I was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, the oldest of three children. From an early age, I was fascinated with expressions of culture. I taught myself how to read with travel books. I wrote stories that took place in China. I spent a lot of time with my Israeli neighbors. I created puppet shows. And, from the age of three, I took theatre classes to learn how to travel to wherever my imagination would take me.
For many years, I enjoyed a fairly Rockwellian existence with a loving family in the middle of Iowa; I excelled in school, I played soccer. The summer I turned eleven, however, everything changed. I became ill with a syndrome no one could identify. In a matter of weeks, I became an “other,” physically different from students in my class, and the receptor of daily taunts, prank phone calls, and broken friendships.
Regardless of the health challenges and the bullying I endured at school, my parents encouraged me to continue taking theatre classes. I spent a lot of time at the Des Moines Playhouse.
Performing in two productions of Peace Child at The Des Moines Playhouse played an important role in my life. Peace Childbrought together young people from countries at political odds to create and perform a musical about world peace. Despite cultural differences (and language barriers), the members of the Peace Child casts were able to effectively communicate with each other through music and dance. In doing so, we discovered we had the same dream — to live in a peaceful world. Through my experiences in Peace Child, I was able to see how theatre could serve as a means for political and social change.
After I went away to college, I thought a lot about how I had gotten through this difficult time. It became clear my experiences in the theatre provided the solid ground I needed during this personal earthquake; the theatre enabled me to simultaneously escape and find myself. In the theatre, I explored other characters’ lives, became an important part of a community, and learned how to express myself.
Realizing how powerful my experience had been, I decided to create similar opportunities for other children. My career in arts education began.