The author playing player #00 in her school play. Photo courtesy of The Ellis School.

The Magic Of Theater

How my school play helped me after the Tree of Life shooting.

The leaves were turning, and the air was crisp. The last time I was at the Tree of Life was the closing night of my fall play. I came late to shul because of my performance the night before. I said Shabbat Shalom to the elderly man as I walked down to greet my family. My mom and I sat in the library, learning the parsha, before I started my walk to school to perform the last night of my show. 

A little over a year ago, on that Shabbat, the scene was different. People were dying, SWAT teams were running and the world was changing. The shul I went to was attacked. I didn’t go back to that corner until one year later. The timeline of events in my life had changed. I remember school color wars differently, homecoming differently, but most of all, I remember the school play differently.

The next time I walked to school on Shabbat, it had been one year since the massacre. The street was clear—no police cars, no sirens, no TV trucks.

The sun beamed. I was doing my weekly walk during rehearsal season. It was something I had become acclimated to in the past year. I had to do this walk for Saturday rehearsals and shows. The sidewalk read “Pgh Strong” with a blue heart surrounding the words. 

My first memory of school after the attack was gathering in a classroom to reflect. I could not stop crying. My new friend from the play was one of the first people who hugged me. We had grown to become friends while acting as men on the Colorado river. We performed our show performed one week before. Now here I was, crying in this classroom, a different Jew than I was a week before. My director came over to my friend and me. 

“I know you aren’t okay, but just know that we love you.”

I had built friendships through this show, and those friends helped guide me through the next year. 

This year, as I auditioned for the play, everything was different. I had gone through the year of PTSD, of feeling no hope, and it was weird, because my timeline related only to this one event. I thought of events in my life relating solely to this act of hate. 

When I found out the date of this year’s show, I was nervous. It was going to be the weekend of the commemoration: the same dates of Oct. 24-26. Was it going to be too much for me? Should I not audition? I decided I would still do the play, and hopefully it would act as a distraction to the weekend of commemoration. However, I did not yet know the content of the show. It was about an all-girls soccer team and there was trauma in it. This trauma was so close to my reality, and the feelings of PTSD came back to me every time we read the script. I felt scared and afraid thinking about the trauma that the girls in this play experienced. One day, I came into rehearsal after shul and found my whole cast crying. They had just read through the script. But, I realized, at this moment, that trauma is about community. As long as you have a group to heal with, the process is easier.

Something I focused on a lot on throughout the year was still being able to live my regular life while coping with the aftermath of Oct. 27. Even though on that Shabbat the reminders were still there, I was doing something that felt normal to me. Theater had brought normalcy to my life during a crazy year.

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Ada Perlman is a junior at The Ellis School in Pittsburgh. She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.

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