Quinn Hensley, quiet riot and one of YAT's graduating seniors, reflects on her experiences as she has grown and changed with Young Actors Theatre over her six years here.

To all of our graduating seniors, we look forward to seeing you change the world in more imaginative and impactful ways than we could ever expect. This is your time. 

I remember walking through the squeaky doors of the Athenaeum in the fall of 2011, eager and terrified for my first session with Young Actors Theatre. I took a deep calming breath, and was hit with the smell of sauerkraut seeping up from the Rathskeller. Not reassuring. But, onwards.


I heard the loud conversations of many kids as soon as the door opened. I walked up the stairs into the lobby area to see it full of kids excited for their first day back. Everyone was greeting their friends that they hadn’t seen since spring. Most of these kids had been in the program for years; they knew what to expect. They knew what was coming. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It was overwhelming to be surrounded by so many kids who had practically grown up together-- it felt like I was walking into a family reunion.

I built up the courage to walk further into the room, watching the chaos that was happening around me. There were people hugging, talking as if they had months of conversation to catch up on. I thought these people were the coolest, but I still felt like an outsider, and I had no idea how I was going to be able to truly join in. All of a sudden the chatter begin to quiet down; my heart started beating quicker as my first YAT class began.


I thought that this was going to be just like the typical children’s theatre I did in Texas, where we would stand in a line and pass a microphone down and take turns saying our line, because they didn’t believe it was possible for kids to be loud enough to speak onstage without a mic. The first day at YAT was filled with games to get to know everyone, and being loud was a requirement. There was no fading into the background here. I found that I enjoyed getting to know everyone. Even though my first instinct was to just sit back and watch, I found that I enjoyed participating. This was my way into this amazing group of people, and I was not going to let that chance go to waste.

The months went on as we worked on our show, Stuart Little, where I played Hank... the Garbage Man. I will be honest: eleven-year-old me was not too excited about being cast as a garbage man, much less a garbage man with four lines of dialogue. But how hard could it be when you only have four lines? “You don’t need to put that much work into your character,” eleven-year-old me thought, “when you only have four lines.” Needless to say, I was wrong. I found this out one day when Catherine was viewing one of our rehearsals.

I was excited for Catherine to be there because the only person who had seen our show so far was our director, and I was thrilled that someone new was going to see it. My scene came and I walked center stage to deliver my first line, when we were abruptly stopped by an exclamation of, “Are you kidding me?” I looked around confused until I realized she was talking to me. She then proceeded to ask me all kinds of questions about my character that I hadn’t even considered. Questions were thrown at me faster than I could answer them, “How does your character feel about their job?” “How do you feel about your scene partner?” and “Why aren’t you making choices?”

I felt embarrassed that I hadn’t even thought about character work being a thing that I had to do, and now everyone in the class was staring at me. Catherine made us go back and do the scene again, and in this second run I made a few small changes and choices about my character. I, of course, didn’t like getting those types of notes and challenges in the moment, but they helped push me and made me work harder.

I carried those types of experiences with me, always striving to live up to the high expectations that are put upon you at YAT-- regardless of your age, you are there to build the creative mind and build an artistic discipline. It all began with my childish desire to impress an audience full of people and then transformed into a desire to truly learn.

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YAT has changed immensely since my first session, with the development of self-empowerment theatre, moving from pre-written scripts to devised shows. But they still carry the same principles I saw on my first day: be loud, make choices, no fading into the background. This is what has kept me coming session after session, for seven years-- the desire to grow with, and even beyond, the organization. In the beginning I was the average YAT student, one who just participated in the sessions and nothing else. But freshman year was when I decided to really throw myself into all aspects of the organization. I started volunteering to help make costumes, and eventually costumed an entire show on my own.

I wrap up my senior year of high school as Secretary of the Teen Advisory Board, with a year’s worth of internship experience as Executive Assistant.  I was looking for an internship at the beginning of my senior year, something to give me direction as I headed to college. I wanted the internship I selected to help me decide whether business was right for me. I sat in on business meetings and staff meetings,  and learned more about what it takes to run a non-profit arts organization.

Next fall, I will be going to college at DePaul University to study Theatre Management, and YAT has been such a guiding force in that decision. I had already found that I was really interested in majoring in Business, but then I thought back to all of the amazing experiences I have had with this program. I knew that there was no way I could go into a profession that was not involved in the arts. YAT has shaped the past seven years of my life, and though I am sad to be leaving, I know that I am as prepared as I could possibly be.

And all of this came out of truly caring about what this organization is all about and looking for ways to insert myself wherever I may be needed. YAT is not about talent: it is about art. This is a theatre for everyone, and I firmly believe that anyone can find an aspect of YAT that interests them. No matter if you are a die-hard theatre kid or a future scientist, doctor, lawyer, or even a pizza delivery man you can get something out of this program that will be valuable in your life.

Help students like Quinn empower themselves for life with intensive and immersive arts experience. Support Young Actors Theatre today: if you donate before July 31, your donation will be matched by the David P. Sheetz Foundation. Donate to YAT.