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Investing in Arts Education

Ben Platt on Finding Friends and Purpose in Theater

In an interview, Tony award winning actor and singer Ben Platt explains the important role theater played in how he grew up and how those lessons apply to everyone, no matter their future career.

Two of the most recent and notable characters played by actor and singer Ben Platt are similar in that they long for social connection and meaning in their communities. In the hit Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen, Platt won a Tony for his portrayal of an anxious teenager who befriended the family of a deceased peer to feel less alone. And in Netflix’s The Politician, the 26-year-old is an ambitious high school senior determined to become student body president and eventually president of the United States.

Platt counts himself “lucky” to have been given the opportunity to participate in theater growing up.

“I had the passion for it and a lot of outlets…and I know that’s not the case for a lot of young people,” says Platt, who grew up in Los Angeles. “I think it taught me how to communicate in an emotional way.”

Reflecting on lessons

Platt says being in theater as a kid taught him important lessons he’s carried on in his career, and that could ultimately be applied anywhere collaboration is necessary. “It’s so much about creating a family, and trust is necessary to do something like that. You have to hold yourself accountable and have the backs of everyone around you — because in a performing scenario there’s a lot of pressure,” he explains.

Platt counts two role models from his youth — both leaders in theater programs — who helped shape him into the professional he is today.

Photo: Courtesy of Julian Broad

One was the director of the after-school theater program he attended at age six. Platt describes the environment as warm and absent of fear, which helped him and his peers excel. The other was his high school theater director. “She showed me what it meant to show up and be a professional, and care about how your other cast mates and teammates are faring as much as you care about your performance is being perceived,” he says. “That was a big lesson for me.”

Passing on wisdom

Platt received the 2019 Ted Arison Young Artist Award for his contributions to theater — an accolade he considers “unworthy” of but he’s grateful for.

“I think there are so many people around me who are doing so much more groundwork than me,” says Platt, “But if anything [the award] lit a fire under my butt to contribute and find opportunities to work with young people.” He adds that the recognition reminds him “where [his] passion came from.”

For aspiring actors, or simply young people looking to get involved in theater, Platt has a piece of advice: Go for it, even if it’s the unpopular choice in your current social circle.

“No matter what the repercussions or byproducts are, it’s always better to have an outlet to express yourself. There’s no doubt that it’s worth that opportunity,” he says.

Similarly, Platt encourages parents whose children are quiet or lack social connection to consider theater as an extracurricular activity. If they have a passion for it, don’t hesitate to sign them up, he says.

“I think on a personal level, most of the communities in my life have been because of arts,” Platt says. “I think art is a lot of things, but first and foremost it’s really unifying.”

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