today fall 2012
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T HE O UTRAGEOUS C OMEDY & M AGIC OF T ONY B RENT J ANUARY 14-19, 2013
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cover photo Celia Keenan-Bolger, Adam Chanler-Berat, and the cast of Peter and the Starcatcher ©O&M Co. All photos are Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
tya today fall 2012 / vol 26 / num 2
For the Future of Theatre for Young Audiences: A Manifesto with Context By Xanthia Walker
Corporate Adaptations: “Branded TYA” By Andy Wiginton
A Taste of TYA in India By Dan Kelin and Dr. Ashish Ghosh
investigation 22 The Torchbearers: Touring TYA By Mark Koenig
Fantasy Incarnate: Popular Literature Meets TYA By Gwen Edwards Dora the Explorer Live: Search for the City of Lost Toys. ©2012 Viacom International Inc. All rights reserved. Nickelodeon and all related titles, logos and characters are trademarks of Viacom International Inc.
Agents of Change: the Relationship of Art and Activism with Youth By Emily Freeman
book review 38 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.
TYA, Culture and Society: International Essays on Theatre for Young Audiences Edited by Manon van de Water Reviewed by Sarah Sullivan 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 firstname.lastname@example.org www.tyausa.org
Don’t Call it Sweet By Sarah Coleman First published on HowlRound.com on March 10, 2012
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fall 2012 / vol 26 / num 2 TYA/USA Board of Directors Elissa Adams The Children’s Theatre Company
Karen Sharp President, TYA/USA Seattle Children’s Theatre
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Doug Cooney Playwright
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Deborah Wicks La Puma Composer
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Alicia Fuss Nashville Children’s Theatre Stephen McCormick LaJolla Playhouse
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Chicago Playworks for Families & Young Audiences
by MADELEINE L’ENGLE adapted by JOHN GLORE directed by ERNIE NOLAN
OCT 23– DEC 1, 2012
by GARY D. SCHMIDT adapted by CHERYL L. WEST directed by JOHN JENKINS
by JAMES AMBROSE BROWN directed by ANN WAKEFIELD
JAN 19- MAR 2, 2013
APRIL 2- MAY 25, 2013
at DePaul’s historic Merle Reskin Theatre 60 E Balbo Dr, Chicago | 312 922 1999 | theatre.depaul.edu
10/15/12 10:35 AM
For the Future of Theatre for Young Audiences:
a manifesto with context In the fall of 2011, as a twenty-seven year old emerging artist/thinker in the field of Theatre for and with Young Audiences, I dared to start a non-profit theatre company. Why in the world would I do that in a time when the non-profit model is being called into question and funding for the arts is being cut everywhere? Because I know theatre is vital.
Outlined here are what I believe to be my responsibilities:
Theatre depends on human beings sharing space in a room together in a moment in time that will never exist exactly the same way again. Film and television cannot duplicate the liveness of theatre. Facebook cannot duplicate it. Even Call of Duty: Black Ops, where you can talk live to other people playing the game through a headset, cannot duplicate it. Theatre is one of the most communal acts in which one could possibly participate. The intersection of liveness, humans, and stories is something theatre offers the world that will always be craved by humans – connection. If theatre is a communal act, then theatre depends on community. And yet, it seems that so many of us are struggling to fill our theatres. I’ve been thinking about this in relationship to my own work as I begin a company that I hope will be around well into the future. I’ve been asking myself: “What are the things I am responsible for to ensure a future for our field and a rich cultural future of theatre for young people in my community?”
By Xanthia Walker
It is my responsibility to be relevant to my community. I want to make work that people care about, that is connected to the lives and experiences of young people and their communities. I want every play I work on to be tied to something that matters to people. I need to always ask people what matters to them and then make work about that.
Theatre is, has always been, and will always be a participatory art form. Audiences engage: they don’t consume. When people participate in something, it belongs to them. When people participate in theatre, they become champions of it. They bring audiences. I want to always create work in which the community participates. That could look a million different ways. Youth could be sounding boards for new plays. Youth could participate in the writing process. Youth could make season selections. Youth could serve as rehearsal room collaborators. Youth could perform alongside professionals. I cannot think about youth participation without considering adult participation. Young people exist in relationship to adults. Adults make a lot of decisions for young people. If I created with teachers, parents, and young people, they would all come to see what we made because they all helped to make it. Imagine all the amazing things that could happen if we saw our gatekeepers as collaborators. That is how they stop being gatekeepers and start being allies.
I don’t want to produce theatre that costs more than a movie. Ever. If I charge more than the price of a movie, I am immediately telling a huge number of people that theatre is not for them. It is not enough to only have some accessible tickets. They all have to be accessible. Relying on ticket sales as a central mode of income generation is a thing of the past. The future is affordable theatre. Even free theatre. Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis introduced a concept of “Radical Hospitality” this past year. Tickets are free, and you can choose to pay if you’d like. This is accessible theatre.
Sometimes theatre has to leave the theatre. If I want to generate new audiences, I need to go out and find them in their comfortable spaces. I can’t just invite them and expect them to come. Touring is not enough. The creation process has to move too, so that people feel that they are a part of the work, not just consumers of the work. Then, people will come to the theatre, because the theatre came to them first. In addition, mobility means collaborating across geographic spaces. I have a responsibility in our globalized world to embrace local communities as well as global communities. To find points of connection across town and across the world. To create theatre that transcends borders.
Young people deserve to see their stories, faces, experiences, REALITIES reflected onstage. I have a responsibility to ask my community what they care about and then work with them to create theatre about it. To tell the stories that are fun and light as well as the stories that are challenging in theme or content.
New Plays New Partners New Possibilities
Reality also means I have a responsibility to ensure that my acting company looks like the young people in my audience. Colorblind casting is a thing of the past. Bodies onstage are too powerful to not be purposefully considered. If I need an Asian actor and I don’t have one in my community, I will find one. If I need an overweight actor, I will find one. If I need an actor who has a prosthetic arm, I will find one.
6 7 8
One of the most exciting parts of Theatre for and with Young Audiences is that it is a space where we imagine new realities. Where young people see their dreams onstage and adults recall and renew their dreams. I am responsible for knowing what those dreams are and for building them onstage – for embracing the incredible and the wondrous. For dreaming big.
I make Theatre for and with Young Audiences, so it is my responsibility to ensure that I am creating spaces for young people to be agents of their stories, artistry, and community. I want youth to be citizens in the creation process. I want that citizenship to transfer to other areas of their lives.
I don’t want to see bad theatre. I don’t want to make bad theatre. Neither does anyone else. I am responsible for making work that is of the highest quality. If the work is not quality, then participation, relevance, reality, mobility, youth agency, and big dreams get lost. As I move forward on my journey of starting a theatre company, I am challenging myself to stay in dialogue with these responsibilities – and to hold myself accountable to them. I also want our community to keep me honest. I believe we all have a responsibility to each other as artists, managers, producers, and educators passionate about the work we do to hold each other to the highest standard. What are your responsibilities to the work you do? Let’s hold each other accountable. Let’s build theatre that sustains long into the future.
Childsplay and Indiana Repertory Theatre Present
Xanthia Angel Walker is the co-founder of Rising Youth Theatre in Phoenix, Arizona. She holds an MFA in Theatre for Youth from Arizona State University.
March 14-17, 2013 Tempe, Arizona www.writenow.co 6
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photo courtesy of The Coterie Theatre
Corporate Adaptations: By Andy Wiginton
The ensemble of Newsies. Photo by Deen van Meer. All photos are Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
In researching this article, the term â&#x20AC;&#x153;branded theatreâ&#x20AC;? was used frequently by artists as a way to discuss their work created under large corporate umbrellas, and not; in this case, by adults for young people and family audiences. In using the term here, the goal is not to create division or suggest genre hierarchies but rather to facilitate discussion about yet another way our work for young people takes shape. While the field is not new, toy companies, childrenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s media powerhouses, snack-food companies, and other multinational corporations are re-discovering the power of theatre and drama to provide audiences with a personal experience with their corporate brands. Despite these challenging economic times, this area of TYA continues to grow and sell out shows all over the world. Despite the relative growth and success of the form, very little information has been published about this subject, which some have argued furthers misconceptions and assumptions about the artistic and educational merits of work that is produced with corporate patronage. Furthermore, when asked, scholars and practitioners often criticize how branded theatre affects audiences and the larger TYA market. So what is branded theatre for youth anyway? What does it look like? How does it come to be from idea to execution?
How is it similar or different from other genres of theatre for youth? What are the idiosyncratic challenges associated with working with a large corporation? To answer these questions, we sought the opinions of a handful of leaders in this genre working at some of the largest corporations making this work in the United States: Disney, Nickelodeon, and Mattel. In talking with these theatre professionals two things became very clear. First, while each company has its own process for creating and executing work, there are certain elements that are consistent across all branded theatre platforms that help define the genre. Additionally, while branded theatre certainly has its unique array of challenges and benefits particular to its genre, many of the hurdles faced by branded theatre makers who make theatre for children are the same as those faced by all TYA practitioners.
Branding There seem to be many elements that distinguish branded theatre for families and youth from other theatre. Most notably, branding is obviously a key component when working on a branded theatre production. Many leaders in this field adopt a “structure equals freedom” mentality when considering their unique brand boundaries and noted that in translating from one medium to another there was much room for creative contribution in spite of branding parameters. Shelby Jiggetts-Tivony is the director of Theatrical Development for Walt Disney Imagineering, the arm of Disney that creates entertainment for Disney’s theme parks and resorts as well as for Disney’s cruise ships. About creating within the parameters of the Disney Brand, Jiggetts-Tivony says, “People care about our brand and know about our brand very very very well … Sometimes we find ourselves challenged how to take the same canon of characters and show and make them feel fresh and different. It’s a unique challenge.” One of the rules of the Disney brand is that the princess characters do not know each other. “They have held their own these many decades – they can hold their own onstage as well. The guests get that … They are not looking for us to break the rules. It’s never been a problem.” One may be surprised to learn that the “rules” of branding – potentially creatively limiting initially – are outwardly embraced by all of the
theatre practitioners who contributed to this article. Michael Cooper, the senior producer of Worldwide Live Entertainment for Mattel, who produced Barbie Live in Fairytopia, Barbie Live, and Barbie at the Symphony productions, discussed how the brand parameters for Barbie (the doll) were “translated” into the brand parameters for Barbie (the actor) between the theatrical team and the toy designers, marketers, etc … “How far can she go as a human being? How far can she go to get a laugh? How much does she flirt? I was asking director’s questions of incredibly talented non-theatre people. Like, if Barbie is going to sing, then what is her vocal range? I found a lot of those answers with the DVD production team … I do not find the parameters to be limiting at all.” Cooper goes on to discuss the aesthetic limitations of Barbie branding, “PMS-219-pink, BUT she can still be whatever she wants to be – she can move easily from princess to fairy effortlessly – the brand says that is what you can do when you play with the doll so we say that is what you are allowed to do when you watch Barbie LIVE. It’s really exciting theatrically.” Susan Vargo, executive producer of Live Theatricals for Nickelodeon, observed that the creators who make the television programs also write the theatrical scripts that are based on popular television episodes. Like Cooper at Mattel who translates between toy engineers and marketing professionals, Vargo noted that some translation must take place for the television creators who write the theatrical scripts because many aren’t necessarily used to working in the theatrical
“ We make theatre for theatre’s sake.”
medium. At Nickelodeon, the television “show bible,” complete with the reference points for character, costume, sets, etc … is consulted often in creating the theatrical productions. “Our productions are like the [TV] shows – just enhanced.” In many ways the branding is part of what the audience is coming to see. Vargo felt that it was important for Dora the Explorer to be a live actor, especially considering the call and response portion of the show. Cooper echoed this sentiment about Barbie. “A flesh and blood actor,” he says, “can connect to the audience in a way that a costumed character can not … Most of the pressures are alleviated by giving the brand fans what they expect of the brand. We don’t work around, we work with those expectations.” Sometimes satisfying audiences of a brand means adapting performances for them. Because of “copyright infringement” in Latin America and other developing places, Vargo notes that they often use a costumed character onstage. The children in those audiences respond better to the “real Dora” than they would to an actor playing Dora onstage. “This has proven to be the case for all the Spanish speaking countries and we expect any of our tours playing those markets to be converted from live actors to costume characters performing to track. Our production of the Backyardigans followed a similar path.”
Interestingly, Jiggetts-Tivony differentiates the theatre that she produces at resorts and on cruise ships from what she calls “legit theatre.” “When I think of legit theatre,” she explains, “I think of theatre that exists for its own sake – I think that the audience chooses to be there – but more than likely when they go to see our shows it’s because it’s part of the value proposition of going to the ship or being at the resort.” The populist nature of the audiences attending branded theatre creates high stakes for branded theatre makers. Jiggetts-Tivony notes, “Millions of people will see our shows and we want them to love it. Every show has to be a hit.” One way of coping with the stress this creates is through sharing the burden through incredible collaboration at every stage of production in branded theatre. From conception to execution, each practitioner discusses the many layers of collaboration, systems of review, market research, and quality control across apparently unrelated departments that come together to share resources to make productions happen. It seems that another way of managing the high stakes nature of these productions is to employ Broadway quality theatrical talent both on-stage and off. Award-winning directors and designers regularly work on these productions, and producers discussed the advantages of working with known talent who are used to the scope and scale of large projects. Jiggetts-Tivony explains, “We work with people who have a proven track record of success and to whose aesthetic sensibilities we respond and hope that our guests will too.” When discussing the people working in branded theatre more generally, Jiggetts-Tivony observes, “We work with
Vargo continued to explain how they bring their internationally recognized brand to local markets and how occasionally that influences production. “It doesn’t affect our initial creative process as the US is still our primary market and we strive to make the most creatively engaging product we can. If the demand exists in another market we will address their creative concerns at that time they arise. In fact, even with the live actor versions of our shows we address localization in the local planning process. For example, when Dora Live initially played Europe, there was an interactive section of the script featuring nursery rhymes – we changed out some of the US ones to other local rhymes that would resonate with the local children.” Of course this careful branding is not without its marketing and education goals. By performing shows all over the world, children are able to have a brand experience with Barbie or Dora in their hometown, or with Mickey and Minnie on vacation. Vargo comments, “Nick prides itself on providing an experience – an intimate oneon-one experience with the brand. We don’t sell units – we sell an experience. We bring the brand, the experience, to the local market.” Cooper was careful to point out that the Barbie productions are not “extended commercials,” but if girls come to the theatre for the first time and they see a good show, “they will be hooked on theatre and they will be brand loyal … We make theatre for theatre’s sake.”
The Backyardigans Live. © 2012 Viacom International Inc. All rights reserved. Nickelodeon and all related titles, logos and characters are trademarks of Viacom International Inc.
some of the most talented people working in the American theatre anywhere. It is taken as seriously as any other theatre in the country. There are aesthetics at play that are high and that are good.”
Similarities Across Genres Certainly, branded theatre isn’t the only theatre with incredible production values and high aesthetics. While branded theatre is unique in many ways, there are certainly many bridges that connect it to the larger theatre for youth community. Most notably, educational issues that affect branded theatre working within the educational system crop up widely in the field of TYA. When discussing Mattel’s production of Barbie at the Symphony, Cooper discussed how they had to “convince” music teachers that there was “educational value” in a production narrated by Barbie about live classical music. Similarly, Lisa Mitchell from the Disney Theatrical Group in New York, wrote that the latest study guides for Newsies and Peter and the Starcatcher “have been tied to the Common Core State Standards, and feature a multidisciplinary pedagogy.” She continues, “I’m very mindful to align our work in the New York City Schools to the Department of Education’s Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in the Arts.” In both branded and non-branded TYA alike, assessment and “quality control” are difficult to measure; yet stakeholders often
request assessment. Not surprisingly, each producer interviewed has a different take on the nature of a “quality” or “successful” production. Some quantify success in terms of education and marketing goals. Others discuss how stakeholders perceive how close their adaptations come to the original source material. Others offer anecdotes about children rushing the stage at the end of the show. “Do the kids run to the stage to dance with Dora at the end? That became a way for us to know,” Vargo genuinely quips when asked about measuring success. Jiggetts-Tivony has a more concrete answer, stating, “Success is often determined by Guest Satisfaction Surveys and feedback from our executive leadership and operations partners.” In short, in spite of stakeholder wishes to the contrary, as in other areas of TYA, there doesn’t seem to be a standard measure by which to assess success or failure. For better or for worse, assessment in theatre for youth is still an elusive science.
The Future of Branded Theatre While the field of branded theatre continues to grow as more corporations seek the power of theatre and drama to provide an experience with their brand and their products, global economic pressures have limited the amount of productions that an audience can choose in a given season. Vargo agrees, saying,“In my experience, yes, the industry is thriving in that there are many brands attempting to bring their products into the live theatrical marketplace, but I am unsure of the sustainability or longevity of any one brand in the long term in a crowded marketplace. In this economy, I think that families are only willing to spend for a live experience if it is their child’s favorite brand and they trust the creative vision and comfort in the quality of the execution. I am unsure about whether families are able to attend multiple shows in any touring season as they may have done in the past.” Jiggetts-Tivony has observed in the decade she has worked at Disney, “companies like Clear Channel and DreamWorks started theatrical divisions and Nickelodeon partnered with Broadway Across America to tour its live shows …” She speculates, “Perhaps we do OK, despite the economy, because we’re able to leverage known and well-loved brands. There’s an accessibility for the audience. It’s hard to know what kids as young as three and four will sit through. But if a parent can build upon their child’s affection for and recognition of certain characters and stories then there’s a good chance that they’ll enjoy the experience.” However, even corporations without well known characters are tapping into the power of theatre to provide a positive customer experience with their brand by utilizing elements of spectacle, theatrical design, and face-to-face customer interaction with branded products, trademarked characters, and copy written slogans and logos. Last Christmas, upon visiting the flagship FAO Schwarz Toy Store on New York’s Fifth Avenue, one could witness countless “in-character” salesmen for new and old toys alike offering demonstrations and opportunities for children to engage with their favorite super heroes and story book characters, or even learn about how to care for their new baby doll from an “in-character” nurse. These theatrical demonstrations and meet-and-greets are often enhanced
with elements of set, props, and theatrical sound and lighting. In some cases, like for the unveiling of a new product or a particularly popular holiday toy, these technical design elements are quite extravagant. In Mexico City and other parts of Latin America, it is common for snack food companies and cereal brands to strategically station costumed characters in shopping areas offering samples to children and discounts for parents. These meet-and-greet marketing pitches often include short performances (sometimes with music and dancing) to demonstrate the magic trick for sale, the yo-yo “you too can master,” or the virtues of regular tooth brushing with the preferred paste. The latter oral hygiene spectacular was seen in 2010 at San Juan’s Plaza las Americas Shopping Mall and featured salsa dancing costumed teeth and toothbrushes who provided free samples and coupons for future purchase to the assembled young audience. For many, this career path provides the opportunity to introduce theatre to children on a considerable scale. Jigget-Tivony notes, “Something like less than half of one percent of all people have gone to the theatre of their own volition … we care a lot about audiences going to theatre. Disney has provided us a platform to craft shows about characters that kids care about.” Vargo echoes this sentiment, commenting that what drew her first to the position at Nickelodeon was the “opportunity to make global work.” Cooper too spoke with excitement about creating the “magical bond that can only happen in the theatre” for children all over the world. Mitchell mentions that she was drawn to “the company’s position to introduce live theatre to hundreds of thousands of people around the world with [Disney’s]
commitment to quality.” Clearly working in a forum with such a large audience makes it an attractive option for many theatre makers. Nonetheless, “breaking in” to the world of branded theatre is as much like working in any other genre. Jiggett-Tivony suggests, “like all work in the theatre, working in branded theatre begins with ‘I love theatre’ and ‘I want to create theatre’ … Go to where the work is happening and make great theatre, and we will find you.” Cooper and Vargo echo these sentiments, with advice for young theatre makers interested in working in the form about making “great work,” repeating that producers are looking for “well-known” and “topnotch” talent for branded theatre productions. It seems that branded theatre is with us to stay and that there is still much to be learned about the implications of the form for young audiences. With large audiences and corporate coffers to support the development of new work, the field is an appealing option for many talented theatre makers. These distinctions often create a rift between those engaged in not-for-profit TYA who challenge the integrity of the branded theatre form. Roxanne Schroeder-Arce, assistant professor at the University of Texas-Austin, has often noted that there is a lack of scripts for Latino/a audiences in US TYA. Schroder-Arce has recently challenged Nickelodeon’s Go, Diego Go! and Dora the Explorer productions, finding that, “The productions are extremely expensive and inaccessible to the [Latino/a] children Nickelodeon claims to
(L–R) Erin Elizabeth Coors (Barbie) and Jonathan
Scott Meza (Hue) in Barbie Live in Fairytopia by Susan DiLallo and Robbie Roth. Fox Theatre, Detroit, MI. Photo property of Mattel, Inc. © 2012 Mattel, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
“Anything that children see live, versus what’s on a screen, is a step in the right direction.” Judy Matetzschk-Campbell
be reaching out to with these shows, furthering the process of ‘othering’ and marginalization.” While some theatre makers have felt the effects of multinational branded theatre at home, many non-profit theatre makers abroad are experiencing the effects of globalization acutely in their production processes. These theatre makers and scholars often criticize branded TYA from the United States both for its effects on the market as well as on the audience. Irma Borges, a Spanish practitioner, comments, “large corporations are using incredibly powerful marketing techniques to create new kinds of theatre consumers among young people. These young people now have different expectations of what quality theatre is.” Uruguayan Director for Youth, Gabriel Macció Pastorini, discussed how these new expectations “create limitations” for the creative process. Natalia Maria Moya, an Argentinean TYA investigator recently argued, “the growth of the cultural market has created a situation where children have become major consumers, bombarded with so many images from all over that they are no longer cognizant of what is happening around them.” Moya cautiously questioned how the not-for-profit theatre “enters into this machine that never stops?” “Kids take in a lot of media these days,” reasons Janet Allen, artistic director of the Indiana Repertory Theatre, offering another perspective from the non-branded theatre community. “Maybe I’m incredibly naïve, but I think that good storytelling and good acting matter. I think that movies, video games, and television are much more destructive to how stories are told than glitzy stage stuff … I think people need lots of different kinds of storytelling.” When asked about how branded theatre affects the marketplace, Allen comments, “We think that more theatre creates more theatergoers. We really don’t see a specific conflict for ticket sales … What we are making is usually for older kids generally. Most of what comes through town is for younger children (pre-school to second grade).” Judy Matetzschk-Campbell, Ph.D, producing artistic director of Pollyanna Theatre Company in Austin, comments similarly that,
“Anything that children see live, versus what’s on a screen, is a step in the right direction. People seem very willing to pay a high ticket to see something live.” Matetzschk-Campbell continues, “It puts a tremendous amount of pressure on us to make our production values really high … They have to be as high as we can make them. We can’t just put a trunk and a hat stand out there. Not that we want to do that, or have ever done that at Pollyanna, but that doesn’t fly after seeing a Disney production.” It’s a reality of the marketplace, whether we want to think about ourselves as product or not – we are. The challenge is to set ourselves in a positive light … We can do that, but it takes some extra effort because we don’t have the marketing dollar … It’s an opportunity to have a conversation with the community that we live in about all kinds of performing art. I want kids to have all kinds of performing arts experiences and be able to make up their own minds. Kids are more savvy then we give them credit for. There is room for all of us.” As so little is still known about this intriguing and expanding subject, it is clear that more research needs to be done about the theoretical and practical implications of what branded theatre indicates for young audiences and for the market in general. While branded theatre presents many exciting opportunities for practitioners, the repercussions of creating such work are still largely unknown and under-theorized. As new industries continue to experiment with the power of theatre and drama for youth, both as another product line and as a way to market existing products, it is clear that artists and scholars have many legitimate questions that beg further study. These essential queries will help shape the discourse about the nature of corporate partnerships with American TYA practitioners as well as the future of the form itself.
Andy Wiginton, MFA, is a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison specializing in Latin American Theatre for Youth. He was the 2010 Winifred Ward Scholar and is the current program director of Savvy Theatre Works.
a taste (Lower Left) Galper Sathe Dekha by Nilima
By Dan Kelin and Dr. Ashish Ghosh
Biswas. Rangapeeth, Santipur, West Bengal. Photo courtesy of Santipur-Rangapeeth. (Lower Right) Velu Saravanan and students in Deva Loka by Velu Saravanan. Performed at a local orphanage by Aazhi Children’s Theatre Group, Pondicherry. Photo courtesy of Aazhi Children’s Theatre Group.
illowy fabrics, Bollywood musicals, flowing lines of face paint, percussive chanting, and mesmerizing strains of sitar permeate the image of performance traditions in India.
Indian theatre, influenced by long extant cultural practices and values, is as diverse as the population of the world’s largest democracy. “You cannot say ‘the past influences the present,’ as the present is a multiplicity of continuing performing traditions mixed with modern imports and creations,” notes Dr. Michael Shuster, Asian and Pacific Arts Scholar/Artist. Organizations and performances constantly develop in reflection of ever-evolving interests and issues. Staged on rooftops, sidewalks, dance halls, in fields, or any available space that will entice an audience, performances fill the landscape, from internationally recognized traditional theatre to dramas devised by office workers in theatre-rich West Bengal state to presentations at schools. Theatre in India creates connections – artist/audience, company/community, culture/culture, teacher/disciple – that reflect the communal feeling deeply embedded in the multiplicity of cultures that make up India. Profiled here are three organizations dedicated in whole or part to theatre with and for young people, based on the author’s experience as a 2009 Fulbright-Nehru Research Scholar in Education who spent April-October of 2010 in India working with several schools on the implementation of a culture/history/drama integrated program. While simply a small sampling of the dynamic performing arts that defines this country, these organizations offer a glimpse into the varied approaches to work with and for young audiences reflective of their community and/or regional culture.
Santipur-Rangapeeth A self-styled ‘pro-people’ theatre dedicated to addressing issues through performance and bringing together the community through art The actors – adults and children – arrive from various directions, mostly on motorcycle, but also by foot, bicycle, and pedal-rickshaw. As they mill about setting up for the performance on the dirt plaza in front of a clay statue of Durga, local residents of Santipur, West Bengal slowly gather to watch. An announcement blasts through the speakers as actors in full costume spill out of a temporary dressing room. The audience grows throughout the performance until the plaza and roadways are literally stuffed with bodies negotiating a quality spot for viewing the performance.
Santipur is a town renowned as a handloom weaving center of fine-textured saris and dhotis. The region’s unique weaving styles – Santipuri Sari – is a household name across India. Historically, Santipur reigns as a seat of Sanskrit literature and Vedic learning dating back to the 9th century. Located two hours north of Kolkata, Santipur is also the home of Rangapeeth. Founded in 1999 by a collective of theatre artists, graduates of the National School of Drama (NSD) in New Delhi, which is one of the foremost theatre training institutions in India, Rangapeeth typifies a prevalent form of performance organization across India: community-based theatre dedicated to tackling serious issues such as poverty, abuse, child labor and women’s rights. These companies employ theatre as both a means of enlightening people – particularly in remote areas – about issues facing their culture and country and giving people a voice, primarily sponsored by the State, Central Government, or other public bodies. “Our idea for Rangapeeth,” writes Biswajit Biswas, company director, “was to remove the illiteracy and spread social education and nationality among the people by upholding moral, spiritual, religious, and cultural ideals through drama performances.” Rangapeeth presents original plays, developed primarily around social themes or from well-known literature; company adaptations of plays include The House of Bernarda Alba, Yerma, Sandhya Chhaya, and Hamlet. More uniquely, Rangapeeth stands out amongst its peers by involving children as performers, workshop participants, and audience members. The directors believe that “the children in the audiences find pleasure in seeing other children performing. The child actors best represent a world the young audiences can relate to. Our youngest performers also help create emotionally engaging stories about issues faced by children.” Biswajit and Nilima Biswas, founders as well as company president and secretary, respectively, are also graduates of NSD. During their studies, the two developed their sensibility and a greater understanding of the importance of creating a company that would involve children in various ways. At Rangapeeth, Biswajit focuses on orchestrating the overall organization, forming partnerships with sponsors and community organizations, as well as directing and devising many of the plays they produce. Nilima employs her talents in designing workshops and productions with and for the children they engage. “I see much talent in the children,” says Nilima. “Our workshops help them discover their abilities and help us to develop new plays best using their talent.” As an essential part of their
“The child actors best represent a world the young audiences can relate to.” Biswajit Biswas
mission – ‘to encourage the development of cultural interaction of rural and underdeveloped people and children through theatre performed by themselves’ – the directors create outreach programs to both recruit for their company and to provide creative opportunities for their audiences. As such, the directors regularly conduct and host workshops on performance and technical theatre as well as theatre-ineducation to create a community of artisans, who consist of trained and experienced performers along with local college students, practiced handloom weavers, and a wide age range of children. The statement ‘For the Children - By the Children’ guides Rangapeeth’s work directly with young people. Through workshops and coaching, the directors devise one or two plays a year with children from the community. The company also offers free tuition to children who have
Early Bird On November 14, 1974, Ms. Shanta Gandhi, a doyen of Indian theatre and the then Director of Bal Bhavan, children’s cultural centre in New Delhi, invited Dr. Nobert J. Mayer, the artistic director of Munich Children and Youth Theatre, to direct Stokkerlock and Millipilli. Her idea was to serve an example before theatre artists and audience as to how a play can be mounted on realities of children. The Hindi adaptation, Chhuk Chhuk Bhayya Talamtal, had adult actors playing as children and was an eye opener for the audience. Bal Bhavan went on to produce more plays with professional actors to form a repertory during the tenure of Ms. Gandhi.
Dr. Mayer directed the same play in Telugu with adult actors of Rangdhara in Hyderabad, and the play was first staged on December 20, 1974. The production was supported by Goethe-Institut/ Max Mueller Bhavan. These two are the earliest examples of T YA in India.
Chhuk Chhuk Bhayya Talamtal
The GRIPS Phase Volker Ludwig, the founder and artistic director of the GRIPS Theatre in Berlin, came to India in 1983 to conduct a workshop. Dr. Mohan Agashe of Pune’s Theatre Academy was immensely influenced by his work and decided to be a student at the GRIPS theatre in Berlin for five months in 1984 –85. In 1986, he initiated a three-year GRIPS project with a series of workshops on writing and producing plays.
been disadvantaged by economic or physical means. These plays, as with all of the work presented by Rangapeeth, are offered to the community in celebration of the artistry of children and culture. Rangapeeth’s production of Sauda exemplifies a style that has become synonymous with their name, combining traditional and contemporary theatre artistry with social activism. The company created the play to highlight child labor and sexual abuse of children. Set in a village in the Sunderbans (‘beautiful jungle’ of West Bengal, home to the Bengal Tiger), the play follows 12-year-old Paran. After his father is killed by a tiger, Paran and his mother must beg for their survival. Paran falls victim to a sexual predator. Although he escapes this particular oppression, Paran ends up a child laborer. Paran eventually returns home, but a price has been paid for his ‘freedom.’ Paran is both shattered and traumatized from the experiences. In demonstration of their desired aesthetic, the Sauda production interweaves folk elements and modern technology using authentic folk songs and rituals such as those performed before traveling, in addition to multimedia projections highlighting data on child labor and sexual abuse of children. The proximity of Santipur to neighboring countries and Indian states feeds their National-International Theatre Festival ‘Rangapeeth Natyamela.’ Designed to promote Indian theatre and cultural exchange, Rangapeeth hosts and presents performances, workshops, and seminars by their own and visiting artists. Recognizing the power of theatre both as an agent for social change and bringing the community together in exploring challenging issues, Rangapeeth focuses on providing opportunities for artists, college students, dedicated volunteers, children, and youth to participate in workshops, devise original performances, and tour about their community. The organization believes that empowering these various parties and individuals to speak will effectively contribute to greater social awareness and change.
Soon, we found its spread in different parts of India. Besides Theatre Academy of Pune, the Theatre in Education Company of National School of Drama in Delhi produced four GRIPS plays in Hindi; Jayoti Bose of Kolkata did four plays in Bengali, Rangadhara of Hyderabad in Telugu, Surendranath of Bangalore in Kannad, Chetan Datar and Bhupendra Deshmukh of Mumbai in Hindi and N. S. Yamuna of Chennai in Tamil. Influence of GRIPS was felt till the end of the last century.
Aazhi Children’s Theatre Group A popular theatre company that performs in street theatre style Snake-like figures twist and turn along the arched hallway, accompanied by a multi-voiced chant punctuating the night air. The sack cloth snake costumes sport twenty sets of legs each, comprised of classes of volunteer public high school girls. The procession inaugurates the start of a children’s theatre festival staged at a local school. Over the next three hours, groups of multi-aged children from four different Pondicherry schools in Southern India perform original adaptations of Indian folk stories for a crowd of parents and curious passers-by, organized and emceed by a brightly colored clown figure. This is an event of the Aazhi Children’s Theatre Group of Pondicherry. Founded and run by Dr. Velu Saravanan, he conducts such events as an Indian version of a Harlequin-style clown. Aazhi is a loose collective of independent artists supported by community members who provide valuable administrative and other technical support. Dr. Saravanan, the accomplished artistic director, chuckles at the memory of founding his company in 1991 “accidentally when I was at University. I was recruited to conduct literacy education using street theatre style performance. Not only did I gain valuable training in an improvisational, interactive style, I was encouraged to create a formal company to tour and perform at local schools.” When considering a company name, Dr. Saravanan half-jokingly suggested the ‘Bruce Lee Theatre,’ in honor of his favorite actor. The school official countered with ‘Aazhi’ (Tamil for ‘deep sea’) in recognition of Pondicherry’s proximity to the ocean. On the spot the Aazhi Children’s Theatre Group was born. The Aazhi collective includes talented artisans who double as designers and performers who are ready at a moment’s notice to catch a bus to the remote areas Aazhi visits. Financial support comes primarily from grants and foundations solicited by Dr. Saravanan,
Sanjay and His Master directed by Dadi Pudumjee
Inclusive Theatre There are good examples of puppet theatre, dance theatre and mime theatre in India which can be bracketed within T YA. Suresh Dutta started his career as a puppeteer at Children’s Little Theatre, Kolkata in 1954. His productions turned out to be hugely popular particularly after he formed his own company – Calcutta Puppet Theatre in 1972. His best known productions are Aladin (1972), Ramayan (1981), and Sita (1987). His brother Jogesh Dutta became the first generation mime artist to influence many more. Together with the next generation mime artists – Niranjan Goswami and others – the art has found its inroad into mainstream theatre. Narendra Sharma established Bhoomika, a company on contemporary dance, in 1972 following
although over the years Aazhi’s reputation has resulted in requests from schools, orphanages, and other child-centered institutions all over Southern India who pay for special workshops, programs, and Aazhi’s characteristic performances.
As Dr. Saravanan easily and engagingly switches back and forth between audience facilitator and the main character, he guides the audience to become a part of Gori’s world and creates a rich event that is unique to each audience. “It is a gift we share,” he adds.
Dr. Saravanan has developed a performance philosophy and style that is distinctive in India. Having long ago realized the power of direct involvement with his audience, he designs his productions to involve children on multiple levels: imaginatively, physically, and emotionally. With his fascination for clowning, child psychology, and street-style theatre, Dr. Saravanan understands the power of engaging performances but also realizes the necessity of a deeper engagement – that which makes each child feel actively involved in the performance as opposed to audience members simply reacting to the production. “I feel always that I must enter the world of the children,” he says, “and invite them to play along with me. It is a way for them to be connected to the greater world, to be an integral part of it. Together, we create a small celebration of humanity.”
The Aazhi Children’s Theatre Group also involves large groups of children in the development and performance of short, folkloric pieces, sometimes as performers and sometimes as active, contributory audience members. Dr. Saravanan creates spontaneous theatrical events. Just as the audience/participants are never quite sure what may come next, he says “neither do I a good portion of the time.” Each child sits in excited fear and anticipation while waiting to see whether Dr. Saravanan will target him/her next by drawing the child into the performance area, stepping over the heads of his audience, or capturing a school official in a theatrical fishing net. Dr. Saravanan not only engages his young audiences but continually invites them to be a part of their own personal performance. He believes, “at whatever level students participate, the more personal the process for them, the more they gain from the experience.” Aazhi has created more than 50 different plays in this manner.
Aazhi’s signature artwork Kadal Bhoothum – which he has performed more than 3500 times – perfectly personifies Dr. Saravanan’s performance style. The simple story of a young boy who accidentally encounters a sea monster and tricks it into submission, “allows me to engage both audience and fellow actors in highly structured, yet spontaneous ways,” explains Dr. Saravanan. He plays the central character, a young boy named Gori. In addition, he is also a narrator, a facilitator of interaction, and an educator all at the same time. He establishes his multiple roles at the top of the performance, enticing the audience to join him on his theatrical journey and helping them to understand the role they will play over the course of the performance. As he steps into the role of Gori, he simultaneously sets up the audience as a foil, giving them the permission to tease him in a way that helps him establish his character while pulling the audience deeper into the story. “I wish them to place trust in me, to be open to the possibilities of the story. As we progress, the children see the effect they have on me as both the character and the actor, influencing moments of the show, and learning to be engaged participants.”
his association with Modern School, New Delhi, as a dance teacher. Over the years, Bhoomika had produced six productions for children. Dadi Pudumjee, the leading puppeteer of India and the current international President of UNIMA, started Sutradhar Puppet Theatre in 1980 at New Delhi’s Shri Ram Centre for Performing Arts staging shows for children every weekend. Today we have many more puppet theatre groups in the country. All of them have worked with and for children at times.
At the core of Saravanan’s work is his firm belief that children need creative outlets. The performances that he creates have a loose feel to them, but they are meticulously created to capture a true sense of playfulness. He encourages his young audiences to express themselves, sometimes in wild ways that demonstrate how they can unleash their creativity without losing control. As an example, Dr. Saravanan often teaches short chants to the audience to perform along with him. As his character Gori walks about, the audience chants, the tempo and intensity rising and falling in response to Gori’s actions and emotions. The children relish such moments, their voices echoing off of walls, yet they always come to a complete stop when Gori arrives at his destination. When Dr. Saravanan guides children as performers, the same goal applies. He seeks to encourage and drive his students to find the part of themselves that will take risks and engage their audiences. He is a big proponent of students fulfilling their own potential, “but through
Durga Zali Gauri A musical extravaganza, considered to be a classic in children’s theatre in Marathi, Durga Zali Gauri was premiered in 1982 and is still going strong with over 500 shows. It has a cast of 60 with participants ranging from 6–25 years old. This is perhaps the only example of continuing popularity of a children’s play over three generations. Over the years, many popular actors have appeared in different roles. Written by Madhav Sakhardande, the play was directed by Ramesh Purar with music by Shank-Neel and choreography by Guru Parvatikumar. The play was produced by well known Marathi and Hindi actors and theatre couple Arvind and Sulabha Deshpande under the banner of Awishkar.
Durga Zali Gauri, from a recent show. Photo by Mahanand Gupta.
balance,” Dr. Saravanan says. The strictness of school is uninspiring without the personal passion gained through the artistic experiences that I desire to provide.” As a loosely organized collective, Aazhi Children’s Theatre Group has the flexibility to experiment with multiple types of performance. Amongst its many accomplishments, Aazhi created community events in tsunami ravaged areas focused on the children, as Dr. Saravanan describes, “to relieve them of the nightmare of losing family members and reconnect with their childhood.” It was this work that garnered him an invitation to perform for Bill Clinton, spokesman for relief support. Bolstered by community response, the Aazhi Group also created a season of television programs developed in a highly theatrical style. More recently the company has staged larger performance events, such as children’s theatre festivals featuring up to a thousand performing children and a retelling of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest that recruited artists from all over the city.
The Little Theatre A non-governmental theatre for young audiences Hyundai company buses rest next to local school vans in the parking lot of the Madras Museum Theatre. Inside, Hyundai employees share the house with classes of school children. As the lights rise and the director takes the stage, the sound in the theatre is deafening, evidence of both the excitement of the audience and the students’ rare trip to see a formal theatre production. An original fantasy musical keeps their excitement, and the noise, at a fevered pitch throughout the performance. The Little Theatre’s annual Little Festival is in full swing. Since 1991, The Little Theatre of Chennai in South-East India has brought high quality theatre experiences to a wide economic range of families and children. From creative adventures for toddlers to
First National Conference on TYA The first National Conference on Theatre for Young Audiences was organized by ASSITEJ India with Regional Resource Centre for Elementary Education at the University of Delhi, from August 4–6, 2011 in New Delhi’s prestigious India International Centre. Attended by over 150 delegates from all over India and eight guests from abroad, the Conference focused on three issues – theatre practices, theatre and education, and writings for the young. The conference raised many questions including definitional parameters of T YA, the problems of infrastructure and spread, issues related to artistic quality, absence of playwriting culture among the litterateur, inroads into the schooling system, researching and documenting works, or simply reaching out to established and struggling persons and groups for strengthening T YA in India. fall 2012
some of the most elaborately staged productions in the city, The Little Theatre melds traditions from both east and west in their work for and with children. Certainly in its home city, but arguably beyond that as well, The Little Theatre stands as a risk-taker in Theatre for Young Audiences. The Little Theatre dedicates itself to 1) create world-class original productions, 2) provide creative workshops and theatre experiences for underprivileged children, and 3) a long-term goal of building a performing arts centre for Theatre for Young Audiences in Chennai. Founded by Aysha Rau, this energetic volunteer believes strongly “that every child has a right to explore his/her creative abilities and that the community deserves the highest quality cultural and artistic experiences.” Rau serves as a volunteer by choice, keeping finances focused on opportunities for children and artists. The finances are provided in large part by corporate sponsors whose signs proudly grace the performance hall where they regularly play. The recent hiring of Krishnakumar Balasubramanian as the first artistic director, whose creative fingerprints can be found on numerous Little Theatre projects from workshops to productions, marks a new phase in the theatre’s history. At The Little Theatre, a small contingent of toddlers and parents plays together … children explore snippets of stories in a cavernous classroom … on a government school’s dusty grounds uniformed adolescent girls experiment with dance steps modeled by a local choreographer … a pair of actors leads a compact crowd of children on an imaginatively wild journey. The diversity of The Little Theatre programming exemplifies child-centered programming also offered by its contemporaries throughout the city of Chennai. The company functions collaboratively, working closely with choreographers, directors, and actors who have their own small companies or programs. The Little Theatre also offers intensive performance workshops to artists, typical of its pursuit of continuing to build the professionalism of the field. In this same collaborative spirit, Rau offers lectures at a Fashion Design school, whose students then design their productions.
Delegates at the National Conference. Photo courtesy of ASSITEJ India.
The Little Theatre’s original musicals are a unique tradition. The centerpiece of these is the annual Christmas Pantomime. A popular entertainment that has grown in scale and reception, the Pantomime is an event that epitomizes The Little Theatre. Written specifically for the company, the scripts respect the available talent and include significant participation by children. Traditionally, the Pantomime is adapted from recognizable titles: King Arthur & his Nights, Rip Van Wrinkle, and Alice in iLand (No Wonder!). The Little Theatre most recently instituted the international Little Festival, inviting productions from other countries to play alongside their original musicals, all sponsored by local consulates and foreign corporations. Most performances play to family audiences. The organization also buses in groups of children from local schools, as no real tradition of field trips to the theatre exists. Any income from these performances supports workshops and scholarships for economically disadvantaged children. The Little Theatre conducts weekly workshops for 200 underprivileged children in drama, mime, puppetry, wall painting, dance, and music. “We believe that half the delinquency on our streets is due to dissipation of untapped talents,” says Rau. The success in engaging these students is undeniable. A street theatre style production, performed in the local language by those children, completes The Little Theatre’s season. Touring to the highly prevalent impoverished areas, this annual production often tackles serious issues. Rau says, “The children are brilliantly engaged young actors who do a splendid job of reaching these audiences.” The Theatre offers scholarships annually to four highly deserving children to pursue further studies. To date, sixty-one are currently attending college, focused in post graduate studies or working. One early awardee works as a software engineer. A few have returned to work with the organization. In response to an education system that Rau believes “causes too much stress in youngsters who need experiences that develop their creative talents,” The Little Theatre also offers classes to children aged 5 to 14 from more affluent backgrounds. They have also developed workshops for toddlers and parents, forging new
ASSITEJ India is in the process of working out a detailed plan for the future. The major thrust areas would be to encourage research, organize a residency for playwriting, initiating the process for an international theatre festival, advocacy, membership drive, and encouraging member units for international collaborations. In the meantime, ASSITEJ India had organized a six-city storytelling event on the occasion of International World Day Theatre for Young Audiences on March 20, 2 012. We recently organized a seminar on Theatre Practices on September 10–12, 2 012. The seminar focused on the issues raised in the First National Conference on T YA.
ground for the field. Storytelling sessions open The Little Theatre’s artistically inviting mini-performance space to children and families seeking interactive sessions with affiliated artists. Rau recognizes the dual benefit of “offering artists additional work in a kind of laboratory setting and gives our regular patrons an informal, intimate artistic experience.” Rau’s desire to “professionalize Theatre for Young Audiences in Chennai and carry that dedication beyond the city borders” has put The Little Theatre amongst the well-recognized in the TYA movement in India. The Little Theatre was one of the first members of ASSITEJ/India when it formed in 2004, becoming a strong advocate for establishing a broader understanding of and place for theatre for and with children across greater India. TYA companies in India face continued challenges; many across India exist on small, inconsistent budgets based on what audiences can or do pay or donate or, more likely, what corporate or government sponsorship they can solicit. “The majority of theatre groups in our country do not run as a business proposition – they are clearly driven by passion and the need for creative expression. People commit a great deal of time and energy for very little returns,” says Vinay Verma of the Sutradhar School of Acting. The support and appreciation of their efforts entice artists from diverse backgrounds and experiences and provide inspiration to create, perform, and teach in unique and engaging ways. Shaili Sathyu, artistic director of Gillo Children’s Media Group, delivers a call to action. “For us artists, it is important to continue and join forces with like-minded groups to create more mental space for TYA in the minds of parents, educators, adults in society at large and the media.”
Daniel A. Kelin II is Honolulu Theatre for Youth Director of Drama Education and President of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education (AATE). A 2009 FulbrightNehru Scholar in India, he has also had fellowships with Montalvo Arts Center, TYA/ USA and the Children’s Theatre Foundation of America. Dan is co-authoring The Reflexive Teaching Artist: Collected Wisdom from the Drama/Theatre Field for Intellect Books.
Looking Ahead T YA has yet to take its roots in India; saplings being planted. The metaphor is to be justified by looking at the soil, climate, and planters. We have our own compulsions, promises, and challenges. The good thing is that the atmosphere is congenial as never before, thanks to many young practitioners willing to train themselves in the field, cultural policies of the government encouraging children’s theatre, educationists looking forward to arts intervention through dramatics, and possibilities of international exposure and collaboration having increased many fold. All these may not be directly related to TYA, but they are definitely helpful in preparing the ground.
Dr. Ashish Ghosh has been a T YA activist for the last 26 years, writing and directing plays with and for the young, conducting workshops, and at times performing on stage. He now devotes time to organize ASSITEJ India and officially convened the First National Conference on T YA in India. Additionally, he recently concluded a national seminar on T YA practices in India.
Congratulations to our AATE 2012 Distinguished Play Award winners
Claire Inie-Richards and Nathaniel Brastow in the People’s Light and Theatre, Malvern, Pa., production. Photo: Mark Garvin.
“The themes of growth and life affirmation are presented clearly and subtly… Eggs offers children’s theatre with substance.” — Broad Street Review
Eggs - Drama. By Y York. Based on the novel by Jerry Spinelli.
David has made a deal with the universe for the return of his dead mother: to reach his mother “on the other side,” he has to enlist the help of the weirdly obtuse Primrose, daughter of the psychic Madam Dufee. Primrose needs the reluctant David to help her move from Madam Dufee’s crowded garage into an abandoned van. By being out from under Madam’s constant conversation with the spirit world, Primrose hopes to be able to find out the truth about the spirits and the old photograph of the handsome man who is not Primrose’s father, as Madam claims. Friends try to help these two outcast misfits but David and Primrose must find salvation on their own.
Noah Watts, Lavonne Rae Andrews, Robert Vestal and Tonantzin Carmelo in the Native Voices at the Autry, Los Angeles, Calif., production. Photo: Able Gutierrez.
Teaching Disco Square Dancing to Our Elders: A Class Presentation -
Drama/Comedy. By Larissa FastHorse. Original music by Brian Joseph. Kenny Two Hawks and Martin Leads to Water have a problem. For their last middle-school presentation they have been assigned: “Do It Yourself Disco” and “Teaching Square Dancing to Senior Citizens.” Enter Amanda Smith, class klutz and painfully shy half-white, half-Native American girl who gets “Exploring Your Culture: Taking Oral Histories” as her project. Amanda is adopted and has no one to ask about her culture, which she so desperately wants to learn about. They decide to combine all three projects so that the boys have a dance partner, and Amanda can interview Kenny’s cool Grandma Two Hawks about the heritage they all share. Over the weekend, friendship is tested, first love blooms, and serious secrets threaten to unravel everything. Through it all, Grandma Two Hawks keeps her young people on track with her humor, guidance and a wicked disco dance.
The K of D - Dark comedy by Laura Schellhardt. “See it before it disappears, like the great
urban legend it says that it is. But on the way home you will ask yourself about the narrator, where she is now, and then you will realize the real story behind the legend. That’s when you will see how the tale of Charlotte McGraw and The K of D (the kiss of death) is better than the one about alligators in N.Y. toilets. And it will creep you out. Big time.” — DC Theatre Scene
ly Mammoth Kimberly Gilbert in the Wol
The Giver - Drama by Eric Coble from the book by Lois Lowry. The Giver is the only person who holds
the memories of real pain and real joy. Now Jonas will learn the truth about life—and the hypocrisy of his utopian world. He will learn to be the next Giver. Through this astonishing and moving adaptation, discover what it means to grow up, to grow wise, and to take control of your own destiny.
Fred Mar tory The shall and Garrett Photograatre, Indianpolis, McKenna in the productio phy. In n. Photo: diana ReperJulie Cur ry
Jesse and Grace: A Best Friends Story - Comedy by Sandra Fenichel Asher. Developed from the poetry of Sandy Asher and David L. Harrison. Jesse and Grace have been best friends
Skip John son and K athleen Fl etcher
in the Polly anna The atre,
since birth. It never mattered that Jesse is a boy and Grace is a girl. But now they’re in 4th grade, and when Grace gives a birthday poem to Jesse at school, their classmates begin a routine of nonstop teasing: “Jesse’s got a girlfriend! Gracie’s got a boyfriend!” Denial only makes things worse. Then everyone is invited to a party in celebration of Grace’s birthday. Unable to avoid each other, or the teasing, and secretly longing to forgive and forget, Jesse and Grace finally discover that “A best friend is the best kind of friend of all.”
Dramatic Publishing www.DramaticPublishing.com 311 Washington St., Woodstock, IL 60098 ~ 815-338-7170
the torchbearers: By Mark Koenig
Local students view an Eckerd Theater Company rehearsal of The Hundred Dresses, Murray Studio Theater, Clearwater, FL. Photo by Mike Wiatrak.
The sun has barely broken the horizon. Four actors enter a long room, carrying objects like overgrown ants across linoleum under the hum and harshness of fluorescent lights. Focus feebly pushes past exhaustion. A faint smell of syrup hangs in the air, the only remnant of the breakfast just served here to hundreds of sleepy stomachs. The actors inspect the playing space. Their stage is a small raised platform covered in thin carpet, about the size of three ping-pong tables put together. Less space than expected. No matter. After set-up, there will be a few minutes to make necessary blocking adjustments. The actors are quiet in their work. There is hardly any sound at all, except for the clanging of the kitchen staff and the distant jangle of a janitor’s keys. Soon enough, though, an audience will file in, and the bland, windowless cavern will swell into a tempest of commotion, of squirming bodies and curiosity. No house lights will dim to signal a start. No curtain will rise. No orchestra will sound an overture. Yet, there will be theatre. “There’s a kind of legacy we are practicing when we tour,” says Carol North, artistic director of St. Louis’ Metro Theater Company. “It creates an intimacy and a kind of dialogue with the audience, I think, that goes way back to what theatre once was, before it moved inside.” What North alludes to is a quality intrinsic to theatre: creating a shared moment-to-moment experience with a live audience. Touring multiplies these moments exponentially, but taking up the charge to tour is no small feat. A touring production offers challenges that are no less immense, but almost entirely different from those of an in-house show. Those challenges affect artistic directors, designers, and actors alike and define touring’s theatrical process, from pre-production to casting to performance and beyond.
Measuring Minutes Touring theatre seems to be generating a new wave of curiosity in the TYA community. In May of 2012, TYA USA hosted a web
seminar for artists to discuss and examine the practice of touring Theatre for Young Audiences. Both North of Metro Theater Company and Jim Jack, executive director of New Jersey’s George Street Playhouse, participated in the online discussion, sharing their individual touring experiences and offering their expertise. One of the more pressing issues the two were invited to address was the reality of touring in the current economic climate. “Clearly the economic straits that the entire country is feeling right now affects how schools think about spending money,” says North. “Doing anything that resembles performance art or something that is just playful in concept, that maybe doesn’t have a dead-on theme that addresses an important issue, right now, would have a hard time finding welcome in schools.” North notes schools’ concern with “measurable minutes.” Essentially, schools want to know how much educational bang they can get for their buck. George Street Playhouse’s Jim Jack echoes North’s observation, pointing out that, “Schools have very specific criteria for assembly-based programs. They’re always looking for things that are going to be tapping something they can check off their curricular list of objectives.” This seems to be the first hurdle of the modern TYA tour: choosing a production that is capable of meeting schools’ curricular needs without losing its theatricality. One of the ways George Street Playhouse has maintained this delicate balance in the past has been through its anti-bullying initiative, mandated for schools by the New Jersey Education Association. “Three of our pieces in the repertory right now explore issues of tolerance,” notes Jack. “We have a piece on cyber-bullying that we commissioned five years ago, and we do two ‘lessons’ pieces, Peacemaker by David Holman and New Kid by Dennis Foon.” Eckerd Theater Company, based in Clearwater, Florida, has been touring TYA for more than 20 years. In that time, Artistic Director Julia Flood has experienced many
changes in programming requirements for schools. “When we’re doing something like I Never Saw Another Butterfly, at least in Florida,” Flood explains, “every kid has to study the Holocaust, so in that way, it has very clear curriculum connections that a teacher can use to begin a dialogue. A teacher or a parent can say, ‘this is going to make my job easier because the conversation is going to come up naturally.’” In addition to meeting schools’ curricular needs, Flood also invests in the individual needs of the students. “Some of the kids that we’re reaching don’t have somebody at home, reading them a story at night,” Flood says. “I’m looking for stories that have some kind of teaching element that’s intrinsic to the story itself while also deciding whether or not this is a story that really speaks to the kids we’re trying to address.” Communication is vital when mounting a touring production. “When you find an issue or a theme, really talk to the educators in your area about what they want and what they would value,” Jack suggests. “Our commissioned pieces are really mounded out of conversations we have with educators and student audiences.” Recent evidence of this came in the form of George Street Playhouse’s newest production, Austin the Unstoppable, the first musical of its kind to focus on childhood obesity and Type-2 Diabetes. “George Street Playhouse really looked at this piece,” Jack explains, “as a partnership with the community.”
Finding a Way “A good relationship means that it’s a partnership,” says North. And that partnership isn’t limited to schools, teachers, and state education boards; it extends into the private sector as well. Metro Theater Company relies heavily on contributed income, which provides over 70% of the company’s annual operating costs. “To achieve that kind of funding,” North says, “you’ve got to be willing to go the extra mile. You have to say:
‘we’re not giving up on the community; we’re not giving up on schools. Even if foreclosures have meant that property taxes aren’t yielding the same kind of support to school budgets, we’re going to find a way to do this.’” Nina Meehan, artistic director of Bay Area Children’s Theatre (BACT), has witnessed first-hand the kind of extreme measures taken to keep theatre in schools. BACT tours productions to both major arts venues across the nation and schools in the surrounding regions of Oakland, California. Its national tours are funded and co-produced by Maximum Entertainment, a company that provides support, development, and financing for arts organizations. BACT’s local tours, however, are produced with a much smaller budget and are more difficult to sustain. “We have to work really hard to find grant support,” Meehan explains, “so that we can go into schools that might not be able to afford assemblies or where the student population can’t necessarily afford full-priced mainstage performances.” Meehan says she’s always fighting to find more “funders who can help subsidize the cost in order to bring shows into schools.” During a tour in 2010, BACT received funding from an unexpected source. Their production was booked into a school where everything but $100 of the show’s cost had been subsidized. A teacher from the school asked Meehan how the theatre would like to be paid. “I said, ‘the school can just cut a check,’ ” Meehan recounts. The teacher then asked Meehan if cash was okay. “I said, ‘of course cash is okay.’” Meehan was puzzled, but the teacher continued. “‘Oh, good,’ she said, ‘because all of the teachers have been pooling five or ten dollars each to bring this show to our school.’” Needless to say, Meehan was left speechless. She vows to never forget that conversation. “It says so much to see the dedication of teachers to keep theatre arts and enrichment alive in their schools in these difficult economic times. But it’s also a really strong indication of how hard it is for some of these schools right now and how important it is to do the work that we’re doing.” The process of actually doing that work, though, is no less complicated.
Two Dimensions into Three In the late Middle Ages, theatre moved out of the church and into the streets by way of the pageant wagon, a moveable stage on four wheels. Today, touring productions rely on something much more technologically advanced but virtually unchanged in concept: the van. As fundamental as it may seem, the issue of transportation has always been, and still is, the initial and most pervasive challenge in a touring production’s set design. “You want something very sturdy, but it also has to break down in an hour and set up in an hour and a half, and it’s the actors who are doing that, so you want it to be actor-proof,” laughs Flood. No one knows this better than Nicholas Kryah, set designer for Metro Theater Company. He also works as a touring actor. “I have designed and built 35 years worth of touring shows, and part of my success is that I design and build the things I have to carry,” jokes Kryah. “Plus, it has to fit in the van, so it has to fold, or roll, or pack.” Kryah resists looking at these requirements as roadblocks; rather he allows them to become opportunities for innovation. “I don’t limit my imagination by the amount of space I have available,” Kryah explains. “I think it is important to dream unbounded at the beginning of the design process.” Kryah describes a Metro Theater Company production of Beowulf taking place in mountains, a mead hall, a lake, an ocean, a forest, and more. For that production, he provided a simple structure that allowed the audience to create the different environments with their imagination. “Too often we are hampered by realism and naturalism,” suggests Kryah. “Who says a bed has to be a bed?” In a production of Frankenstein’s Children, Kryah designed for a bed to transform into a door, a lean-to, a platform, and a cage. Endowing elements with versatility is another hallmark in a touring show’s set design. Most of Kryah’s time as a designer is spent taking two-dimensional pieces, such as backdrops and flats, and figuring out how to make them three-dimensional. “I study origami for shapes and techniques. I study artists to create either a look or a feeling,” Kryah explains. “I use levels and angles to create dimension, and then I use ramps and ladders and cubes and stools to get actors up so the audience can see them.”
The set isn’t the only technical element that has to be folded, stacked, and loaded up into the van with the actors. Though rarely a part of touring productions, sound and lighting elements, if used, must be downsized. “We often don’t have lighting on the road, so we depend heavily on sound,” says Flood. “We create soundscapes to do what lighting would do in another production.” Flood insists that the show’s sound system must be as straightforward and unornamented as possible. For a high majority of touring shows, actors must serve as their own crew. “In some cases, like in A Thousand Cranes,” describes Flood, “we have live instruments. So we have the sound equipment behind a shoji screen that’s right there on stage with the actors. One person can be doing the drum and then hit a sound cue then do the chimes, and it’s all part of the performance.” Flood points out that having an actor picking up technical duties is something that automatically makes the rehearsal pro-
– – – – – – – – – –
Wake up, 5 A M Travel to venue Unload van at venue Set up in performance space (usually gym or cafetorium) Prepare for performance (or two) Perform Conduct Q&A with audience Strike set Load the van Travel to next venue location
What makes the daily routine of touring so unique, however, is the added element of the unknown. The school staff that greets the cast might be helpful or indifferent. The playing space itself could pose several sightline, acoustic, and/or spacing problems. The audience that files in might be excited and attentive or they might be the opposite. Even prior to performance, it might be that the set shifted in the van during transport, making it more difficult to unload. (L–R) Seth Clayton and Omar Maskati in Austin
the Unstoppable by Barry Wyner and Daniel Israel. George Street Playhouse Educational Touring Theatre, New Brunswick, NJ. Photo by Frank Wojciechowski.
cess of a touring show different. “If I’m directing a piece, from the very beginning, I’m figuring out who’s available to be doing some of these things, and making sure we’re not adding that two days before the tour. It’s a part of the process. When your muscles are learning who your character is, you’re learning that, too. It’s a whole different animal.”
Carrying The World With You In the audition room of any given production, hundreds of variables present themselves concretely to directors. Yet, when it comes to casting a tour, directors must sift through actors’ measurable qualities, such as honesty, physicality, or vocal ability, in search of something deeper and more intangible. “Yes, you are looking for people who are talented actors, but at least as important, and possibly more important, is what kind of a human being they are,” says Flood.
North contends, “there’s not a specific route or formula for finding a touring actor.” As a solution to this, North and her colleagues at Metro Theater Company have developed a useful idiom for the casting process; she calls it “mission match.” The mission, in this case, is the tour itself. From there, the company determines if an actor is a good match. “If they are really committed to what this work is, if they see their role and function as something not just to perform or bring superior artistry to, which is also critically important, but as a means to connect with a community as a guest in that community, it can be really powerful,” says North. “It calls for a special kind of person, I think, to really love the mission.” But mission matching isn’t based solely on an actors’ sense of idealism or passion; touring is a grind that requires both mental and physical toughness. For a touring actor, life is entrenched in routine. The average day’s schedule looks something like this:
According to North, touring is reserved for those “who find a real rigor in taking on a project where there are a set of aesthetic agreements and challenging themselves to try to make it work in a new space every day.” There is often no stage manager on a tour, and even more rarely, a crew. In turn, a show’s technical responsibilities land on the shoulders of the cast, adding another important layer of consideration when casting. “You’re looking for actors who are exceptionally responsible,” says Jack. “You’re looking for people who have an internal responsibility and an internal sense of ethics, who are willing to pull their own weight and also deliver exceptional performances day in and day out.” There are also no understudies on the road, which means actors are expected to perform regardless of injury, illness, or fatigue. Jack explains that cancellations are not made lightly. “If you cancel on a school, they might’ve only had that day of that year to book that show, their schedules are that tight,” Jack says. “For us, it may seem like just another booking, but that school has often moved an ocean-liner in another direction to make sure that booking happened.” “It’s kind of TYA boot camp,” chuckles Flood. “You have to have the stamina and all of the skills it takes to be an actor – heightened comedy, classical form – and then you have
to channel it in this really intense situation where you’re doing everything.” Perhaps a touring actor’s most valuable attribute is his/her attitude. Keeping a positive outlook through all the performances, load-ins, load-outs, and long hours is something that can’t be taught, trained, or coaxed out of a person. Flood can point to the kind of actor who possesses this outlook, explaining, “If they’re in the van for 10 hours at a stretch in the dead of winter, they’re excited because they’re seeing snow, not asking, ‘Are we there yet?’” Arguably, the life of a TYA touring actor is not glamorous. On the road, an actor can’t rely on the comforts that come with those of an in-house production. But to some actors, that’s the draw. “When you handle your own set, when you carefully think through how you’re going to craft the day’s performance in a new space, when you carry the world of your play with you, it’s a heightened discipline,” says North. “There is a breed of artist who thrives in it. It’s a rare breed.”
Being There “We work very hard to cultivate a spirit of trust and ensemble with each touring company, and once that is established, it must be maintained,” says Jack. “I (always) … try to let the company know how important they are and make visible the value of what they do.” Over the course of a tour, every aspect of production will be put to the test. A tour’s last line of defense, the common thread responsible for holding a show’s artistic integrity together, is its cast. “Cast chemistry matters a great deal,” says Becky Eck, an actress who toured with Eckerd Theater Company from 2003 to 2007. “These aren’t just your coworkers. You live with them, share a vehicle with them, dine together, and share rooms together.” When co-existing in such close quarters, the line between personal life and work life is often blurred and sometimes, non-existent. But the quality of the production cannot be allowed to suffer. That’s why negativity, according to Eck, “can be like poison” to a tour. “The more positive people you have on a tour,” says Eck, “makes for an easier experience.”
Positivity usually translates into cast unity, which in turn bolsters the quality of a production. “I think by far,” says Bay Area Children’s Theatre actor Kyle Payne, “the most important thing for a successful tour is that people in the company truly believe that the show is a good one. If you have that, even people who might not enjoy each other’s company are much more willing to work with each other toward a greater cause.” Even after hundreds of performances, there is a uniqueness to touring, separate from an in-house production, that somehow keeps the ensemble goal fresh and attainable. “When I do a run in one theatre,” says Kryah, “I find that after a while, it is harder and harder to be spontaneous – it’s like Pavlov’s actors. Casts get into a routine that is always the same: coming in the same door, signing the same sign-in sheet, same dressing room, same set, and same big darkness out there in the audience. I love being at different venues because it makes me be there.” Jessica Payne of Bay Area Children’s Theatre suggests, “the only major challenge of maintaining a show’s overall production value is when you’re battling the entropy of set pieces being chipped and scratched and costumes fading or ripping from doing the same move dozens of times in a row on stage.” Payne explains, “every load-in includes a ‘fix-it’ time where we make sure the show is looking its best.” Unfortunately, actors don’t get the same “fix-it” period: Payne has performed tours sick, on a sprained ankle, and with a broken toe. The actress hypothesizes that touring actors are able to rise above such obstacles because “everyone’s focus is always on keeping the integrity of the show.” Regardless of the ensemble’s trust in each other or their shared focus on one goal, the singular driving force behind every touring actor is the audience. By providing more arts access to young people, by promoting social and emotional growth, and by getting kids to connect to a story in a new and imaginative way, touring affirms some of TYA’s core values. “It always feels like you are serving an important purpose with your life when you perform in TYA shows,” says Payne, “but touring has the added level of empowering hundreds of thousands of children.”
“I find the investment of live theatre is more intense when not supported by a lot of fourth wall technology,” asserts Kryah. “I like to have that audience right there, so I can see them and feel them, and we can pretend together. Touring gives us an opportunity to take something special to the people in a community, and in some ways, validate their worth.”
What Is Essential A couple of years ago, Eckerd Theater Company was planning on touring a more elaborate production than it had in its recent past, hoping to add the show to the company’s repertory. The production was already straining the limits of what the company was able to do financially. Then the economy took a turn for the worse. Flood was faced with a decision: continue down a precarious financial path and risk the production’s future or shelve the idea entirely. Flood muses on her thought process. “If I’m going to change this because it’s too elaborate,” she asks, “then what is the thing that is most important to me?” Ultimately for Flood, the answer was simple: “Live actors telling a story.” The company made an abrupt about-face, opting instead for a production of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The play called for a box, a hat-rack, a mask, and a crown. It required no major costumes and only two actors. The feedback Eckerd Theater Company received from the production was among its most positive ever. Sometimes moving forward means looking back. “When things get a little tough, you ask yourself, ‘What is essential for telling the story and telling it in a way where I’m going to wake up those kids’ imaginations and make them see a world bigger than their own?’ That was a very illuminating moment for me,” Flood recalls, “to get back to our roots.” Onward, travelers.
Mark Koenig is a New York based actor, writer, and teaching artist. He holds a BFA in Acting from the University of Central Florida.
Popular Literature Meets TYA By Gwen Edwards
(L–R) Bernie Ellis, Chris Hecke, Roslyn Burroughs, Quintarius Jackson, Glenn
Arnold, Bruce Stephenson, Chris Sloan, Zoe Sneed, Peter Haloulos, Peter Simms, Carly Frates, Jairus McClanahan, Steve Griner, and Daniel Marlatt in How I Became a Pirate, Book, Music & Lyrics by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman, based on the book by Melinda Long. South Carolina Children’s Theatre, Greenville, SC. Photo by David Dara.
Harry Potter. Twilight. The Hunger Games. Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Junie B. Jones. These are just a few of the series that have created a resurgence of reading among American children and young adults. When also considering the prevalence of fairy tales and mythic stories in film and television, it is thrilling that literary sources are taking the lead as major influences in popular culture. No matter what some critics may say of the “fluff factor” in certain popular children’s literature today, we can’t deny that young people are reading again. Young people are excited about books and enjoy diving into a well-written story. So, how has this resurgence of reading affected us as theatre educators? How does it influence the choices that we make in shows and curriculum?
Exploring a Common Language Artistic Director of South Carolina Children’s Theatre Betsy Bisson speaks about the phenomenon. “It would be foolish to ignore it, because it does the marketing for you. It catches the interest of the child, making it a lot easier to sell the concept to them and engage their interest. If you have something that appeals to the child, then the children will come and participate. It’s proven to be very effective.” Of course, it’s more than just getting kids in the door. Once they are there, how do arts educators use this connection to literature to build a lasting appreciation for the value of theatre as an art form? Children’s Theatre of Charlotte’s (CTC) Education Director Michelle Long says, “You don’t want to rely on the trend in order to build your program. Theatre is a discipline. You want to make sure that the nuts and bolts are there.” Literary sources provide opportunities to teach acting
basics such as text exploration, character building, and exploring objectives. Each of these topics allows for the type of strong programming that will keep theatre students coming back for more. The practice of using familiar stories to teach theatre skills gives educators an upper-hand in a classroom where a pre-established shared world exists. Bisson believes, “If you [already] have a common language to speak, a common understanding, then you can progress faster in terms of trying to get them to advance beyond just the basics. It’s looking at the material, saying, ‘How can we use this to teach this?’ And it’s not a big stretch.” As far as building a lasting appreciation for theatre, using new and somewhat trendy literary sources in programming seems to connect with children who aren’t already interested in theatre. Gary Cadwallader, the education director of Orlando Repertory Theatre, speaks of how their classes have evolved with growing literary trends. “We still have our processoriented classes here, but those are for the kids who are really serious about doing this as a career… or think they’re serious. Most of the lesson plans are geared more toward the exploration of the story and not so much toward the development of an actor.” Many of the students in theatre programs are not there to become professionals. Perhaps their parents want them to have a summer arts experience, or they have to choose one after-school activity, or they are simply looking for a place to fit in and become part of a team. Bisson points out, “It’s an easier sell for parents to say ‘Hey, do you wanna take a Hogwarts camp?’ rather than, ‘Do you wanna take a drama camp?’” Jeff Church, artistic director of The Coterie Theatre in Kansas City, MO, concludes that including popular literature allows us to accommodate more students. “It’s more about giving
different options,” he says, “having a stronger draw by offering differences, catering to the different types of child actors in the community … catering to multiple goals that different kids have when enrolling. There are a lot of different reasons a child might be enrolling. We should give an option for everyone.” Keeping programming open to include stories that the general populace is familiar with allows arts educators to find material to which more youth will connect. Long concurs, noting, “It offers an opportunity to perhaps get people through our doors that may not come otherwise. Once they are here, the quality of their experience is what causes them to stay. It’s not the pop culture [that influences our decisions], but the fact that we are trying to reach out to connect to people in our community that we may not have connected with before.”
Classroom Connections Basing theatre education classes and performances on literary sources also helps build partnerships with schools, allowing arts curriculum to support materials school educators are already teaching. “School dollars are very tight,” admits Bisson. “If they’re coming to something, they would like it to be curriculum-based so that they can tie it back to their classes.” Church agrees, noting, “The schools can be very inspired by a book title in the programming.” Cadwallader also believes it is necessary to keep teachers in mind when choosing each year’s programming, saying, “Jeff Revels, our artistic director, does a really good job of keeping his finger on the pulse of what they are reading in schools and of important books from the past. We want them to be working on reading and exploring the text, learning about themes and stories – to put down their gaming devices and get back to the books.”
“Our mission statement is to bring stories to life, and that is exciting to watch.” Fostering these relationships with teachers is important to the continuation of building theatergoers. Literature weaves a common thread between academic education and theatre education. These literary works give students a baseline to understand the principles of storytelling while allowing their creativity to flow. Bisson states, “We’re always trying to build theatergoers. But connecting it [theatre] to literature … Theatre has to come from writing and getting kids to understand the connection between the two is huge. Let them see this [literature] is the framework we’re starting from and this [theatre experience] is what the imagination can do. It’s a win/win.” “Story being used in order to help students cope or deal with or talk about issues is a really exciting thing,” says Long. “That’s what story, what theatre is supposed to do. It’s a conversation starter. An opportunity to experience something and then be able to have dialogue about it.” At Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, there is a special relationship between literature and the theatre curriculum being provided. CTC is housed in a building called ImaginOn, where the Charlotte Children’s Library also resides. This is the only children’s library/theatre of its kind in the country. Long states, “So much of what we do, both on an educational level and a production level, is tied in with our partners, and we always try to utilize literature connections. When we are choosing shows that we do for our onstage program, we have the opportunity to sit down with our library partners and ask what are our hottest titles … what teens or children have been drawn to points in a specific direction when looking at scripts.”
Adapting to Adaptations With so many natural connections between literature and theatre, what are the disadvantages of incorporating popular titles into theatre programming? Bisson says that it’s “trying to find material … It’s a fair amount of class time to be filling and you’re trying to teach acting concepts within that and develop something for sharing at the end of the week.” Church believes that finding good adaptations of literary sources is difficult business. In a quest to find pieces that his audiences and students can fully delve into without relying on finding the ‘right adaptation,’ The Coterie has decided to draw materials not only from pieces of literature but also from pop culture in general. Church ruminates, “With the advent of fantasy being so prominent in the culture right now, I think there are popular cultural trends that manifest itself in the drama curriculum. There’s a lot of interest in those fantasy type classes. We’ve been inspired to find our own theatrical way into it.” The Coterie has started hosting its own ‘Coterie at Night’ series, focusing on stories about zombies, children of the damned, walking ghouls, and other such spirits that have found a rise in popularity. This allows them to keep up with the trends of current popular literature without the repercussions of violating rights or retellings.
Fantasy Flights Unquestionably, literature that is being devoured by youth right now revolves around aspects of fantasy and magical realism. Relying on these elements becomes an incredible way to teach world building in arts education
classrooms and permits children to create characters that reach outside themselves. Cadwallader points out, “It lends so much to the imagination. They’re working on spells and magical creatures. It opens up their imaginations and allows them to explore a world unlike their own and yet they can relate to it. The kids resonate with it so much. It keys into their imagination as well as keying into who they are in their everyday lives.” This also seems to be an exciting advantage for keeping kids interested in theatre once they are past the elementary grade levels. According to Long, “With the teen and tween audience … it’s a way to keep them connected to the imagination. There’s a tendency for that imagination to shut down and I think anything story-wise/ theatre-wise that can hook them in and help them expand that imaginative world is an exciting thing.” What about the challenges of building theatre camps for kids based around stories that involve flying, magic, Quidditch, and other impossible feats? “Fortunately, kids perceive that as completely possible,” Bisson says. “They are accepting of the imagination that goes along with that feat in a camp setting.” But is this encouraging a deeper exploration of popular literature, or simply banking on what’s popular? How do we take advantage of what’s happening in pop culture and still meet the goals outlined within our mission statements? Long believes in synergy. She says, “There’s something about a book that a student has read … they are already connected with that. Apart from an educational level, they already have an emotional tie to it. It becomes an extended experience. Our mission statement is to bring stories to life, and that is exciting to watch.”
(L–R) Kimberely Queen, Meredith Wolfe and Tosin
Morohunfola in Maul of the Dead by Mitch Brian, in the “Coterie At Night” series for teens and college students. Coterie Theatre, Kansas City, MO. Photo by Robert Schraeder.
A Classic Example Long also speaks of ways to bridge what’s popular in culture with theatre classics. CTC is holding a class this summer comparing themes in The Hunger Games and Romeo and Juliet. They are also experimenting with a hip-hop version of The Red Badge of Courage. “In the end, it’s about providing our audiences with good stories to latch onto – stories that encourage imagination and growth.” No matter what the needs are of the child coming through the doors of a theatre, either to see a show or to take a class, theatre artists serve them best by choosing stories that engage them the most. The practice of choosing pieces from popular children’s literature isn’t necessarily a new trend. Bisson points out,
“A lot of people disdain children’s books because they’re ‘simplistic,’ but they are simplistic in all the right ways. They stick to the core of the story and the messages are quite excellent, classic and timeless. That’s why fairy tales have lasted so long.” We have been adapting tales from literary sources to the stage for decades. Charlotte’s Web; Robin Hood; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – stage adaptations that have been popular for decades due to their simplistic and timeless messages. Cadwallader sums it up well. “Using literature in the theatre is a wonderful opportunity to tell great stories and work with themes that we already know and resonate with.”
While this resurgence in reading may encourage arts educators to offer more classes that tie into popular literature, the institutional goals remain the same. As artists and educators, we want to find the best stories to tell – stories that encourage imagination and serve our communities. Discoveries and opportunities lie in exploring these new popular literary sources to give students a more well-rounded arts experience.
Gwen Edwards is an AEA actor, a playwright for young audiences, an MFA candidate in Children’s Literature at Hollins University and the Education Coordinator at Duke City Repertory Theatre.
So what it all really comes down to is finding a good story.
the Relationship of Art and Activism with Youth By Emily Freeman
Company members in Some are Beginning by José Zárate. Rising Youth Theatre, Phoenix, AZ. Photo by José Zárate.
Artists, teachers, and administrators working in theatre for youth, community engagement, and applied theatre are constantly looking for ways to critically engage our communities and society through pedagogy and the arts.
Theatre has been used to promote awareness and inspire change since its inception. How is theatre today addressing social justice, specifically with youth? What does a just world look like to youth, and how are they invited to imagine it? How does theatre create a space for youth to engage in activism? A diverse and exciting range of professionals were asked to participate in this discussion. They include: Leah Page, a teaching artist and Masters Candidate in the Applied Theatre program at CUNY in New York, NY; Rossana Rodríguez Sánchez, the resident director at Albany Park Theater Project in Chicago, IL; Sarah Sullivan and Xanthia Walker, founding artistic directors of Rising Youth Theatre in Phoenix, AZ; and Diane Messina, the community engagement coordinator at Orlando Repertory Theatre in Orlando, FL.
Describe an artistic program or project you’ve recently completed. How does your work address social justice with youth? Leah – I was recently hired as an actor/teacher by an organization in New York called Making Books Sing. Their Education Director, Brooke Boertzel, wrote a Theatre-in-Education (TIE) piece on anti-bias bullying for middle school students. The work addresses an incredibly important issue that affects young people today. It asks young people to explore why some people are treated a certain way while others are not and looks at the complexities surrounding this specific type of bullying. While its ultimate goal is to spark dialogue, I believe it also acts as a call to action for young people to examine their own behavior and to look at the consequences of mistreating people based on their race, gender, and/or sexuality. Sarah – Rising Youth Theatre was founded in the fall of 2011. All of our programs are inherently rooted in social justice. Our first production, Some Are Beginning, grew out of The Arizonan Project – an exploration of what it means to be a young person in Arizona
in 2012. We live in a state that is constantly in the news regarding our politics and issues of social justice. It’s not easy to be a young person here, and it’s not easy to find a platform where you can talk about these things. In creating this play we wanted to explore real stories from young people and get at these bigger social issues through their eyes and experiences. We addressed big issues like immigration, the educational system, loss of a parent, single parents, and many other topics. But everything came through the true stories of young people. Rossana – Our last play was called Homeland, which addressed a history of the immigrant rights struggle in Chicago and the United States. We told stories from activists known in the Chicago area, but also people who have been kept anonymous, people who are fighting to stay in this country and keep their families together. This particular play has been extremely meaningful because many of our ensemble members are undocumented immigrants themselves, or their families are undocumented. So, the process of gathering these stories, seeing ourselves reflected in the stories, and then extracting beauty from them, has been wonderful. The fact that we dedicated a year to the project gave us the time to really delve into the beauty of storytelling. Diane – The REP’s ACT! Program is sponsored by a grant from Walt Disney World Helping Kids Shine. This programming is designed to offer a series of workshops incorporating theatre training and arts education activities to guide area at-risk youth through character growth and development, using themes from our season’s productions. Youth groups are invited to The REP to see a show and then engage in a post-show workshop that explores their personal connections to the show. In two cases, the workshop experience extended into year-long residencies at Edgewood Children’s Ranch (a resident foster care facility) and Orlando Union Rescue Mission (a multi-denominational homeless shelter) where students were invited to explore identity. As one teen put it: “I can’t accept or change the world around me until I accept or change myself first.”
What goals guide this work with/for youth? Sarah – Rising Youth Theatre’s mission is to create youth driven theatre that is riveting and relevant, challenging audiences to hear new stories, start conversations and participate in their communities. Rossana – We have many different goals for our youth, such as doing well in school and going to college with the support of our college counseling program. We want them to be aware of their surroundings and build a sense of responsibility for their community and society, and a sensibility to understand difference and diversity. We want to give them the opportunity to develop their talents and skills at the highest level possible. The main objective of APTP is to help create a more just and beautiful world. Leah – Making Books Sing has a set of specific goals for this work including having the students explore their personal feelings about, and judgments towards, individuals who are perceived as “different,” examining the definitions of the words “different” vs. “normal” as they apply to issues of tolerance and acceptance, analyzing the importance of freedom of expression, both personally and socially, and experiencing and reflecting upon the relationship between oppressors and those who are being oppressed.
Sarah – Telling young people’s stories onstage is, in itself, a radical act. For a production like Some Are Beginning, we really saw a sense of agency emerge for the young people. Being a part of this process from the beginning, seeing their stories become part of the script, working alongside professionals to create something – we want that to give young people a space to speak out, with the strength of a community behind them. There’s also something to be said for creating a space where young people have permission to talk about the big issues that matter to them, where their voices are taken into consideration. We want our plays to sound like the kids we work with, for their voices to be present in every production we do.
Diane – The REP is committed to creating an environment where youth not only experience theatre but also make a personal connection to each show they see. Our objective is for children, who often feel unheard and silenced, to have a forum where their feelings are validated, voices are heard, and their views respected. My goal is to design youth programs that challenge a child to not only analyze the world around them but also look within for solutions.
Diane – This year, at their request, teens produced a one-act play, which explored the importance of human virtues. By working with these youth, we established a trusting relationship that became evident during “Orlando’s Paint the Town Blue – Child Abuse Awareness Campaign” this past April. After feeling great pride with their successful production, these same teens agreed to work with a local artist to create abstract self-portraits accompanied by short narratives describing their personal challenges with child abuse. Aware that their self-portraits and narratives would be on display for The REP community, students created heart-wrenching art that described feelings about their personal experiences as survivors of abuse. Having the courage to share personal insight with The REP community was nurtured by the accepting and trusting environment we work so hard to foster. They knew their voices would be heard.
How would you describe the relationship between art and activism in your work?
How are youth empowered to be their own agents of change in your work?
Leah – In my mind, activism is connected to sharing points of view with others in order to generate dialogue and spark interest in the topic you are exploring. Thus, art becomes a means from which activists can achieve their goals. Theatre has the potential to invoke empathy in its viewers and “spect-actors” using storytelling, images, sound, movement, and more. Form and content intersect to create meaningful moments that have the potential to spark activism in audience members. In terms of TIE and Theatre of the Oppressed (TO), participants have opportunities to enter into the theatre themselves as characters in the action. Critical connections are made and emotional responses are triggered when audience members explore the topic in-role. Thus, the relationship between art and activism becomes one where we are harnessing the power of theatre to activate participants.
Sarah – Part of our job at RYT is to make sure that young people feel a strong sense of ownership in the art they create and perform. Because of both the amount of time spent in this process, and the different ways young people are involved, our plays truly belong to them by the time they go up onstage. RYT is also a space where young people can be heard; peers and adults listen to you about things that matter. In this most recent production, we had a parent pull us aside to thank us. Her daughter (age 9) was having a very tough year, both at home and in school. Her mom told us that being a part of RYT had been an incredible experience for her, partially because it was the first time she’d ever felt like an adult outside of her family had liked or cared about her. We feel like this is a huge part of promoting youth activism and agency, because when you feel like adults and other kids care about what you think it strengthens your ability to speak up and advocate on your own behalf. It’s part of cultivating citizenship, being able to articulate your opinions, express your ideas and finding a vehicle to share those stories with the larger community. RYT hopes to be that vehicle for hundreds of young people.
Rossana – I think that’s what’s at the core of what makes our work so fascinating aesthetically, but also how it can touch so many people who see themselves reflected in it. Our ensemble members have gone to protests and participated in rallies since we started this
project. It’s an amazing combination of art and activism. You don’t know where one starts and the other ends because there’s so much beauty in the activism. That’s what makes our work so special.
Rossana – Not long ago we heard about a protest from someone we interviewed for our play Homeland. The protest was going to challenge the construction of a detention center that would incarcerate entire immigrant families. We felt like we were protesting a concentration camp, it didn’t matter if it had a soccer field. So many of our kids and our families could be incarcerated in such a place, so the kids decided to participate. It was a beautiful addition to the march. The kids made signs and music. They sang one of the songs from the play. It was so inspiring for the activists who were there because our kids are young but also talented and have something meaningful to say. It fed the hunger for beautiful activism. Leah – Playbuilding with young people is intricately connected to agency; the young people work together to decide what they want to say and how they want say it. They unpack what questions they want to ask of the world, and what they want the audience to leave thinking about. As a leader, I strive to push the young people beyond the easy answers and ask them to complicate the issue and to explore different points of view in an attempt not to create didactic theatre. When I bring in a piece of TIE or TO to a space, young people experience agency in that they become a part of the explorative process of the piece itself. For example, in a forum theatre piece, young people will see a story that has tragic results. They then have the opportunity to go back and actively explore what choices the protagonist could have made that would have resulted in a different ending. These young people actively unpack an issue or theme and then, through the experience itself as well as the subsequent discussion and reflection, they make connections to their own lives. The hope is that young people become aware that they do have options and that they can take action in related situations.
What is the most exciting project or experience you’ve shared with youth in relation to a social justice topic, or activism through art? Rossana – I think one of the most amazing moments in the creation of Homeland was with one of our ensemble members who’s not very outgoing. He was playing a young boy visiting his father in prison. The scene is staged with a glass door separating the father and son and is based on a true story about a boy who wanted to touch his father, but couldn’t. During rehearsal, our ensemble member was struggling so we did an exercise where you have to say every thought that comes to your character’s mind. This exercise inspired an amazing performance. He finally understood what it felt like to be away from his father. And I think everyone who came to see the play shed a tear during the scene. He was being an activist for the real family, putting their story on stage, and he did it masterfully. And for that reason audiences would ask, “what can I do?” Xanthia – A moment that was incredibly meaningful from our first production: our audience had a lot of people in it that didn’t “know” how to go to the theatre. Talking back at the actors, answering their cell phones, entering and exiting the theatre, responding really honestly to the work instead of regarding it with muted enthusiasm
(L–R) Shalaya Heywood, Jenae Jessie, Brinley Nassise, Xavier Ramirez, Mia
Olibarria, and Za’Nea Jackson in Some are Beginning by José Zárate. Rising Youth Theatre, Phoeniz, AZ. Photo by José Zárate.
that I often see in “trained” audiences. And THAT is social justice theatre – people are there who wouldn’t usually be there. As we keep growing as a company, we need to make sure that keeps happening – that we keep getting people in the door who might have never walked in otherwise.
What’s the biggest challenge? Diane – With most of our programming being funded by grant money, REP outreach programs remain free to group recipients. With that said, recipient commitment and follow through proves to be our biggest challenge. Most organizations are grateful for the opportunity to receive access to shows and workshops. However, occasionally an organization will cancel at the last minute leaving our box office with unused tickets. The challenge of commitment can also be seen in our residency programs. One week we might have ten students the next week only two. We have found that project-based programs are more difficult to complete than programs that allow students to join in at any time. Leah – To truly be student-centered means that I have to let go of any pre-conceived notions of how a young person might respond to a moment in a TIE or TO piece or what they might bring to a devising process. The unexpected nature of this work is what keeps it interesting, but it is also what makes it difficult because you never know how someone is going to respond to a piece. A facilitator must be prepared to manage difficult conversations with participants and respond in a non-judgemental way regardless of what is brought up. I don’t believe it is our job to teach a group what is right or wrong but rather to ask questions that cultivates dialogue among participants. Balancing the objectives of a project and the needs of the young people is a constant negotiation and one that keeps me on my toes and excited about authentically doing this work.
Rossana – The fact that we’re working with young minds, you need to be careful. Always. They’re still developing, and you don’t want to feel like you’re brainwashing them. And I don’t think we do that at all, because our work comes from discussion and conversation. But I think for me, because I’m an activist and have strong views, one of my challenges is to promote activism through art in this community, and at the same time provide mentorship without imposing my views. Xanthia – I think the idea of “transformation” in theatre experiences is incredibly difficult to quantify, and that’s so much of what people seem to expect when they hear “social justice theatre.” It depends on what you consider transformation to be – is it being able to tell your story confidently onstage? Is it knowing that people are listening to you? Is it seeing yourself and your experiences in the work? I think those are seeds of transformation, but not the end result of transformation. I think a lot of big, major, transformative things in people and in communities occur over time, and aren’t instant. So often we get glimpses of transformative experiences (like feeling heard, like successfully creating a character), but we don’t really know how much an experience has impacted a person or a community until long after we’re gone – which means we often never know. Agency, empowerment, and transformation are a few of the terms these artists/educators expressed in common when invited to speak about their work in relationship to social justice. What is most evident is a desire to push the limits and explore uncharted territory with the voices, ideas, and lives of the youth they work with/for, at the very center of their processes and products. Their work is inspiring and represents radical and essential steps that dialogical and critical theatre takes towards building awareness, dialogue, and change.
Emily Freeman is a MFA candidate in the Drama and Theatre for Youth and Communities program at the University of Texas at Austin. As an applied theatre teaching artist, playwright, and director her work focuses on the development of new work with and for youth that provokes questions and dialogue in the pursuit of social justice.
2012–2013 SE TWO NEW WORLD PREMIERE KENNEDY CENTER COMMISSIONS
The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg Adapted by Tom Isbell from the Newbery Honor book by Rodman Philbrick Directed by Gregg Henry NOV. 15–DEC. 20, 2012
Jason Invisible Co-commission with VSA Adapted by Laurie Brooks from the novel Crazy by Han Nolan Directed by Rosemary Newcott MAR. 21–APR. 11, 2013
Sleeping Beauty Dreams
NORDIC COOL 2013 FESTIVAL PRESENTATIONS INCLUDE:
Hans Christian, You Must Be an Angel Teatret Gruppe 38 (Denmark) FEB. 20–24, 2013
A Brown Bear, a Moon, and a Caterpillar: Treasured Stories by Eric Carle Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia Based on the books written by Eric Carle DEC. 27, 2012–JAN. 6, 2013
A Sonatina Teatret Gruppe 38 (Denmark) FEB. 28–MAR. 3, 2013
Little King Mattias Backa Teater (Sweden) MAR. 7–10, 2013 Performances for Young Audiences is made possible by
Sleeping Beauty Dreams By Amaranta Leyva Marionetas de la Esquina of Mexico A US premiere co-commission with the Kennedy Center and Marionetas de la Esquina FEB. 12–17, 2013
Baobab A co-production of Théâtre Motus (Canada) and the Sô company (Mali) MAY 8–12, 2013
The Intergalactic Nemesis: A Live-Action Graphic Novel Book One: Target Earth Austin, TX MAY 16–19, 2013
Additional support for Performances for Young Audiences is provided in part by The Clark Charitable Foundation; Mr. James V. Kimsey; The Macy*s Foundation; The Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation, Inc.; The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation; the Park Foundation, Inc.; the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation; an endowment from the Ryna and Melvin Cohen Family Foundation; the U.S. Department of Education; the Verizon Foundation; Washington Gas; and by generous contributors to the Abe Fortas Memorial Fund, and by a major gift to the fund from the late Carolyn E. Agger, widow of Abe Fortas. Major support for the Kennedy Center’s educational programs is provided by David and Alice Rubenstein through the Rubenstein Arts Access Program. Nordic Cool 2013 Presented in cooperation with the Nordic Council of Ministers
and Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden Presenting Underwriter HRH Foundation Festival Co-Chair Marilyn Carlson Nelson Additional support provided by the State Plaza Hotel. International Programming at the Kennedy Center is made possible through the generosity of the Kennedy Center International Committee on the Arts.
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Our 65th Season begins August, 2012. Photo from “The Cask of Amontillado,” part of our March 2012 production of Tales of Edgar Allan Poe. Directed by Alan Poindexter. Photo by Donna Bise. Children’s Theatre of Charlotte is located at ImaginOn: The Joe & Joan Martin Center™ 300 E. 7th St. Charlotte, NC 28202 • Main 704-973-2800 • Customer Sales & Service 704-973-2828 fall 2012
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TYA, Culture, Society International Essays on Theatre for Young Audiences A Publication of ASSITEJ and ITYARN Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2012. 203 pp., 4 fig., 5 tables, 6 graphs Kinder-, Schul- und Jugendtheater - Beiträge zu Theorie und Praxis. Vol. 15 Edited by Wolfgang Schneider ISBN 978-3-631-63688-6 · hb. E (D) 29,80 / E (A) 30,70 / US-$ 39,95 / £ 25,10 / CHF 37,– This unique edition is the result of the second International Theatre for Young Audiences Research Network (ITYARN) conference that was held in Malmoe, Sweden, in May 2011 as part of the XVIIth ASSITEJ World Congress and Festival. In fifteen essays that are illustrative of the wide variety as well as of the many opportunities for research in TYA, this book covers six continents, includes quantitative, qualitative, ethnographic/ action, and historiographical methods, and highlights critical theory, philosophical discourse, play analysis, and other approaches. The essays deal with a broad range of issues, including representation, cultural contexts, questions of identity, race-, class-, and gender theory, notions of child and childhood, aesthetics, and the influence of media and dominant ideologies. ITYARN aims to further research in the field of theatre for young audiences to contextualize and theorize the lively artistic products for children and youth globally. It is the research network of ASSITEJ, the International Association of Theatre for Children and Youth, which co-produced this publication. Content: van de Water: Foreword · Juncker: The Relations between Professional Theatre Performances and Children’s Cultural Life · Saglam: TYA as Ideological Production in Turkey · Bedard: Cultural Hegemony and Theatre for Young Audiences · Arnold Udoka: Conceptualization of Child and Childhood in Nigerian Theatre · Jacobs: The Virtual Puppet in the Machinima Movement: Discovering Virtual Puppetry in the 3D Performance Space of Video Games · Solberg: Quiet Dissent: Citizen Activism and the Kodomo Gekijō Movement in 1960 –70s Japan · Hughes: Taboos of Fear and Age Appropriateness in Youth Holocaust Drama · Kruckemeyer: Why Are We Scared To Let Children Be Scared? · Wiginton: Príncipe y Príncipe: Made in México · Giannone: Searching for America in Laurie Brooks’s Triangle and Cynthia Mercati’s Faces of Freedom · Schroeder-Arce/ McCoy: Latino/as in Theatre for Young Audiences, Cyclical Challenge in Higher Education in the United States · Broster: TYA-UK Developments: Reflections through a Looking Glass · Gruić: Educational Value in the Theatre for Young Audiences and Its Relation to the Attitudes of the Educational Community · Tsai: A Reflection of the Child and Childhood in Taiwanese TYA through the Winning Plays of The Taipei Children’s Arts Festival · Elnan: How Can the Idea of Childhood, of Children as Spectators, and of Understanding Influence Theatre for Young Audiences? · Guss: Modeling TYA on the Dramaturgy of Children’s Imaginative Play-drama
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TYA, Culture and Society: International Essays on Theatre for Young Audiences editor
Manon van de Water reviewed by
hat does it mean to have an international dialogue about Theatre for Young Audiences? What does it mean to be part of the international community of practitioners and researchers of our field? These questions are consistently addressed among members of professional organizations like Theatre for Young Audiences USA, the US affiliate of ASSITEJ. They are addressed when practitioners and researchers from all over the world attend international gatherings for professionals in TYA, and they are addressed when artists build partnerships across international lines. These questions are also at the heart of Manon van de Water’s new anthology: TYA, Culture and Society: International Essays on Theatre for Young Audiences. This anthology is a compilation of papers included in the 2011 International Theatre for Young Audiences Research Network (ITYARN) conference, held in conjunction with the XVIIth ASSITEJ World Congress and Festival in Malmö, Sweden and Copenhagen, Denmark. ITYARN was founded, van de Water explains, “to bridge this gap [between artistic output and serious scholarly research] and galvanize international TYA scholars and scholarship.” ITYARN creates a specific space for research in the field of Theatre for Young Audiences to be documented and disseminated. Publishing this collection of research that came out of the most recent gathering extends access to this research beyond those who could attend the conference and broadens the reach of the conversation within the TYA field.
Reading the essays contained in this book was a fascinating experience. I was fortunate enough to attend the 2011 conference as an observer and was genuinely excited to share in the larger scope of that conversation. As so often happens when I am attending a conference and being inundated with information, dialogue, and different perspectives, it is hard to retain everything that I hear. I remembered, for example, being excited by the points raised in Beth Juncker’s keynote speech, but when I returned home after weeks of traveling, the details of it had escaped me. The opportunity then, to read this speech, contained within this book of essays, not only reminded me of her excellent points about theatre for young people as an aesthetic experience, not just an educational or social tool, but re-energized me to embed those ideals into my practice. Juncker’s speech champions quality aesthetics in art for children. “The meaning of this particular art form is not to contribute to the school’s formal teaching,” she cautions, and “not even to teach children about art.” She insists that those of us who create theatre for young people cannot lose track of artistic quality in our quest for educational value, warning that “if the performance does not give meaning to the audience here and now, if the audience is bored with right opinions, worthy values, it will never be part of their life after … they will just forget it!” For me, this essay is a personal reminder that I never want young people to forget about their artistic experiences.
This conversation goes beyond where theatre is being created for children, speaking directly to the why and how.
The value of these essays, however, is not directly tied to the experience of being at the conference. One of the advantages to publishing this research is the possibility of widening the scope of this larger conversation. The exploration of childhood in TYA on an international level is fascinating, and a worthy exploration for all of us who create art for and with young people. There are sixteen essays in the book, representing six continents and a wide ranging demographic of expertise. Some of the essays speak generally, building a conversation that applies to the practice of Theatre for Young Audiences across international boundaries. For example, Finegan Kruckemeyer’s piece: “The Taboo of Sadness: Why are We Scared to Let Children Be Scared?” addresses the presumptions we often make as adult artists when we address sad or
frightening topics in TYA. He encourages us to remember that “a sad moment encountered in life does not denote a sad life, just as a sad moment encountered in a piece of theatre does not denote a sad piece of theatre … A tragic circumstance can in a narrative journey be quite the opposite of a negative: it can in fact be a call to arms.” He reminds us to allow our child audiences this sadness and embrace it as part of the childhood experience – the human experience – that we present in an artistic context on our stages. This conversation goes beyond where theatre is being created for children, speaking directly to the why and how. Other essays paint a specific portrait of TYA as it happens in one particular place. J. Andrew Wiginton’s thoughtful analysis of a Mexican production of Príncipe y Príncipe offers insight into whether or not socially relevant theatre in one community can be effectively translated into other spaces. YiRen Tsai and Pamela Arnold Udoka offer engaging commentary on representations of childhood in traditional theatre in Taiwan and Nigeria, respectively. These reflections on some of the specific impacts of theatre for young people in different spaces around the world are particularly interesting when read together, as part of a broader context of how childhood is reflected in TYA. Almost any reader practicing in the field will find something here that applies directly to his or her own practice, as well as other pieces that are interesting but may fail to strike a personal chord.
This is inherent in anthologies and actually speaks to the strength of the collection. As explained in the introduction, “this may be the first scholarly publication on TYA that is truly international in its range, scope and research materials.” The diversity of the material, in geography, form, and content paints a complex and fascinating portrait of the state of the field today that does not presume every practitioner’s work or research needs are the same. “This is an exciting time to be working in the field of Theatre for Young Audiences,” Dr. van de Water tells her readers, “whether as a practitioner or scholar or both. We are inviting you all in.” As someone who primarily identifies as a practitioner, not a researcher, I still found a lot to appreciate in this collection – information that fuels my own practice and offers me an insightful perspective on work that is happening across the world. While the anthology’s primary audience will be graduate students and researchers, I would recommend it to all of us who work in the field as a means of orienting and critically reflecting on our individual practices as they relate to the work that happens alongside it on a global scale.
Sarah Sullivan is a theatre artist, educator and writer based in Phoenix, Arizona. She is the co-founder of Rising Youth Theatre and also works as Communications Specialist for Childsplay. She holds an MFA in Theatre for Youth from Arizona State University.
photo courtesy of Noorda Regional Theatre Center at Utah Valley University
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• Rapunzel — Uncut!
Chicago Playworks for Families & Young Audiences
by MADELEINE L’ENGLE adapted by JOHN GLORE directed by ERNIE NOLAN
OCT 23– DEC 1, 2012
by GARY D. SCHMIDT adapted by CHERYL L. WEST directed by JOHN JENKINS
by JAMES AMBROSE BROWN directed by ANN WAKEFIELD
JAN 19- MAR 2, 2013
APRIL 2- MAY 25, 2013
at DePaul’s historic Merle Reskin Theatre 60 E Balbo Dr, Chicago | 312 922 1999 | theatre.depaul.edu
10/15/12 10:35 AM
don’t call it By Sarah Coleman
Recently, I told a well-respected artistic leader in the theatre community about the MFA graduate program I am currently enrolled in – Drama and Theatre for Youth and Communities at The University of Texas at Austin (UT). He responded in a dismissive tone, “that is sweet.” A few weeks later, I sat in the lobby after The Transition of Doodle Pequeño – a play for all ages produced by UT’s Department of Theatre and Dance – and listened in as fellow theatre students praised, “that show was so cute!” I don’t think that a play with themes of gender identity and bullying is cute, I think it is critical. I don’t think theatre with and for young people is sweet, I think it is essential. Two months later, these moments are still rattling around in my head. Why are we compelled to use such words when describing theatre with and for youth? What is the lasting impact of these descriptions on our perception of Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA), theatre education, and applied theatre? Let’s start here. What is theatre with and for youth? It is theatre education – programming and curriculum that introduces, teaches, and trains young people in the art and craft of theatre. It is applied theatre, where theatre is used as a form of communication and storytelling in non-theatrical spaces from classrooms to prisons. It is Theatre for Young Audiences – a genre of theatre created specifically for young people. What is implied when theatre with and for youth is consistently (and dismissively) referred to as sweet or cute? It insinuates that we do not think theatre with and for youth is “real” theatre, that TYA is less rigorous and a less important form in comparison to “professional” theatre. Theatre for youth is rarely considered artistically equal with theatre for adults. Maybe this has its roots in the lower pay of an Actors’ Equity contract for TYA productions. Or maybe it is because adults do not view young people as individuals who need or desire challenging or innovative art. Or maybe both. In the Victorian era, childhood became defined as a time of innocence when young people were purposely sheltered from the reality of adulthood. These sentiments are still very present in how we view childhood and youth. What results is an assumption and attitude that someone under the age of eighteen does not really know what he or she wants, likes, or needs. This posturing translates to a belief that theatre for youth must teach a lesson or focus on a theme crucial to child or adolescent development. And, for whatever reason, that constraint suggests artists cannot create “real” theatre like they can for adults. Aren’t themes in adult plays actually lessons from a playwright? Isn’t that what art provides, a chance to share an opinion or perspective? Why do we trust that adults want plays with shades of gray, and assume that TYA needs to have a binary, a clear right and wrong? Why aren’t we challenging youth with theatre created with and for them? Why are we not taking on the task of engaging youth in conversations about aesthetics and art? This
First published on HowlRound.com on March 10, 2012
dialogue has value to all artists, educators and the present and future theatre community in which we belong. Every experience a young person has with theatre demonstrates an opportunity to engage a future theatre artist, audience member, advocate, and supporter. All this thinking has led me to a wish: a deeper awareness and respect for the field of theatre with and for young people. I’d like to stop advocating for quality TYA, theatre education, and applied theatre programming amongst theatre folks. So, here is my challenge. When you see a TYA production, engage in it at the level of the ideas and artistry that it presents, not according to the age of the audience. Let’s raise the bar for what quality TYA can and should be. When you meet youth who have watched, created, or performed theatre, engage in a conversation with them as you would with a fellow artist. As theatre practitioners, we understand that it is hard to work in a field that society often dismisses. Please, let’s not be guilty of repeating this within our own community. Here is my challenge to myself (and my colleagues). There are a lot of bad TYA productions out there (just like there is a lot of bad theatre for adults). There are a lot of condescending and antiquated pedagogical approaches to how we teach and facilitate theatre with young people. I task myself to better create, teach, question, and advocate for theatre with and for youth. I promise not to be defensive or angry, but also not to be silent on behalf of these youth or the art. Many of you found your way into theatre through a moment in your childhood. This moment is still important in your life, holding a tremendous amount of value for you, and for all members of the theatre community in which you make now make art. Is it important that such moments exist for current and future generations of young people – for the youth in your lives? How can we continue to make those potential encounters relevant and high quality experiences? I believe each and every one of us in the theatre community is working towards the same goals – to create better, brighter, and more insightful theatre and to expand the community of artists and audiences to be more inclusive and more diverse. The success of these goals is rooted in the way that we, as theatre artists, inspire new generations to hear and see theatre. And, the first chance for such moments is through theatre with and for young people.
Sarah Coleman received her MFA in Drama and Theatre for Youth and Communities from UT Austin where she researched playbuilding with middle school English Language Learners. As a producer and dramaturg, she is vested in developing and supporting new work for all ages. Prior to returning to graduate school, she made theatre in Washington, DC and the great state of Maine.
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