Will Laudon: I Found My Community in Community Theater

Will Laudon Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, in Rochester. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

It was only after I had tried every sport with a youth league in Rochester that my parents decided to enroll me in a theater camp. I was only 6 or 7, but after forcing my parents and five older siblings to attend my makeshift puppet shows in our living room, they thought it would be nice if I could burn off some creative steam with other similarly dramatic children.

Unbeknownst to my parents or even myself at the time, theater would become a lifelong community.

In a classroom of other energetic kids, I felt strangely at home. I quickly grew accustomed to working with others in creating scenes and performing in a large group. It didn’t take long to realize that theater was something I truly enjoyed. Camp after camp, I slowly became more and more drawn to the art.

My “big break” came soon after. When I was 10 years old, a camp director asked if I would be interested in being a lead in a show at the Rochester Repertory Theatre. Me? A lead? Up to that point, I had only done camps with other kids, and now a director had chosen me to perform in an actual theatrical setting. With my parents’ support, I agreed and soon started rehearsals that summer.

I was thrilled. I’d never done anything remotely similar to real, onstage performing with real props and costumes, let alone with adults. And while only in elementary school, I had ended up performing the titular role in “Oliver!” for over a dozen shows over the course of a month.

Unfortunately, my 10-year-old voice was gone for closing night. Despite this small setback, from the experience of that show alone I had determined that theater was something I wanted to continue doing.

With small ensemble roles here and there in a variety of community shows, my parents diligently drove me to hours-long rehearsals in the Minnesota winters. Show after show, performance after performance, I felt at home among local performers on stage.

I continued theater throughout middle school, performing in front of my peers in “Guys and Dolls” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” My parents were enthusiastic about seeing me perform and happily sat through every single one of my performances, camera snapping and all. However, my siblings were known to make monetary deals and pay each other to sit through yet another performance of “Oklahoma!”

Now, as a high schooler, you can still find me on stage singing and acting. More than ever, drama is second nature for me. Theater has become so much more than a hobby; it’s a community.

My best friends and greatest mentors have been made through theater. Acting techniques and learning how to memorize lines aren’t necessarily the most valuable lessons; instead it is teamwork, collaboration, empathy, vulnerability, and compassion. Through theater, I developed my voice and learned who I am. On the stage and under the lights, I’ve found my home.

I’ve been asked plenty of times, “Are you pursuing theater after high school?” Good question. Because theater has shaped me so much, I can’t see myself not doing theater in the future. I realize that I don’t want to perform as a career, but more as a lifelong activity.

For me and so many others, we’ve found our belonging. As live performances return and audiences fill the seats again, support for the arts is needed now more than ever. By supporting local theater communities such as those in Rochester and area schools, you are supporting this sense of belonging that I have been so lucky to find.

–Will Laudon, Post-Bulletin, October 26, 2021 (Will Laudon is a junior at Mayo High School)

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