Center Theatre Group's Young Audiences Program is more than just a field trip, and sometimes even the educational materials that we develop for our student matinees go on long journeys of their own.
The Young Audiences Program brings thousands of students to select shows each year. To enrich the performance experience, the student matinee program includes a pre-show educator conference to prepare teachers to guide their students through the themes of the play, Educator Resources to help teachers lead activities they learned at the educator conference, the full-length performance, optional pre-and-post show visits by professional teaching artists to the classroom, and student Discovery Guides. The student Discovery Guides are designed to help students understand thematic content as well as make personal connections with the art onstage. Center Theatre Group's Discovery Guides have been so popular that some have even travelled to Broadway to accompany productions following their run at Center Theatre Group.
The Discovery Guide for Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, which played at the Mark Taper Forum in spring 2010, travelled to Broadway following a successful run with Center Theatre Group. You can access the materials here. This guide addresses challenging topics about war and occupation to prepare students for the serious themes in playwright Rajiv Joseph's darkly comic play.
Discovery Guides always include information on the themes of the show and conversations with creative team members who worked on them. In the Bengal guide, young people can read a fresh perspective on the American occupation of Iraq (the play is set in 2003) and even explore future careers in writing through an interview with Joseph and Center Theatre Group Teaching Artist Marcos Nájera. For any aspiring writers, Joseph's words hold great value: "I think the thing about becoming a writer is it’s a combination of obviously working hard but also finding what medium or what type of writing not only appeals to you the most, but also that you have a knack for."
Bring It On: The Musical ran at the Ahmanson Theatre in fall 2011, and the Discovery Guide, which you can find here, was picked up by the national tour. From history about the all-male origin of cheerleading in the 1880s to conversations about redestricting and gentrification, this Discovery Guide is packed with rich content. In an inteview included in the guide, librettist Jeff Whitty says, "And Bring It On: The Musical is full of fun themes like betrayal and revenge, ambition and disappointment. You know, major themes that have been staples of drama for centuries."
Center Theatre Group's Discovery Guide for the winter 2012 Mark Taper Forum production of Clybourne Park travelled to Broadway after the run in Los Angeles. Students learned about art being inspired by other art - Clybourne Park was inspired by Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun. The rich materials also address White Flight and gentrification, humor as a weapon, and the history of private property. Because so much of the story of Clybourne Park revolves around property and a home that throughout the course of 50 years saw Caucasian and African-American owners, Center Theatre Group aptly interviewed set designer Daniel Ostling for the Guide. Ostling shared: "You know, each play I work on is a whole new story, a whole new world opens up. And I can pick any way to tell that. There isn't a way that it has to be done. Whatever makes the story be the most powerful for the audience is what we do."
The national tour of Green Day’s American Idiot picked up the Discovery Guide that was created for the run at the Ahmanson Theatre in spring 2012. The guide, available here, takes students on a tour of protest music, rock opera, and the East L.A. Punk scene. Then in spring, 2014, the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts in Tacoma, Washington, placed CTG's 2012 Mark Taper Forum Joe Turner’s Come and Gone guide on their website and distributed printed copies to educators. The guide, available here, contains historical information about the Great Migration, the Middle Passage, August Wilson and his influences as well as Jim Crow laws. Students can also read an interview with director Phylicia Rashad: "And that's how you create a world. You go deeper, and deeper, and deeper every time."
In spring 2014, Tectonic Theater Project of New York visited Center Theatre Group during the run of The Tallest Tree in the Forest at the Mark Taper Forum. Tectonic Theater Project used their signature Moment Work to help prepare actor Daniel Beaty for his role as the iconic Paul Robeson. You can read about Moment Work and Robeson's amazing history in the Discovery Guide available here. Tectonic Theater Project's staff members were impressed with the materials and placed them on their website. They were also impressed with our 33 Variations materials from the production at the Ahmanson Theatre in winter 2011. They placed the Discovery Guide, available here, on their website as well.
And, most recently, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park in Ohio borrowed an interview with author David Barry from the Peter and the Starcatcher Discovery Guide available here. Created for Center Theatre Group's run of the show at the Ahmanson Theatre in Winter 2013-2015, the interview is being used in the Cincinnati Playhouse's program for their run of the show.
For over 40 years, the Young Audiences Program has been the cornerstone education program for Center Theatre Group. And with such rich educational materials, we look forward to welcoming students into the amazing world of theatre again and again. We hope that more of our Discovery Guides will continue to support audience engagement both here in Los Angeles and around the nation.