By Michaela Bulkley
In 2012 I saw Allegiance at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre. I was 17 and it changed my life. Five years later, I got to see it again and be reminded of why I became a storyteller.
“Good morning everyone, please stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.”
About 35 high school students stand and mumble through the words they’ve had to say every day since they were five. Some don’t say anything, the ROTC kid says it louder than anyone. Then we sit back down.
We didn’t think much of it.
Five years ago, two teaching artists from the Old Globe came into a classroom in North County San Diego and asked a class filled with first generation Americans what it meant to be loyal to your country.
“Can someone explain to me what the Japanese Internment camps were?”
I was a senior is high school. This was my third time taking drama, and I had taken every AP History class I could. I cherished these field trips to the Old Globe, they were my once a year life line to seeing theatre. Growing up in Escondido, there was not a lot of importance in the arts, and as a senior, I wasn’t sure if theatre was going to be in my college career.
Orange Glen High School is a mostly poor, mostly Hispanic high school. Our theater department was small and run by Jenner Veitch. She was our producer, director, choreographer, all the designers, improv coach, advocate, and teacher. She was the only person in my life that told me that theater is important; that week I realized what she had been talking about.
They taught us the dark history of the internment camps that were so easily glossed over in the pages of our textbooks. Their activities were immersive and forced us to think critically of the situation, something that could not have happened in a typical history class. My history teachers did not shy away from the topic, but there was only so much time they could spend on it before having to move on.
Then we were asked to say the Pledge of Allegiance again. We froze. We all said it, but this time it was different.
I never knew that theater could be powerful.
That week we went to see Allegiance at the Old Globe.
Here was this beautiful, tragic, powerful story that made me empathetic to people I had never met. I did not know anyone that had been in the Japanese Internment camps, and here I was crying over the pain they endured. The story was more complex than I could have imagined. Was I supposed to side with Sam the patriot, or Frankie the resister? The character of Kay resonated with me — trying to be a good daughter and sister but finally needing to do what was right for herself. How was I supposed to feel about the American government? The pain that their family went through, and the pain that remained after the War was over, I was feeling only a small fraction of that pain from falling in love with these characters, but I could never imagine the real struggles these people went through.
My concept of reality was skewed, I felt pain and love for these fictional characters portraying something real people had gone through, but I had never met them. None of it was real, no one died that day, there were no bombs or wars in San Diego that morning, and the Japanese internment camps had long been closed, but somehow it all felt very real.
College applications were due in a few weeks and I did what everyone told me not to do, I signed up to be a theater major.
“You’re too smart to be a theater major.”
“Why don’t you do something safer, like be a Communications Major?”
“Do you even want to be an actress?”
I had no idea what I was going to do, but I knew I had to do everything in my power to make sure stories like Allegiance continued to be told.
Four years later I regularly visit my high school teacher in San Diego, have a degree in Theatre Arts from the University of La Verne, am working on a masters in Nonprofit Management, and I work at LA STAGE Alliance.
That’s when I discovered East West Players, and heard they were producing Allegiance.
Walking in to see the show was like seeing an old friend. Theater, just like people, is constantly changing with time. I’m a different person now, and this was a different production, but there was a familiarity and connection that had never gone away. It was still the same play I had loved for all these years.
Now as an emerging professional starting my career in a time of political turmoil, it reminds me that my work is important. We all have a responsibility to make sure stories get told, everyone from my high school teacher Jenner Veitch, to George Takei, and as long as we keep telling stories, then maybe some other 17-year-old will see it and realize they need to be a storyteller too.