By Elizabeth Albert
As I have read all the posts and articles regarding Wayside's fight for survival this winter, I've been pondering and pondering the question, "What does Wayside mean to me?" While it took me a while to get there, the answer is in fact simple: it's home.
I grew up in Winchester, and over the last few decades I have watched the valley grow, develop, and yet maintain that certain something that makes it unique. Once I went out into the world, met other people, and got some perspective, I realized what a rarity it is that the arts are a large and thriving part of a community relatively small in comparison. That is not by accident, and it is not to be taken lightly. There are many places in this country where children don't have live theatre, music, and dance readily available, affordable, and an active part of their community. We who grew up in the valley were much more fortunate.
I studied theatre in school, and I traveled to many different states performing in all kinds of theatres, but I grew up at Wayside. I worked there in high school, in college, and later as a professional. In a smaller theatre (much like a smaller classroom), there is more room to grow, to learn, and to develop. I watched more experienced actors and took mental notes on how to behave, how to learn, how to produce that same magic night after night. I watched younger performers finding the inspiration for the first time. I listened to directors, choreographers, and musical directors give notes, articulate thought, and push for vision. I made mistakes, I sweated, I was nervous, I was scared, I took risks, I fell down, and sometimes I failed.
I also found joy, discovered new talents, developed skills, learned from my mistakes, took new risks, and sometimes I succeeded. I made friends on stage and in the audience, and found the magic each and every night. I learned what it is to do more with less, to have a huge imagination in a small space, and to never accept limits on possibilities. I've spent the last few years managing a business, and these skills are unique and highly prized.
Why is it important that Wayside and all the other small professional theatres around the country stay open? For the community, it is because a culture rich in the arts is rich in its education and heritage. Children educated in the arts understand the correlation between working hard, practicing, and success. In a time when instant gratification is the norm, performing arts teaches kids how to be patient, to work hard, and to expect more. In a time when entertainment is on demand, is air-brushed and auto-tuned, they remind us as adults that the truest experience is that of being human, with all the failures and successes that color it. We watch a play and we are the ones running from the villain, vying for the heroine's love, and singing our hearts out. It's real, it's right there in front of us, and we are experiencing it, too. There's no rewind button, no pause, no watching it in the other room, so attention must be paid.
For an institution like Wayside to have survived country and culture changes over 50 years is an astonishing thing and no easy task, so it is understandable that the future is uncertain. But I am certain of one thing: I would not be the person I am today without my experiences at Wayside, and I know with the support of the wonderful people of the Shenandoah Valley and beyond, many future generations can enjoy the same discoveries and experiences for years to come. Here's to Wayside, and may we always have a place to call home.
Elizabeth Albert is former valley resident who now resides in Chicago, Ill.