I spent my morning watching Vinnie perform in a play that his college theatre class was putting on. Vinnie never gives me a whole lot of details. In fact, I just found out about the play this week. I wanted to go, but more importantly, he wanted me to go. If he did not want me to go he would never have given me the invitation.
As soon as I got to the campus, I texted Vinnie “I am here” while trying to find “Building 7.” I am walking the campus trying to fit in with the college crowd. Coincidentally, Vinnie and I meet up at Building 7 right at the same time. I was a bit early, he went inside to make sure their final practice was wrapping up so I could go snag a good seat.
I was only waiting about five minutes before Vinnie said it was okay to come in. I follow Vinnie into a nice size auditorium. Immediately, I knew I was in the right place. Everything felt right. The rows and rows of elevated seats that were also used as a desk, the actors, dressed in all black, with a few berets and top hats thrown in there. The acting teacher, dressed in a whimsical floor-length black summer dress, with black leggings on underneath, and tan wedge sandals. The actors were all huddled in a circle going over last minutes notes. Quietly, I make my way past them, determined to get the middle seat in the third row.
As soon as I sat down, I hear “Welcome, Vino’s mom.” “We are so glad you were able to make it.” Look, I have no idea why Vinnie calls himself Vino, but he does, and everyone in this class knew him only as Vino, and me, as “Vino’s Mom.” It was a nice, warm welcome, one that put me even more at east than I already was.
We had about ten minutes until “show time” so I just sat back taking it all in. For me, it was just magic. There is no doubt at all I was meant to be there.
A middle-aged woman, I assume a parent of one the kids, came in and sat in the row in front of me, on the very end. I tried to make eye contact, but it was dark. I do not think she saw me. Also, if she was anything like me, she was taking on the nerves that her son or daughter had.
Shortly after, a group of four college kids came and sat right in front of me. Two African American beauties, and two “hipster” young men. They were talking and looked perfect, so I was already annoyed. One of the young ladies asked one of the young men to sit next to her. So instead of boy, boy, girl, girl, it was now boy, girl, boy, girl. Oh to be young again. With the cute clothes and the world as your oyster.
The acting teacher and her assistant came on to the stage. She introduced herself, making sure to mention that these kids wrote all of their lines. Everything we are about to see, everything we are about to experience, are these kids true stories.
She then introduced her assistant. “I am a gay man with mixed ethnicities. I have dealt with prejudice, stereotypes, and labels. I had a vision, and these guys brought my vision to life. We all have stories, stories that need to be told.”
Not five minutes in and I am holding back tears. It was powerful. Listening to the teacher and her assistant speak with wonderful beautiful honesty, not ashamed to hold anything back.
The lights quickly dimmed, the actors, a perfectly mixed group of nine, all took their place on the stage, in various positions. Vinnie was in the middle, surrounded by his fellow cast. Music started to play. Lovely, folk music accompanied by a beautiful mysterious voice. I follow the voice quickly seeing that there is yet another castmate, at the keyboard, singing while her fingers find the ivory keys with ease.
Vinnie has the first line. “Yo, Vino up in da house!” He does some sort of fist bump while the folk music is playing perfectly in the background. His fellow castmates change positions while working with the beat of the music. A young, pretty girl, looks at him. “You’re a distraction!” She is mad, she is annoyed, and then they fade to black.
We meet a teenage mother who at 16 had to quit school. Some of her teachers thought she was a lost cause.
We meet a lovely young man whose faith in God is his number one priority. He talked about the judgment when he chooses not to go to certain parties with his friends. “Why we going to invite him, he is all about the church?”
We meet a lovely, broken young lady who at the age of sixteen tried to kill herself. She struggles with depression.
We meet a typical “white guy” who one would think is popular and gets all the girls, never knowing the definition of what it means to struggle. Little did we know he is from Ukraine and has seen struggles like no one else.
We meet Axel, who came from Mexico and has been told to “Go back where you came from you piece of shit. No one wants you here.” Little do they know that while in Mexico at the age of ten he was working the fields for his parents. His parents are no longer living because they wanted a better life for their son.
We meet an overweight gentleman who has been called all sort of horrible names, just because he is overweight.
We meet a young man, who upon looking at him you are not sure what race he is. He fits in nowhere. One day while grocery shopping with his mother, he got jumped by security because they thought he was stealing. He was not.
We meet Vino, a class clown who always got sent to the principal’s office for being a goof-off when all he wanted to do was make his fellow classmates smile. You see, Vino is worried, that his sister, who is special needs, will run the risk of being bullied in school. So, in his own way, he tries to fix it.
By the end of the play, we learned that the teenage mom will be graduating college next year.
The young man who is a strong Christian, he will be going on a mission trip.
Our young lady who tried to kill herself at the age of sixteen is working closely with her therapist. This play is the first time she has spoken publicly about her suicide attempt.
Our friend from Ukraine is settling in nicely while teaching his parents how to speak English.
Axel, well, he will not be coming back to college. He found another job. This will be his third. He sends money home to his siblings.
Our overweight friend, he is living his life not based on the opinions of others, and he is pretty damn happy doing so.
The young man who was jumped while shopping with his mom, he too will also be graduating next year, while working with at-risk youth.
And then we have Vino, Vino who struggled. Who never had a role model, Vino is now a role model for the very sister he is worried about.
Vino, well, he will prove us all wrong.
As the play wrapped up, the actors took their final bow. Vinnie disappeared from the stage, returning with chairs. He set up ten chairs around the stage while his fellow castmates and teachers took a seat.
“This is the part where we let the audience run the show. If you have any questions or comments now is the time.”
Just about every single hand in the place went up.
One of the African American beauties that were sitting right in front of me, raised her hand, proudly relating to our church guy. She said all this time she thought she was the only one, the only one that had to find a perfect balance between Christianity and college life.
The parent of the teenage mother stood up. “That is my daughter, she has worked so hard. So hard, it is not easy, but my daughter, my daughter, she makes it look easy.”
Her daughter, who is sitting in her chair on the stage starts crying. I start crying. I held it in for as long as I could, and now I am done.
A mother behind me stood up. She spoke to the young lady that attempted suicide at sixteen. “I can relate to you. My daughter can relate to your story. I just want to thank you for being brave enough to put it out there.”
Yep, the tears are coming. I look like a raccoon.
Parent after parent, student after student. Hands were raised, everyone in that room thanked the cast for being brave enough to put it out there, and after the thank you’s, we heard their own story.
From the mother of the lovely lady with the mysterious voice: “I just try to smile. No matter what I go through, I just smile. Because when you smile, you are welcoming, and when you welcome, then you are being kind, and when you be kind, then you smile, so, I always try to smile.”
I don’t know about you, but I could learn a lot from that.
Watching this group of amazing young actors, students, people, well, it was powerful. In Building 7 on the Highline Campus, they are doing big things. Big, beautifully broken things, and I had the privilege of being there to witness it all.
I raised my hand, stood up with pride. “You guys are amazing! I fully believe without a doubt that God uses the beautifully broken, he uses them to do work, and in this room right now, you guys did some life-changing work. I could not be any more proud of my son, this school, and the strangers, who by using their voice, they made an impact.”
The lights came on. Another standing ovation.
I am wiping tears from my face. A young lady who was sitting behind me comes up.
“Are you Vino’s mom?”
“I just want you to know you raised an amazing son. He has changed me. He has given me hope. His story about his sister, it spoke to me.”
Again, I am holding back tears.
“Thank you, truly, thank you.”
There was magic in that auditorium. Life changing magic. Magic that began with a vision, and ended with our young kids finding their voice.
Find your voice, and tell your story. Big, huge, beautiful broken things will happen when you do so. Find your voice, do it for our kids, our next generation. Be proud, and when you are into the deep, realize that God uses the broken-hearted, he uses them for moments like this.