My Career in the Arts or How the Sugar Plum Fairy Changed my Life

My mother took me to see the Nutcracker at the Colorado Ballet when I was five. I think this is a pretty common rite of passage for most little girls growing up. But for me, it was more than a holiday tradition-it was the inspiration of a life-long dream.

I don’t remember a whole lot about that first show. It is a beautiful blur of color and movement in my mind, fairy tale magic come to life, so close I could almost touch it. But the sense of absolute fascination that being there inspired, of connecting completely to another world, is a feeling that I never wanted to let go of-and I never have!

I’m a lighting designer. I make magic happen. I transform a black box full of people and objects into another universe. And what’s more, I get paid to do it! I bring home a paycheck for making Peter Pan fly, for strobing the lights during a Black Eyes Peas show, for gently revealing Odette in a pond covered in mist. I have the coolest job in the world, a job most people think you have to win the lottery to land. And I have it because my mom realized the importance of exposing her kids to the arts at an early age.

I think there’s a common feeling in our world today that the arts and arts education are expendable. Having come from an entire life filled with them, I can’t think of words powerful enough to stress what a difference they made for me.

After seeing the Nutcracker, my mom enrolled me in ballet and tap. It didn’t take many weeks of seeing how flexible and graceful the other little girls were before I knew that I wouldn’t be a ballerina. But I got some great exercise. I learned about poise and confidence in front of strangers and I was exposed to classical music.

A few years later, my mom took me to see a production of Brigadoon at the local high school. I was mesmerized and insisted on taking acting classes. Again, a lack of natural ability dampened my dreams of being a movie star, but in acting class I learned diction and public speaking, and I became obsessed with Shakespeare.

Since Brigadoon was a musical, when acting didn’t pan out I naturally turned to music. Months of voice and piano lessons ended in a tearful recital where I discovered terminal stage fright. But I learned music theory, rhythm, timing. I picked up a smattering of Italian and French from singing opera. I could intelligently reference Chopin or Wagner or Andrew Lloyd Webber.

When I got to high school, all of these things served an amazing end. I could give a speech in class without uhm-ing. I breezed my way through AP English because I had already read King Lear. I wrote inspired papers about how wars and advances in technology changed the landscape of literature and popular music.

But best of all, in that same theatre where I saw Brigadoon when I was younger, I took an amazing class. Technical theatre class! At last a venue for artistic freedom that didn’t require innate physical talent! My work, my feelings, my expression could reach thousands of people—and I didn’t have to actually appear on stage!

I was hooked. Theatre took over my whole life. When my friends were at each other’s houses after school, experimenting things that would make any parent cringe, I was in rehearsal. I knew that if I missed a rehearsal, I wouldn’t be allowed to work on the show, so I wasn’t ever really tempted to be anywhere else. I learned discipline, commitment and the value of putting hard work into something you love to make it the best that you possibly can. Theatre kept me out of trouble and on track to follow my dreams.

Being exposed to the arts when I was a child irrevocably changed my life and in the best possible way. I have a Master’s degree in drama. I have a job that I truly love, working with amazing people and expressing my deepest feeling and thoughts in a creative and constructive venue.

And I’m a lighting designer for the Colorado Ballet. Every year, I get to see the Nutcracker-the same Nutcracker that inspired my life’s journey when I was five-for free.