The Play That Changed My Life: Jen Cullen
Editors Note: “The Play that Changed My Life” series came from an idea Patrick White developed in collaboration with Nippertown, InPlay, and the local theater community to share memories of life altering theater experiences.
Contributed by Jen Cullen
When someone asks you about a defining moment in your life, doesn’t it feel like it’s hard to come up with an answer on the spot? I always seem to feel that way. Luckily, when the call was put out for “The Play That Changed My Life” I had time to dive into my ticket binder to relive some of my favorite theatrical moments.
Could I use my first Broadway show, Beauty and the Beast; the show that made me decide when I was 5 that theatre was going to be a huge part of my life? Absolutely, but that was just the first ticket in the book. Should I use the first production I was ever in, Annie, where I got to play five different roles and learned the hard way how a quick change can go terribly wrong? Again, sure, but something about it didn’t seem quite right.
As I flipped through the book every ticket hit me with a very specific memory and feeling, each one very different than the last. The time my Grandma, Mom and I went to see Phantom of the Opera (my first time) and I was left breathless by the chandelier. The time I directed Much Ado About Nothing and had to step in and play Dogberry at the last minute, book in hand, and felt a true surge of “this is what live theatre is about”. The first show I professionally marketed; a new play called Play Date, and the pride I felt for being part of the team that put new work on its feet. The 2010 Off-Broadway Production of The Little Foxes that left me reeling in its raw simplicity. The visceral and explosive world of Sleep No More. The student production of The Foreigner I saw at the Region 1 American College Theatre festival where I laughed so hard, I hurt for three days. Spring Awakening, one of the only shows I’ve seen multiple times, and the first time I stepped foot in Proctors; Superior Donuts, the first show I saw at Capital Repertory Theatre; Clever Little Lies, my first time back on the stage after college at Curtain Call; Into The Woods my first show at Siena.
Each ticket stub brought me back to that seat, that moment, that stage, and the feelings filled me up all over again. I know we’re being asked to pick one, but how can I? Each one of these productions, and hundreds more, have all shaped me and affected me in vastly different ways. Every single ticket leaves an imprint and picking one would be like picking up a puzzle piece. It would show one sliver of an entire picture but could never encompass the whole thing.
In this new temporary reality where art is on pause, revisiting these plays reminded me why art and theatre are important, why they are a necessity for this world. One day, we’ll be back and when we are, you’ll see me in the front row.