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by: Jesse Bernstein
PYP Resident Teaching Artist
Sometimes, I'm still surprised when Theatre does what it's actually supposed to do.
On Thursday, May 11th, we had the first rehearsal for the monologues that are being presented in partnership between PYP and the Arden Drama School for the city's 2017 Youth Theatre Festival. Our part of the evening is comprised of five monologues written by high school students and performed by Arden Teen Drama School students. The rehearsal was attended by playwrights, performers and myself as director.
Things, to my mind, didn't start off great. That's because, as actors and playwrights were trickled in, the teenagers already there and sitting around a table together were all on their phones. I sighed internally. I wanted these kids to engage with one another, not their tiny technology! That's what theatre's all about: cultivating listening and empathy -- not just in the audience, but in the artists as well. It's a place for human interaction.
So it was, I admit, with a chip on my shoulder that I began rehearsal. I buried my disappointment and put on my positive, energized teaching artist/director attitude. As we did some warm-up exercises, all the participants dove in. That was a good sign: at least they were willing to engage. Then we sat down to read the monologues out loud for the first time.
I invited the playwrights to share any background on the monologues they wanted to. And they did. In fact, they were incredibly honest. PYP is built partly on the belief that playwriting gives young people an opportunity to share their voice in a world that rarely asks them to do so. Here was that mission in action.
"Well," I thought, "that's a start."
Then the actors read the monologues aloud. I saw the performers take on the responsibility that had been entrusted to them by virtue of their performing these pieces that meant so much to their authors. Then I saw the playwrights' responses: impressed that the actors could say their words with such conviction, relieved to hear that what had sounded good in their heads also sounded good to their ears.
Suddenly, around the table, there was real engagement. Writers and actors complimented one another on their work. The actors were excited to say these particular words; the playwrights were excited that these particular actors would be saying them.
There's lots of work to do, of course. My job as director is to now ensure that the excitement felt around the table translates to excitement in a theatre before an audience. But to my mind, the project is already a success. Because in the span of sixty minutes, a group of young people who were strangers to one another shared their talents, depth and stories with each other. There was listening and there was empathy.
Good job, Theatre.