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: How do we encourage students to find their passion outside of acting? How do we make directing and stage managing and video just as “cool”?
From the beginning, self-empowerment theatre has been about the process, not the product. Sometimes this is difficult for people to grasp, especially those who only come to our performances. Yes, we are always astounded by the new heights every show achieves, but to truly understand the effect of YAT, you have to take into account how students change on the inside. And that’s much harder to see.
At the end of every session, we give our students a survey to try. From their point of view, how has YAT affected their life? What we are looking for is connections to parts of their lives outside of theatre, or even outside of art. One student said, “In school I feel more able to raise my hand in class, even if I may be wrong.” Another, “I was finally able to stand up for myself when people were laughing at me for being friends with boys.” Even something as simple as, “I made new friends at school,” is a victory.
The ability to try and fail and to learn from that failure, to stand up for who you are, to reach out to new people - those are things that are almost impossible to measure. But that is exactly what we want students to get out of a session at YAT. Creativity, confidence, and discipline is a mantra we say over and over again. And it sticks. “I felt confident when I was taking my final exams.” “I feel confident when I talk to grown-ups.” “I felt confident during my band concert.” “I felt confident giving my speech for a debate in class.”
At its core, self-empowerment is the ability to take control over your own behavior in any area of your life, and to know that your effort and strength and striving towards success will take you where you want to go. That faith and trust in a process is even difficult for most adults, especially when the steps toward it may be small and there may even be steps back. We see its evidence in our students all the time. Theatre is just a tool to get students in that mindset.
For example, 97% of our students say that they have become more disciplined since starting YAT. They say that they listen better at school, they put more effort into reaching their goals, they’re more efficient with their homework, more patient, and pay attention better.
60% of our students get more involved in their community after they start YAT. They volunteer at nursing homes, community gardens, food pantries, the Humane Society, and with neighborhood cleanup crews, their churches, and in student leadership clubs.
And 68% of our students make their own creative work outside of YAT, whether it is poetry, prose, screenplays, choreography, or even entire novels.
At YAT, we want to create self-empowered individuals who are engaged in their community and have the tools to reach whatever goals they set their sights on. Theatre is a pathway to teach leadership, empathy, creativity, confidence, and discipline. Whether they continue on to Broadway or Hollywood is not nearly as important as whether they grow up to be people who have found their passion and love what they do.
So, to close, here is a list of what YAT students want to be when they grow up. Get ready, world, because they’re coming.
An actor or a scientist
An actress, musician, director or cartoonist
Theatre major with a minor in education
An actress and a pediatric oncologist
President of the United States
Film director and singer - create my own music for my movies
Work in some form of government
An animator for Pixar
Actress/artist/circus performer/manga artist
Artistic Director of my own theatre company
An actress who advocates for the environment
Social Studies teacher
Film director and writer