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A Mind That Travels

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by Lynnette A. Dent

The bullet pierced my chest. I fell and struggled for life in an Iraqi desert. Blinding sand flew everywhere as soldiers kicked the dirt. I tried to get up but could only crawl over the blood that soiled the ground. Many fell to death around me. Then, something happened. The scene changed. I realized I was not on a battlefield but actually in a red leather chair staring at the stage with my dad next to me as usual.

You can't stop my imagination, which has grown up with my passionate love for theater. For as long as I can remember, my dad has taken me to plays on Broadway a couple of times a month. After a few quick slices of pizza, we search the billboards around Times Square for the right show. This time it is Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, but the mission is different. I am not here to merely enjoy the show. I am a junior conducting an honors project on the portrayals of politics in Broadway plays and Bengal Tiger is one of the three plays I am reviewing.

I try to watch the play from a distantly academic point of view but my imagination will not allow it. I can't detach myself from the characters. My senses easily go beyond reality and travel with the adventures of the two marines, the Iraqi translator and the smart tiger.

Not coincidentally, I've always loved books and I feel like I'm in a different place when I read and interact with characters: like a maid who loves someone above her station or a vampire. The library has always been my nesting place. Yet it sometimes feels too solitary so I always join theater productions where I can share my imagination with others in roles big and small. In the first grade, I was a little angel at a Harlem School of the Arts holiday production. I also played Ivana Trump in Miracle on 51st Street at St. Bart's Church in Fourth Grade. I was in the chorus of Pinocchio in Fifth Grade at the American Overseas School of Rome when my family spent six months in Italy. Two years later, I was Cynthia in a film I produced at a summer camp in Zell am See, Austria. Even as a senior, I portrayed a nurse in my school's production of Dracula. These are just a few of my roles.

I do not expect to be a professional actress or theater critic after college. Yet I see the ways theater and my imagination will serve me at times I least expect. For example, I spent three weeks in the LEAD Business program at the University of Michigan. My favorite moment was meeting an executive from British Petroleum who led one of our sessions. She was a theater major in college and she inspired me so much. She divided us into groups: My group was an American company collaborating with a Chinese company. We researched the ways to orient our conversations to appeal to the Chinese business people. I had to play a convincing role -- something I knew how to do -- to make a deal.

A few months earlier, I was an intern at the New York Historical Society. With my fellow interns, we studied the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. We were divided into groups and, with my leadership, my group wrote a theatrical debate and recorded it. Looking back on that day, it was clear to me why we chose to re-enact this event through performance; theater was such an enthralling way to comprehend the perspectives behind this historic event. I served as a Northern representative and I easily imagined myself in nineteenth century New York struggling with an issue that sent our country into war.

I have always seen history, my favorite subject, through the lenses of theater and imagination. Yet this year, I learn to use my imagination in math, the subject that gives me the most trouble. In my Advanced Topics in Mathematics class, we explore math through complex case studies such as elections, business scheduling and sorting. Now when I tackle a math problem, I imagine myself as the congresswoman elected in a newly created district because of population changes. Or I am a CEO of a small company arranging employee work hours in a way that saves on the bottom line. All of a sudden, math becomes a different kind of challenge that I welcome. Whether in math, history, or business, the intersection of my imagination with theater often means my whole world is indeed a stage in which the coming acts are an exciting mystery.

Lynnette A. Dent just finished her freshman at Wheaton College in Norton Massachusetts. She is a 2012 graduate of the Little Red Schoolhouse and Elisabeth Irwin High School.