Why drama class gave me a reason to stay and thrive in school.

Here’s the science that explains why so many students finally feel at home when they find their art.

When I started doing theater in high school, I wasn't exactly looking for an outlet for my then-undiagnosed mental disorder.

I was 20 years old before someone realized I had ADHD. When I was in high school, the condition was seen as something only the problem kids had, and I was in the top of my class, so that couldn’t be me — right?

But I also acted out in those honors classes — especially when I wasn’t feeling engaged by the material. I didn’t know how to organize my homework, or my emotions, and I definitely didn’t understand how to fit in with the hypermasculine sports crowd-types.


Looking back, it’s no wonder I was drawn to the arts.

“Art has the potential to hold very powerful, even ugly feelings, in a way that can make them manageable, even beautiful, and relatable,” explains Nadia Jenefsky, co-founder and clinical director of New York Creative Arts Therapists, a private creative arts therapy group practice in New York. “It improves mental health by restoring people's dignity, their free will. You can be working on difficult problems but still experiencing some pleasure while doing it, and working with the healthy part of you that has agency and can make decisions.”

An art therapist who works with veterans. Photo by Mark Barnes/Department of Defense.

For me, this makes sense: Theater engaged every part of my hyperactive brain and helped me learn to work alongside others toward a common goal.

It was empowering and provided emotional rewards unlike anything else I'd experienced. While other teenage boys were bottling up emotions or stewing in their angst, I had found an interdisciplinary outlet to channel my erratic temperament and hypomanic instincts. In short, theater gave me that dopamine fix that my body was naturally missing — which I didn’t realize I was missing at the time.

“Young people … haven't always developed the language and cognitive skills needed to express complicated emotions,” says Jenefsky. “Art allows space for complexity and ambivalence, which is often the hard stuff of life that is difficult to deal with.”

My sister and I at the Tony Awards After Party in 2013, after my company received the Regional Theatre Tony. Photo by Peter Lau/Huntington Theatre Company/Flickr.

The drama club did more than help me regulate my mania — it also helped push me through to graduation and beyond.

Theater education in high school is known to improve both verbal and math SAT scores — so on a basic level, it helped me get into Emerson College, a top school for performing and media arts, which was where I made the connections that landed me a job with an award-winning theater company.

Studies have shown that theater education improves attendance and can reduce dropout rates by giving students a reason to go to school; something bigger than themselves to work toward, where other people are relying on them.

One of my good friends who wasn’t involved in theater had already dropped out of high school by junior year. He found his sense of purpose playing drums in a punk band. Shortly after he left school, he even got to travel around the country playing on Warped Tour. When they needed a new bass player, I was given the chance to drop out myself to join them in pursuit of ultimate rock-stardom. But I turned it down — mainly because I had responsibilities to the theater club.

Statistics show that students with arts access are three times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree, and, well, in my experience, I can understand why.

Possibly me if I'd dropped out of high school. Trust me, it's not as glamorous as you think. Photo by Peter Dzubay/Wikimedia Commons.

Even after I found the right treatment for my disorder, theater still offered an outlet for the other emotional events I could never have predicted.

From suicide to substance abuse to cancer and beyond, I saw a lot of tragic young deaths in my 20s. Many of the friends I lost also benefitted from the healing power of performing arts in high school, but adulthood turned out to be a whole different struggle for them. And as much as I’d learned to regulate my own feelings, their deaths left me dealing with a different specter — in part, because our paths, and personal problems, had been so similar.

I keep the cards from each of their funerals above my music workstation. Photo by Thom Dunn.

But it all came full circle in 2016 when I joined the cast of a play called “We’re Gonna Die” — a kind of stand-up comedy routine about death and suffering that also featured an indie rock band. Not only did I get the chance to tour around several states as a bassist — like the opportunity I passed on to stay in school — but I also got to connect, grapple with, and ultimately celebrate life and death with a different audience every night.

Once again, the skills I'd gained in high school theater helped save my life.

That's me on the left, with the cast of "We're Gonna Die." Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva/Company One.

Theater has the power to bring people together like no other art form. And at the right time in a person’s life, that can make all the difference.

Theater and the arts are about more than just expressing one’s self; they're about collaboration and finding yourself by being a part of something bigger. The actors, designers, writers, and audience all share an experience that is both communal and intensely personal.

“We can help people make sense of what they are experiencing, and that can be very empowering to someone who is in a situation where they may feel confused, helpless or alone,” says Jenefsky. “It can help young people with very personal issues like identity, self-esteem, and just finding their place in the world.”

It might not seem like much in high school, but that’s the kind of power people carry with them throughout their lives.

This story was written by Thom Dunn.  

Based on a true story, NBC’s new drama "Rise" has inspired us to look for other real stories about the impact of theater on high schoolers' lives. "Rise" premieres on March 13 after "This Is Us." Click here to see the trailer for this new show.

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Vélosophy

Single-use coffee pods might make a good cup of joe, but they're detrimental to the environment.

"Coffee pods are one of the best examples of unnecessary single-use plastics that are polluting our planet," John Hocevar, the campaign director of Greenpeace USA, an environmental nonprofit organization, told USA Today. "Many end up getting incinerated, dumping poison into our air, water and our soil."

Currently, 29,000 single-use coffee pods are thrown away each minute. You have to ask yourself, is it worth filling up the landfills to satisfy your caffeine habit? While the aluminum capsules are recyclable, it's not as easy as tossing them in the bin. Instead, you typically have to take them a designated collection point created by the brand.

But Nespresso has taken it one step further by using its recycled pods to make a bicycle, illustrating the potential for repurposing the often thrown out by-product of its coffee.

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There are songs that tug at your heartstrings and videos that tap into your soft side. And then there are combos of the two that get you so far up in your feelings, you're not sure if you'll ever be able to climb back out.

For the millions of parents out there—especially the ones watching their babies grow up and move away from home—Michael Bublé's video for his song "Forever Now" is definitely the latter. I'm not even a Michael Bublé fan, but as a parent whose first baby just turned 19, the lyric video showing the years passing in a child's bedroom with a song about kids growing up is almost too much to take.

Wrecked, I tell you. Full-on ugly crying, with the puffy eyes and the snotty nose and everything.

I mean, just check out part of the lyrics and imagine your child's bedroom all packed into boxes:

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Photo by Gregory Hayes on Unsplash

"Can I buy you a drink?" is a loaded question.

It could be an innocent request from someone who's interested in having a cordial conversation. Other times, saying "yes" means you may have to fend off someone who feels entitled to spend the rest of the night with you.

In the worst-case scenario, someone is trying to take advantage of you or has a roofie in their pocket.

Feminist blogger Jennifer Dziura found a fool-proof way to stay safe while understanding someone's intentions: ask for a non-alcoholic beverage or food. If they're sincerely interested in spending some time getting to know you, they won't mind buying something booze-free.

RELATED: States are starting to require mental health classes for all students. It's about dang time.

But if it's their intention to lower your defenses, they'll throw a mild tantrum after you refuse the booze. Her thoughts on the "Can I buy you a drink?" conundrum made their way to Tumblr.

via AshleysCo / Tumblr


via AshleysCo / Tumblr

The posts caught the attention of a bartender who knows there are lot of men out there whose sole intention is to get somone drunk to take advantage.

"Most of the time, when someone you don't know is buying you a drink, they're NOT doing it out of a sense of cordiality," the bartender wrote. "They're buying you a drink for the sole purpose of making you let your guard down."

So they shared a few tips on how to be safe and social when someone asks to buy you a drink.

From the other side of the bar, I see this crap all the time. Seriously. I work at a high-density bar, and let me tell you, I have anywhere from 10-20 guys every night come up and tell me to, "serve her a stronger drink, I'm trying to get lucky tonight, know what I mean?" usually accompanied with a wink and a gesture at a girl who, in my experience, is going to go from mildly buzzed to definitively hammered if I keep serving her. Now, I like to think I'm a responsible bartender, so I usually tell guys like that to piss off, and, if I can, try to tell the girl's more sober friends that they need to keep an eye on her.
But everyone- just so you know, most of the time, when someone you don't know is buying you a drink, they're NOT doing it out of a sense of cordiality, they're buying you a drink for the sole purpose of making you let your guard down.

Tips for getting drinks-

1. ALWAYS GO TO THE BAR TO GET YOUR OWN DRINK, DO NOT LET STRANGERS CARRY YOUR DRINKS. This is an opportune time for dropping something into your cocktail, and you're none the wiser.

2.IF YOU ORDER SOMETHING NON-ALCOHOLIC, I promise you, the bartender doesn't give two shits that you're not drinking cocktails with your friends, and often, totally understands that you don't want to let your guard down around strangers. Usually, you can just tell the bartender that you'd like something light, and that's a big clue to us that you're uncomfortable with whomever you're standing next to. Again, we see this all the time.

3. If you're in a position to where you feel uncomfortable not ordering alcohol:
Here's a list of light liquors, and mixers that won't get you drunk, and will still look like an actual cocktail:

X-rated + sprite = easy to drink, sweet, and 12% alcoholic content. Not strong at all, usually runs $6-$8, depending on your state.
Amaretto + sour= sweet, not strong, 26%.
Peach Schnapps+ ginger ale= tastes like mellow butterscotch, 24%.
Melon liquor (Midori, in most bars) + soda water = not overly sweet, 21%
Coffee liquor (Kahlua) +soda = not super sweet, 20%.
Hope this helps someone out!

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If you do accept a drink from someone at a bar and you want to talk, there's no need to feel obligated to spend the rest of the night with them.

Jaqueline Whitmore, founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach, says to be polite you only have to "Engage in some friendly chit-chat, but you are not obligated to do more than that."

If someone asks to buy you a drink and you don't want it, Whitmore has a great tip. "Say thank you, but you are trying to cut back, have to drive or you don't accept drinks from strangers," Whitmore says.

What if they've already sent the drink over? "Give the drink to the bartender and tell him or her to enjoy it," Whitmore says.

Have fun. Stay safe, and make sure to bring a great wing-man or wing-woman with you.

Well Being

There are reasonable arguments to be had on all sides of America's debates about guns.

Then there are NRA lobbyists.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Florida National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer spoke to state economists last week to explain why a proposed assault weapons ban would devastate gun manufacturers in the state. The proposed amendment, which is being led by the aunt of a student killed in the Parkland school shooting, would ban the future sale of assault rifles in Florida and mandate that current owners either register their guns with the state or give them up.

The back and forth between those proposing and opposing the amendment appears to be a pretty typical gun legislation debate. Only this time, the NRA lobbyist pulled out one of the most bizarre arguments I've seen yet.

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