By Christopher Daniels

Author Barry Lopez states “the only thing holding us together are stories and compassion.” I love stories of all genres and media. I live for terrible made-for-TV movies, binge on gripping Netflix dramas, have a stacks of books on my nightstands (that I vow I am going to read before purchasing more new books), gleefully research the mythologies of various world wisdom traditions, and watch, with wide-eyed wonder, the magic of live theatre. Stories, whether shared around a fire or a dinner table, are truly transformative; they can motivate, educate, heal, and deeply connect us to one another in powerful ways.   

For the past four years, I have served as a performance coach for Nevada Humanities’ Great Basin Young Chautauqua program; a program that affords young persons the ability to delve head-first into the lives of inspiring individuals and bring their stories to life. Utilizing several improvisational exercises and theatre techniques, I work with the young actors on commanding the stage, honing their presence, and bringing their unique voice to the performance. We work on discovering the truth of that character – in their voice, mannerisms, physicality, beliefs, attitudes – and connecting, as actors, to that truth.

I love this program and believe in its importance in the lives of young people. I’ve witnessed shy, nervous kids evolve and find undiscovered strength and courage as they tirelessly work to master their characters. Working as a professional performance artist, I know that as scary as the stage can be – I still get nervous before every single performance – it can also be a refuge; a space to forge friendships and understand ourselves more deeply. The arts have, and continue to serve, as a place to express our raw vulnerability and truest authentic selves, even when we are portraying somebody else.   

One of the things that I enjoy most about this program is hearing about the lives of historical figures and discovering how relevant their journeys are to my own.  Some of the characters I know a little about, either from vague memories of school, or more likely having seen the latest cinematic biopic. However, I usually don’t know anything about these individuals, or their stories. I listen to the characters’ tales of struggle and perseverance, of adversity and triumph, of hardship and success, and resonate so strongly with their experiences. The details are certainly different, but the core themes are the same revealing that we are all more alike than we are different. We are all just human; beautiful and flawed. I find solace in knowing that I am not alone and gleam inspiration from their choices. Also, there is nothing more adorable, and soul-filling, than these kids – in full costume – tackling these larger-than-life characters and rocking their performances.

As this program continues to grow and flourish across Nevada, I look forward to many more years, many more characters, and certainly, many more stories.       

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Christopher Daniels has over 15-years of experience in the theatrical arts, passionately working as a performance artist, playwright, and coach. He currently serves as the Executive Director for Good Luck Macbeth Theatre Co., Reverend for Alchemist Movement, and Arts Integration Specialist for Sierra Arts.  

You can take in a Great Basin Young Chautauqua performance on Wednesday, July 3 from 9:30-10:30 am at the McKinley Arts & Cultural Center in Reno or on Saturday, July 13 from 11 am to noon at the Sparks Heritage Museum in Sparks.

Images/Christopher Daniels