Sunday, April 21, 2019

Representing Difference: Crucial Dialogue for the Field, Across the Miles that Separate us: Gillian’s Response

For four weeks this November/December, several TYA USA members participated in the phone forum focusing on issues of diversity.  This series, entitled “Representing Difference Through Language, Dress and Story,” examined the multiple complexities when dealing with representation in the field of Theatre for Young Audiences.  Director, performer, scholar/researcher and playwright Roxanne Schroeder-Arce facilitated the four hour-long conversations.  Randy Reinholz and David Saar each served as special guests to the discussion.  Each week, there was a different topic of focus.  Topics included:

1. Language

2. Visual Representation

3. Season Selection

4. The Field

Participants were from all over the country and represented different size theatres, universities or education settings.  Each of us posed pressing questions regarding representation and also shared successful stories from our experiences.

During the final week, we were delighted to be visited by David Saar, Founder and Artistic Director of Childsplay Theatre in Arizona.  He addressed an issue that came up often in our discussions: “the tyranny of the title”.  In this difficult economic time, how can a TYA company risk doing lesser-known titles, but meet the artistic and/or social needs of their community?  For Childsplay, they have met this need head on.  David shared that their company had just gone through a huge restructuring.  They now make long-term plans with specific community organizations.  This long-term planning makes them less dependent on box office sales, and also allows them to fulfill their artistic goals.

In addition, David pointed to the partnership with Jose Cruz Gonzalez as instrumental in their company’s success.  Through the work with Jose, their company has created artistically fulfilling projects, while also addressing the need of the Latino population in their community.  However, David likes to balance these culturally specific pieces with what he calls theatre for the universal. Recently, Childsplay has developed language-less plays that explore more universal themes.  These productions received positive responses from teachers, students and administrators.  In terms of casting, Childsplay has a racially diverse company actors.  Actors of color play characters both specific to their race and are also cast in a “color-blind” way.

At the end of these sessions, many of us remarked how nice it was to be able to discuss such pressing issues with such smart colleagues across the country.  The phone forums are set up for exactly this purpose: to help our members connect with one another and to discuss issues specific to our world of theatre for young audiences.  We sincerely hope that you can take advantage of this wonderful benefit of membership soon!


Gillian McNally

Assistant Professor, Theatre Education

University of Northern Colorado

TYA/USA Board Member

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