The families and students who get involved with YAT have to be sold on the fact that the right person to lead it has been put at the helm. The method we use to devise plays with the students is very deliberate. This is devising without too many cooks in the kitchen. This is devising where students get a say, but there’s a person who has the final say so it doesn’t end up in chaos or confusion.

Our directors are constantly developing games and workshops and rehearsals geared towards hearing their student’s ideas about what the story should be and how the play should work. We want divergent, creative material from the students so that the best can be put into the final piece, but many others can be tried out until the director says, “No, this doesn’t really work, and here’s why.” The way we devise prevents students with dominant personalities from taking over, it prevents arguments, and wards off jealousy. There’s always someone in charge, and that person is an educator who has studied the theatre world deeply and who understands the many ways to devise a play.

I think it’s the best way to devise with young people. A lot of the time, I think it’s the best way to devise with adults, too. It keeps the focus on the process, not the final performances.

During the rehearsals for Fear: A Red Riding Hood Story, I was having the students imagine a scenario. They had to imagine that they were going from their mother’s house to their grandmother’s house through a very short wooded area, so short that you could see both houses all the way through it. But all of a sudden, in the middle, they get scared. I asked them what that fear would look like and to show what caused it.

So we put everybody into small groups and each group gets about ten minutes to come up with a two or three minute planned improvisation to do in front of everyone. In one group, all of a sudden the sun changes spots and it gets just a little bit darker than it’s supposed to. There’s thunder and the kid feels completely alone and scared and loses sight of both houses. So we work on that idea for a little bit and start to add other elements, like fog or rain. Another group comes up with an idea that they let their imagination get the best of them and they start to see the trees come alive and try to grab at them. We play that one out a little bit.

Then a group comes up with the idea that there was a homeless man in the park that day sitting and watching the kid. And the homeless man was actually enjoying watching the kid, but the kid looked over and could feel that no one was watching them cross through the park. Maybe the mom had gone to do some laundry downstairs and the grandmother got pulled away to a phone call and now, even though they had both promised they’d watch the kid cross to the other house, no one is watching. So the kid looks over at the homeless man, who’s watching her because he’s enjoying looking at her, but the kid gets freaked out and all of a sudden the man starts to look like a wolf. He stands up, and even though he’s not standing up to go to the kid, they think it’s a wolf coming to get them, and the kid begins to run the wrong way, away from both houses, and gets lost in the woods.

That’s the idea we ended up using in the play. As a director, I took the idea they’d come up with and fleshed it out with lines and movement and then we continued developing it in class.

- Executive Director Justin Wade