#WeAllDeserveArts: Sabrina Thornton – Program Officer for Creativity and Innovation, T. Rowe Price Foundation

September 25, 2020

#WeAllDeserveArts: Art education is the most essential preparation for adult life

“How can I bottle this feeling, and pass it on?”

These were my thoughts as I sat in a fake broom closet made of plywood, on the stage of a 300-seat theatre, with a live audience of spectators totally wrapped up in the action that was taking place just outside my thin door. I knew that in less than 90 seconds, I would burst through the door – “shocking” the other actors onstage – in a scene that would culminate in the final climactic moments of the story we had been telling for almost 2 hours.

It was thrilling. It was one of a handful of moments where I realized, with searing clarity, how the experience of performing is so unique and special. There is an exhilaration that happens when extensive preparation is paired with the unknowable nature of live theater. The ways in which these types of experiences have helped me navigate situations in my adult life – situations that have nothing to do with theater or performing – are innumerable. Ask any actor to tell you a story of when they “went up” on their lines (essentially forgetting everything they’ve rehearsed for the past 6+ weeks) and you’ll get a fully re-enacted horror story of the initial embarrassment and shock, but then eventually, you’ll hear how they regained composure and powered through, despite wanting to crawl into a hole and die. Or you’ll hear how a fellow actor stepped in and saved the day, their brain able to adjust instantly under pressure and improvise a way out of the mess.

It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see how these experiences come in handy as one moves into adulthood. Think about being confronted by an angry customer making a scene in the shop you manage. Or how you would handle crowd control at an outdoor venue when the rope-line you ordered didn’t arrive in time. Or how you might quickly troubleshoot AV issues in front of an expectant crowd of 200 conference attendees in a hotel ballroom. (These are mild examples plucked from my work history – if you want to hear about my time as a sleep technician, we’ll need to grab a drink.)

My hope for students of all ages is that they can experience that exhilarating feeling – trying to paint the vision in their mind and not knowing what the next brush stroke will bring, or hearing their instrument play in harmony with their best friend after weeks of practice. In my experience, this feeling has been wonderful preparation for life, and the unknowns and challenges that come with navigating the world as an adult. Art is such a beautiful and forgiving way to practice the skills required to take that leap, trust your instincts, and face your fears. All children deserve the opportunity to practice these skills, and to have the preparation that will allow them to place their best foot forward as they grow into adulthood. Because if the year 2020 has shown us anything – there is no formula or playbook to follow in a crisis, or when things don’t go as expected. To be completely honest, as I type this, my 2nd grader is less than 10 ft away, shouting at her classmates in her Microsoft Teams meeting. I’m not quite sure how we’ll get through these next few weeks as I continue to attempt to work full-time and add value to the Foundation team – but I do know how to improvise and how to maintain a sense of humor when things seem impossible. And that will make all the difference.


Sabrina Thornton is the Program Officer for Creativity and Innovation at the T. Rowe Price Foundation, where she also oversees the Capacity Building program. She joined the Foundation team after working as an actress, director, producer, teaching artist and arts administrator at regional theaters across the US for 10+ years.

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