Ease, Form, Beauty, and the Whole


Aidan Heaney, Writer

The final day of classes at NYSSSA were over. Thirty one sleep deprived yet energized theatre kids sat stuffed around the only four tables in the otherwise deserted dining hall. After pushing them together,  chairs were crammed  in every available space, so that we all could sit together.  We paid for fellowship daily with personal space. It was as if we were choosing to be smothered by one another, fighting our way through a precarious mass of plates, bags, and bodies in order to have enough room to breathe. But not once was this struggle uncomfortable, not even when you shifted your legs and slammed your knee against a phantom metal bar or ate with the corner of a table stabbing your stomach. These inconveniences went generally unacknowledged. This final time of bonding was far more important.

I spent every moment of those twenty eight days smothered by those people. Be it sleeping or taking a shower, one of my classmates always seemed to be around. This lack of privacy was jarring. I didn’t want it any other way. For twenty eight days, I was totally isolated from everyone but my newfound friends. For twenty eight days, theirs were the only eyes that locked with mine, the only voices I heard laughing, and the only ears that took in my thoughts. Each of us who arrived in the mountains of Delhi in early July came with expectations to learn and grow, but we couldn’t have anticipated just how close we would all become.

Bringing together a group of teenage actors, two stereotypically catty and over the top demographics, may sound like taking the fast lane to toxicity. In actuality, all of the tropes surrounding young artists were totally unfounded in this space. I remember sitting in the darkened auditorium one morning as we were presenting the movement pieces we had been composing all week. Each of the five groups had created an original work which depicted two characters meeting and losing one another through a certain circumstance, and then reuniting, all through the power of the human body. The third group up broke from the conventions of the previous presentations by turning off  all of the lights, but placing cell phone flashlights on the floor in front of the stage. Immediately, we in the audience knew this would be different. I waited with anticipation to see what would happen next. Slowly, our questions were answered. My roommate, Julia, proceeded to perform a ballet number, eerie music filling the space as her massive shadow towered over us all, frolicking through the blinding white light against the back wall. We were immediately unsettled. Our fear was not abetted when the rest of the ensemble crept on the stage behind her, imitating her movements in a stilted, almost inhuman manner. And when Julia left the stage screaming, the rest of the ensemble started snarling like zombies and gesturing toward the audience with smiles plastered on their faces that belonged in a Hitchcock movie. I tucked my legs under me and tried to stay as far away from the stage as possible. My friends had transformed. Suddenly they ran into the audience, jumping over the seats like wild animals and snarling in our faces, and we collectively began to scream and shout. It was horrifying chaos. People were squirming in their seats and grabbing grabbing onto each other. It was like a monster was loose in the theatre. It was like our lives were on the line.

But they weren’t.


This was the power of our art from. My exceptionally talented friends, with just a flick of a light and some music, were able to transform into be

ings I genuinely feared. And while I was experiencing this unfold, I came to the stunning realization that, for the first time, I wasn’t jealous of their talent. I celebrated their accomplishments. I felt so inspired by them, so captured by what they created, instead of feeling insecure and undervalued. And learning that I could feel inspired by the work of my friends instead of being threatened by it allowed me to become a more generous and confident performer. This powerful epiphany affected each of us strongly. You couldn’t get through a conversation without someone talking about how positive and life altering an experience this was. It is said that bonds formed in extraordinary circumstances are hardest to break, and now I know that this is a fact. To this day, our online conversations still mainly consist of varied versions of “NYSSSA was such a good time, it feels like a dream” or “I love and miss you all so much” or, perhaps most telling of all, “I’ll never have friends like you again.” And on that last of those twenty eight days, we knew that our singular bonds were facing irreversible changes.

So there we were.  Thirty-one theatre kids in the corner of a college cafeteria. Smothering each other. Because, in just a few hours, we would be forced to abandon the ensemble and return to the real world as if this beautiful experience had faded like a lucid dream that only leaves behind the memory of its power.