I am not in this picture. I don’t know why.
There are gaps in my high school memories, huge and numerous holes that I’m trying to fill in, even if just a little. I’ve enlisted the help of Facebook Messenger… and my old friends who were there, of course.
I know the kids in this photo, I know this group. We called ourselves “The Outcasts,” and we were unique, although perhaps we didn’t realize how special until years later.
We were a theater group, created by our friend Tina, because of her love of music and writing and performing. At some point in our high school years, we’d all been together in one music class or another. We all loved music/theater/performing. I supposed that’s why Tina brought us together.
Many of us spent large amounts of our free time, or any amount, really, in the music department. Our chorus and band teachers always welcomed us. No matter what was going on in the day, in our lives, we always felt like we belonged in that room.
It can be so hard to “belong” in high school. Those years are often overly glorified as “the best years of your life.” But let’s face it, in reality, it’s a building full of hormonal teenagers with dodgy executive brain functions. Together, all day. Every day.
Shortly before I started high school, some friends convinced me to try out for cheerleading. I grudgingly agreed, but then I was surprised and excited to make the J.V. squad. And so I began high school belonging to a group, but it took a couple of years to feel like I really belonged with them. At the outset, it quickly became apparent I was one of the only girls who had never taken any dance lessons, and I was uncomfortable in my own body. I never filled out the sweaters, I was all pointy elbows with no muscle tone on my limbs.
I loved being in the music department because none of those things ever seem to matter to anyone. I would walk through the door and immediately feel tension releasing from my jaw and shoulders.
But a part of me worried that I would be discovered a fraud, even there. My singing voice wasn’t great. While I could hold my own in a choir, I rarely tried out for solos because I couldn’t find or hold a pitch on my own, and my voice always sounded shaky alone.
So when Tina began to put together “Outcasts”, I was both eager and intimidated. It seemed that everyone in the group played one or more instruments, or took vocal lessons, or both. I couldn’t even read music. As far as I could tell, my qualifications for this group were limited to: a lack of fear of performing in front of a group, and projecting my voice. After a couple years cheerleading, I’d learned at least that much.
Our friend Renee found a space for us to rehearse at the local YMCA. I went every week that I could. I sat and listened and worked like I belonged there, even if I was afraid I didn’t.
Tina wanted our group to have and share positive messages. She wrote and directed plays about avoiding drugs and alcohol, about peer pressure and making good choices. We believed in these messages, in this group. We wanted to make a difference in someone’s life.
We visited and performed at local middle and high schools, and town organizations. Our dear music teacher was our advisor in name, because we needed a liaison to go to other schools. But we were really on our own: student-organized, student-led, student-run.
It didn’t take long for this group to find a special place in my heart. I learned early on that it didn’t matter if I couldn’t read music or play an instrument. What mattered was my willingness and an open mind. And that’s what we all brought to rehearsal each and every week.
We’d created a community, and the friendships have carried on through decades. Now thirty years later some of us see others regularly throughout the course of a calendar year, others only connect in person once in a blue moon (raises hand here). I think only one of us remains in that hometown. But theater, music, performing and the arts have stayed with us our whole lives. Some have made careers out of it, some keep up with the arts as treasured hobbies. Maybe you’ve seen Matt with the Broadway production of “The Lion King” over the last 10 years or so. Maybe you’ve read Tina’s blog “Footprints In Pixie Dust.” Maybe you knew Renee when she taught improv classes. Maybe you’ve heard Brent or Faith sing around town. Maybe you’ve seen Shanda or Kim in local theater. Many of our kids have also found a love of music and theater as well, and boy do we encourage and support that.
Chatting with my high school friends this week has brought back all the good feels. And some of my memory as well. I’m remembering a lot of the good, some of the not-so-good, and the insecurities that fueled both of those. I wouldn’t “go back” to those years for all the cannoli in the North End, but neither would I change anything. I’m more comfortable in my own skin, and all those things I dealt with, or didn’t deal with, have brought me to today. And I’m grateful for that girl who showed me how to be me.
I am grateful to Tina- for being brave enough to start this theater troupe, and for being persistent in keeping us and our message focused throughout high school.
I am grateful to all my fellow Outcasts, for being there. For listening. For seeing and being the good that we all wish for in our friendships. For giving each of us, in turn, a place to belong.
God bless the Outcasts. Wherever you are.