Photos by Adam Hwang and Jayana LaFotos

The lights have gone down on yet another show. The curtains have been closed, the set struck and the stage swept. The audience has long gone and the box office rid of any old programs or tickets. A single ghostlight in the dark theater illuminates the delicate dust that dances in celebration for the characters that have come alive on that very stage. Now, just fond memories, they have changed the lives of audience members, the tech crew and, of course, the actors who played them. Every time an actor brings the words of a play to life on stage, they find a new part of themselves in the characters they help to create; they find demons they didn’t know were there. Love that they had forgotten about suddenly rises to the surface and they’re a little more of the person they’re meant to be. This is a love letter to all of the characters who have brought me back to myself. 

My dear friend Anne Frank, 

The first lead character I played on stage in college. You brought me back to the place I love, to sharing stories on stage. You showed me that it’s okay to be young and happy even when times are tough. Your ability to write so well at such a young age has opened me up to all that is possible with pen and paper. You reminded me what it’s like to be truly in love, head over heels; no reservations. The way that you were able to hold onto hope and dream of a better day gives me strength on days when I’m not sure I’ll see tomorrow. You brought an innocent, youthful glow into my heart while also teaching me the pain and struggle of being human. You showed me in one show the darkness and beauty of the human race. 

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to change the world” – Anne Frank

You, Anne, have certainly changed my world forever. 

-Your friend, Morgan

To Morgan of “Dear Lil,” 

It’s weird thinking of you as a character. After all we are the same person, sort of. I always look back on “Dear Lil” and feel some sense of sadness, of longing. The truth is, as much as I’d love to bring you back to life, I feel a disconnect now. You brought me into myself. You took me on a tour of the parts of myself that I didn’t like to visit often. You pulled back the layers of myself that I had developed as protection from the world. You brought me to a place of love for myself and my story. You told me that it is okay to look back on where you’ve come from. I am not you anymore; I am not the people that you helped bring to life on that stage but I am a better me because I spent time with you. You gave me the strength to speak out for what I believe in and create art that makes a difference. You were the beginning of my healing journey back to myself. 

-Your present self, Morgan 

My Lovely Lady in Orange, 

Sister, sister, sister. You brought that demon out of me, girl. In a time where I was stuck in love with someone who didn’t love me, you reminded me of my worth. You put pain and heartache in language that I could understand, that I could feel. You broke me down to my core, to where I still believed in love and good loving. You stripped away years of stressing over men. You brought me into womanhood: into loving myself and expecting others to love me in the same way. You gave me the strength to let go! You sister, are my rock, my strength. 

-Your sister, Morgan 

Oh Talisha, 

Baby girl, you brought me through the wringer. You brought me into a world I had never known. You showed me what it feels like to be at your wit’s end, to be so broken and so alone that you’ll do anything to feel something. You gave me a new sense of gratitude for the life I am living. You made me look at the world differently. Because of you, I am able to take a moment to look beyond the walls that people put up, to take the time to connect with them and learn who they are. You are who I could’ve been if I wasn’t shown my worth. You are the little sister that I wish I could’ve saved. You are all the young ladies that got the short end of the stick. You are the world, the flower that deserves all the water in the ocean; you are the future.

-Your biggest supporter, Morgan

Miss Priscilla, 

Oh Chile, you are the light! You, Miss Thang, have brought laughter back into my body. You are what it looks like to live through trauma and come out sangin’. You are the sassy, bold, over-the-top parts of my soul. You are the parts of me that don’t get to play as much as they should. You are chickens choking and belly up laughter. You are down home hospitality and sisterly love. You are the light in the darkness. You are the sun shower in the summer. You brought me to a place where I can talk about the history of my people, open some eyes and still have fun doing it. You are my purpose. I hope that I can carry the torch on for you.

-Your best friend, Morgan 

These five characters have brought me out of childhood and into womanhood. They have supported me in experiences that no one else went through with me. They were by my side. When I perform, it’s just as much for me as it is the audience. We grow together. We learn together and we feel together. Anne, Morgan, Lady in Orange, Talisha and now Priscilla are helping me to find myself and to find the voice that will help others find themselves. They are my loyal companions on this beautifully brilliant journey through life.

Morgan Heyward is the founder of Illuminate Theater, an actress, director, and producer committed to creating theater that is representative of all people. She graduated from Russell Sage where she starred as Anne Frank.