Lesson 3: Do not be afraid to ask questions and make suggestions (I’m still working on this one).
It’s ideas like those that helped me to understand that every idea is worth trying...
In a typical classroom--in a typical anything anywhere--you can pick out a small handful of people who are psyched to be there. YAT is full of those people.
I think that’s when you know you’ve done your job right. When the least likable character, becomes your best friend.
It's understandable that these people wouldn't have many. . .traditional supplies left over. So they improvise.
I realized in that moment just how much fear takes up our lives, even at such a young age.
At YAT, we talk a lot about how we are not trying to train a new generation of actors. We are training a new generation of leaders, through the medium of theatre. As we think about and add new programming, this is the thought that’s always in our mind.
Executive Director Justin Wade shares a story about devising with youth.
Executive Director Justin Wade shares why YAT believes in adapting classic stories to our own style of theatre.
A very special blog post featuring the journal of a YAT student during the first week of The Experiment.
In the past decade or so, the theatre world in the US and the UK has seen an explosion of immersive and site-specific performances. These are different from traditional theatre in that there is not necessarily a set stage or playing space - these performances use “installations and expansive environments, which have mobile audiences, and which invite audience participation.”
It’s great to talk about self-empowerment theatre in big, life-changing terms sometimes. It’s important that we keep realizing that what we’re doing has the power to change things on a global scale. But some of the most compelling moments happen within a single student and it’s important to tell those stories as well.
A student came to us when she was about ten years old, and she was dealing with a lot, even though we didn’t know it at the time. Her younger brother had died in a drowning incident in her family’s backyard pool. Her older brother was struggling with substance abuse. She’s coping with issues and problems that floor adults, let alone children her age. At first, she was a really shy kid who wasn’t really getting into lessons. She would sort of fold up in on herself and speak really quietly. It was clear she wanted to be there, but didn’t think she had much to contribute.
I remember one class in particular. We were doing a gibberish exercise where all of the students stood in a circle and had to jump in the middle one at a time and spit out gibberish, just anything, as fast and as enthusiastically as they could. She jumped in the middle, a little unsure, a little timid, but I kept pushing her to go further with the gibberish and all of a sudden she just let go into a fire of it, just spitting out gibberish to everybody. All the students were laughing, she got this great response, and I could see in her that she had emerged a totally different person. She held herself up a little bit higher. YAT became her passion. She was obsessed with our program, involved in it in every way, shape, or form. She bought into it and it changed her. That’s self-empowerment.
Her older brother later died of a heroin overdose. She lived while dealing with the death of her younger brother and he didn’t. And she’d tell you that the difference was going to YAT.
In one of the best interviews I’ve ever done, Travis DiNicola from WFYI said that what YAT is doing sounds like stuff that happens at good youth theatres anyway and we’re just putting a name to it. I think this is absolutely true, but there’s power in recognizing it and explicitly working towards it. In the end, it will always be about the process and the students.
- Justin Wade, Executive Director of YAT
There are young people everywhere who feel like the world is falling apart. Because of their access to the rest of the world through the Internet, too often they see a dark picture of humanity in chaos. They know about every act of terrorism, every mass shooting, every word of prejudice in a way that our generation did not at their age. However, there’s another side to the world that sometimes isn’t as easy to see. We’re living in a time that’s filled with the most exciting innovations in the history of mankind. The same technology that makes it easier for a teenager to know what hardships others are facing across the globe also makes it easier for them to learn about the incredible advances being made.
I look at all of this and think, “What is the difference between seeing the optimistic and seeing the pessimistic?” And it comes down to being a self-empowered individual. It comes down to acknowledging the difficult and making a conscious decision to turn that situation into something positive.
Self-empowerment is a tool that gives students the confidence that they can have an organized, focused mind that can filter through all the information that’s being thrown at them constantly.
The power of theatre is that it can provide a place for students to think deeply about different points of view, to see a problem from all sides, and to enact the solution. When people come to YAT shows, when students participate in it, and especially when students see other students participating, they see self-empowerment happening onstage. It’s the same feeling you get from watching that one scene in your favorite movie. That invincible, ecstatic feeling that something good is coming right around the corner and you know how to make it happen. That feeling that makes you watch a movie seventy times? That’s the feeling we give our students, along with the tools to carry it into their everyday life.
- Justin Wade, Executive Director of YAT
At YAT, we use cutting-edge theatre techniques, but we are also on top of the best practices in education. For us, theatre is a tool to get students on the path to being proactive learners who feel empowered to take a hold of their own education.
Recently, we got our hands on a book called Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, PhD, and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, PhD. The gist of the book is to examine education practices and connect that to the science of the developing brain. They’re asking, “What are we doing that works and is supported by what we know of how children grow?” and, arguably more importantly, “What are we doing that really doesn’t make sense when you look at how children grow?”
In light of that, the authors created a “21st century report card.” Instead of grading on the regurgitation of information in different subject areas, they grade students on the 6 C’s: collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creative innovation and confidence.
Basically, it’s about creating an environment where students are constantly challenged and called upon to figure things out themselves. Although, really, why restrict this grading system to youth? Everyone should be thinking about incorporating these things into their lives.
An integral part of creating that kind of environment is having teachers who know how to incorporate and foster those 6 C’s no matter what they’re actually teaching.
"Teachers who find their kids' ideas fascinating are just better teachers than teachers who find the subject matter fascinating," Philip Sadler, a professor of astronomy and the director of the science education department at Harvard University, says. So, for example, if a student gives a wrong answer, the important thing is to be interested in why that student thought that way, and to give them the experience to find their own way to the right answer.
We could tell you about how all of this connects to YAT’s core values, we could pull out quotes from our student manual or from the language we use to train our teachers. But instead, we’ll let our students tell you how they have grown after a session at YAT.
“When I started YAT, I was really shy and scared to talk to all of the other kids, but now after being here for only one session, I'm able to start new conversations with people I've never even seen before. And that alone makes me feel better about myself.”
“I've learned a lot about being okay with making mistakes. I've learned to be brave through the moments when things don't work out the first time (and I'm a lot happier because of it).”
“I feel like I have more confidence in myself and have stopped comparing myself to others in a bad way.”
“I have grown exponentially in my confidence since the beginning of this session. I'm not afraid to share my ideas with my cast, I'm not afraid to fail in front of others, and I'm learning how to be comfortable with movement, even though it's scary.”
“I have grown by being able to make mistakes in front of other people and knowing how to learn from them.”
One of the authors of Becoming Brilliant says, “E.O. Wilson, one of my heroes, the biologist, says we're drowning in information and starved for wisdom.” Students lack a deep dive into content, don’t get multiple points of view, don’t get to see information come together and synthesize. That’s exactly what we do in devising a show. They are an integral part of that process and at the end, they understand that the important thing they gained was not learning how to memorize lines or successfully performing a movement sequence, although those are accomplishments in their own right. Our students know that what they learn are skills they can apply in other areas of their life.
A look into the empowering programs here at Young Actors Theatre!