Becca Ayers, Broadway Performer
My name is Becca Ayers and I’ve been in 4 Broadway shows, created a handful of original roles Off-Broadway and done a ton of regional theatre. I make my living doing theatre, and it’s highly possible that I wouldn’t be saying that if I hadn’t had Debbie Baldwin as a teacher, director, co-worker and friend.
I moved to Columbia, Missouri in the 4th grade and was immediately immersed in classes and shows at Columbia Entertainment Company (both children’s theatre shows AND community theatre shows). I did so many childrens’ shows that I’ve completely lost count, but most of them were completely original due to the playwrighting contest Debbie ran each year. We got the rare opportunity to create original roles, but also to SHARE roles, which taught us a healthy sense of competition and a sense of collaboration and generosity (I remember one show, in particular in which I was double-cast with my best friend Stacey:)
I spent every non-school moment (nights, weekends; you name it) doing and learning theatre, and Debbie was always there, too. Her life was dedicated to her craft and to TEACHING, which is such a rare gift in a business which possesses a huge percentage of teachers who come from a perspective of being burned and bitter about their own experiences. Debbie shows up because she has a calling; a GIFT, which is truly special and rare.
She ALWAYS treated her students like adults and hammered an amazing work ethic into each of us. In fact, her rehearsals were run more professionally than a lot of the professional theatre I work at today! I got to learn ALL aspects of theatre from makeup class to running lights for one of the children’s shows, which is (wisely) an invaluable lesson for ANYONE who wants to go into theatre. To get a taste of all aspects of is to respect your co-workers that much more. The actors who are “bratty” in the professional world are those who obviously have never had to strike a set themselves or try to make a prop out of a square of foam. She, also taught me a huge amount of self-awareness; basic stuff like not adding extra words and sounds to a line, not mouthing the other kids lines while they are talking and figuring out what to do with my hands instead of awkwardly grabbing the sides of my skirt, and also lasting lessons that build a strong foundation, like projecting, which so many people can’t do today, and only limits and weakens them as performers.
I got the opportunity to play alongside Debbie as an actor, as well, like when she was Nancy to my Oliver in “Oliver”. During those times, I learned how funny she was and had the honor of being taken under her wing to confide in me some of the things most kids would much rather hear from a cool adult than from their parents. She made made me feel incredibly special, mature and TRUSTED. I think feeling “trusted” may just be the biggest gift Debbie has given her many students over the years; especially in this day and age of “helicopter parenting”. This is reflected in her writing, which I am STILL learning from! For example, I just read her wonderful jr. high theatrical tale, “Bumbling Bea” and it caused me to make a new resolution with myself to ALLOW others to make their own mistakes. This has been a major epiphany for me; to realize that it is usually more powerful for a person to learn mistakes for THEMSELVES rather than trying to micromanage them. I am going to be conscious to start practicing this in my own life, and instead of feeling afraid for people and demanding that they “don’t say that!”, I vow to try to hold my tongue and let them experience the feelings of WHY they shouldn’t say that for THEMSELVES. It is just dawning on me now that we, as adults, still feel the humiliation that “Bumbling Bea” feels because maybe we were made to feel shamed for being imperfect instead of feeling like there was SPACE for our own imperfections. I LOVE that I am JUST NOW learning this lesson, thanks to Debbie! As I type this testimonial, I am just coming to the realization that we probably try to protect others from being humiliated, because we OURSELVES feel humiliated FOR them and are uncomfortable for our OWN feelings. If we can be strong enough to allow our loved ones’ imperfections, I think we will all come out stronger and more accepting, because, deep down, we as adults, STILL have that shame that makes us feel like we will be outcast or that we will be reflected poorly upon if our children and loved ones aren’t “perfect”. How brave and strong is it for us to hold our tongues and love someone enough for them to allow them to be who they truly are, make their own mistakes and learn from them. Those lessons go much deeper than when we bark at others and tell them how to live. Bea’s mother is an excellent example of this in the book, and I think she is truly a reflection of Debbie, herself. I CAN’T WAIT TO START PRACTICING THIS!! THANK YOU, DEBBIE!!!!
In conclusion, no matter what age a student of Debbie’s is, it is always made known that they are loved, respected, trusted and are held responsible their work, which makes them ALL rise to the occasion and take their work seriously. Debbie definitely was one of the few key influences in my youth who pointed me toward the path I am on today. No one works harder, and no one demands harder work than does, while balancing an equal amount of true friendship, passion and love. She is an amazing friend and teacher, and altho not all of my friends who I grew up learning from her with remained in theatre, they all still make their livings in some creative aspect (writing, choreographing, directing, etc) and they all have INCREDIBLE work ethics and an incredible sense of generosity and collaboration. The fact that Debbie Baldwin was their teacher is no coincidence. Every lesson Debbie teaches is a lesson in autonomy, maturity, trust and being trusted. She teaches us to be well-rounded and generous in our craft, and we are all extremely grateful!!!