During the best of/worst of times called “adolescence,” finding a passion for something—and getting support for others as you pursue that passion—can save your sanity, and maybe even your life! Center Theatre Group’s Theatre Crash Course opened its arms and its doors to a group of adolescents trying to find that passion in theatre—and inside those doors is a world of possibilities.
Getting into the three-day Theatre Crash Course, which is free and open to teens all over the city, is based on your own initiative, not on competition. The fact that no prior experience is needed is really great for some teens who haven’t found their niche yet. Beforehand, everyone signed up for the discipline of their choice: lighting and scenic design, costume design, acting, or directing. I chose costume design, which sounded super interesting and was totally new to me.
Being welcomed into Center Theatre Group’s creative family may be one of the most enjoyable and exciting experiences I’ve had as a young theatre artist. From the moment my fellow Theatre Crash Course participants and I stepped into CTG’s Downtown L.A. headquarters, we were put at ease by a warm and open vibe, nice music, and a CTG swag bag! Did I mention that they fed us? I arrived on two buses straight from a long day at the L.A. County High School for the Arts and was starving before every session, so the fact that they anticipated teenage hunger made me feel “got.”
After theatre games (which break all social barriers in seconds), we dove into deconstructing the play: exploring and unpacking the tone, themes, and overall world of Father Comes Home From The Wars Parts 1, 2 & 3) by Suzan-Lori Parks, an upcoming production at the Mark Taper Forum. This epic drama follows the fortunes of a slave, Hero, who heads off to fight in the Civil War—on the Confederate side! That alone was enough to pique my interest. The questions the play posed about slavery and freedom provoked discussion and debate in our group: a necessary practice—and a playwright’s job. The play’s world taught us so much about the era as we connected to it in an emotional way—which is very different from when we studied this period in school.
Then we got into action. Our teaching artist shared what it's like to be a professional costume designer, which made me put it on my list as a possible vocation (there are a lot of actors, not so many costume designers). CTG supplied us with crafts and materials—everything from big sparkly gems to rough burlap—to start designing outfits for maquette dolls, as well as magazines so we could cut out or draw our ideas for what we think would fit each character best. We searched for ideas online and tried to figure out what people wore in the 1800s in the South, which meant comparing fabrics for house-working slaves to field-working slaves and looking up what breeds of dogs accompanied soldiers in the Civil War. (There’s a dog in the production, played by a human.)
The second workshop challenged us, but we rose to it! We cut all the fabrics to create the costumes we wanted, and sewed or hot glued them together. We also peeked in on the other groups: the lighting and scenic designers were creating dioramas of the set and experimenting with different gels (which change the color of the lights), while the actors were rehearsing the scenes that the student directors had chosen. It was super exciting to learn about all the different opportunities in the theatre world.
I also learned that being in an ensemble involves a lot of cooperation. I hadn’t known that in order for a production to go on smoothly, each department needs approval from the director or actors. For example, if you're making a costume, you have to make sure that the set designer’s work is compatible with that costume and won't be too fussy on stage.
Our third and final workshop was a presentation for the public (aka family, friends, and some observing teachers). We shared our vision of the play and demonstrated our work in front of a live audience.
Viewing all the ideas our fellow groups had come up with was inspiring and impressive. We covered a six-week professional production process in just six hours total!