Alex Ong


June 9, 1993. I, vividly, remember this day despite passing it in my life’s rear view mirror over twenty years ago. It wasn’t every day that I had to wear slacks, a button down shirt, a tie (too big and tacky for my current tastes) and black uncomfortable loafers—all picked out by my mother. This day was an important day and in retrospect, even more than I could have anticipated. Not just because I had to adhere to a “fancy” dress code but because the ripples of that day continue to significantly impact my life and my very self.

I was a 13 year old boy from Ventura County, California, going on a school field trip to Los Angeles on a Wednesday evening. Downtown Los Angeles and the Ahmanson Theatre to be exact. In my thirteen years of existence, I had been to Downtown exactly zero times and I had never been to a theatre that didn’t have the word ‘movie’ preceding it. It was definitely the longest field trip that I had taken and very possibly the only one taken at night. The excitement and anticipation was immense. I didn’t have a firm grasp on what a musical entailed having never seen one. I had never heard of The Phantom of the Opera until this field trip, but I was dressed to impress on this adventure that promised to result in new experiences and I had high hopes and expectations.

Upon entering the theatre, it was love at first sight. The multi-level architecture providing balcony views and multiple large staircases impressed. As I reached my seat near the top of the theatre, I could see the stage with the curtain drawn and the mingling strangers from outside start to fill the seats. The collective discussions growing in decibels as more seats are found adding to the anticipation. Suddenly, the orchestra pit erupts with music and shortly the lights dim and the performance begins.

To this day The Phantom of the Opera is my favorite musical. Not only because of the story, music, lyrics, costumes, characters, and sets, but because what it has done to shape my life. I purchased a program at intermission and still have the playbill and ticket from that evening. The impact of the experience was felt immediately. However, I didn’t realize how profound the experience until my life continued to unfold.

Since that day, my love affair with the arts has never waned. It has only grown in desire and appreciation as that experience proved to be a mere gateway to a whole new world filled with tears and laughter, song and dance, light and shade, nudity and abstractions and everything else imaginable. Recently, I have returned from a five country trip having experienced my first musical in the famous West End, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, come into contact with the Mona Lisa, look towards the heavens in The Sistine Chapel, circle the floor of the Colosseum, walk the grounds of Peterhof Palace, and admire the craftsmanship of handmade pottery and tapestries in Cappedocia. All of this inspired by an evening with a masked man and a chandelier.

My love for the arts is derived from its effect on all my faculties and senses. It engages my emotions and encourages me to think. It inspires my desire to read, write, design, and engage the world with a creative and open mind. I am measurably happier with the arts in my life and just knowing that it exists in the life around me. The arts don’t just matter. They are essential to nourish the proverbial and collective soul of the world. We all need something that we can appreciate in life that helps us to appreciate our own lives. The arts do not require you to be of minimum IQ or wealth. The arts do not require you to speak a specific language or practice a certain religion. The arts do not require athleticism or even the ability to speak. The arts only require your presence and that is something we all have to give.