop and learn not only the choreography of a fight scene but the attitude, approach and sound that were needed to make it appear real. Third, I had to go to “crying class” to be taught how to cry on stage: not easy for someone used to keeping his composure. Finally, I realized that everything I did on stage – the way my feet were positioned or the angle at which my head was tilted – sent a message; and often what I did instinctually was not the message I needed to be communicating.

To say that my learning curve was steep would be an understatement. But the remarkable team of adults and veteran student actors “coached us up” with positive encouragement, productive advice, high standards, a belief in one another, and the ability of the team to pull together to create a quality show for the Nobles community.

Beyond the basic challenge of acting, however, I walked away from this experience even more convinced of a few things I’ve believed for years.

First and foremost, the best and most meaningful learning comes when one is confronted with an unfamiliar challenge. It is easy for us to find “the next level” in things we are good at – a higher level of math or better competition in sports. What is most valuable, however, is putting oneself into a completely foreign environment and learning how to respond and grow in positive ways. That is where character is tested, resilience developed, and new perspective gained.

Second, the significance of “team” experiences was reinforced. The cast, crew and directors of Romeo and Juliet formed the bonds of the best teams I’ve ever been a part of.  The most memorable and meaningful experiences happen when Nobles students and faculty are working together toward shared goals – and these critical lessons of hard work and putting group goals over individual needs have been gained at Nobles for years.

Finally, in a “results” oriented culture such as ours, the importance of the journey towards the destination became abundantly clear. Yes, having five strong performances was crucial – but what was as important was getting the most out of the process of being ready for opening night. The discipline required, the mutual support needed, and the standard of excellence expected were necessary every day; and there was so much to be learned from that.

I challenge all parents to make a resolutions for their children to help them find that completely new experience and to get them to take the risk of trying.  Whether it is auditioning for a play, taking a class simply to explore a new field, setting out to a different part of the world, engaging in a new kind of service project or testing out a new sport – the value gained from taking that chance will probably be greater than simply doing more of what we’re already good at.

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