Having someone like you represented onstage is a very powerful thing.
When we go see a play, we are asked to believe that all the characters are important. They are important enough for us to watch them live their lives at critical moments and then to walk away and talk about it and apply it all to ourselves. As such, a theatre experience can be inspiring; you might see a show in which a character like you goes through shit and then fights his/her way out again–you think, “Hey! That person can do it! So can I!”
I do believe that a big job of the theatre is to invite its audiences to expand their perspectives and to empathize with people they might otherwise not. But the theatre is also a place to affirm and uplift. It is no easy task to bring a work of art to an off-Broadway theatre: there are artists and administrators and investors and audiences and friends and family who have all believed in this art and pushed it forward. And when you see a character like you at the center of that piece, that thing that took so many years to get to you now, you know that all of those people believe that this matters. You matter.
When I went to Fun Home at The Public Theater, I had to rack my brain for any other musical I had seen with a lesbian protagonist. (Maureen and Joanne are good contenders for Rent but I wouldn’t quite count them as ‘protagonists.’) In fact, when I Googled “lesbian musical,” of the four shows mentioned on the first page I had never heard of three of them and the fourth was Fun Home. It’s not to say that I’m not obsessed with dozens of other shows highlighting straight men and women and gay men; but being able to watch someone onstage go through something I have gone through or am going through now–and know the same is true for many other women in the audience–is significant.
There’s a unique sense of belonging that comes with such an experience. A community is a group of people that you are a part of by nature of something you all share, whether that’s values, desires, dreams, disgusts, or some combination. As I stood in the lobby after the show just looking at the people around me, I just had an inexplicable feeling of ‘This is right. I belong here.’ I may not know everyone there and will probably never see most of them again, but in that instance we made a community. I thank this play for enabling this experience: for making me feel part of a whole.
– Emily B.