Longtime Young Actors Theatre and Teen Advisory Board member Makenna Brown breaks her experiences into a handful of lessons that will stay with her on stage and beyond the stage.
lesson one: appreciate the moment
Our plays are written as ensemble pieces, created to keep the whole cast on the stage for the whole show. Our rehearsals are run with 100% engagement. At YAT we work as a team, and we work big. And through the rehearsal process I’ve learned just how magical this is. In rehearsals, everyone is always paying complete attention, rarely straying from the larger goal of the production. Rather than just waiting for our line, we are entirely in the moment, reacting in time with what is on stage. But outside of YAT I’ve noticed this isn’t always the case. People are content to wait for what comes next. And I myself have been guilty of doing this many times, because outside of rehearsal I don't have a director snapping me out of my waiting, asking me how I am taking advantage of every single moment. But YAT has pushed me to think about what I have to do now and create what comes next rather than waiting for something to come to me.
"lesson two: accepting love is harder than giving love"
This is a direct quote from one of the fabulous directors at YAT, Julie Mauro. While I was working with her on an adaptation of The Red-Headed League, we started every rehearsal with the same warm up to the same song: "How to Love" by Cash Cash. It’s this beautifully upbeat song about someone experiencing how to love another person for the first time. During the warm-up, as we jog in place and stretch and make strange sounds, Julie starts talking about it to the kids, asking them questions and finding out what they think. She says, to a group of children, "Accepting love from others is often harder than giving it to others." And in that moment I looked around at all of these young kids' faces. For the most part, they understood this gigantic lesson that had just been dropped on them, and it was amazing. Some people take years to learn that lesson. Some people never learn it.
lesson three: youth culture is amazing
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that young people are amazing. Before I started YAT, I thought that I couldn’t do anything. When you're a kid you figure that your job is to wait until you grow up and can actually do something important. But as soon as I entered my first rehearsal, I met these people who were my age doing amazing things with their lives. Six-year-olds leading warm-ups. Fifth graders talking to their directors about what they think a particular piece of dialogue means, and how it could be improved. High schoolers starting independent theatre companies. Recently, I worked on a show that was produced, written, directed, acted-- everything-- by youth under 18. There was one night when the shows were nearing that we realized our show was only fifteen minutes long rather than the intended half-hour. This was obviously a problem, and being the YAT students that we are, we made an entire second half for our show in two hours. It was surreal to watch the show double right before my eyes. It's the magic of devised theatre. I remember going home that night and thinking, “These are the kind of people that belong in a book.” These are teenagers who know, without a doubt, that they are not useless. They have the power to create entire worlds on stage, and to create incredible solutions to problems.
lesson four: to succeed you must first fail
This has been drilled into my head by so many different people it seems almost cheesy to put on this list. But it really is an important lesson I’ve learned, and one that I think you have to keep learning as time goes on. You can not be afraid to make a fool of yourself. Embarrassment is an important emotion but it should never be allowed to turn into fear. I spent so much of my life being afraid of the opinions of others, being afraid of their laughter if I tried something and fell. And YAT taught me in so many different ways that to do anything important or worthwhile you need to fall down a few times. In the end, more people will admire you if you get back up than judge you for falling down. YAT was one of my biggest tools to stop me from being so afraid of the world, and I could not be more grateful.
lesson five: passion is the core of any amazing project
Every single person at YAT I’ve ever met has been so cool. And I have to chalk that up to the passion they all have. 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. Every day. No matter what they’re doing, they are going to do it well. Not for a paycheck, and not for a grade, but for themselves and for others. They excel for the sake of their own work, to make themselves proud and bring up those around them. Every student wants to be in class, every teacher wants to be teaching, every board member wants to make the company a better place. This environment is filled with so much passion that when you walk up to the Athenaeum or the IMA on a Saturday you can’t help but smile at a room filled with so much support and love.