Just today, I was recounting to a friend about this theater program that I did exactly 10 years ago this summer. I hadn't thought about it in months, but talking to him brought all the memories back.
It was the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, NY, a wonderful gem of theater, where life changed for me. I was 21 and I was coming on for the summer as a Lab Co member. We were going to spend all summer directing shows, rehearsing, assisting professionals, taking classes, learning from some of the best in the theater.
I still remember that summer morning when I got into the car and drove off. I said goodbye to my parents, chocked back the lump in my throat, and turned the radio on. LeAnn Rimes "One Way Ticket" came on the radio, I kid you not. And I just went. Into this crazy new experience. I had no idea what life would bring me, but I didn't care. I needed something. I needed this.
Over the course of that summer, everything changed for me. I made friends. I made a family. This crazy group of renegades that lived together, worked together, and created together. There was no judgment, there were no critics. No one was telling us what should have been made, or questioning why we chose this over that. We made theater in bathrooms, hallways, staircases. There was a freedom to things. An unparalleled freedom to just make whatever we wanted.
It was also during that summer that I realized I was gay. I guess that was the biggest thing of all. I don't know what it was that spurred me into action, that made me finally say the words, but that's where it happened. Maybe it was being away from home, maybe it was being a stranger to everyone there, maybe it was, for the first time, meeting adult gay people who were thriving, working, living, loving, and having families of their own. I began to see that this life was possible for me. That it wasn't something unknown or hidden. Oh, it was so many things.
I remember being at a party outside the apartments one evening. And there was a guy I liked. And I said to myself, I'm going to kiss him. I'm going to do this. This is happening. And we did. Under the moth-covered light of his doorway. And it felt right. It felt as right as anything in my life ever did. All those worries, all those fears, all those what-ifs that plagued me for so many years - they all went away with that one kiss. I felt free for the first time in my life.
When it was all over, when the lights shut off on the stage and we all headed back to our lives, I knew that my world would never be the same. I knew that I was leaving this special place a new person. I said goodbye to my first love. I said hello to a me I never knew was there before. I remember driving back home, listening to Wicked, keeping the heartbreak in for as long as I could. Finally, I hit my driveway, put the car in park, and cried my eyes out. I cried for the memories, for the love we had, for the moments, for the beauty of it all.
10 years have come and gone since those summer nights. The families we made that summer, well, we all went our separate ways, as people do. Some went back to the theater, some went into film, some had families of their own, some left the theater. But no matter what, no matter where we go, or where life brings us, there will always be that summer. I know that much. Those nights of joy. Those moments when we were untouchable. When there was an innocence to all things. When we didn't care what anyone else said of us, or thought of us.
10 years ago, one summer changed the course of my life. And I will never forget it. It will never leave me. The memories, the faces, the laughter, the romance, the love. Whatever I do, and wherever I go, there will always be that summer. And for that, I will always thank the Hangar Theatre for saving my life.