Monday, January 22, 2018

Queer Youth Theater Director Retreat: Telling Stories Not Being Heard

It was fantastic to spend several days with an amazing dedicated group of adult theatre practitioners who are working with queer and allied youth around the country.  I’d never been to Omaha, and the Rose Theatre is an incredible place where magic happens—thank you to our hosts!  As one of several directors at this second consortium of Queer Youth Theatre workers, hearing what’s being developed,  swapping resources, chewing on ideas, and marveling at the creativity of queer youth and their allies was a great inspiration.

Participants of the 2011 Mukti Fund Queer Youth Theater Director Retreat

Coming off that weekend, it occurs to me that one of the most important things about theatre created by LGBTQ youth and their allies is that it tells stories not being told, and therefore not being heard.  Queer youth theatre celebrates accomplishments, resiliency, creativity, challenges, and talents of youth. This is worth celebrating.  In the spirit of honoring the youth work and artistry, I’d like to see if we directors and advisors of youth-driven theatre work can help with two areas to make their work stronger:  documenting and preserving the work, and giving their work adequate script development support.

In the first area—which could be titled “Fantastic Youth Devised Play Is Produced to Great Acclaim: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow”—what took blood, sweat and often tears to create is now lost into the annals of memory at the bottom of a box of playbills and opening night cards.   In the second area—“Devised Performance was Good… Mostly… Except Where It Didn’t Quite Work”—we often struggle to help young theatre-makers experience the full process of experimentation, collaboration, implementation, and artistry.  In spite of our best efforts, and in an effort to provide the youth as much autonomy and agency as possible, we end up with work that doesn’t quite hit the mark, or it dragged too long, or it didn’t complete a thought or was too insider to translate fully to an audience.  Often there is not a good or comfortable way to balance aesthetics with time and budget constraints and still have good dramaturgy or good script development.

We could say, hey—this isn’t really a big deal.  Isn’t it enough that youth are creating theatre?  Maybe it is enough.  But I’d like to raise the bar because Queer Youth Theatre tells the stories not being told, and therefore not being heard.  If we are going to spend our time—blood, sweat and tears—working to have these stories told, shouldn’t we include in the process of making theatre a way to capture the work?  A means of holding their work to a high standard of theatricality and innovation? The creative process will take as much time as one has, and invariably will never feel like enough.  But if we want to have youth in general and queer-and-allied youth in particular make a theatrical mark, we should consider how to help them do it to the best of their magnificent abilities.

Let us build in time for critical support.  Let’s teach young theatre makers how to interrogate their choices—and understand that there are always other choices that could have been made.  If we are setting up a program that relies heavily on autobiography, how can we add a few extra steps of script development to allow for capturing the essence of the ‘true’ story in a theatrical moment?  Not every script is going to hit a home run, but if we can help queer youth transform their stories into dynamic theatrical structures, we all have the opportunity to transcend beyond our own personal stories to convene in that place where magic happens—in the theatre.

Cast of Best of Pride Players (after performing at the QYT Director Retreat)

Cathy Plourde is a playwright and the founder/Director of Add Verb Productions at the University of New England in Portland, ME.  Her plays The Thin Line and You the Man have toured to 35 states and been seen by over 170,000 students.  Add Verb’s new book, OUT & ALLIED:  AN ANTHOLOGY OF PERFORMANCE PIECES BY LGBTQ YOUTH AND ALLIES is available at Amazon.

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