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