It seemed no one remembered me sharing a kiss with Patricia Penta on the playground in 4th grade. At the time, I thought everyone in the world had witnessed that PDA. Boy, was I wrong.
I remember the name calling starting in Junior High School. I sang in the school choir and performed in all the school musicals. I didn't understand why other guys didn't like me. They felt compelled to try and embarrass me in the halls or gym class - even waiting for me after to school to "beat me up." Seems that playing piano, singing and acting was membership criteria for the Queer club.
As a community, we had not yet named this behavior. In hindsight, I think it was encouraged to help societal conformity. Unfortunately for me, the only place I felt at home was in the arts.
As the old adage goes, "hindsight is 20/20." First, I was two years younger than most of the other kids in my class. I had started school in England. When we came back to the United States, my parents were told I was ahead of other kids my age. The district decided to "double promote" me. Second, by nature, I would consider myself somewhat introverted. School was relatively easy. Making friends was a bit more of a challenge – I was younger than everyone else. The arts had a natural bonding mechanism based on the need for "creative teamwork." The arts were my respite. Music gave me a voice I would never have found on my own. When I was happy the music continued to lift me. When I was in pain, I could find solace in lyricists and composers who understood my situation. If something mattered to me, I wasn't comfortable sharing it as a single student in a classroom. Put me in a choir and suddenly I knew a strong and eloquent voice, able to express feelings, experience empathy or look at my life and purpose in a new light. The arts reminded me I wasn't alone. Even when things weren't great at home, I had friends who were counting on me. I was important to them and they were important to me. I was connected to the world - not lost in my own thoughts.
I wish I could say the "bullying" went away as I got older. It didn't. But it did shape how I look at my students, singers and actors. Certainly not every student is an introvert or gay. It is individuality that gives each singer or student their own unique voice - literally.
As a director, I get to choose music or theater pieces important to me. Something I feel needs to be, or I want to say - to find common ground in our human existence. If the message touches me, I can be fairly certain someone else shares the same emotional space. Music helps me feel connected to the world of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Students and even adults can feel disconnected when they sense they may be different. I believe the arts offer a place where being different is accepted - recognizing our greatest need is to be loved and accepted – somewhere.
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