[drops pen on the desk] ♪ You'’re calling out from some unknown cloud ♪ RUSTON: It'’s almost like a tingling situation where you'’re like, I'’ve gotten out of the shower, I'’ve gotten outta bed before, I was like cooking dinner and I was like, I almost set my house on fire because of this idea was arising in me and it had to come out in a musically expressive way.
♪ And I'’m lettin'’ all of my goodness out ♪ That'’s pretty cool.
It'’s a little positive.
You sit down then and you start tinkering with it to edit and to craft it.
So that'’s kind of like the marriage of art and- and craft, in my opinion, of songwriting.
♪ ♪ Trying my best out here anyway ♪ Before I was a professional musician, I was a competitive ice skater.
I started around the age of eight till about 15.
♪ I moved to train with these two Olympic coaches I was out there and I just felt very confused.
I was full of doubt.
What I loved about skating, being free in that moment.
I didn'’t feel that when I was competing, '’cause when I was competing, I was worried about winning only.
♪ '’Cause everything was busting at the seams ♪ I was faced with this very large decision, to keep doing something that I knew wasn'’t where my path was supposed to keep going on or to not and potentially let a lot of people down.
And where I found solace was that'’s when I started playing guitar.
I wrote my first song and... felt like everything just made sense immediately and I made the decision, right?
That was like, "This is what I'’m gonna do."
♪ Yeah, I'’ll meet you there ♪ ♪ Up high in that unknown cloud ♪ It'’s extremely pivotal for someone to keep their passion alive, to rediscover why they do it in the first place.
I heard about this woman, Melissa Smith, that'’s taking her own passion and being able to take a new route to fulfill the lives of people that are generally disregarded in this society.
And what she doesn'’t know is that I'’m gonna take her story and hopefully turn it into a great song.
It was extremely moving to me and we wrote a song for you and what you'’re doing and what brought you there.
[audience applauds] I'’m Ruston Kelly and Melissa Smith is the inspiration for my American Anthem.
♪ ♪ MELISSA: So I'’ve been in the arts since I was about five years old, started playing piano at that age.
I did worship bands and garage bands.
I eventually joined local community theaters.
Anything that had performing, I wanted to do it.
In one way, I was extremely prideful and at the same time, I was always really hard on myself.
Even though I wasn'’t bullied by other people, I think I was bullied by myself when I wasn'’t quite measuring up.
[door closes and locks] [car door opens] So when I got outta college, I moved away and I wanted to start fresh.
But once I got out here, I- I couldn'’t find a job anywhere.
I see a dog, I see a dog.
She'’s a fluffy dog.
[chuckles] I had this college degree, I had great internships, but just no other doors were opening in my field.
[indistinct chatter] And so I was just taking side jobs to pay the bills.
MELISSA'’S DAUGHTER: We'’re getting in.
MELISSA: Somebody came and said, "Hey, I know someone at a local store called Our Thrift Store who is hiring," and I learned that it was a store that employed people with intellectual and developmental disabilities or IDD.
That would be people with Down'’s syndrome to Asperger'’s, to Williams syndrome.
Just people of all abilities.
Can you push it?
[box sliding across the floor] Everyone there was suddenly my best friend and I had just met them.
[laughs] You know, they loved you, even though they didn'’t even know you, you didn'’t have to do anything great to earn their respect or their love.
And there was just this peaceful and freeing environment that I think I would- had been craving.
But at the same time, there was a part of me that still really wanted to be creative.
And so my boss, one day, she said, "Have you ever thought about combining the two?"
And I said, "No, I have not."
[laughs] And so I decided to rehearse this little rendition of Cinderella that I had written.
I eventually put a piano score to it and we performed it for about 40 people, and by the end of it, everyone was in tears and we knew we had something special.
Oh my goodness, Zach, you are so strong.
It was after that show that we realized that this could actually be a real program.
This could be a full arts company that could serve people with IDD, and that'’s really when Backlight was born.
We are producing large scale productions that are integrated with people with IDD that show our actors value and respect both as adults and as artists.
[actors growling and screaming] Everything that we do in Backlight culminates into a final performance.
And along that journey, they'’re taking classes that are enhancing their skills and their confidence.
SHREK: I will beat that guy up and hurl him into a tree.
DONKEY: Man, you are no fun at all.
MELISSA: We have two theater classes.
We have a dance team and we have a band, and then we have a creative movement class.
I'’m really proud of the fact at Backlight we meet everybody exactly where they'’re at.
We give them as much as they can handle, and that'’s enough.
JORDAN: They teach us more than I think we teach them.
You know, we give them the tools for like, "This is how you project," but they teach us just how to be a good human being.
MELISSA: It'’s a wonderful opportunity for us to just let them show the world that they'’re capable of so much more than everybody assumes they'’re capable of.
PRINCESS: Take off the helmet.
WOMAN: [laughs] Good job.
♪ RUSTON: Headed currently to meet Melissa and see what her whole operation is about so that I can get enough information to write a song that we'’re gonna play for her.
MELISSA: Hey there.
RUSTON: I'’m Ruston.
MELISSA: I'’m Melissa.
RUSTON: It'’s nice to meet you finally.
MELISSA: Nice to meet you.
Thank you for being here.
Thanks for having me.
MELISSA: I actually have some of the students who are in our band inside... RUSTON: Cool.
MELISSA: And we are hoping that you would jam with us.
Let'’s do it.
MELISSA: All right.
Hey guys, I wanna introduce you to my friend Ruston here.
RUSTON: Very cool.
MELISSA: And this is our Backlight band.
Look at this.
MELISSA: The way that we do music and notation is we correlate a different color for every different chord that we learn.
Well, let'’s jam.
MELISSA: Let'’s jam.
You wanna count us off, Megan?
MEGAN: A one, a two, a one, two, three.
♪ This is a special place.
We- RUSTON: Yeah.
Tell me about this place a bit.
MELISSA: We have performed several shows here and this was the first like real theater setting we ever came into.
We were doing Romeo and Juliet at the time.
[Melissa chuckles] RUSTON: Amazing.
MELISSA: And I remember Juliet, when she killed herself, [laughs] she took the knife and she said her last line, and she stabbed it and she laid down and she goes, "Dead."
And then she stood up and winked at the audience and laid back down.
[both laugh] ♪ I feel happy today ♪ MEGAN: I feel happy today.
♪ I feel happy today ♪ MELISSA: Nice and loud.
♪ I feel happy today ♪ RUSTON: So what is it like to do a full Broadway musical with people that have disabilities?
MELISSA: Well, it takes a lot of creativity.
You know, you have to find ways to meet people where they'’re at.
And one way we'’ve done that is through multi-casting... RUSTON: Ooh.
MELISSA: Where we have several different actors playing the same role.
MELISSA: And so we did The Wizard of Oz, and every time one Dorothy would come up the Yellow Brick road and new Dorothy would come down the Yellow Brick road and they didn'’t look the same, but they had the same costume and wig on... RUSTON: Yeah.
MELISSA: And everything and it worked out great.
And this way it'’s like not just one actress gets to be the lead role.
It'’s like, I had eight actresses that got to say, "Oh yeah, I was Dorothy."
And, you know, we just had like one pro played Scarecrow.
SCARECROW: Come along, Dorothy.
You don'’t want any of those apples.
MELISSA: And when I put a pro on the stage with them, he moves the show along, you know.
And all of a sudden our students feel like really like professional when everyone'’s around.
MELISSA: So they take everything up to the next level.
All right, girls, we are going to rehearse Act One, Scene Nine and Alena as Shrek and Ana-Lise as Princess Fiona, and we are gonna invite Ruston here to be our donkey.
ANA-LISE: My donkey.
I'’m gonna be your donkey today.
MELISSA: Our staff is always on stage somehow.
We'’re disguised as townspeople or, you know, a tree.
♪ I'’m so happy ♪ [audience cheers] MELISSA: And we always have the lines there and we'’re always ready in case an actor needs us.
We can cue something or we can help somebody move where they need to go, and so our students never feel unsupported.
FERNANDA: And ready for shoot, whoo.
Let'’s do this.
RUSTON: What would you say, like, was kind of what you wanted to be, you know, when you were a kid?
Well, once I experienced performing, very quickly, my role models were all the ones I saw on television... RUSTON: Of course.
MELISSA: The Academy Awards and whatnot.
MELISSA: And so, and everything had to end with like this award.
And so- [laughs] RUSTON: "For my talent."
MELISSA: I think it'’s interesting how, you know, your greatest weaknesses really can become your strengths... RUSTON: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
MELISSA: '’Cause, you know, to think that life can take you in a direction where then all of that is used to do something so completely polarly different.
I can relate, bear with me.
I was a competitive figure skater for like eight years.
I realized as a kid, I wanted to win an Olympic gold medal with my talent.
But then when I discovered music, it was like the importance of what I had to say to myself was deeply important to other people, not because I said it, but because of what the message was.
RUSTON: It'’s not about glorifying and inflating myself.
It'’s actually about giving it away.
MELISSA: A backlight, you know, is- is a light that you place behind a subject to keep it from blending into a background.
MELISSA: That reminder of like, what am I called to do with my gifts?
You know, I can walk around with a spotlight on myself all day long, but what if I take that spotlight and turn it around and use it to shine on somebody else who doesn'’t get the spotlight.
FERNANDA: Let'’s talk about me.
KARA: I'’ve done Peter Pan.
I'’ve done Circus Momentus.
I'’ve done Dream Come True in New York City, which was written by one of my friends from Backlight.
It'’s a challenge, but it'’s a great challenge.
MELISSA: All right.
Break a leg kiddo.
FERNANDA: I absolutely love Backlight.
This means so much to me because they'’re giving me an opportunity to shine.
I like that I can be me and that time just stops, and in the moment, I can express how I feel and be free.
There'’s no disability.
I'’m just me.
RUSTON: You think Shrek is your true love?
[all laugh] [Ana-Lise stomps] ANA-LISE: What is so funny?
SAM: Well, the best part about acting for me is I get to be different characters.
In fact, my first monologue in- in Act Two, I'’m Kevin Bacon, Jim Carrey from the Grinch and Romeo and Juliet.
There'’s a cave right over there.
RUSTON: Mmm, that'’s no place for a princess.
ANA-LISE: Oh no, no, no.
RUSTON: One of my favorite philosophers is Ralph Waldo Emerson.
He said, "The greatest thing an artist can do is to create another artist."
And that'’s what you'’re doing exactly.
♪ [audience applauds] ♪ MELISSA: Not a lot of people get to say that they have their dream job.
So I'’m pretty- RUSTON: No, they don'’t.
MELISSA: I'’m pretty lucky.
[laughs] RUSTON: Yeah, it sounds like it.
Thank you so much for coming out there.
RUSTON: Yeah, yeah.
Thank you for having me.
MELISSA: That was so much fun.
I can'’t tell you how much that means to the students and you made '’em feel like complete rock stars.
RUSTON: They'’re rock stars.
It was really, really special, so... MELISSA: Thanks.
RUSTON: I'’m actually playing tomorrow.
If you want to bring them, come out, maybe we could all jam.
MELISSA: Yes, definitely.
RUSTON: Wait, really?
Thank you so much.
That was really special.
MELISSA: Oh, except I'’m gonna need that hat back.
♪ RUSTON: When I left Backlight, I was thinking like, "Okay, like, who'’s like the perfect person to write this song with," and as soon as that thought came into my head, I thought of Kate York.
I think we write some pretty dec songs together.
[both laughing] Like, I kind of wanted it to be like, okay, setting the scene of, you know, I used to do these things and somewhere along the way, I felt it start to slip away.
KATE: Slip away.
He called me last night and sort of told me about her, and he had some words that he mumbled.
And so I just had the melody.
[Kate vocalizing] So I recorded it and I sent it back to him.
I was like, "Chorus coming in hot."
RUSTON: Just this casual melody I had that was just like heart wrenching.
♪ And the light ♪ KATE: Place.
♪ Shines further from the stage ♪ ♪ And it puts you in your place ♪ [Kate laughs] ♪ And it makes you remember why ♪ Oh, let'’s go.
When I met Melissa, it was very apparent that she was one of those rare figures that shines brighter in a way because they know what it'’s like to feel like they aren'’t shining at all.
And I feel in conveying the story to Kate, like that was pretty much the thread, you know, to run it all through.
♪ That light only gets ♪ It only gets bigger the more you learn to give it away.
KATE: You said spotlight.
RUSTON: Spotlight'’s cool.
Well, her production company is called Backlight.
♪ The Backlight ♪ KATE: Might be- maybe we steer- it'’s a little- RUSTON: It'’s a little- KATE: A little too on the nose.
RUSTON: Yeah, [both laugh] It'’s a little there.
KATE: The spotlight reaches beyond the stage.
I kind of was thinking about that, like... RUSTON: Mm.
KATE: It didn'’t have to be all on her.
RUSTON: Like the pivotal part in her journey was realizing like to take the spotlight off of herself... KATE: Mm-hmm.
RUSTON: And to shine it on someone else KATE: Wow.
RUSTON: Was like a weight lifted off of her.
♪ KATE: Yeah.
Oh, a big fan of that.
♪ That makes me a little- little misty-eyed- BOTH: A little misty-eyed RUSTON: Side.
KATE: Passed the tear test.
RUSTON: You know, a minor progression can... KATE: Make somebody sad.
RUSTON: A lot of times have a lot of weight to it.
This verse has the kind of like the struggle or whatever.
And that chorus is definitely like a realization type thing.
In that struggle element, it starts in a minor chord and descends down into a resolved major chord.
RUSTON: And then that chorus lands on- KATE: It'’s like a release.
KATE: The chorus feels like a release.
♪ When you find the meaning ♪ ♪ Nothing beats the feeling ♪ ♪ Of seeing somebody else shine ♪ KATE: And there is your song.
BOTH: There is the song.
KATE: There it is.
RUSTON: We were writing a song that there was zero purpose other than to like warm this person'’s spirit.
RUSTON: I want to nail this for her.
KATE: Oh, you will.
RUSTON: We'’ll see.
[vocalizing] ♪ MELISSA: So Ruston has invited us to a little concert.
So we have invited some of our friends and family from Backlight and we'’re really just excited to see him perform.
[audience applauds] RUSTON: Okay, so Melissa, before we get to this, knowing that the theater rental expense is the largest expense for you to put on the production you wanna put on, I'’ve decided to cover that expense for you the next time you do it.
[audience applauds and cheers] Very happy to do it.
In addition to that gift, there'’s another thing that you don'’t know.
I brought in a friend of mine today, Kate York, and we sat down and wrote this song specifically for you and your life and your journey and how it inspired us.
It'’s called "What You'’re Here For," and it kind of brings it all down to it.
So I'’m gonna play it for you.
♪ ♪ I used to play piano ♪ ♪ ♪ Dreaming of being on a big stage ♪ ♪ There was a time I thought I lost it ♪ ♪ ♪ But those dreams don'’t ever go away ♪ ♪ Those dreams don'’t ever go away ♪ ♪ But some of them got broken ♪ ♪ They shifted and they changed shape ♪ ♪ Put the pieces back together ♪ ♪ '’Cause some dreams don'’t ever go away ♪ ♪ Some dreams don'’t ever go away ♪ ♪ '’Cause the light shines further than the stage ♪ ♪ And it puts you in your place ♪ ♪ And it saves you just in time ♪ ♪ To remind you it'’s not yours ♪ ♪ Just when you think you'’re so sure ♪ ♪ You find out what you'’re really here for ♪ ♪ ♪ It'’s funny where roads'’ll take you ♪ ♪ It'’ll throw away your master plan ♪ ♪ ♪ And trying so hard to make it ♪ ♪ But you end up right back where you began ♪ ♪ Yeah you end up where it all began ♪ ♪ '’Cause the light shines further than a stage ♪ ♪ And it puts you in your place ♪ ♪ And it saves you just in time ♪ ♪ To remind you it'’s not yours ♪ ♪ Just when you think you'’re so sure ♪ ♪ You find out what you'’re really here for ♪ ♪ Ah yeah yeah ah ya, ah ah oh oh ♪ ♪ '’Cause maybe it'’s a moment ♪ ♪ Maybe it'’s a lifetime ♪ ♪ Maybe you should never ask why ♪ ♪ So when you know the meaning ♪ ♪ Nothing beats the feeling ♪ ♪ To see somebody else shine ♪ ♪ To see someone else shine ♪ ♪ '’Cause the light shines further than a stage ♪ ♪ And it puts you in your place ♪ ♪ But it saves you just in time ♪ ♪ To remind you it'’s not yours ♪ ♪ Just when you think you'’re so sure ♪ ♪ You find out what you'’re really here for ♪ ♪ ♪ You find out what you'’re really here for ♪ ♪ [audience applauds] It was a really special thing to write that for you.
Thank you for being you.
You'’ve inspired me a lot.
I feel amazing because the goal was accomplished to create something for her that reminded her of this whole journey that she'’s been on to get Backlight and seeing her reaction was kind of, it was everything.
MELISSA: I think just from the very first words, I just- you knew that that was- this was for me, this was my gift and just felt really special, especially one so beautiful.
I think I'’m gonna listen to that [laughs] a lot.
♪ You find out what you'’re really here for ♪ [static] [chiming] ♪