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Teens changing the face of American theatre

posted by Chad Jones on Tue, Jul 20, 2010
in News , School of Theatre , Teen Council

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Teen Council TCG 2

In a previous post, we told you about how Berkeley Rep Teen Council members Ariele Scharff, Gareth Tidball, Taylor Greenthal, Matia Emsellem, Keisa Reynolds, and Christina Novakov-Ritchey (that's them above, from left to right, in downtown Chicago) were part of the first delegation of teens to attend the Theatre Communications Group Conference.

While at the Chicago conference, the teens took part in many sessions, including those that dealt with race and diversity in America, inclusion in the arts of people with disabilities, and, perhaps most notably, Fostering the Next Generation of American Theatre Audiences moderated by educators from Berkeley Rep, the Goodman Theatre , and Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

We asked members of the Teen Council delegation to reflect on their experience in Chicago and describe what they took away from the TCG Conference.

Christina Novakov-Ritchey
Miramonte High School
Fall 2010: Freshman at the University of California, Davis

The chief reason we, as teenagers, went to the TCG Conference was to let people know that we exist, that we have a voice, and that arts education is vital to keeping the theatre alive and relevant. This is easier said than done. On our plane ride over my mind was racing with thoughts like, “Will everyone dismiss us?” “What are we even supposed to talk to people about?” and “I really really don’t want to mess up,” so I tried to prepare questions, topics of discussion, and brush up on my theatre knowledge. However, the funny thing is that none of that really mattered once I got there and started to attend sessions. Intuitively I knew if I agreed with what someone was saying or not, and how that related to me as a young person. Matia, Taylor, Keisa, Gareth, and Ariele seemed to have a similar reaction as I learned during our first late-night meeting, and I was impressed with their ability to articulate themselves clearly and engage in intelligent conversations with the other conference participants. We managed to get people thinking about our role in the theatre, and many people came to our side in defense of arts education, such as Brava! Artistic Director Raelle Myrick-Hodges and New York University’s Daniel Banks.

As we went to more and more sessions and continued to talk to people, a theme was becoming apparent in our answers: the best way to attract young people to theatre is to offer them an opportunity to see shows that speak to their emotions on a very fundamental level. Our recurring example of this was Berkeley Rep’s production of Girlfriend last season, which moved us all so much that we couldn’t get it out of our heads for months (I mean, we were singing its songs on the bus ride to the airport). People kept bringing up marketing strategies such as big fonts and bright colors as ways to get teenagers to buy tickets, but we couldn’t help but disagree and say that it’s the programming that matters. If you produce a show that is honest and easily relatable and make it accessible to a younger audience that has fewer financial resources than the average patron, you will create a lifelong theatregoer. Attending this conference certainly has raised more questions than it has answered, but it has left us all feeling much more confident about the importance of our voice in theatre as well as opening up doors for us to continue discussing the issue of arts education.

Teen Council TCG 3

Keisa Reynolds
El Cerrito High School
Fall 2010: Freshman at Columbia College in Chicago

Being at the conference at first was overwhelming, but as each day passed by, I became more and more at ease with what I was surrounded by -- diversity, passion, creativity, and determination for change. The balance between smaller and larger, well-known theatre companies greatly impressed me, because I felt like I truly got a glimpse of the differences and similarities in theatre companies, and I really loved how everyone seemed to treat the next person as equal no matter their "status." To me, it was evident that just about everyone at the conference had the same goal: putting ideas into action. Most relevant to me was, of course, the new generation breakout session, but I was also interested in the Race in the 21st Century, and Breaking Down Barriers sessions. All the curiosity on the faces of theatre professionals and all the words of encouragement at the other two breakout sessions left me wanting to learn more and more, and to find a way to get involved. Leaving the conference, and the city of Chicago, I held the belief that I truly do have a place in theatre, and that the future of it might get brighter and brighter as the steps of improvement actually come into place.

Ariele Scharff
Berkeley High School
Fall 2010: Senior

I think the most important lesson I learned from the TCG conference was just how expansive the theatre industry is. Hearing from theaters with both small and large budgets was particularly interesting; the creative solutions to budget cuts were incredibly impressive. I also learned, through my mentor Christopher Hibma, the associate director of the Sundance Institute Theatre Program, about companies (like Sundance) that lead workshops to get plays ready for production, then pass them on to theatres, that then produce them. I'd say the most relevant thing to me was the next generation breakout session. I was so happy to be passing on my experiences and ideas to people who can really put them into action. (Ideas into action? That's the theme of the conference!) Finally, I think the most important thing I took away from the conference, aside from top-notch vlogging capabilities and an awesome internship opportunity, was the realization of how much hope there really is for the future of theatre. After Rachel Fink detailed the challenges that theatre faces, it was hard to spot the silver lining. However, on our very last night in Chicago, our group stumbled upon the end of a choral performance in Millennium Park. A rapt audience of at least 500 sat on the cement seats, lounged on the grass, and spilled out into the aisles to hear the final strains of music. For me, this scene perfectly epitomized the tangible hope for the future of theatre, and inspired me to work harder to make that goal a realization.

Gareth Tidball
Oakland Technical High School
Fall 2010: Junior

Being a part of the TCG Conferences really helped me see theatre as more than just “putting on a play.” I was surely impressed with how many people from all over the nation had journeyed to Chicago with the common goal to talk about theatre. I had no idea prior to the trip about how many aspects there were beyond one performance or one company. I was surprised at how even delicate topics, like the use of theatre in areas of conflict, were presented at the breakout sessions for a group of strangers to debate about. When people disagreed, however, the environment made me feel that it was okay to have different opinions because in the end, we were all just there to learn from each other and share ideas on how to keep the world of theatre alive and well. Most of all, I was felt incredibly welcome, especially as one of the first young people to ever attend the TCG conference. Hopefully I won't be the last.

Above photo: Berkeley Rep Teen Council members (from left) Ariele Scharff, Taylor Greenthal, and Gareth Tidball meet playwright, director, and actor Wallace Shawn at the TCG Conference.

Photos courtesy of Rachel Fink


It's great to see teens recognized for standing out as leaders instead of the ways the media would like for them to be seen. As the parents of theatre kids, this blog is very inspirational and give us something to look at for their future. Thanks again and great job, teens!

Tommy and Salinda Howell | Sat, Jul 24, 2010

I wish there was a program that could spread locally in Chicago to have HS age kids promote the benefits of theatre to younger kids in grade school; my 2nd grader would surely be more apt to it!

Robert Chicago Cub Scouts Cubmaster | Sat, Jul 24, 2010

These exceptionally articulate blogs made me, as a rather old hand, feel optimistic and reinvigorated.
I envy them their opportunity to remake an art form they are clearly all committed to, both as viewers and as practitioners.
Many thanks!

Annie Smart | Sun, Aug 1, 2010

Theater is the way to go. Some need military applications to set them straight, and others need something to help break them out of their shell. This is great...

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