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Jul 10 2017
by Shelby Lenhart

Why I'm Not Afraid to Trade My Small Town for New York City

By Shelby Lenhart - Jul 10 2017

Many inspiring Broadway success stories begin with a small town. I was born and raised in a small suburb of Philadelphia with just under 20,000 people. In this town, the pattern seems to be "born here, raised here, stay close for college, move back here, raise kids here, repeat." A handful of inhabitants of the town have attempted an escape, but it would appear our little Bermuda Triangle won't allow them to leave. In August, I'll be packing up and moving to New York City permanently, and I'm not the least bit afraid.

In a small town like this one, you learn a few things very quickly. One of the most important things you learn in a town like this is how to make connections — how to network and reach out for the things you want. The old adage claims "it's not what you know, but who you know," a skill that can be honed in a place where you encounter the same few people day in and day out. The opportunities in a town like this are few and far between, so you learn how to market yourself to appear best for the ones that do arise.

Similarly, other skills that I've sharpened over time also include a now-deft ability to be thankful for small opportunities and to play a part, even despite any hurting inside. People do not simply observe how you respond to getting what you want, they also take note of how you respond to not getting it as well. In a place so small, news of temper tantrums spreads fast, and can often hinder any future opportunities — something that can also be said for roles in a professional theater industry.

Another thing that living in a small town has taught me is that not everyone will like you. In fact, no matter how nice, generous or selfless you are, there will always be other people who will find a way to oppose you. It's an unfortunate reality of life, although, I will admit, a necessary one. A town like this taught me that there are toxic people in the world. Their touch can be handled in one of two ways: it can be cut off completely — sealed in a medical waste bag and thrown into the endless landfill of passing faces — or it can fester. A rotten apple has the capability of spoiling the bunch unless someone throws it away first.

My mother and I have very nearly become immune to the questions, "Aren't you afraid?" and, "Are you sure?" replying with the same assured tone as we have since the first inquiry. Parents worriedly ask my mom if she's comfortable sending me to such a city by myself. Neighbors press haughtily if she's willing to help me pay for four years of theater training in a ruthless industry. Each time, she informs them that life here isn't so much different from the life I'll have up there. The rules are still the same, it's only the venue that has changed.

In a strange way, living in a mild community as such has been one of the best forms of preparation for my life in New York. No, I was not exposed to the behaviors of the seasoned city inhabitants, I was not born with a subconscious transit map and sometimes I get myself a bit turned around, but the social aspect of a place like this is the best dry run for my future that I could have asked for.

The advice I am always given, hidden amongst questions regarding a backup plan or my certainty in the decision I've made, is something that I can identify in my community. Words of wisdom I am granted are just echoes of lessons that my hometown has already taught me, and for that, I am thankful. I am largely thankful that I have something that many other competitors do not have: An innate understanding of human interaction on a very base level, which is something I wholly believe can only be born from a lifetime spent in a tiny corner of the world.

I leave for New York at the end August, preparing, as I type, for a future laden with auditions, disappointment and hopefully, success. In the great stage of life, my hometown was the dress rehearsal. I have been lucky enough to learn how to play the part with confidence before stepping into the spotlight, thanks to the humble suburb I called home for 18 years. 

Lead Photo Credit: Pexels 

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Shelby Lenhart - Marymount Manhattan College

Shelby is a freshman at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. She is getting her BA in Theatre Arts with a concentration in Playwriting.

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