“So…who were you in Hamilton, or were you just in the ensemble?”
His question halted me.
I had just finished naming the 5 Broadway shows that his teacher, Shonica Gooden, had worked on in as many years and this was the question that was asked.
Shonica, being a dear friend of mine, looked me dead in the eye in our secret language as if to say “this one’s on you, homie”.
Despite my initial offense, I knew this was a teachable moment because helping our 16 year-old student understand his problematic language was paramount to changing people’s view of Broadway ensemble members.
I said, “there’s something very problematic with the word just, my friend.”
Just feels less than.
Just suggest that she didn’t get the part that you think she wanted.
Just implies that there was no sacrifice.
Just questions if there were even any work involved.
Just equates her employment to a handout.
Above all, JUST puts a metric system to what the Universe so graciously gave her.
It may not be what our student meant…but just is what he said…and that limiting belief is both crippling and problematic—and we’re not even cognizant that we’re doing it.
We must be careful with the words that we chose.
Our words have power.
What you have is yours and our language must reflect that ownership.
You say that it’s just a one bedroom apartment…no boo…it’s your one bedroom apartment.
Or, I just own a little dance studio.
No, my love…you own a dance studio.
Why do we downplay the blessings that we work so hard for with such belittling language as just?
I hope I am helping someone today by saying the next time you come out yo’ neck to say just, whether out loud or to yourself, I want you to have a real moment of reflection truly looking back over how far you’ve come, how hard you’ve worked, how restless your dream has made you at night, how many family functions you’ve missed because of your dream, how many dollars and rehearsal hours you’ve poured into your pursuit, how many no’s you’ve turned into next times, and how many doors you continue to beat down for your calling even when the return looks as though it may be bleak.
This serves as your reminder that you aren’t just anything. You are still here my friend and your dream isn’t done with you yet.
Every morning you wake up is a reminder that the Universe is still counting on you to birth what you were put here to do.
He thought he came to class to learn a song and dance.
No, my friend, we came to reimagine our possibilities by reshaping our language.
And stop downplaying your greatness.
You’ve worked too hard for that.
Founder // The Broadway Collective
Founder of The Broadway Collective and an Honors Graduate of the University of Michigan’s Musical Theatre Department. Hartwell has been seen on Broadway in Hello, Dolly! w/ Bette Midler, Cinderella, Motown, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Memphis, and Dreamgirls. He’s also a Fred Astaire Award Nominee for ‘Best Male Dancer in a Broadway Show’ and member of Broadway Inspirational Voices.