Blog · Changed for the Better

Changed for the better: the power of arts in education, episode 3

Elijah Fremont

We are rolling along with our Changed for the Better conversations! What a gift I am receiving every time I reconnect with my wonderful people.

While it is certainly a challenge to coordinate schedules, my “kids” (who are no longer kids) always come through. Mid-20-somethings are a busy bunch, juggling their work schedules with some much needed down time. I remember my 20s – it was all about the hustle. At that age, you are young enough to pack the daily schedule without completely falling apart. Now, I just want to take a nap anytime I finish a task. But I digress…

Once upon a time, from 2012 to 2015, Elijah Fremont was my go-to leading man. The Cowardly Lion in The Wiz, Benny in In the Heights, and Tony in West Side Story; with relatively little training, he dug in with the powerful combination of a wide-eyed love of learning, dogged determination, and a splash of natural talent. His unfailing work ethic helped too. With each new school year, knowing I had him and his best buddy Manny (check out Episode 1) in my back pocket, I felt myself getting a little bolder, a little braver in my show choices.

Now, Elijah is all grown up, and happily married to my episode 3 subject, Emily Dowd. We have kept in touch over the years, scheduling random taco night dates or making catch-up phone calls and texts. We are never lacking for good conversation when we finally connect. It’s like we were never really apart, we just pressed pause for a little bit, then remembered just how long it had been since the last time we spoke. Needless to say, he was on the short list of people who I wanted to interview in the first few episodes. I am happy to share some of the highlights that made me smile. 

Building a friend-family

True to form, Elijah offered many incredible insights as he considered each of my ten questions about what he gained from his time in the studio.  One that made my heart swell was about the relationships that formed and flourished from his Thespian experience. The group of friends from the class of 2015 that participated in the program was a large and very tight-knit crew. Made up of so many different personalities and talents, they helped him to manage his personal struggles and despite all of the internal bickering (there was a lot of that) the support kept him centered and calm. We will certainly hear more from that class in future episodes. 

Doing the hard work

Switching his focus to the work involved in putting on a show, he remembered how, when he entered the studio/theater workspace, it was essential to “put off” all of the distractions of life to focus on the task at hand. He inherently understood the necessity for staying present in order to do the work involved in creation.

Elijah’s experience playing lead roles gave him a unique perspective about building a character. In order to do so, he realized that he had to go through mindset and behavior changes. That process translates into how we interact with the people around us…evaluating yourself and what “character” you are presenting to the world.

He started to wax philosophical in reflecting that lesson as it extends outward to our interactions with the world as we grow up. 

For wherever I want to end up in life, the character has to match where you’re going in life. We have a choice to play a part in our character, our behavior and what kind of mindset that we are going to feed and entertain to live out our lives.

Elijah Fremont

Who knew they made those kinds of connections, just from putting on a show? Well, I did…

Receiving criticism, mindfully

There was lots of mindfulness discussion about being non-judgmental, filtering constructive feedback from criticism without reason or merit and deciphering  whose feedback is most valuable to our well-being.

This is something that is hardest for adolescents to come to grips with; everything that is said gets absorbed through their pores and goes straight to their heart. Usually, it passes through a self-flagellation filter, creating a cycle of crushing doubt that gets in their way of flourishing as a human being. In the studio, I try very hard to teach them the difference between helpful feedback and useless criticism. One helps them to make themselves better; the other can bury them. It’s an ongoing work-in-progress, and it is nice to know that the effort is paying off. 

Sage advice

I remember him struggling in high school, lamenting the fact that his mom didn’t always see eye to eye with him. Now that he’s an adult, he has come full circle in developing a better appreciation for his mom and her point of view. Mothers are truly special and I think we should appreciate them more. (Thank you, Elijah for all moms in the world!).

Finally, in considering the “sage advice” question, he had two solid thoughts: Humble yourself and listen to your mother. 

BOOM. 

It doesn’t get any simpler or truer than that. Time for tacos.

Watch the full interview here!

To see more inspiring conversations, visit my YouTube Channel, Changed for the Better. You can now view episodes one (Manuel Piedra, Jr.) and two (Emily Dowd) anytime! Subscribe to get instant notifications whenever a new episode is posted!

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