A month from tomorrow, many of my fellow CITs and I will have submitted any final college applications. In spirit of this quickly approaching milestone, I thought I would share my college essay with you all, especially since it concerns a very special camp experience of mine: the writing and performance of Promnado, an original musical by Justin Myhre and myself. I can never thank you all enough for giving me a place that has so quickly and irreversibly become a second home of mine in the last three years. I've often heard that one's college essay should concern a topic the applicant is incomparably passionate about so I think it makes perfect sense that mine ended up being based in the Manitou community.
The lights dim, my heartbeat keeps up with the 138 beats per measure and my body trembles with the rumbling C-sharp minor chord filling the theater. This was the opening number of Promnado, an original musical premiering at Acting Manitou, featuring my music and lyrics. It was not until working with an arranger and studying his sheet music in front of me that this song had been more than words to a melody in my head lacking chords and a numerical tempo but here it was, as tangible as music could ever be. What I was feeling now was similar to the ever-present stage fright I had felt in the past 12 productions I had performed in, but this was slightly different. I was not physically stepping on stage and into the mind of a character blissfully ignorant to the crowd watching his every move, but instead had the protection of a music stand and keyboard in the obstructed pit.
In a way, I had already stepped into each character’s shoes and promenaded through each of their arcs in this political comedy inspired by a true story. Although having never set foot in the musical’s setting of Hoisington, Kansas, or on the stage now decorated to represent the town, I had visited its landmarks and alleys, witnessed the daily life of its teenagers and adults alike, and imagined the economic disparity between its east and west sides while writing the piece. Most importantly, I had envisioned the devastating tornado that struck Hoisington on the night of its local high school’s prom in 2001. Here, my extensive imagination proved invaluable as my writing partner and I created fictional characters put in this enticing situation.
As the lights rise again, Will Brysson, an openly gay student residing on the impoverished west side, longing to make his conservative environment more accepting, strides on stage, singing, “We need something different / We’ve gotta learn acceptance.” After the tornado primarily ravages the west side and furthers the town’s socio-economic divide, Will sees an opportunity to improve Hoisington systematically alongside its physical restoration. The spotlight moves to Elana Hunter, Hoisington High School’s valedictorian currently on her dream school’s waitlist, studying in her room within a mansion on the east side. From backstage, Elana’s mom exclaims, “Make sure to study for your AP Exams, they’ll want to see straight fives!” Elana obediently responds, “Yes mother” and returns to her flashcards. After the tornado, Elana joins forces with Will to plan a second prom as a fundraiser for social progress that leads her to question her true motives for planning the event and to eventually reflect on the general strictness of her upbringing.
While watching the piece alongside its first audience, I saw it in a completely new light. In reality, it required little imagination on my part to create this world and its characters because each shares pieces of my own identity. As a queer Palestinian immigrant, I, like Will, am a minority in my community striving for equality in the aftermath of a political tornado. My intersectional identities also split me between the varying privileges of Will and Elana as a member of a middle-class family in a private institution, and as a recipient of male-privilege while simultaneously a victim of racism and homophobia. Finally, as the oldest child of a first generation immigrant family, and as an immigrant myself, I have had a home taken from me similar to many west-siders, yet made a new one in the more opportunistic and east-like United States where I have heard exactly what Elana has and internalized the pressure to succeed in the same way. Creating theater has always been when I feel most comfortable and inspired because it is the one place where all parts of my identity, no matter how complicated, are invited to be explored, the way I subconsciously did through the characters of Promnado.
Keep living and learning through your art folks and then share that knowledge with the rest of the world- it is undeniably important, particularly in our present times.