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Theatre’s Next Generation Speaks

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L-R: Sharon Lawrence, York Walker, Mae Whitman and David Pittu in “The Mystery of Love & Sex” at the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum. Written by Bathsheba Doran and directed by Robert Egan, “The Mystery of Love & Sex” plays February 10 – March 20, 2016, at the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum. For tickets and information, please visit CenterTheatreGroup.org or call (213) 628-2772. .Contact: CTG Media and Communications/ (213) 972-7376/CTGMedia@ctgla.org.Photo by Craig Schwartz.

All Uses © 2016 Craig Schwartz

Discussions about the future of theatre tend to invoke “the next generation”—diverse, digital—in the aggregate. But who are they, where do they see theatre going next, and what matters to them? In order to bring young people into this larger discussion, Center Theatre Group and a number of other theatres around the country brought teen representatives to the 2015 Theatre Communications Group National Conference.

The five student alumni at Playhouse Square in Cleveland.

CTG provided five alumni of our student programs with full scholarships to travel to and participate in the conference, which took place June 17-20 in Cleveland, Ohio. For some, it was their first time on a plane; for all, it was a rare chance to talk with adult professionals as peers. In addition to attending parties, workshops, talks, and discussion salons, the students presented a special lunchtime session, Changing the Landscape of Theatre Audiences, Artists & Beyond: The Youth Voice, which you can view here.

After returning back to Los Angeles, students crafted creative responses to the experience. Below are excerpted selections from these responses. It turned out that their biggest takeaways weren’t necessarily about the theatre but about themselves—and what they have to offer the world as artists, theatregoers, and human beings.

Defining myself to make change

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” —Oscar Wilde

At the 2015 TCG Conference (aptly titled Game Change), every session and speaker was aligned with the charge of freeing us from the agents of systemic marginalization we have been subjected to since before the inception of this nation. They aimed their energies at creating a space in which every attendee was equipped to speak in his or her own voice and inspire others toward crafting a more inclusive theatre landscape.

The focus was clear early on: we all have been bound with classifications of one sort or another. However, the way we move forward is to find our own definition of what it means to be our true self. In my case, my charge is to define for myself what it means to be an African-American teenage male of Christian faith. Because until I define those labels on my own terms, I am ill-fitted to shift paradigms of any sort. If I am just as susceptible to oppression as the next person, how can I effect tangible change?

The TCG Conference taught me that no one can oppress you so long as you know who you are.

—Elijah G., 16

Realizing you are indeed a young adult

Only 12 days prior to the TCG Conference, I graduated from high school, which was a very pivotal moment in my life—kind of like the cocoon becoming a butterfly, or the bird leaving the mother’s nest. Basically, it’s a moment when you realize that you are indeed a young adult, which was reinforced by attending the conference. Because the majority of attendees were older, it was almost impossible not to be involved in conversations with adults, which was something I wasn’t used to. Everyone I met had some quality that made him or her unique, and really worth connecting with. At the Black Theatre Commons, for example, I learned a lot about black theatre companies, but I also got to hear what the adults had to say about what they’ve been through as black artists. The conversations we had within that session and in general were helpful to me as a young black artist who is looking to achieve growth both artistically and overall as a human being.

—Julyza C., 17

Teen representatives from theatres around the country huddle.

Breaking stereotypes

Did you hear about the “screw up/at-risk teen/illiterate” who went to the TCG Conference in Ohio? A woman came up to me after our presentation and said, “Thank you.”

I said, “What do you mean?”

She told me, “Thank you for sharing your story. You’re breaking the stereotype of an at-risk young adult.”

Adults need to give young men and women a chance to express our ideas, because we are the future.

—Erick M., 18

Finding my place in theatre

Going into the conference, the only thing I knew about theatre was how to perform, and that was just about it. But when all the teenagers met for the first time, we had to introduce ourselves with our name and place in theatre. I was astonished by how vivid everyone was about what they enjoyed and what their interests were. I felt like an amateur. When it was my turn to introduce myself, I said something along the lines of, “Hi, my name is Sabino, and I’m not sure what my place in theatre is, but I wish to find out at this conference.”

I came to realize that my voice mattered, especially when discussing topics like engagement. My engagement with theatre had taken me all the way to Ohio. Now, entering my first year as an undeclared undergraduate at CSU Fullerton, I question how I can engage kids like me, especially Latinos, into relationships with theatre. I want to help them find their voices and platforms and individual creative beauty, and though it may not be my permanent place in theatre, I will continue looking.

—Sabino R., 18

Change: A poem

I’ve always wanted to change
Change my body
Change my skin
Change my hair
Change myself
I searched 17 years for change

I found a bigger need for change
Change in the world
Change in media
Change in society
Change in our minds
I didn’t know where to find change

But theatre knows the need for change
Change in hatred
Change in racism
Change in sexism
Change in our lives
It can fuel that bigger change

We together must choose to change
Change our goals
Change our mindsets
Change our actions
Change our hearts
Maybe then we can help the world change

—Mykaela S., 17