I stand in the very back of The Little Black Box Theater aptly named for its black walls and black floor and black stage. Every black chair, row upon row, is occupied. This ghost of a former high school band room newly converted provides the perfect acoustical setup for the young man thrashing his drums. The crowd murmurs and sways to his beat. The energy is palpable, and I can feel the drums inside my chest as bodies press up against me.
The Little Black Box Theater fills to standing capacity. Suddenly a booming male voice shouts that there is no more room and something about a fire code. He corrals the twenty or thirty high school students desperately trying to shove their way in and informs them that they will have to return to class. Groans and dejected feet retreat, and I am left standing alone in the back of The Little Black Box Theater.
Suddenly, the large screen above the stage lights up and the M.C. steps up to the microphone donning a snappy black sports coat over a gray t-shirt and jeans. He smiles and warmly welcomes us. Though his voice is soothing, I can’t help but wonder if it is my own beating heart flooding my ears as I shift my weight from foot to foot. His words warble and I realize I am holding my breath.
You would think that it was me he was introducing. You would think it was me slowly climbing the two steps up to the stage desperate not to trip and fall in front of a full house. You would think it was me carefully flattening my page on the podium and reaching up to adjust the microphone. You would think it was me looking up from behind those dark rimmed glasses. You would think it was me clearing my throat before reading my original work for the very first time in front of a live audience. You would think it was me whose hands shook but whose voice did not. You would think it was me who had authored the incredible poetry that filled the air with such vivid imagery and emotion that you could almost reach out and wrap your hands around it. You would think it was me tucking my long blond hair behind my ear before neatly folding my poem and stepping off the stage to return to my seat. You would think it was me.
But you’d be wrong.
It wasn’t me. That never would have been me. I wouldn’t have been brave enough in seventh grade to stand in front of eighth graders and high school students and parents and adults I’d never met and read my words and bare my soul.
No, I’m the one standing in the back of The Little Black Box Theater with shiny eyes and gooseflesh running up my arms. My hands sting from clapping as I finally find my breath to hoot and holler for each and every young writer who took the stage.
You see, those are my students. And in this perfect moment, all my worry for them dissipates and I am reminded of why I am here. I am here to help grow my students as readers and writers so that their voices may be heard echoing off the walls of the world and all around The Little Black Box Theater.