Full on mushroom ravioli and white wine, as a reward after a long day, I ambled my way south through downtown Portland to Keller Auditorium. Solo and feeling uneasy, this night was as much about dinner and a show, as it was confronting my inner anxiety.
Determined, I joined the mass of people eagerly flooding from the cold street into the illuminated foyer to see “Dear Evan Hansen.” I missed an opportunity to see it on Broadway a few years back, and refused to miss it this time around regardless of my angst about flying solo.
During this gripping musical, the audience attentively watches a young man battle with anxiety and struggle to connect with his peers, while the entire cast copes with loss. The topic seemed fitting for the evening.
We watch the performers navigate the unpredictable tides of life, a giant sea full of people crashing into one another by awkward accident, and at times intentional malice. One would be challenged to find an audience member who couldn’t somehow relate to one character or another bobbing around in the chaos. The performance masterfully, and artfully, addresses “taboo” topics that until recently have lurked under society’s surface: depression, anxiety and loss.
Sneaking glimpses around the auditorium, the audience was surprisingly diverse, by Portland’s and Oregon’s standard. People of all ages, genders, races and ethnicities were there for this show, for this topic. It was remarkable, as the theatre and symphony have at times struggled to attract diverse audiences. But they have evolved, changed course to boost attendance with more appealing, relevant and captivating performances.
I sat next to a 19-year-old woman, a fresh transplant from the Beehive State (Utah). She too was there alone, and confessed before the curtain rose that she’d likely cry throughout the show. She did, so I handed her tissues from my bag, which was empty by intermission.
Both of us alone at the theatre, yet in a way together, two extremely different people were drawn to the same show likely for different reasons. I was envious she’d found such courage at her young age, alone in a new city, attending a musical, and shamelessly sniffling next to a stranger who by all attempts was trying to maintain some level of stoicism. It was a beautifully produced and powerful show with a deep message, and as insignificant as it may seem, I felt triumphant as I exited how I entered: alone.
At Coates Kokes, we tell stories and convey meaning in a variety of ways, whether through video, graphic design or written word. Good writing, which is the foundation for a revered show, captures the audience and takes people on a journey to new perspective and ideally brings a new appreciation for a subject they didn’t fully understand. It develops over time and through practice, tells a story, has depth, and just like all art forms, aims to create change. While we’re certainly not Tony Award winners, every day, as writers we use our skills to speak honestly, provide a point of view and try to do good in the world.