A Writer’s Love Letter to Young People
Photo Credit: Andrea Klohn
If you are a young artist, writer, performer, theatrical advocate or lover of the craft of theater, this is for you.
Everything about theater is hard. We’re in it for the art not the money. We do it or see it because we love it. There is no guarantee of success and failure is part of the game. All of these things are true and yet, I urge young people to stand up in spite of them.
Why? Because we have to.
On Wednesday night I saw the opening performance of Cardboard Piano at TimeLine Theatre Company. It was my seventh performance of 2019 and I’m still ruminating on all the things it stirred within me, but that’s not why I brought it up.
Freedom Martin is the reason I brought it up.
Martin plays Pika and Francis in Cardboard Piano. He brings to the stage the kind of raw energy that cannot be taught or learned. It is a gift that performers would give anything for and luckily for us Martin has it. His candid stage presence electrifies the space in a way I rarely see.
So, imagine my surprise when I opened the program to discover he is a senior in high school.
Surprise is the wrong word.
Imagine my *delight when I opened the program to discover he is a senior in high school. I’m beyond elated for the spirits of young artists in this field. I am always eager to see the future of this craft that I love, especially as a fellow somewhat-young person.
I’m 26 for anyone who cares about that sort of thing. And for the entire time I’ve been a professional writer my youth has largely been my enemy. I try to embrace it though, especially when working with other young arts professionals.
On Sunday, for example, I got back from five days in Madison, Wisconsin mentoring the young critics/journalists program at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) Region III. Even almost a week later I’m still on cloud nine from the overwhelming brilliance of young writers.
It was also a humbling moment for me because I did the program at KCACTF three times in undergrad. It’s the reason I fell in love with writing about theater.
So it was without hesitation that I warned my students last week that we–I lump myself in because for the most part I’m only about five years their senior–are overwhelmingly young in an art that skews older.
And sometimes that skew brings out the ugliness in the industry.
I was once asked by an usher at an opera if I was in the right place when I tried to get to my seat in the orchestra section. I was, in fact, in the right section. And my friend and I were the only people seated there under the age of 65. Clearly that stigma of the young enjoying art is still there even if we choose to ignore it.
For me it’s almost impossible to ignore so I often joke about it. I use self deprecating humor to feign ignorance when my knowledge, insight or input is called into question because of my age. Or, I’m questioned because I’m both young and a woman.
Needless to say I’m a strong proponent for young artists and a major advocate for young artists who throw expectation out the window. Martin, for example, propelled the character of Pika emotionally beyond what I’ve seen even from veteran actors. I can’t wait to see him dominate the acting field.
For my students, I’m still blown away at their insight. Given the circumstances of our society there is so much to be discussed in any art form, but especially in theater. My students were unafraid to call out tropes, stereotypes and poorly conveyed topical issues. We talked about the idea of the “issue” play and how theater can bring about change–or not.
We also had heated discussions about the portrayal of women and people of color on stage as well as the need for trigger or content warnings.
To say it was refreshing would be an understatement.
People tend to fear the input of young people because we see things differently. We attack problems with veracity and passion. I’ve been told that young people do this because they are young. I can’t confirm or deny that at this point in my life. That doesn’t mean, however, that we should dismiss anyone or be dismissed.
Theater is alive. It exists, changes and grows with mankind. It lives to be challenged, praised, rejected and recrafted. Complacency, not aging audiences, is what will kill the theater.
But so long as we have the drive of young people who want to spend time advocating for theater and we have the powerful precision of actors like Martin, theater is not only going to be okay, it will thrive.