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today spring 2012

Award-Winning Shows Now Available!

Engaging, Innovative Musicals and Plays Now Available for Licensing!

Pinocchio An inventive steampunk musical makes a metal toy into a real boy!

Rapunzel —Uncut! An indie rock take on the traditional tangled tale!

Alice in Wonderland Tumble down the rabbit hole into a musical jazz odyssey!

Robin Hood Get ready for justice Sherwood Forest style with everyone’s favorite “usual suspects”!

An anime-inspired adaptation of evil plots, potions and a poison apple!



illustrations © Lee Moyer. Facebook is a registered trademark of Facebook, Inc.

Snow White

cover photo (L–R) Ryk Goddard, Mel King, and Sam McMahon in Helena and the Journey of the Hello by Finegan Kruckemeyer, Co-design and Direction by Frank Newman. Terrapin Puppet Theatre, Tasmania, Australia. Photo by Peter Mathew.

tya today spring 2012 / vol 26 / num 1

editorial  4

Isn’t it Time to be “Naughty?” By Ernie Nolan

feature 8

On the Cutting Edge: The Intersection of Experimental Theatre and Young Audiences By Jonathan Shmidt

international  16

Cultural Translation in Four International Collaborations: US Artists Dance with Theatre-makers from Denmark, Iran, Ireland, and Jordan By Kim Peter Kovac and Megan Alrutz

in memoriam  22

Dorothy Heathcote: Pioneer in Drama Education 1926–2011 Contributed by Philip M. Taylor

education  24

Company members in Prom. New Paradise Laboratories, Philadelphia, PA. Photo courtesy of New Paradise Laboratories.

Storming the Castle: How Theatre Educators Deconstruct Gender in the Classroom By Amanda Elend

interview  30

Part of the Action: The Role of Actors and Audience in Interactive Theatre By Bethany Lynn Corey TYA Today is a journal published by tya/usa, a nonprofit, tax-exempt corporation founded in 1965, which is the United States Center for the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People. It is the only theatre organization in the United States which has the development of professional theatre for young audiences and international exchange as its primary mandates. Statement of Policy The comments and opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the official policies and standards of tya/usa.

book review  34

Theatre, Education and Performance – The Map and the Story By Helen Nicholson Reviewed by Daphnie Sicre Membership Information or Additional Copies Theatre for Young Audiences/USA c/o The Theatre School DePaul University 2135 N. Kenmore Ave Chicago, IL 60614-4100 (773) 325-7981 email:

coda  38

Milestone Celebrations in TYA: We’re Here, We’re Staying, and We’re Growing By Karl O’Brian Williams


tya today spring 2012 / vol 26 / num 1 TYA/USA Board of Directors Elissa Adams The Children’s Theatre Company Megan Alrutz The University of Texas at Austin Doug Cooney Playwright Julia Flood Eckerd Theater Company Stan Foote Oregon Children’s Theatre Jeff Frank First Stage Children’s Theater Tamara Goldbogen The University of Pittsburgh Brian Guehring Officer-at-Large, TYA/USA Omaha Theater Company Marty Johnson iTheatrics

Colleen Porter PlayhouseSquare Megan Ann Rasmussen President, TYA/USA Firehouse Productions Karen Sharp Vice President, TYA/USA Seattle Children’s Theatre Daphnie Sicre New York University Pamela Sterling Arizona State University

Scot Copeland Nat Eek Harold R. Oaks Ann Shaw

Barry Kornhauser The Fulton Theatre

TYA Today Staff

Gillian McNally Secretary, TYA/USA University of Northern Colorado Ruth Mercado-Zizzo Citi Performing Arts Center Rosemary Newcott Alliance Theatre Ernie Nolan Vice President of Communications, TYA/USA Emerald City Theatre Company/ DePaul University Joette Pelster Treasurer, TYA/USA Coterie Theatre

Chris Garcia Peak, Executive Director Thank you to The Theatre School at DePaul University for their generous hosting of the TYA/USA office. For more information on TYA/USA please visit

Honorary Board Members

TYA/USA Executive Director

Steve Martin Childsplay

For information on advertising, sponsorship, or membership please contact:

Deborah Wicks La Puma Composer

David Kilpatrick The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Kim Peter Kovac Representative to ASSITEJ International, TYA/USA The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

We welcome your comments and opinions. Please send any reader responses to:

learn more about membership to TYA/USA.

Chris Garcia Peak

Meggin Stailey Managing Editor Meghann Henry Editorial Associate Talleri McRae Book Review Editor Rebecca Podsednik Photo Editor Larry Kozial Design and Production

experience our NEW interactive member center connect with friends & colleagues join job e-lists engage in TYA discussion forums submit events renew on-line

Courtney Blackwell and Anne Negri Editorial Assistants Publications Committee Megan Alrutz Doug Cooney, Chair Julia Flood David Kilpatrick Kim Peter Kovac Pamela Sterling

empowering theatre for young audiences 2

Spring 2012 photo courtesy of Pumpkin Theatre, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

With deepest sympathy … TYA/USA mourns the loss of Colleen Porter, director of Community Engagement and Education at Cleveland’s PlayhouseSquare and a recent TYA/USA board member, who passed away on March 22, 2012. Colleen served for seven years on the board of IPAY, International Performing Arts for Youth, our sister organization; she was Vice President of Programming, hosted Showcase three times, chaired Selection Committee, and was a major force behind IPAY’s increased focus on professional development. In her considerable service to the field, Colleen occupied seats on the boards of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, National Education Directors of Performing Arts Centers, Cleveland Arts Education Consortium, The Lit, and The Bureau of Cultural Arts Advocacy Board. A dynamic and resourceful leader, Colleen forged innovative programming at PlayhouseSquare, including the Idea Center for arts education and an international festival. A recent focus was the ‘Launch’ program to assist local, national, and international artists in the creation of exciting new work. An artist in her own right, Colleen will be widely remembered for her wit, her grace and her great compassion – as well as her passionate commitment to young people. The field has lost a champion and many of us have lost a wonderful friend.

Chicago Playworks for Families & Young Audiences Presents:


OCT 25– DEC 3, 2011

based on the book by CAROLYN KEENE adapted and directed by DAMON KIELY

JAN 14- FEB 28, 2012

book & lyrics by QUIARA ALEGRÍA HUDES music by BILL SHERMAN

MAR 27- MAY 19, 2012

at DePaul’s historic Merle Reskin Theatre 60 E Balbo Dr, Chicago | 312 922 1999 |

TTS_PlayworksSeriesAd_TYA_2012.indd 1

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1/24/12 12:19 PM


Isn’t it time

(L–R) Lara Mainier and Mark Kosten in Pinkalicious: The Musical with Book by Elizabeth Kann and Victoria Kann, Music by John Gregor, Lyrics by John Gregor, Elizabeth Kann, and Victoria Kann. Emerald City Theatre, Chicago, IL. Photo by Tom McGrath.


Spring 2012

to be “naughty?” By Ernie Nolan

I love a good show tune. I also love the stories of Roald Dahl. So you can imagine my utter delight last year when I discovered that the Royal Shakespeare Company was producing a new musical adaptation of Dahl’s Matilda (book by hot, British playwright Dennis Kelly, music and lyrics by Australian comedian Tim Minchin, and direction by Matthew Warchus of Broadway’s God of Carnage). After glowing reviews and a sell-out run at The Courtyard, Matilda opened this fall in London’s West End. It not only garnered five starraves and accolades like “a nasty evening of unadulterated bliss” and “the quest for a great new musical is over,” but also quickly snatched up The Evening Standard Ned Sherrin Award for Best Musical. Immediately after appearing on iTunes in October, the soundtrack found its way into my playlist rotation and is frequently played while I work away at the computer. The plot of Dahl’s last novel described by a publisher once as “savage” and “aggressive” is a modern day Cinderella story of sorts. Born to a ballroom dancing loving mother and a television fanatic father, the young heroine’s many extraordinary talents go unappreciated at home, including the ability to read at an advanced level at the age of five. Eventually, her intellectual gifts are celebrated by a fairy godmother like school teacher, Miss Honey. But before a happily ever after can occur, Matilda must first battle the cruel headmistress Miss Trunchbull, inventor of a dangerous room for disobedient children called The Chokey. Unlike some fairy tales and children’s literature characters that wait to be rescued from their perilous situations, Matilda learns early on that she is in control of her own destiny. In the musical’s first act, she sings (below):

Matilda’s empowering anthem is sung to an upbeat, razzmatazz melody that makes you want to sing and dance along. The song builds to her declaring, “We’re told we have to do what we’re told but surely sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty!” For those of us who like to follow the rules, Matilda’s anti-establishment battle cry feels dangerous and new. Or is it? While the sentiment behind the song may seem hazardous and fresh, in a way it’s really the grandchild of such classic musical theatre songs as “I’m the Greatest Star” in Funny Girl or the end of “Soliloquy” in Carousel. Perhaps Billy Bigelow or Fanny Brice would never have superglued their neglectful father’s hat to their head or put a newt in a hideous headmistress’ water jug like Matilda eventually does, but all three characters have grand, theatrical moments where they sing with gusto about how they are going to change the road map of their lives. Lynn Gardner of The Guardian wrote in her review, “Seldom has the inner rage and hurt of the powerless child been so effectively dramatized.” It looks like Matilda has now been added to the musical theatre pantheon of great characters that, despite complications, won’t settle for the status quo. To quote Mama Rose, another musical theatre character that regularly plays on my computer, “Gangway world get off of her runway.” Recently, while listening to music on one of those kinds of workdays where I usually would have wanted to hear “I Have Confidence” from The Sound of Music to get through the afternoon, Matilda’s song “Naughty” came on my iPod and gave me inspiration. You see, I was in the midst of planning and budgeting for the 2012–13 season only weeks into the 11–12 season. Even though our first show of the season had barely opened and the holiday show just started

Just because you find that life’s not fair It doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it. If you always take it on the chin and wear it You might as well be saying that it’s ok and that’s not right. And if it’s not right, you have to put it right. But nobody else is gonna put it right for me. Nobody but me is gonna change my story.

Spring 2012


rehearsing, my desk was collaged with Excel spreadsheets, scripts, contracts, and e-mails inquiring about the rights to titles for 2012 and 2013. There, in the sea of papers, I wondered how I might offer my audiences new stories and ways of storytelling while at the same time offering something that I know will have a draw. It was the age-old challenge of picking pieces I’m passionate about versus what will have big box office sales. You see, my company is one that knows the power of Pinkalicious. For those of you who haven’t heard, Pinkalicious is an insanely popular book written by Victoria and Elizabeth Kann that has been given a charming stage adaptation by the authors and composer John Gregor. There’s no other way to say it: it’s box office gold! Whoever said girly or princess titles don’t sell didn’t know the audience pheromones known as Pinkalicious: The Musical. Right now TYA companies are blessed, because the theatre is the only place adoring fans can experience the character, and they flock to see her. My Emerald City production set box office and attendance records, sparked a partnership with the producing company Broadway in Chicago, and moved into a downtown theatre where it is set to play over a year. But while the company is in the pink, I have a pink predicament of sorts. With all of this success comes a lot of responsibility and expectation. Profits from Pinkalicious helped to expand the company staff. My board knows now that a TYA financial and artistic success is not an anomaly. So I was definitely feeling the pressure as I was considering a list of titles, some of which I know I’ve heard colleagues from across the country bemoan yet acknowledge their sales appeal, when I heard Matilda on my computer sing:

“If you’re stuck in your story and want to get out You don’t have to cry, you don’t have to shout Coz if you’re little you can do a lot. You mustn’t let a little thing like little stop you. If you sit around and let them get on top you won’t change a thing.” I stopped looking at my Excel sheets and finished listening to the song which suggests, “Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.” I was struck by the word naughty and immediately began to Google it. Synonyms for the word include “wicked, ill-disciplined, wayward, mischievous, and disobedient.” I would also add the phrase “breaking the rules” to that list. Because as I sat at my desk I thought, “What better time has there been for me to break the rules and be a little naughty?” During the past several years, as my company has successfully fought for survival, it’s certainly broken a rule or two in order to endure in this budget-conscious climate. For example, in addition to our Pinkalicious run and re-mount, last year and this year Executive Director Karen Cardarelli and I created a new performance schedule template. In order to be budget-conscious as well as extend the life of our productions, we decided to produce


Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical, Book by Dennis Kelly with Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin. Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratfordupon-Avon, Warwickshire, United Kingdom. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

a season of four shows in two different repertory plots, one Fall/ Holiday the other Winter/Spring. These longer runs have allowed more opportunity for audiences to grow and at the same time have extended the amount of time that we can sell subscriptions. It took challenging and questioning what we thought was the status quo in order to have success. Come to think of it, Roald Dahl, Matilda’s creator, certainly knew something about being naughty when it came to reaching his audiences. In a 1975 article entitled A Note on Writing Books for Children, Dahl encouraged artists for young people to be “jokey” sorts of fellows and be “unconventional and inventive.” He also rallied for “unorthodox methods,” “eccentricity,” and to “tantalize and titillate” the audience. It looks like the Royal Shakespeare Company did just that when they began to create Matilda as a musical in the first place. Stretching the limits of their mission, which is centered on producing and performing Shakespeare, his contemporaries, other classic works, and new works, the RSC hoped to reach not only younger audiences, but mature ones as well. Responses to the show in the West End frequently have audience members remarking, “It’s not just a kids show. It’s for all ages.” The show’s unconventional story, unlikely creators, and varying appeal have critics already declaring it a huge success. Lynn Gardner remarked in her Guardian review that Matilda is “likely to do for the RSC for the next 25 years what Les Miserables has done for the past 25.” Inspired by my iTunes, Matilda, and Mr. Dahl, now when I sit at my desk, I try to tackle artistic and financial chal­lenges by being naughty. Hopefully it won’t put me in Miss Trunchbull’s Chokey!

Ernie Nolan is a director and playwright dedicated to young audiences. He is the Vice President of Communications for TYA USA, the Producing Artistic Director of Emerald City Theatre, and faculty at The Theatre School at DePaul University.

Spring 2012

New Plays About Bullying “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me.” ... NOT! “If there’s one goal of this conference it’s to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. It’s not.” —Barack Obama

Bullies in the Hall

Musical. Book, music and lyrics by Geraldine Ann Snyder. Cast: 3m., 3w., up to 20+ extras. Approximate running time: 50 minutes. Bullies in the Hall empowers its audience to disarm the bullies in their schools. We meet cheerleaders Brianna and Megan and star athletes Buster and Jondo—all school bullies. Miss Dentler, their teacher, asks them to help stop the bullying and shares with them that she was bullied when she was in school. Once the students begin to talk to one another and share their personal lives, they start to see that they aren’t so different from one another after all. They also realize that school should be a safe place for everyone and that they have the power to make it so. “There for You” is sung by the entire cast, confirming their commitment to put an end to bullying and to support one another. Code: BG5.

The Bully Plays

Drama/Comedy. Written by Sandra Fenichel Asher, Cherie Bennett, Max Bush, José Casas, Gloria Bond Clunie, Eric Coble, Doug Cooney, Linda Daugherty, Lisa Dillman, Richard Dresser, José Cruz González, Stephen Gregg, D.W. Gregory, Brian Guehring, Dwayne Hartford, Barry Kornhauser, Trish Lindberg, Brett Neveu, Ernie Nolan, R.N. Sandberg, Geraldine Ann Snyder, Werner Trieschmann, Elizabeth Wong and Y York. Compiled and edited by Linda Habjan. The Bully Plays includes 24 10-minute plays that can be performed in any combination or length and in a variety of venues and was commissioned in response to the growing epidemic of bullying and the all-too-often tragic results. The plays are touching, imaginative, powerful, uplifting and funny. Code: BG4.

(815) 338-7170 •


Drama. By Ramon Esquivel. Cast: 2m., 6w. or 1m., 3w. Approximate running time: 75 minutes. Nasty combines realism and fantasy to explore friendships, identity and bullying in the context of social networking sites, chat rooms, blogs, tweets, videos, and role-playing games on the Internet. Offline, they are Lencha, Zoe, Martha, and Manuel, teenagers who stress about school, obsess over crushes, and make one another laugh. Online, they are avatars that slay werewolves, create art, and gossip about one another. One kiss ignites a chain reaction that blurs the lines between these offline and online worlds. Lencha, adept at navigating the labyrinths and dungeons of Elder World as QYN-CHACHA, wages a flame war when she feels threatened. Zoe, who dominates the social networks as ZUUZUU, proves that a girl with more than 2,000 friends can be one formidable enemy. Martha tweets and blogs the conflict as EARTHA-X, champion of social justice and bullhorn of gossip. Manuel, personally shy but flamboyant as MYNYSTR_ of_SOUND, complicates matters by trying to help. When the conflict threatens to spiral out of control, one person tries a brave but risky strategy to save their friendships: honesty. Nasty raises three questions: How do our online identities reflect our best and worst selves? How do friends work through conflict? What are the pros and cons of developing relationships through online communication? Code: N71.

Bird Brain

Comedy. By Richard Vetere. Cast: 2m., 3w., up to 15 either gender, extras as desired. Approximate running time: 1 hour. The Queen of Starlings has begun bullying all the other birds, stealing their food and taking away their nesting homes. Everyone is ready to fly away instead of facing the intimidating, sleek, British-speaking starlings. Only Sparrow fights off the first wave of bullying with his wit and speed. This angers the queen, so she sends her beautiful daughter, Corinne, to disarm him, but Corinne is charmed by Sparrow and, seeing his courage and intelligence, she decides to help him. She explains that the only way to impress her mother is to confront her brain to brain. So Sparrow and his nervous cousin, Gino, go on an adventure and fly to the starling empire. Despite Gino’s fainting when they meet the queen, Sparrow keeps his cool and, using his brain power, shows that love and caring can dispel destructive bullying. Code: BH1.

In the Company of Sinners and Saints

Comedy/Drama with incidental music. By Monica Michell, in collaboration with Diane Michelle and Barbara Lau. Music and lyrics by Diane Michelle ad Nicole Andrews. Cast: 2m., 5w. Approximate running time: 90 minutes. Seventeenyear-old Lucy suddenly finds herself the victim of cyber-sabotage and Facebook humiliation — a world where both naivete and malice can precipitate disaster. The resulting loss of her coveted scholarship interview adds outrage to Lucy’s embarrassment. Does she avenge her honor or follow her mother’s rule-bound example and simply forgive and forget? Code: IA2.

• (800) 448-7469

The Intersection of Experimental Theatre and Young Audiences By Jonathan Shmidt

In the heart of New Zealand, an experiment is being conducted. A bold and ambitious hypothesis has been offered, and the research team is hard at work examining the viability of its theories. While the process is as rigorous as any research study based in a laboratory, it doesn’t involve test tubes and Bunsen burners – rather, the researchers are theatre artists, attempting to discover new ways to tell stories on the stage. The subject is digital puppetry, and the “scientist” is Frank Newman, who is currently in the midst of development for an upcoming production he is directing entitled Magnolia Street. Newman’s latest theatrical experiment, housed at New Zealand’s Capital E National Theatre for Children, involves what he calls “tracking,” a form of digital puppetry that will allow a projected image to move with the object onto which it is projected, thereby redefining the term “moving image.”


Spring 2012

Surrounded by a team that includes a digital technician, puppeteers, and designers, Newman is pioneering new forms of puppetry, breaking down walls between live performance and media. Harnessing technology is allowing him to explore the most cutting-edge and unexpected ways to reinvent the experience of Theatre for Young Audiences.

established practices and takes big risks in the hopes of reaching audiences in completely new ways. For many, it conjures theatrical experiences that are hard to describe but impossible to forget. For others, this classification brings to mind performances that are disorienting, radical, rule-breaking, and unorthodox.

Newman, artistic director of Tasmania’s Terrapin Puppet Theatre, is one of many artists around the world who are challenging preconceptions, rethinking existing forms, and pioneering new ways to engage young people, the most avant-garde audience out there. From devised theatre to gaming theatre, immersive theatre to comic book theatre, artists are experimenting and forming new genres as the definition of live performance for young audiences is reimagined.

“Experimental theatre is simply an approach: you set out to explore a particular question or problem, not knowing where you are going, not knowing what form the answer will take, and with a willingness to admit that you may not actually ever find an answer,” says Max Dana, a New York-based experimental theatre artist. “It is a kind of theatre where you reject or rethink or re-appropriate existing forms, not because those forms are bad, but because you are more interested in exploring what is new and unknown.” Whit McLaughlin, artistic director of New Paradise Laboratories and frequent director of TYA work, adds that “… as an experimentalist, I’m looking for the ‘awe’ experience, the intoxicating confusion that you get from looking at certain paintings or listening to a piece of music.” Whether we are left fascinated or unsettled by experimental

WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY “EXPERIMENTAL?” The term “experimental” is thrown around a lot in the performance world, but what exactly does it mean? It suggests art that challenges

work, we look to the creators of this work for inspiration in the ecosystem of the greater theatre community. Progress often happens at the fringes, where new techniques are formed, brave ideas are explored, and the definition of “theatre” is challenged and stretched. Where does experimentalism fit into the landscape of Theatre for Young Audiences? With many theatres fighting to keep their doors open in the face of economic distress, some might say that there isn’t room for taking big risks. Recognizable titles, adaptations, and “tried and true” performance techniques are more likely to secure audiences of parents and teachers who might not venture to the fringes for their own art consumption. However, as young people develop an aesthetic understanding and point of view, they deserve a full menu of culture, from the classic to the controversial, making experimentation within Theatre for Young Audiences even more important than in any other genre. So what does experimentation look like? New ideas are being offered in all shapes, sizes, and dimensions. In the current landscape of work for young audiences being created domestically, artists are taking huge risks and exploring content and form in thrilling and uncharted ways.

Christina Jun in The Red Thread by Stephanie Ansin. The PlayGround Theatre, Miami Shores, FL. Photo by Pavel Antonov.

Spring 2012


In Texas, audiences of kids and adults are being captivated by a comic book brought to life on stage in The Intergalactic Nemesis, created by Jason Neulander. This live performance combines old and new forms of storytelling, mixing traditional radio play techniques with large-scale projections of original comic-book art to tell a huge story on stage. Fueled by the creativity that comes from little means, Neulander took his original radio play and worked with an illustrator to bring dimension to the project. In the creation process, Neulander wanted to figure out a way to engage his inner 12-year-old by combining several forms of entertainment that had excited him as a young adult in one theatrical experiment. The performance challenges the traditional audience member’s understanding of live theatre, and Neulander refers to it as “hard to describe territory” as it doesn’t sound or look like a typical play on paper. However, once in the door, audiences find it quite accessible. While adults tap into the sense of nostalgia and humor of the writing, kids are fascinated by the story, the sound effects, and seeing the comic book

artwork brought to life in a theatre. While the performance wasn’t originally created for young people specifically, it has nonetheless attracted them. “This show being presented to young people was an accident,” Neulander admits. “I never originally thought of it for a young audience, but that’s who came.” Neulander believes the show works best for a cross-generational audience, appreciated from multiple perspectives. “The show is really for the kid in everyone.” Meanwhile, in Florida, an audience watches as a young woman, Ling Shih, silently travels on a narrow bridge, embarking on a brave journey in search of her father’s tapestry. While the audience takes in the stunning visual picture, they hear a soundscape of Ling Shih’s inner thoughts and interactions along the way of her journey, taking them into her psyche. Brought to life through surprising and evocative staging, shadow puppetry, and rich sound design, The Red Thread is an example of the way Artistic Director Stephanie Ansin and the PlayGround Theatre are experimenting with bold theatricality and design to tell

(L–R) Mical Trejo, Shana Merlin, Chris Gibson, Buzz Moran, Graham Reynolds in The Intergalactic Nemesis – Live Action Graphic Novel by Jason Neulander. Long Center for the Performing Arts, Austin, TX. Photo by Jason Neulander.


stories in innovative ways. Bringing a forward-thinking approach to pioneering new work for young audiences in Miami, Ansin approaches each artistic process as an experiment, “throwing things in a blender and finding where they go.” She works alongside her designers and dramaturg throughout the process, finding the piece organically. She typically allows a project two years to develop, giving it the time it needs to grow. Ansin is one of many artists who explore their own artistic vision by creating the fusion of multiple voices and storytelling techniques from the beginning of the creative process. Multi-disciplinary performance allows experimental artists to test out new ways of conveying a story, engaging the audience on multiple levels. According to McLaughlin, this creates live performance experiences that challenge young people by “… messing with conventions of the theatre as a means of finding enhanced immediacy. As the audience pieces things together, there is a hyper awareness, a feeling of being alive.” In this way, many artists are experimenting with the way a project is initiated and developed in rehearsal, forgoing the traditional director/ playwright-driven model of making theatre for the model of relying on the power of the ensemble in devising the creative product. “I love the discovery part when a group of artists smells an idea of how something could be told, and then everyone starts chasing it. When this all comes together it’s a great feeling,” shares Newman, describing his work. Investigating a big thematic idea and a specific new piece of technology that may help unravel the thematic exploration, Newman begins the creative process with a group that usually includes a writer, several actors, puppeteers, a musician, an animator, and a technology consultant. He leads the group in an initial period of creative development, where together they search for what he describes as “wow moments.” “This week is a wild week where anything is possible and the creative discussions are open and unbridled.” This period of freedom in creative exploration harnesses the expertise of a wide range of artistic skill and diverse points of view, ultimately providing Newman and the rest of the creative team with the inspiration and direction for the project.

Spring 2012

CAN I STILL CALL IT THEATRE? Newman’s fusion of technology and puppetry in performance continues to ask big questions and offer visually astounding developments in the use of media in performance for young people. For Newman, experimentation is related to form rather than content. “I think avant-garde work is more about how the story is told and reinventing the event of the theatrical experience. And with this there are no limits.” Newman views his work as interpreting technology in a theatrical sense using the methodology of puppetry-reinventing the experience through media. From the use of iPhones as puppets to create incredible illusions on a dark stage, to his manipulation of Xbox Kinect technology to create actordriven digital puppets, Newman’s work opens a new doorway for the future of TYA. In addition to performance that utilizes media and technology, many companies are questioning how interactive their performances should be, breaking down the fourth wall entirely. Britain’s acclaimed Punchdrunk premiered The Crash of the Elysium this summer, an immersive piece of theatre for 6 to 12-year-olds that suited up the kid audience in hazmat suits and set them off on a high stakes expedition to save the world in a Doctor Who inspired adventure. This production featured Punchdrunk’s signature style, which according to Artistic Director Felix Barrett, “… aims to put audiences in a magical, childlike state in which every sense is heightened, and where excitement is found around every corner.” The performance space was comprised of fully realized and meticulously designed immersive spaces through which the audience navigates its way during the performance. For its first experiment in making work for kids, Punchdrunk boldly decided to cap the age of the audience at 12 – no parents allowed. While this may seem like a risky move, it was a way for Barrett to create what he describes as a true “audience empowerment” for the brave young people. “We wanted the audience to be in a situation that was believable enough to be frightening, and by extension believable enough to allow them to conquer their fears and come out victorious,” explains Barrett. “Placing a child in an extreme situation was really challenging, but it was ultimately hugely

Spring 2012

“This show being presented to young people was an accident. I never originally thought of it for a young audience, but that’s who came.”  Jason Neulander

rewarding to witness children coming out of the show punching the air, having conquered their fears.”

the live-audience’s decisions. Meanwhile, Australia’s RealTV is developing a piece called One Night The Dead or Do You Love Me?, which will fuse the theatrical experiItaly’s boldly experimental children’s theatre ence with location-based gaming systems. company TPO has created several multi-sen- When this project is mounted, it will be sory productions that marry new technology “… part in-theatre experience, part chase and and audience interactivity. Offering visual part scavenger hunt,” according to Angela landscapes that transform into interactive Betzien, co-founder and writer for RealTV. theatrical spaces, TPO developed what they By utilizing accessible technology (mobile call the CCC (Children’s Cheering Carpet), phones, GPS and the internet), retro coman interactive dance mat that is able to animunications (newspaper classifieds, dead mate sounds and images through pressure drops, street posters) as well as game sensors. The latest CCC collaboration exstructures, RealTV hopes to construct an tended to Australia and incorporated Italian entirely immersive experience that blurs and aboriginal artists. Through movement, fiction and reality. In this way, Betzien feels touch, and exploration, the audience is able that by giving the young person this kind of to manipulate the environment along with control, RealTV will “… engage audiences / the dancers and physical theatre artists who players as the protagonists in the story, invitperform the work. They are also experiment- ing them as co-creators of the narrative to ing with props that are able to connect the radically re-imagine the world they inhabit, theatrical relationship between the audito question the choices they make and to ence member’s body to the media images confront their values.” in more sophisticated ways. While these projects represent bold new Several companies are pushing this idea of approaches in the form of theatrical storyaudience actively controlling the perfortelling, many artists are also experimenting mance by mashing up the theatre experiwith content, both in subject matter and ence with that of the gaming world. At intended audience. Andy Manley, one of Australia’s Windmill Theatre (or Windmill Scotland’s leading artists making work for Performing Arts), Escape from Peligro young people, related his experience workIsland, written by Tasmanian playwright ing with Mark Storor on a recent production Finegan Kruckemeyer, provides each young that pushed the boundaries in its subject audience member with a remote control, matter. “In his show For the Best, he created with which they vote on the character’s a piece inspired by the stories of children next move in a choose-your-own-adventure living on kidney dialysis and facing up to style performance. The actors navigate a daily life,” explains Manley. “It was a promscript that has several pathways based on enade piece, part show and part installation.


It was a brave and difficult piece of theatre and really split opinion. Some people thought the material too dark for children. The children, on the other hand, loved it and responded well to the challenge of the material.” Although he also creates works targeted for older audiences, Manley continues to blaze a trail in generating projects aimed at the very young, even creating a piece for 18-month-olds called My House. His production of White with Scotland’s Catherine Wheels Theatre Company has gained international attention, in part for creating a rich theatrical environment that offers thought-provoking yet age appropriate narrative content to an audience of 2 to 5-year-olds. Given the nature of this age group, these performances often feature visual storytelling with little to no text and multi-sensory techniques to convey ideas. In speaking about his process creating theatre for this age group, Manley remarks, “It is less informed by traditional theatre, and I am probably more likely to go to a gallery or a park for inspiration when creating work for this age than I am to a piece of adult theatre.” Manley is one of many international artists who have been experimenting with creating installations and performances that engage first-time theatregoing infants and toddlers, trying to find the most effective content to reach their youngest audience. Even with the wide range of experimentation artists are offering around the world in theatre for toddlers to teens, many believe there is still a long way to go in expanding the perception of the kind of performance young people can and should experience, especially in the US. “The current generation of kids is savvier at a younger age than ever before – we don’t give them enough credit,” says Thomas Kriegsmann, president of ArKtype, which represents an impressive international roster of innovative TYA artists (including TPO, Erth, and Phantom Limb). With the explosion of innovation and experimentation happening internationally in the past decade in work for young audiences, many wonder why more artists are not taking bigger risks. Kriegsmann believes it is a lack of opportunity and understand-


ing, not one of talent. “American artists have the creativity, but not the opportunity,” Kriegsmann says, linking this problem in part with the aesthetic viewpoints and practical limitations of many US producers and presenters. Given the economic strain on most US companies (compared to the generally more significant government funding abroad to support the new work of artists), and the pressure to program recognizable titles and literary tie-ins, there isn’t much room for a brand new idea. Even beyond the budget, interactive or media-rich multi-disciplinary work challenges presenters who are reluctant to take a risk on this kind of performance. Many are afraid they won’t be able to describe it in a way that will

excite their audience base instead of alienating them. Meanwhile, young people are well-versed in this kind of media, the interactivity and immediacy of it. Kriegsmann believes that the domestic theatre scene as a whole needs to embrace new trends in performance and entertainment when it comes to kids. “The medium of theatre loses out because it is not brave enough with young people, not trusting their imaginations and sophistication,” argues Kriegsmann, asserting that structures need to be created to cultivate experimental artists who have the interest and the talent to make TYA that challenges us in new directions.

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most cutting-edge work for young people to New York audiences each year. Lloyd feels that you can bring an experimental point of view to the most mainstream and established subject matter. She believes that artists making work for young people need to bring a spirit of experimentation to their own artistic process no matter what the show. “If you don’t have a point of view, something to say as an artist, why are we interested?” She and her colleagues frequently encounter artists who ask presenters, “What do you want us to make? What educational tie-in do you need?” Lloyd believes it should be the other way around – the artists making something that truly speaks to them.

Farfalle. Compagnia TPO, Prato, Italy. Photo courtesy of Compagnia TPO.

EXPERIMENTATION MEANS THAT THE ARTIST IS DISCOVERING TOO Experimentation doesn’t have to mean pushing the envelope to the limits or incorporating the most high-tech media out there into your production. “For a kid, it’s all experimental – it should be surprising and unexpected, even if it is based on traditional content,” says Mary Rose Lloyd, director of programming at the New Victory Theater, an industry leader in consistently bringing the

“We often view making work for an audience as the ultimate driving force or end goal,” related Jeff Mousseau, director of a new adaptation of The Snow Queen that is being developed by HERE Arts Center and will be featured in the upcoming Kennedy Center’s New Visions/New Voices Festival. “In the TYA world, this may be even more the case since we’re so keenly aware of the intended audience.” This opinion changed after Mousseau spoke to Danish puppet artist Sofie Krog, while her show Diva was being presented at HERE. He was initially caught off guard to hear her say that she makes her work for herself. “What I really love about Sofie’s comment is the centrality of the artist’s self-expression – regardless of audience or an audience’s age – for giving work its richness, vibrancy, complexity and, most of all, authenticity.” Inspired by the work of artists like Krog, Mousseau creates work for young audiences that first and foremost ignites his own artistic inquiries and values. Ansin strongly agrees with this sentiment, noting, “I’m the first audience – If I’m not going to like it, how is anyone else going to like it?” At the end of the day, TYA artists need to genuinely investigate questions that are exciting and relevant to themselves as well as the young people in the audience, rather than making work to fulfill a supposed need from presenters or other gatekeepers such as teachers.

A NEED FOR THE BLURRING OF LINES How do we ensure that the most cuttingedge work is being created for young audiences? Many argue that we must strive for a blurring of the lines around our identity as artists. According to McLaughlin, more experimental artists creating work for adults should also be creating work for kids as part of their artistic footprint. “Experimentalists need to bravely venture into work for young audiences,” says McLaughlin, a pioneer in creating a model of a well-rounded theatre artist. With New Paradise Laboratories, Artistic Director McLaughlin makes daring, provocative and lush performance for adult audiences, collaborating with artists with a diverse set of skills to create ensembledriven devised work. His latest work for adults, Extremely Public Displays of Privacy, experiments with the internet as a performance venue. McLaughlin believes passionately in the value of creating highquality work for young people and devotes a significant part of his work as an artist to young audiences. He brings the same experimental approach to his work for children, both at regional companies like the Arden, and in collaborations with TYA companies like Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) in Minneapolis. McLaughlin’s acclaimed production of PROM, a work that was part of a larger artistic investigation of American parties, represented an exciting

“It was a brave and difficult piece of theatre and really split opinion.” Andy Manley

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collaboration between an experimental company like New Paradise Laboratories and CTC, a forward-thinking TYA company. The result is one that offered a platform for experimental artists in the TYA community and a thrilling cross pollination of artists, forms, and audiences. TYA companies are in a position to collaborate with exciting experimental performers who may not know the rewards and possibilities of making work for young audiences. Lloyd is a firm believer in this idea, often programming projects that embody this type of cross-community artistic collaboration. Last season, New York audiences witnessed a brilliant production of Puss in Boots that represented a fusion of creative talent from Moises Kauffman and the Tectonic Theatre Project, Gotham Chamber Opera, and Blind Summit Theatre. They also experienced the UK’s Theatre Rites collaboration with acclaimed choreographer Arthur Pita in a new dance piece for the very young, Mischief. “Companies and artists outside of this world [of TYA] should be thinking about making work for young audiences in their own aesthetic, understanding how dynamic it can be to perform for kids,” adds Kriegsmann, supporting the notion that presenting and producing venues can provide this type of synergy. This exchange should happen both ways, with more high-quality experimental theatre companies focusing on work for young audiences as a part of their season

along with work for adults. HERE Arts Center, a leading venue in presenting and producing new and innovative work for adults, has launched a program called startHERE, a programming initiative aimed at bringing work to young audiences that incorporates the latest trends in performance. Curated by Mousseau, the program aims to apply the same aesthetic of HERE’s adult programming to a younger crowd. Mousseau believes that adults who already believe in experimental theatre want to bring their kids to have that experience too. After witnessing a captivated young child who was brought along to an experimental piece for adults, Dana became fascinated with the idea of making work for young people, territory that was entirely new for him. This past year, he and the experimental company Immediate Medium created The Assassins Chase Pinocchio, a fresh take on the classic tale that incorporates music, projection, and live-video compositing. Dana remarks, “At first it was frightening to contemplate a completely new and mysterious audience, but I’ve learned to check myself when I start thinking too much in terms of the adult-child divide. It feels like a slippery slope toward condescension, which is endemic in a lot of theatre for young people and a very deadly thing to wield in any kind of theatre … I am consistently blown away by how avant-garde children are and how their imagination and intellectual curiosity can run circles around most adults.”

The Assassins Chase Pinocchio based on Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio. Immediate Medium, Inc., New York, NY. Photo courtesy of Immediate Medium.


TYA LEADING THE WAY THROUGH EXPERIMENTATION As more artists cross over and take risks in advancing work for young people, and our respect for the sophistication and intelligence of children grows both nationally and internationally, the field of Theatre for Young Audiences has the potential to lead the way in the advancement of the entire art form more globally. In reflecting on the work he has seen around the world in the past few years, Kriegsmann believes that “… there are things you can do for young audiences that adult companies aren’t doing, or are afraid to do. Theatre for Young Audiences is definitely the next wave of experimental work and will ultimately inform experimental theatre for adults – how it works, how it plays, how it engages the senses.” Young people enter the theatre with no preconceptions about what a live performance should look like, with no rules or theatre etiquette already catalogued in their minds. They consume information in new ways, and they want to be able to come to their own conclusions when engaging with art. It is our responsibility as TYA artists and practitioners to stay relevant by asking big questions that challenge us and them, understanding current trends in media and entertainment consumption, and ultimately reimagining theatre for a new generation of young people. In thinking about the future of theatre for young audiences, Manley notes, “One of the things that I love most about creating theatre for children and young people is that the form is constantly changing. You can be creating an intimate storytelling piece for a classroom, then a theatre installation for babies and then work on a piece that is to be performed for families in a theatre. I like that. So where it’s going I’m not sure – but it’s always been a bit of a chameleon anyway.”

Jonathan Shmidt is a New York-based director and educator in the field of Theatre for Young Audiences, currently serving as the assistant director of education at the New Victory Theater and the artistic director of Trusty Sidekick Theater Company. He also teaches as part of the adjunct faculty at New York University.

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in four international collaborations:

(L–R) Yaser Khaseb and Hamid Etemadi Todeshki in Mysterious Gifts: Theatre of Iran at Seattle Children’s Theatre, Seattle, WA. Photo by Chris Bennion.

US Artists Dance with Theatre-makers from Denmark, Iran, Ireland and Jordan By Kim Peter Kovac and Megan Alrutz


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any of us in the field of Theatre for Young Audiences are working on “building bridges and crossing borders” across real and imagined international lines. Throughout this work, theatre-makers and presenters are engaged in processes of “cultural translation” that encourage, if not require, us to consider issues of language and theme, as well as the transfer of multiple cultural contexts to the rehearsal process and to our audiences at large. International collaborations invite us into each others’ worlds – both artistically and culturally – offering exciting new ways of imagining theatre for young people and reminding us of the complexities of making art in an age of globalism. For this article, we invited a US playwright, artistic director, director, and presenter – all women, all extraordinary – to talk about their efforts to grow cultural dialogue, energize their work, and inspire their audiences through international collaborations.


Laurie Brooks , a playwright and young adult novelist living in Tempe, Arizona, collaborated with Graffiti Theatre in Cork, Ireland to develop The Riddle Keeper, Deadly Weapons, The Tangled Web, and The Lost Ones. For this interview, Brooks reflected on the process of developing those pieces during the years 1995–2005. Linda Hartzell , artistic director of Seattle Children’s Theatre, has pursued many international

partnerships on behalf of her theatre. For this interview, Hartzell shared her observations on some of this work, particularly the collaboration with Iranian writer/director/actor Yaser Khaseb which resulted in the 2009 production of Mysterious Gifts: Theatre of Iran. Deirdre Kelly Lavrakas , co-founding director of the Kennedy Center’s New Visions/New Voices, has directed or conducted master acting classes in twelve countries. For this interview, she talked about her experiences co-directing Walking The Winds: Arabian Tales, which was co-commissioned and co-produced by the Kennedy Center and the Performing Arts Center of Amman, Jordan in 2006. Mary Rose Lloyd , director of programming at the New Victory Theatre (New Vic) in New York City, sees an average of 250 performances a year all over the world, spending “what seems to be half my life on the road in search of wonderful performance” for the children and young people of New York. For this interview, Lloyd spoke about the New Vic’s 2007 Danish Festival.

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WHAT WERE THE STARTING POINTS? LAURIE // The connection [with Graffiti] happened quite by accident. A grad student friend at New York University had an internship at Graffiti Theatre Company, one of Ireland’s top producers of Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA). She took with her a copy of my first play, Imaginary Friends, because she hoped to direct it. As it turned out, Graffiti toured it throughout Southern Ireland and presented it at the Scottish International Children’s Festival in Edinburgh. Since this play was already written, our devising process, which is traditionally used at Graffiti, was focused on exploring the educational implications for Irish children. The basics of the play remained the same but our devising discoveries included further developing the symbols in the script and the use of rhymes and riddles. DEIRDRE //  In 1991, I found myself crossing over the Jordan River, on foot, with acting exercises, bilingual scripts, and a book called Arab Folktales in my rolling suitcase. Having just finished my second State Department residency with the Palestinian National Theatre in East Jerusalem, I was off to a residency in Amman. A few hours later, I met Lina Attel, now Director General of the National Center for Arts and Culture. We immediately began a conversation that has yet to stop: how do we, as artists, work best with and for young people? I was fortunate enough to do four more residencies in Jordan, which culminated in the translation and adaptation of the Kennedy Center Theater Training Program for Young People’s curriculum for use in

Amman. Throughout it all, Lina and I dreamed of doing a production together, which became a reality in 2006 with Walking the Winds: Arabian Tales. She and I co-directed a story-theatre musical based on Arab tales, legends, and history – a production which was co-written, co-composed, and co-designed by artists from Jordan and the US. We are proud that it was, and still is, (we believe), the only production for young audiences collaboratively created by a US theatre and a theatre from the Arab world. And, to come full circle, one of the first sources of material for Walking the Winds came from the same Arab Folktales book which walked across the Jordan River with me fifteen years earlier. LINDA // Seattle Children’s Theatre (SCT) had been collaborating with Dutch artists in the field of Theatre for Young Audiences on a project called ‘Connecting Stories,’ with a major goal of teaming up with theatre artists from the Middle East. At a meeting in Amsterdam, I was urged to check out the work of the 27-year old writer-directoractor Yaser Khaseb, who had performed to acclaim in Europe and Asia and was also visiting the Netherlands. I first saw his work through grainy little videos – one shot with a friend’s cell phone. I was immediately intrigued by his imaginative amalgam of mime and dance, of traditional Iranian stage idioms and modern motifs. As a result, we brought Yaser, two other performers in his company, and Farin Zahedi – a prominent Iranian dramaturg, writer, and professor from the University of Tehran, to Seattle to work on a new show called Mysterious Gifts: Theatre of Iran. The performance

The cast of Walking the Winds: Arabian Tales. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC. Photo by Carol Pratt.


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was like nothing we’d ever had at our theatre – one of the newspapers described it as “ethereal, dreamlike playlets with puppet figures and billowing smoke effects.” The artists came to perform, to teach, and to educate. One of our major goals was to expand how we in this country see Iranians and how they see us – to enable extended conversations among artists from both cultures, as well as with the whole of the Seattle community. It was especially amazing for us in the theatre to learn more about the Iranian community in Seattle. MARY // The idea to create a festival, if you will, around the creations from a specific country was born out of initial trips to the festivals in Denmark, coordinated by Peter Manscher. There were many remarkable Danish companies whose artistry we admired, and we began discussions with the Danish Arts Agency and the Consulate General of Denmark to host a Danish Festival in New York. For years I have been attending international festivals looking for wonderful work to bring to New York. In many cases, the productions I encounter abroad are intimate in scale. The New Victory has 499 seats with two balconies. However, the New Vic is one of several historic theatres under the purview of the New 42nd Street, and we were able to expand our programming, a few weeks each season, into the New 42nd Street Studios and the Duke on 42nd Street Theater. These spaces more appropriately house small and precious works and really allowed us an opportunity to host the Danish Festival and introduce our audiences to a different way of seeing and experiencing theatre.

ON THE INTERSECTION OF THE ART AND THE REAL WORLD LINDA // Since our first international collaboration in 1991 with the Children’s Theatre of Novosibirsk from the Soviet Union, some things have changed about working with foreign companies. While the Soviets were here, then performing The Firebird, we joined them in witnessing the change of regime at home; we experienced with them the joy and fear they were feeling because something so tumultuous and momentous was happening back home while they were so far away. This was before the Internet and cell phones so you had to wait, worried, to make a long distance call, hoping you’d get an operator to put it through. This is in contrast to our recent experience in 2009. To my knowledge, Yaser and his company were the first Iranian artists to perform in the US in 30 years. While these artists were all in rehearsal, I was able to watch the happenings in Tehran and in the UN General Assembly in real time on TV. DEIRDRE //  As we built Walking the Winds, we were always aware that it was only a few years after 9/11 and that our institutions were the national performing arts centers. We wanted the production to be pan-Arab, including seven stories coming from different parts of the Arab world; we also wanted things to be positive, but not simplistically so. Our Jordanian partners really hoped the show

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would change some perceptions in the US about Arabs. At the end of the day, though, most of the concerns about political correctness were left behind, and we all became like artists everywhere – just putting on a show. On a smaller, more personal note, one of the young performers, of Jordanian heritage, said that being in the show was “an amazing and really fun opportunity, to show [my classmates] that along with being American, I’m also part of the Arab world.” And he said that for the first time, he was able to be proud, in public, of his roots. MARY //  We work really hard to find bold, thought-provoking, imaginative theatre works that might become transformative experiences in people’s lives. Presenting these works from various cultures, representing disparate points of view, is key to providing a well-rounded artistic experience for the young people of New York and, we hope, serves to enhance their global citizenry. LAURIE //  My plays are driven by characters and relationships, not necessarily by issues, but it is crucial to connect the personal journeys of the characters to concerns of the larger world. The main character in The Tangled Web is a teenage girl who finds herself poor, pregnant, and alone. In Ireland at that time, abortion was illegal and even discussing the concept was, in many circles, culturally taboo, so as the character considers her options (ultimately deciding to have the baby), she uses the common phrase for an abortion: ‘to go over to London.’ Additionally, embedded in the set design was specific information about where young people who saw the play could get help – phone numbers and websites of actual social service agencies. The Lost Ones is set in a post-apocalyptic world and explores the consequences of war in the lives of two young brothers. They’ve lost most of their language but have a battered copy of the book Peter Pan. On the set, primitive drawings were sketched on the walls, like one might see in a prison, telling parts of the boys’ past, as they build an “escaper” to go to Neverworld, even as the enemy invades their space.

“At the end of the day, though, most of the concerns about political correctness were left behind, and we all became like artists everywhere – just putting on a show.” Deirdre Kelly Lavrakas


SPECIFIC ACTS OF CULTURAL TRANSLATION LINDA //  What is appropriate to present to young people and what is taboo are very different in different countries. With most of our collaborations, there is the process of finding compromises around acceptability of themes, language, and mores that are shown on stage. We have had to make adjustments in terms of our personal comfort levels as we discover what works and doesn’t work for the audience. It can be a challenge to both accommodate the sensibilities of our audience and push them to understand and accept s omething that stretches the usual boundaries. Interestingly, and in part because the show was for teenagers, with Mysterious Gifts, we asked Yaser to perform exactly as he had in Iran, with no changes. An interesting cultural difference arose in how audiences from our two countries interpreted the end of one of the playlets. This particular piece closes with Yaser engaging in a fight with a puppet which represents his ‘other’ self, a puppet which is on his own hand. In an amazing piece of physical acting, the puppet character ties a rope to one of the legs of the human-Yaser, who is then lifted up into the air. Many of our audience members thought this was a violent ending – that he had somehow died. Yaser explained that in Persian culture the ending is hopeful, because it represents an opportunity to begin again.

audience. Conversations around music also became important, and we talked about how far we wanted to stretch away from traditional Arab forms into more popular and musical theatre idioms. Luckily, I had been working with Lina since 1991 and with choreographer Rania Kawhawi almost as long, and our shared experiences and deep friendship dominated all these cultural and artistic negotiations. MARY //  First, it was quite extraordinary for us to see how deeply the Danish government supported the arts and specifically arts for young audiences, not at all what we in the US experience. We also hit up against differences related to cultural contexts and what is acceptable to show children. Gruppe 38, one of the Danish companies we collaborated with for the festival, had created a theatreinstallation piece called Hans Christian, You Must be an Angel that is still touring today (the festival took place in 2007). Their show was commissioned to mark the birthday of Hans Christian Andersen and included references to several of his works. One of those references, to The Emperor’s New Clothes, included the title character on film running on a loop, dressed completely in his “new clothes.” To the amusement of the Danish, nudity in shows for kids in the US is not so common, but the artists were wonderful in engaging in a “cultural translation” that involved a film effect which, in essence, blurred “the goods” of the emperor, so to speak. This solution worked for everyone as it did not take away from the artistic intent of the footage (it was clear that he was nude) but also was sensitive to the US American school and public audiences’ outlook on appropriateness. LAURIE //  In the US, strong language can be an issue in plays for young audiences. Gatekeepers, school officials, and parents are uncomfortable with certain four letter words in popular use. In Ireland, the language of teens, including four letter words, is EXPECTED in a play for that age group. And so I found myself, for the first time, unhampered in expressing the everyday language of teenagers. I don’t have this luxury in the US. For example, The Tangled Web contains a scene in which a girl and boy talk about whether or not to use a condom. I wrote the scene without using the word condom, because I knew it would not be accepted in the US in a play for young people.

Hans Christian, You Must be an Angel. Teatret Gruppe 38, Denmark.

DEIRDRE //  In the building of the script and production, issues of cultural translation came up in many areas. As one example, we ended up negotiating the degree of realism (which is very common in Arab theatre) versus less literal staging that I was used to. Arabic is a densely poetic language full of complex images and metaphors, with a tradition of poetic language going back thousands of years, so Jordanian theatre tends to rely heavily on words and less on image. We were creating a piece more in the model of American musical theatre which is, of course, not a traditional Arab art form. What ended up in the script was relatively sparse language but an emphasis on some poetic flourishes and insertions. Costumes and movement also became points of discussion in our process; we wanted to remain respectful to parts of Arab culture that are more modest, while still reaching a contemporary US


Slang words and expressions are different as well. For example, in 1997 the word ‘deadly’ was widely used in Ireland to mean ‘cool.’ I had never heard that usage in the US. Names of characters in the plays reflected popular names in Ireland in the original productions but were changed in the published versions in the US. DEIRDRE //  Arabic calligraphy is so beautiful that our set designer’s preliminary design used Arabic writing – verses from a classic ghazal poem, I think – as a decorative element on the floor of the set. However, I immediately felt this was culturally inappropriate. Why? Because the Koran is of such importance to the Muslim culture that there would be an assumption that any Arabic writing was from the Koran, and of course, one does not walk on any scripture. The designer ended up creating a lovely giant abstract shape on the floor, something non-Arabic speakers could assume was an Arabic letter, but those who knew the language would know it was not.

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THE ARTIST TO ARTIST DANCE LAURIE //  Graffiti and I developed four plays together, and each process was unique to the play. As Emelie FitzGibbon, artistic director of Graffiti, puts it, we “allowed the play that wanted to emerge to emerge.” During the four processes, I was a sponge, soaking up the novelty and excitement of working collaboratively, discovering elements that would define the plays. Devising has grown in popularity in the US since I first worked with Graffiti in 1995. Now many companies and individuals employ devising techniques, each with their own approach to the work. Graffiti has a long tradition of devising with actors and a director who are proficient in improvisation and comfortable working with playwrights, brainstorming, and animating ideas and concepts. Sometimes the Education Officer or other personnel join the sessions. Everyone who participates understands that the ideas discovered in devising are the property of the playwright. The playwright writes the play, and the director is “the shaper.” As a playwright who was used to working alone, it was a revelation to have so much intelligent attention focused on the play-in-progress. DEIRDRE //  The creation of the music was a fascinating blend of artistic and cultural styles. US co-composer Deborah Wicks La Puma wrote the songs, including harmonies, and uploaded them to the Internet, where Jordanian co-composer Wael Sharqawi orchestrated them with Arab rhythms and instrumentation. Their communication was primarily, as you might imagine, via the music, and not words. LINDA //  Performing with us, Yaser had opportunities not available to him at home. He is used to performing in the streets in Iran or is invited by a venue only a day or two before a performance. He doesn’t usually have the luxury of advance planning. At SCT we had a fully equipped stage, a professional staff, and the time to truly tech the show. I asked him to add a lighting design that would transform work that usually lived in the streets into a fully realized “mainstage” experience. While of course there are lights when his show performs in theatre spaces, having extended technical rehearsals to work out all of the moments slowly and carefully was new to him. The whole process was really exciting for us too. We all shared war stories, expressions, moments from our lives, and laughter – lots of laughter. So many of our stories were the same, and yet it was really fun to hear the differences as well.

WHAT ARE YOU LEFT WITH? LINDA //  With all the international work we do, I want our kids to know what’s out there in the world, to experience how we’re all different and how we’re the same. Specific to Mysterious Gifts – I was thrilled to find how intrigued and excited teenagers were by Yaser’s performance – they consistently gave him standing ovations. We found that our audience had many preconceived notions about Iranians, and this project allowed us

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to open doors and minds. We were also able to knock down our own rules around how long a post-play discussion should be – often the audiences stayed for over an hour after performances. They wanted an in-depth conversation with Yaser and the other artists. To see us really meet one another and “dance” in a poetic way and learn from and be touched by a common theatrical experience is really what this collaborative art is all about. LAURIE //  Much of the TYA in Ireland is pared down, highly imaginative, and stylistically bold. Working with Graffiti raised my awareness of what theatre can do that cannot be achieved in film or television. It taught me to explain less and take bold risks. Ireland has greater freedom with language and topics that are of crucial interest to teenagers. My work in Ireland encouraged me to write plays that truly live in the world of young adults. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to work in Ireland with such a dynamic company, to have formed lifelong friendships, and to continue exploring the techniques that grew from that work. MARY // Since the New Victory Danish Festival in 2007, we have collaborated with the Scottish government and the Imaginate Festival to present a Scottish Festival and Forum (2009) and will, pending funding, do the same with the Dutch government in 2012. Along the way, we have grown our own New Victory family, if you will, to include local arts-makers who are passionate about creating Theatre for Young Audiences and who wish to enhance their own perspectives by sharing best practices with creators from around the world. Officially named the New Vic Collaboratory, we are hoping to expand our concentrated international exchanges and to support the creation, development, production, and touring of outstanding performing arts for young people and their families. DEIRDRE //  My international work has changed me significantly as a director and acting teacher. The secret of working with colleagues from other cultures is, for me, about listening and observing with heightened awareness and sensitivity to nuance. Ears that are welltuned and eyes that are focused can find what separates us and what joins us. If there’s no common language and culture, though theatre lives in both, everything has to be very precise – the exact gesture, costume, movement, word – the essence of the moment. After projects like this, I am left with big questions: How should we as artists work in this global culture? Hopefully, boldly and without fear. With strong hearts, artists must take a prominent role in using theatre to build bridges between cultures. Live performances, not the products of the mass entertainment industry, are what give our young audiences the most visceral connection to challenging, complex, diverse, and inspirational stories. This, in turn, provides tools for the future, tools that will invite our children and young people to be the architects of their dreams.

Megan Alrutz is a professor in the Drama and Theatre for Youth and Communities program at the University of Texas at Austin. Kim Peter Kovac is Producing Director of Theater for Young Audiences at the Kennedy Center, in Washington, DC and Vice President of ASSITEJ International.


Dorothy Heathcote · 1926–2011

Dorothy’s gift to teachers was the freedom to see themselves not only as instructors but as coaches, facilitators, fellow artists and collaborators.


Dorothy Heathcote, an innovative and world-renown pioneer in drama education, passed away on October 8, 2011 at the age of 85. Dorothy, as she was known, was born in the small town of Steeton, West Yorkshire, in the United Kingdom. At the age of 14, she left school to work alongside her mother as a weaver in a Yorkshire wool mill. Five years later, at the urging of her co-workers, Dorothy’s mill boss sponsored her training as an actress, telling her that if it didn’t work out, there would always be “three looms waiting” at his mill. During her theatre training, Dorothy realized her true vocation in education. At the age of 24, she became a lecturer at Durham University’s Newcastle-uponTyne campus. Over the course of her 60-year career, she would become a highly influential international figure in drama and education. Dorothy’s key contribution was to transform the field by championing several new techniques, including the practice of advancing spontaneous improvisation in classroom exercises with the teacher collaboratively engaged as an active role-playing participant.

Early in her teaching career, Dorothy handed over controls to her students. “What would you like to make a play about?” she asked, a radical approach in England during the 1950’s. Her method was to select a resonant theme from student responses and to launch a group improvisation based on a beguiling task or question. Famously, a group of Yorkshire middle school students suggested “prisoners of war,” and Dorothy responded by urging them to pick up their imaginary weapons while she assumed the role of the arresting officer, demanding that they put down those weapons and surrender. Throughout her lengthy career, Dorothy nurtured and championed this intuitive approach to utilizing drama as an educational tool. Her fascination with big questions about the human condition – and her dedication to engaging the intuition of students – were likely shaped by a lifelong interest in anthropology and ethnography. Indeed, Dorothy’s innovations soon reached far beyond her classroom practice to the global field at large. Dorothy found herself accepting invitations from around the world, working with children, young people, educators, and students in widely diverse settings – from townships in Soweto to hospitals, residential homes and prisons in the United States and beyond.

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Pioneer in Drama Education

Dorothy’s accomplishments have been recognized by honorary doctorates from The University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the University of Derby and an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list on 11th June 2011, posthumously received by Dorothy’s family. B.J. Wagner’s classic text, Dorothy Heathcote: Drama as a Learning Medium and a collection of films depicting Dorothy at work with school children inspired a new generation of teachers in the 1970’s with the prospect of putting students in control over their own learning, and encouraging

them to implement critical thinking by generating their own questions about the subject material. Thousands of artists, educators, and practitioners have adapted Dorothy’s work to their own context. Gavin Bolton’s landmark volume, The Dorothy Heathcote Story: biography of a remarkable drama teacher, is a classic reference for those committed to changing lives through theatre. A BBC-produced film about Dorothy’s practice, Three Looms Waiting, can be found on YouTube.

While Dorothy’s work was not without controversy or detractors, admirers conducted numerous studies that document and demonstrate the multiple transformations that occur among classroom students engaged in drama education. More recently, the applied theatre movement has shown a strong commitment to structured improvisation and the specific strategies that Dorothy employed. Dorothy’s gift to teachers was the freedom to see themselves not only as instructors but as coaches, facilitators, fellow artists and collaborators with students, recognizing the great potential for learning through the creative process. Her personal mission to bring joy and challenge to the classroom now occupies a permanent place in the world-wide canon of dramatic teaching expertise.

Philip Taylor, New York University Additional information on Dorothy Heathcote and her career is available at

(L–R) Gavin Bolton, Cecily O’Neill, Dorothy Heathcote, Philip Taylor, Judith Ackroyd, David Booth, Nancy Smithner (in front). London, summer 2005.

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By Amanda Elend

How Theatre Educators Deconstruct Gender in the Classroom

Discoveries Day Camp program with lead teacher Ben Stuart. Seattle Children’s Theatre, Seattle, WA. Photo by Chris Bennion.


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he prince meets the princess on a lovely spring morning. He is brave, and she is beautiful, so naturally they fall in love. One day, while the prince is off being his courageous self, an evil queen/troll/bad guy captures the princess! After some near misses, a few stumbles, and a fair amount of turmoil, the prince eventually saves the princess and the day, and everyone lives happily ever after.

The gender roles in this story are clearly defined. The hero is male, and the victim is female. But what happens if you reverse the roles? Happily ever after finds the couple, but only after the brave princess rescues the beautiful prince. The story hasn’t changed, but the gender assumptions are gone.

Gender Logistics

Theatre educators deal most frequently with gender issues while planning curricula and choosing productions for children. In general, girls tend to outnumber boys in theatre classes, and it’s tempting to look at the numbers and start thinking in terms of what will draw boys in. “I think there is sometimes a danger in thinking about [gender] in a broad scope, of saying to yourself, ‘I think this class will be a good class for girls, I think this class will be a good class for boys,’” says Proball. “I think it’s more useful to think in terms of story and to look at your curriculum and your season and ask yourself, ‘Can all students find something that is reflective of them in this curriculum or on the stage?’”

At the heart of most theatrical productions lies a simple story, and this knowledge can be an important tool in theatre education. Male characters can become female characters and vice versa, as long as the players are still telling the same story. “I think theatres have to find that balance of finding opportunities when

“It’s just a fine line between the marketing of the class and then what is really underneath in your curriculum,” says Meghann Henry, education director for the Coterie Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri. A class about pirates might draw boys in, but the class material can be designed to appeal to both genders.

Young people are told how to act and who to be every day. Trucks and action figures are marketed to boys, Barbies and shirts featuring the phrase “Pretty Like Mommy” are for girls. It’s hard for students to see beyond gender stereotypes when the playground is full of roughhousing boys and girls posing like models. But theatre educators are positioned to encourage exploration and provide students with the tools to move beyond the limitations of gender, no matter what methods they use.

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celebrating gender is integral to the story that we’re telling, and to examine when perhaps our expectations of gender are limiting our understanding of that story,” says Cassandra Proball, education director for Stages Theatre Company in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


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In middle and high school years, the disparity between genders grows. “How do we get boys just as excited about characters and stories that aren’t boy-centered?” Karen Sharp, education director for Seattle Children’s Theatre, says. “I think that is something we need to work on.” Until then, girls make up the majority of theatre classes in older age groups. This imbalance leads to logistical gender flexibility. A class of girls at Dallas Children’s Theater was able to perform a scene from To Kill a Mockingbird despite their lack of boys, they just had to find a new way to tell the story. Modifications like this fight gender assumptions simply by encouraging students to think about characters as players in a story, rather than gender-specific roles.

Most Creative Drama classes (usually ages 3–7, depending on the theatre) are similar to Fairy Flight, offering young people the freedom to create characters and tell stories in their own way. This age group tends to come ready to explore. “Their imagination is going to take them wherever the journey of the story and the role play is taking them, and they’re not concerned about boy versus girl roles,” says Sharp.

This kind of critical thinking is a valuable tool when dealing with gender issues in all age groups. Theatre classes can encourage students to examine themselves in a way that general education cannot, because self-reflection and exploration is an important part of the training. “Reflection is a huge part of class,” Henry says. “There’s a lot of asking why you made that choice or if we did this again, would you make a different choice.”

But gender limitations begin even at this early age. Proball describes a superhero class where the children were posing like various famous superheroes. When someone suggested a Wonder Woman pose, the boys balked. “And the teacher immediately said, ‘All the girls just did Superman and Batman with you.’ And

In a society where men are generally more valued than women, it’s arguably easier for girls to be freer with their gender choices than boys. Girls can strive to be more like a stereotypical man (powerful, aggressive, dominant) but when a boy has stereotypically female qualities – if he’s sensitive or emotional – it’s discouraged. A girl can

“You’re not just addressing expectations of the young person, you’re addressing the expectations of the parents and the expectations of the school.” Cassandra Proball

Self-Reflection and Critical Thinking We carry our gender around with us wherever we go; it’s a given that Sally is a girl and Mark is a boy. But that’s a simple identifying factor. It’s an external descriptor, not an internal one. “It’s very important to us for each individual child to create their own unique character,” Proball says. When a mother called Proball with her husband’s concerns about their son joining a class called Fairy Flight, Proball suggested that the family give it a chance. In the class, the students spent a week creating characters and writing a show that they then performed for their parents. After the performance, the husband came up to Proball to apologize. “He said, ‘I thought for sure that the concept for this class would simply not allow him to be who he is … and instead I saw my son up on the stage, and he was exactly the kind of fairy that he wanted to be,’” says Proball.

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that’s all she said. And the boys looked around and said, ‘Okay, that makes sense.’ And they were fine. They just needed someone to challenge that concept in a very soft and easy way.”

Loren O’Brien in Goodnight Moon by Chad Henry. Stages Theatre Company, Hopkins, MN. Photo by Bruce Challgren.

wear a baseball cap, but a boy who dons a sparkly dress runs the danger of being laughed at … or worse. While it’s true that society has power over the population, it’s important to remember that the zeitgeist can have a positive effect, as well. “In the past couple of years, I feel like students are really starting to push gender boundaries even more than they have in the past,” says Kristi Johnson, education director for SteppingStone Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota. “That’s something that they actually come kind of ready to think about and push to the forefront.” The repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” depictions of gay characters in popular TV shows like Glee, and gender-bending celebrities all show students that it’s okay to be who they want to be. “I feel like I saw a lot of my students – last year, in particular – who really latched on to [Lady Gaga] as an icon,” says Johnson. “It made them feel safe in a way that somebody who wasn’t that prominent wouldn’t have.”


Coterie School for Theatre Exploration Students in Alice’s Adventures with Poorly Cooked Cafeteria Seafood with teaching artist Ron Megee. Coterie Theatre, Kansas City, MO. Photo by Robbie Schraeder.

Stereotype Smack-down Students who can recognize and identify stereotypes and societal norms can then push against them. Theatre educators help to open this door to students by questioning gender assumptions, often through the use of classic stories. At Stages Theatre, an all-female class of high school students wrote a play that examined the Disney princess phenomenon, which they performed at a local hair salon. “[They] found a way to examine gender and identity in a way that generated a lot of discussion in the audience afterward,” Proball says. The 9–12 year old classes at SteppingStone Theatre often produce fractured fairy tales, or classic stories with a twist. These productions encourage students to start “thinking about the stereotypes in stories that we’ve inherited and looking at those with 21st century eyes,” Johnson says. “What were they trying to tell us then and how does that apply to our lives now?” The act of questioning stereotypes can be helpful in examining gender issues, but in the end, the choice lies with the student.


“We would never force someone,” Henry says. “If we only have a boy’s role left and you don’t want to play it as a boy, then it’s our job to figure out how to make that part work for you.” There is no agenda in theatre education, but here the female student who decides to play the boy role as a girl must examine gender stereotypes in order to transform the character. The act of questioning gender limits occurs naturally.

As children grow, what Sharp calls “creative risk-taking” becomes more difficult. While theatre educators encourage students to be open and daring with their choices, parents and peers sometimes pressure them to fit the stereotype. “That’s the challenge of working with youth in theatre,” says Proball. “You’re not just addressing expectations of the young person, you’re addressing the expectations of the parents and the expectations of the school. There are a lot of stakeholders involved.”

Guiding the Choice: Challenges and Rewards

Outside forces can sometimes limit students’ freedom to make a gender-free choice in class, but theatre educators can encourage that freedom in other ways. “Being a male teacher, I think that there is more of a comfort level for a boy to take an acting class if they see that the teacher is a guy as well,” says Alex Espy, a teaching artist at the Coterie Theatre. At Stages Theatre, the staff leads by example. “It’s really important to us for students to see our male instructors work with music and dance as much as they work with acting, and for them to see our female staff building sets, designing lights, and designing sound,” says Proball.

Young children often have an easier time making choices without limitations than older students. “The younger kids just want to try on the character and the characteristics of that character,” Henry says. Students bring less gender baggage to class in the early years, because they aren’t as aware of societal norms. “When you’re little, you’re open and you love yourself and that’s how it should be,” says Nancy Schaeffer, education director at Dallas Children’s Theater.

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Beyond Theatre Class Just as Taylor Swift and Jay-Z guide young people, so do educators. Theatre educators are in a unique position to teach children that their choices are limitless. A script can be performed in many different ways, a character can find new life, and a person can be whoever he or she wants to be. Teaching artists have the privilege of encouraging exploration for students of any age. The creative risks young people take in theatre class can translate to their lives beyond the fourth wall. Theatre can provide a “safe space for students to be able to think about these ideas and actually put them into practice and maybe push back against a role that they feel constricted in,” says Johnson.

Directed by Stephanie Ansin

Apr 25 – May 25, 2012 For tickets and information: Phone: 305-751-9550 Fax: 305-751-9556 Email: The PlayGround Theatre 9806 NE 2nd Avenue Miami Shores, FL 33138 A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings was adapted by Nilo Cruz from a short story by Gabriel García Márquez and was commissioned by and first produced at The Children’s Theatre, Minneapolis, MN, Peter Brosius, Artistic Director.

Jeff Keogh in A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings/Photo by Pavel Antonov, 2007

Theatre classes fight gender restrictions all the time on the surface and below. Whether a group of five-year-old boys and girls decide they’re all going to play Ariel in The Little Mermaid or a high school boy dons a wig for a comedy sketch, the choice is there; the creative risk-taking is happening. Teaching artists lead by example, question assumptions, and encourage self-reflection to keep students open to possibility. “A lot of times the teachers will take a story that’s sort of a structure and then let the kids play it in a lot of different ways,” Henry says. “I think that helps to support the idea that just like there’s never one way to tell a story, there’s never one way to play a character, because we’re all different.” Theatre educators across the country are giving students the tools they need to be not just talented actors, but compassionate and open-minded men and women – free to save the princess, cry for help, fight the bad guys, and live happily ever after, all while rocking a sparkly pair of high-heels if that’s what he or she wants to do.

Based on a short story by Gabriel García Márquez Adaptation & Lyrics by Nilo Cruz

Amanda Elend is a writer and new media producer living in Los Angeles, CA.

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The Role of Actors and Audience in Interactive Theatre James Zoccoli with an audience member at Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! adapted by Ernie Nolan from the books by Mo Willems. Emerald City Theatre, Chicago, IL. Photo by Tom McGrath.

With the popularity of 3D movies, video games, smart phones, and Internet chat rooms today’s youth are engaging with technology like never before. Advances in brain research and learning theory show that children need to actively engage in order to retain focus and gain understanding. In response, some theatres are using Interactive Theatre as a way to shift audience members from passive viewers to active participants in a performance.


By Bethany Lynn Corey

Across the country, Interactive Theatre is taking many different forms in order to serve diverse functions. In Texas, Angela Foster serves as executive artistic director for InterActive Theater Company in Houston, a company that creates original Interactive Theatre performances for family audiences. At The University of Texas at Austin, Lynn Hoare serves as the Theatre for Dialogue specialist for Voices Against Violence, using an adapted Forum Theatre model to address issues of interpersonal violence. Kassie Misiewicz, the artistic director for Trike Theatre of Arkansas, works to engage students through sensory experiences with unique touring performances. In Chicago, IL, Emerald City Theatre Company Executive Director Karen Cardarelli integrates interactive moments to create theatre experiences that inspire early learners through play. At Imagination Stage in Bethesda, MD, Associate Artistic Director Kathryn Chase Bryer and Artistic Director Janet Stanford feature interaction during Theatre for the Very Young performances as part of the My First Imagination Stage series and within their current main stage season. These six theatre professionals answered questions to give insight into how they prepare actors and audience members for their roles in Interactive Theatre.

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How do you define Interactive Theatre?

Kassie: Interactive Theatre is a style of performing in which the audience takes an active role. At the beginning of the experience the audience understands that they are playing a part in the story, and throughout the process, they are commenting, reflecting, or taking a role in the play. Lynn: Theatre for Dialogue, which is what I call our form of Interactive Theatre, combines theatrical elements with interactive moments in which audience participants, in or out of role, work with actor/teachers towards an educational or social goal using the tools of theatre in service of this goal. The audience participants are called upon to actively help decide, shape, question, or examine issues. Karen: For us it’s about audience interaction and audience engagement, so we are seeking ways to pull the audience into the story.


What is the best indicator of an actor who can effectively work in an interactive context?

Kathryn: We cast actors who have knowledge of children, and usually, really, we like to hire people who have taught in the past. We actually have a process in which we do a 3-hour audition for actors to work in groups and pairs to create material right there at the audition. We are able to see how people work and not just how they perform. Kassie: I want to see them with kids. I want to see them teaching something to kids. I mean if they have never taught before, I want to know they have some sort of experience with kids. Two of the three actors for Digging Up Arkansas had been teaching artists and are also actors so I knew that they would already feel comfortable interacting with students. Karen: Actors need to be really comfortable with turning to a child in the audience and engaging in a dialogue with them. It really requires this great merger of improvisational performance and being a theatre teacher. Angela: We are looking for character actors. Our actors have to know how to create characters quickly and commit deeply. A listening actor, which is surprisingly more difficult to find then you would think, they are the ones who are really interested in the process. A listening actor will be a better improvisation actor and is not trying to control the action.

Digging Up Arkansas by Mike Thomas. Trike Theatre, Bentonville, AR. Photo by Stephen Ironside/Ironside Photography.

Angela: Interactive Theatre is theatre that is always specifically affected by the individual audience participating with us in telling the story. Kathryn: On our main stage, we do shows with audience participation in which audience members are asked to participate from their seats, either vocally or with movements. The most important thing for me is that we try not to have audience participation unless it’s essential to the action of the play.

Lynn: We have constructed an audition format that exposes those auditioning to facilitating the modified Forum Theatre approach we use. I want an actor who has strong questioning skills, the ability to ask open-ended questions, to really hear what is said and ask effective follow-up questions. Janet: It can’t be someone who is very precious about their performance. For children’s theatre you have to have a sense of humor and appreciate that the audience is there more often for the story. To me, that’s what a theatre artist should be up on the stage for anyway. To be the best vessel through which the story is told, not because of their amazing performance technique. The kind of actors who stop the performance to tell somebody to turn off their cell phone doesn’t belong performing for children.

Janet: In our smaller theatre, we are doing shows for ages 1–5 with our program My First Imagination Stage, and for these shows, the children not only participate vocally and physically, but in some instances, they actually come up on stage with the actors to participate in a scene.

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What challenges does Interactive Theatre pose?

Lynn: Audience resistance and behaviors are a challenge. To prepare, we role-play a lot of challenges that audiences may present.

What are the advantages of Interactive Theatre?

Lynn: It depends on who you talk to, because some people don’t like it very much. But I guess it depends on how you see theatre functioning as an element of change. For me the most exciting way to use the tools of theatre is to create ways for people to make change in the room at that moment. Offering space for rehearsing change is the exciting part of interactive work.

Karen: Children will say the darnedest thing, so the biggest thing is to give the actors a few general guidelines, like you never reject what a child says. Angela: When you’re going to be interactive, you have to have the freedom to make the scripts truly interactive and also need the freedom to change the script. So most of the time, if you’re licensing material, it’s just too hard to get permission to mess with someone’s work. It’s easier to go back to classics and do what you want.

Karen: Interactive Theatre instantly propels an audience member from being a passive viewer to being an involved viewer.

Kassie: I keep thinking about these theatre pieces as being engaging from the moment you walk in the door. But now, if we’re going to tour it, how do we still create that theatrical experience in the gym, classroom or library. It’s a challenge. It’s not always easy.

Kassie: There are advantages to both traditional theatre and Interactive Theatre. They are just two different experiences. We’re thinking of our audience as not just audience members but also as learners. Interaction is really about the students not just perceiving a play; it’s about deepening comprehension. It’s having them realize “I am a part of this” and buy into that. Janet: It may not just be children’s theatre. I think you’re seeing people of all ages feeling that they want an opportunity to express themselves wherever they go, and know that they matter. So I think that we as theatre artists need to see how we can accommodate that, because it’s definitely a trend.

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What advice would you give directors looking to work on Interactive Theatre for the first time?

Janet: If you’re doing it for the first time, then go see it done. Go watch it, because it’s impossible to plan this in a vacuum, and you need to see how the children are going to behave or you are going to have a very rough opening week. Karen: I would say it’s very important to build support around themselves by casting actors who have some improvisational experience or actors who are teachers and are really comfortable engaging in dialogue with the age group, so that the director has people in place who can make this effective. Kathryn: Look for plays in which the participation is essential to the action of the play. Lynn: Be sure to think about the range of content that could come up in dealing with the audience, and be sure your actor/facilitators are really prepared.

Kassie: Think about the piece with your audience in terms of how they learn best – kinesthetically, visually, aurally. How within your story are you engaging them in all three ways? Karen: I think that there are theatre companies that maybe are tentative about integrating interactive moments into their theatre pieces or asking playwrights if they can do that. It doesn’t require years of training to find and implement these moments of audience engagement. And the payoff for the audience is so enormous to achieve that learning through play. I would love to see more theatres give it a shot. Angela: Be brave. Make your interaction with the audience specific and purposeful. Don’t have interaction just to have interaction. Be brave and be willing to let the interaction impact the story, because that is what is empowering to a child.

Bethany Lynn Corey is a second year MFA candidate at the University of Texas at Austin where much of her current research surrounds Theatre for the Very Young. She has worked nationally and internationally as an actress, director, and teaching artist.

James Zoccoli appeals to an audience member for help in Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! adapted by Ernie Nolan from the books by Mo Willems. Emerald City Theatre, Chicago, IL. Photo by Tom McGrath.

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T Book

Theatre, Education and Performance – The Map and the Story auth or

Helen Nicholson rev i ew ed by

Daphnie Sicre

heatre, Education and Performance “The Map and the Story,” based its subtitle on Michel de Certeau’s book, The Practice of Everyday Life. In her latest text, Helen Nicholson, a professor of Drama and Theatre at Royal Holloway, University of London, creates a mapping metaphor where theatre weaves together practical scholarship and creative practices. For Certeau and Nicholson, the map and the story represent contrasting knowledge. The map is official and disciplined knowledge, whereas the story is creativity and spontaneous knowledge. Nicholson opens this book by acknowledging the contributions professional theatre practitioners have made to the education of youth. She states that theatre matters: that its practices, principles and policies speak to different generations. Inspired by artistically innovative, socially engaging, and educationally-based youth theatre, Nicholson creates a map where one can discuss diverse cultural environments and learn how theatre and education have affected one another. Within this text, Nicholson sweeps the landscape of the history of theatre education in the 20th century and demonstrates how theatre was interwoven with educational and social reform, and its affect on youth. Yet, the book does not stop exploring the contours of this historical map: it also reimagines and questions what theatre education should and could look like in our globalized 21st century. Nicholson’s research is a great historical tool for academics and young scholars aiming to learn what practitioners have been doing. While theatre artists and


educators might not consider this book a purely practical tool (it is not a how-to-book), they may want to engage in Nicholson’s discourse on where the field is headed. Theatre, Education and Performance – The Map and the Story is divided into two parts. Part One, entitled “Looking Back: Histories and Landscapes,” takes a look at educational theatre work from the 20th century and discusses ideas and practices that inform today’s theatre education. Nicholson divides the historical accounts into three inter-related histories: the social, political, and educational narratives of theatre education, followed by social reform, the quest for finding a national identity, and seeking theatrical utopias in a rural artistic form. In Part Two, “Moving On: Theatre Education in the Twenty-First Century,” Nicholson responds to several potential challenges presented by globalization. This section goes on to compile a thoughtful analysis of the ways in which the 21st century educational policies affect theatre education. Nicholson also introduces the possibility of a new landscape in theatre education that might address the need for national identity. Lastly, she explores ways in which theatre practitioners can encourage public engagement through politics of participation, including the use of science. Part Two weaves contemporary practices in theatre and education with Nicholson’s personal narratives and experiences within the historical stories. This backand-forth makes Part Two very useful, but not necessarily engaging to read from start to finish.

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If these sections sound dense, they are. While some of the examples contextualize Nicholson’s broad ideas of globalization and utopia, even the examples are hard at times to wade through as a reader. Yet, they are crucial for a discourse on where the field of Theatre Education is headed.

Nicholson creates a map where one can discuss diverse cultural environments and learn how theatre and education have affected one another.

Throughout the book, Nicholson thoughtfully differentiates Theatre Education, Drama Education, and Theatre for Young Audiences from each other. Yet, her research does rely heavily on previously published work and some of the references are not completely accurate. For example, Professor Manon van de Water is referred to as a “he” instead of a “she.” Also, when discussing commercialization and consumerism in America, she turns to The American Place, the familiar mega-store of the American Girl books and dolls. Instead of focusing on the theatrical aspects of the company, she focuses on how girls can get dolls that look just like them, which is not neces­ sarily true since the company does not differentiate between certain skin colors, eye color and hair textures. Despite these inaccuracies, one of the greatest strengths of this text is Nicholson’s quest to challenge today’s theatre norms and cultures and her call for a theatre that will transcend national borders. She argues that theatre education has always been used to reform social norms and develop new teaching/ educational practices.

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Nicholson covers historical ground-breaking educational theatre developments of the 20th century and explores ways in which current theatre practitioners uphold these practices. She does this well by including various examples that developed throughout the 20th century such as the evolution of Theatre-InEducation (TIE), the use of Shakespeare as national identity in the UK, or the work of Boal. Yet despite the breadth of Nicholson’s research, it is impossible for her to cover every single ground-breaking contribution in educational theatre throughout the world. Nevertheless, she does an exemplary job at gathering and mapping the histories of our fore founders in educational theatre. She also eloquently questions where the field is headed and how to incorporate globalization. In covering ground that is useful not only as a guide on historical accounts of educational theatre developments, but also a tool that could be used as a text in a Drama in Education course, Nicholson’s book meets academic expectations and maps out work from all over the world in order to spotlight important contributions to the field.

Daphnie Sicre is a PhD candidate in Educational Theatre at New York University. She is also an adjunct instructor at NYU, Borough of Manhattan Community College and Marymount Manhattan College. When she is not teaching college students, she is working as a teaching artist at George Street Playhouse, NJPAC and Mile Square.


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we’re here,

we’re staying

& we’re By Karl O’Brian Williams



All the concern about funding cuts, and neglect of the arts and arts-based programs, have lots of folks in the field asking the question – “can we last?” For those wanting to start their own TYA companies or invest in others, the task may seem daunting, or, optimistically, brave. Yet there are TYA organizations that have been around long before the acronym came into being, and they are still here – functioning, successful, and with no intention to stop growing or serving the people for whom they exist. Together we celebrate three of those companies who hit milestone anniversaries in 2011–2012.

(upper left) Cast of Lyle the Crocodile by Kevin Kling with Music by Rich Gray, based on Lyle, Lyle Crocodile and The House on East 88th Street by Bernard Waber. Childsplay, Tempe, AZ. Photo courtesy of Childsplay. Photo courtesy of Childsplay. (upper right) Students from The Lower Lab School and Teaching Artist Lisa Podell, New York, NY. (lower left) Ben Lurye, S. Lewis Feemster, Helen Hayes Award Recipient Parker Drown, Ashleigh King, & Kristen Garaffo in 2011–2012’s Alexander and the Terrible Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Adventure Theatre, Glen Echo, MD. Photo by Michael Horen. Spring 2012

2011–2012 Celebrates... Adventure Theatre’s 60th Season Adventure Theatre has been around since 1951, making it the longest running children’s theatre in the Washington, D.C. area. Producing Artistic Director Michael Bobbitt says, “It’s simply about the children. Even on the toughest day of work, the sound of children enjoying themselves makes it truly a fun and enchanting place to work. There is not one person working at Adventure Theatre that doesn’t absolutely LOVE working here. Each and every day these folk make the theatre better. This is not to say that there aren’t rough days, but coming to work and getting the chance to entertain kids with a great team of colleagues is pretty amazing.” The theatre has ensured its longevity by responding to the needs of its community. Education Director Kathryn Hnatio explains, “We tie-in all of our mainstage shows to some sort of community engagement partnership. By partnering with other non-profits, we teach kids about model citizenship, volunteerism, and philanthropy. For example, when we did Go, Dog, Go, we partnered with our local humane society, who drove their adoption unit to the theatre where patrons had the opportunity to consider adopting animals needing homes. For You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, we partnered with Project Linus Blanket where patrons had the chance to make blankets for sick kids. For Harold and the Purple Crayon, we partnered with schools and restaurants to recycle crayons. So much fun AND it extends the experience, making it even more memorable.”

Childsplay’s 35th Season Founded amongst friends by playwright David Saar in 1975, Childsplay has spent the last 35 years becoming a Phoenix area mainstay. Boldly proclaiming itself, “theatre for everyone,” Childsplay has become a beloved institution for generations of families. Ellen Conn, the company’s finance manager says, “I love that Childsplay is a Phoenix area tradition. When I tell someone I work for Childsplay, 9 out of 10 times their eyes light up, and they have a story of how they used to come as a child, and now they bring their children or their grandchildren. It’s wonderful to know we’ve made art a part of real life for so many families!” Dwayne Hartford, who came to Childsplay as an actor in 1990 and now serves as an associate artist/playwright in residence, elaborates on this sensation of “coming home.” “A number of our current actors saw Childsplay shows in their schools when they were kids … and a number of us associate artists were in those shows! When we refer to the ‘Childsplay Ensemble,’ we include

Spring 2012

everyone who works for the company, from office manager to teaching artist to carpenter to actor to bookkeeper. What I’ve always treasured about the company is that it welcomes people to make it their artistic home. It is a resident theatre company in every sense. It has provided me with a safe and supportive environment in which to develop as a playwright, actor, and director.”

10 Years of Wingspan Arts Wingspan Arts has become one of the largest and highly regarded providers of arts enrichment programs in New York City, serving thousands of students and families since 2001. Compared to Adventure Theatre and Childsplay, they are the new kids on the block, but even in a non-profit saturated city like New York Wingspan makes an impact. Education Program Director Jessica Bailey says, “Wingspan plays a major role in the lives of the young audiences it works with. Particularly in the in-school residencies, this often serves as the only arts education that students receive. I am proud of our quality of arts education and proud that we provide unique arts experiences to young audiences in our efforts to create life-long supporters of the arts.” Executive Director Paul Ashley believes that the endurance of Wingspan Arts owes some of its success to “the flexibility that we give teaching artists to do what they do best. With the wide range of classes and different schools, we have encouraged the artists to bring their skills and passions into the classroom and have structured the curriculum around that. It gives us the flexibility when partnering with a school to make the arts experience as customized and unique as they want.” Adventure Theatre, Childsplay, and Wingspan Arts represent only a few of the many vibrant companies in the field of theatre for young audiences. It is no wonder that even through the toughest economic time, the kind of theatre that persists is rooted in a true spirit of community. TYA companies subsist on a regimen of hard work, shoestring budgets, prayers, offerings, and donations, but they ultimately rely on their love of inspiring young audiences.

Karl O’Brian Williams is an adjunct professor in the Speech and Theatre Department at the Borough of Manhattan Community College and site director at Wingspan Arts. He’s an actor, playwright, and director devising work with LGBT youth in the TAYPE project for Theatre Askew and a teaching artist with the New Jersey Performing Arts Centre (NJPAC).


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Spring 2012 issue of Theatre for Young Audiences Magazine. A bi-annual journal for the field of theatre for youth.

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