There are moments that define us. They shape who we are and who we’ll become. They change the way we see ourselves, but they also change the way others see us.

As a parent, there is nothing more profound than witnessing those moments as they happen in the lives of my children. Lucky for me, I watched this magic happen three times last week, when my daughter performed as part of the cast of Theatre Centre Wellington’s adaptation of High School Musical.

There she stood for just a few minutes at centre stage, the shortest girl in the cast despite her senior status, wearing pig tails and high socks and an outfit she put together (that somehow got past her father). Fearless. And like the force of nature I know her to be, she took her cue, delivered her lines, sang her notes beautifully and then performed two hours of choreography like it was no big deal.

But let me assure you, it was a big deal – not just for her, but for every one of the 70 students who were also a part of the production, from the cast to the stage crew, the tech team and the band. It’s not just because they pulled off a great performance, which they absolutely did. It’s because theatre is where they belong. It’s where anyone can belong.

A theatre production becomes a community. Friendships are formed that might not have existed otherwise. The kids who struggle academically or socially find their tribe because it is a place where individuality is celebrated. Everyone has something to offer and their uniqueness isn’t a challenge to overcome, but a gift to be encouraged.

Confidence and acceptance happen here.

We don’t all fit in sports, but we can learn the same important lessons. Theatre kids learn the merits of team work, practice, competitive spirit and disappointments. Problem solving requires creative improvisation. Not everyone gets the lead role, but everyone has a role, and all of them matter.

From the musicians to the make-up and costume artists, set design, to the techs who make sure everyone is seen and heard, it’s all about cooperation and communication. Everyone has a place where they fit. That is why arts education matters.

My heartfelt respect goes to the teachers who put in many volunteer hours to make these shows happen, and to the volunteer (retired) teachers who jumped in to help make the show a success.

As the saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child.” You know you’ve lived in a town a long time when you know half the students in the production.

Some of these kids I’ve known since they were in preschool. Supporting them were generations of families, fellow classmates, teachers and friends. We all cheered each other’s kids on. To me, that speaks volumes about our community.

When you open the curtains to the stage and give young people a chance to stand in the spotlight, not only do you see them shine, but they see their own potential. Everything good begins from that moment.

Bravo.