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Chris Linnares, Published June 28 2012

Linnares: Theater arts have amazing healing powers

I was painfully shy as a child and was afraid to speak up, especially in the classroom.

I developed this fear, in part, because a little boy in my class made fun of my voice. I had a deep voice for a 6-year-old girl and grew up believing that my voice was ugly.

My first theater experience involved my “leading” role (as a rock!), for which I mutely remained in a fetal position, served to reinforce my conviction that I didn’t have a nice voice. My gapped teeth and short hair didn’t help my confidence either – why my mom thought that a bowl cut was the very definition of cute is still beyond me.

But when I was in sixth grade, my life drastically changed. While sitting in the back of the class like the wallflower I’d long been, I heard my teacher say she was choosing students for the play she would direct. I didn’t even entertain the thought of being selected. But the director of my life story had other plans.

My teacher pointed to me and spoke the words that changed my destiny: “I want Chris to have the lead role because her powerful voice is just perfect for the stage!”

What? Powerful voice? Is she talking about me? Even more stupefying than getting a true leading role with spoken lines was hearing that someone found my voice not ugly, but powerful.

I was taken out of my shy self and transported to a powerful place, a place of possibilities where I was accepted and loved – even if I was still an awkward, short-haired girl with gap teeth.

I stopped feeling alone, and I became a part of a theater – an art that for many years helped to me to find my strength and express my voice.

I cultivated my passion for theater and when I was a senior in college studying clinical psychology, I decided to write and perform a comedy play based on women’s self-esteem.

I thought “Divas on the Divan” would be just a one-weekend presentation, but it morphed into an integral aspect of my life for the next decade. Today, even though I myself am no longer performing, the play is still regularly produced in my native Brazil.

Coming from the theater, I felt out of place when I moved to Fargo and began working in the corporate world. It was different for me to have meetings in a real office, (with real chairs!), instead of being in a dusty backstage of an old theater, sitting on a piece of old boat prop.

I was used to having a group of grown-ups actually take me seriously if I suggested flying people, trap doors and flowers floating from the ceiling.

A few years ago when expressing my ideas for our “Beautiful Women of North Dakota” book signing, I said: “What if we give the 22 women in our book the total star treatment? They could arrive in a limo and walk out on a red carpet and have the event covered by “Entertainment Tonight!”

Everyone in that meeting looked at me as if I was a freak from another planet – they said that a national celebrity show would never cover women from North Dakota.

A few months later, when our story was covered by “Entertainment Tonight,” they realized they were wrong. But they were right about one thing: I am from another planet. I am from the theater world – a magical place where the impossible is rendered possible, where our worst pain can become our biggest laugh, where a shy kid can cast off her powerlessness.

This past Wednesday, I enjoyed the opportunity to return to a theater community again, but not as the lead this time – I was there to watch the best and proudest production of my life: My 6-year old daughter!

As I watched her dancing, singing and trying to keep her big hat out of her happy face, I reflected on myself at her age. What would have happened to me if not for the loving hands of that teacher who opened the door for me to discover a new world? A world that embraced who I was and gave me the chance to explore all I could be.

Theater is an art that can heal. When I go to a theater, and I see happy kids, anxious parents and proud grandparents, I see a healing event – a bridge between cultures and generations.

I don’t know if you have a shy kid at home or if you still feel like one yourself. If you do, please, consider being a part of the wonderful theater programs we have in our community, such as the Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre and Trollwood.

You will be amazed what can happen to a child when she finds a place that she feels accepted, loved and inspired to became more than she believes she can be.

Chris Linnares is an international author, Brazilian psychotherapist and creator of Diva Dance. She is the founder of Naturally Diva and Diva Connection Foundation for women’s health and empowerment.