By Regina V. Fields
Member, Berkeley Rep Teen Council
This past weekend, seven teens from Berkeley Rep’s Teen Council attended the Theatre Communications Group (TCG) conference in Los Angeles, joined by three members of Steppenwolf’s Young Adult Council. This was only the second year in TCG’s history that teens have participated in this national conference. It was an incredible experience; it opened my horizons in terms of what I can do in the field of theatre, I met some amazing theatre professionals, and I had the opportunity to contribute to the conversation about engaging teens in the theatre.
The major theme of the conference was “What If” (e.g., what if we imagined the theatre field of the next 50 years, and began making visible progress today?) and ways the theatre industry can and will evolve in years to come. But I noticed that teens, the people who will be around to make those changes within the theatre industry, were left out of the conversation. Though we were often talked about and referred to as the “next generation,” we were never actually included in these important dialogues.
So slowly but surely, Teen Council made our viewpoints known, speaking up in breakout sessions and tweeting during a plenary session when we thought our opinions were being skewed and our voice was being ignored. After all, “the next generation” was actually at the conference, and we were not afraid to speak up!
These actions paid off deeply. By the time we had our panel, entitled “A Holistic Approach To Engaging Teen Audiences,” the room was filled with not just arts education specialists, but marketing, managing, and artistic directors from a variety of theatres around the nation eager to hear our point of view and learn ways to include teens in their theatres! We started our panel with our own “What If”: What if every theatre in the country had a Teen Council? It was a very invigorating and eye-opening conversation, and many of the artists and administrators even went so far as to say we had renewed their passion for the art. A handful of the attendees really want to start their own teen programs at their respective theatres!
On the last day of the conference, director Julie Taymor had a plenary session during which she discussed her large body of work. Inspired by what she had to say, I decided I wanted to ask her a question. Despite my nerves, I raised my hand and took the microphone. When I stated that I was from Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Teen Council, the audience began to applaud. It really hit me then what an impact we had made not only at that conference, but in the entire industry. I really felt that we had opened the minds of these theatre professionals, and inspired them to go home and engage the teens in their own communities. I’m forever grateful to Teen Council for this experience, I learned so much, and I can’t wait to take what I gained and continue to make a difference.
Click here to read more about the teens' presence at the TCG conference.
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