Over the course of the last two weeks, our cast of artists have conversed about teenage anxiety, adolescence, and the coping mechanisms for trauma that are a part of school environments. Ripe Frenzy, written by MacDowell Fellow Jennifer Barclay (2015), explores three mothers and 11 teenagers healing from a school shooting that rocks their community. The play leaves us with more questions to ask rather than any semblance of a solution, which is where I believe the power of theater can change a community. First off, I do not believe plays should give solutions. Instead, they should enable our empathetic muscles to actively question our biases and behaviors in life. I also believe that youth theater should lift our children up in a way that tools them to think fluidly and actively about complex concepts. By this, I not only mean the content of plays but more importantly, the process by which we make plays. When done correctly, the children become so empowered that they show the community how brilliant they are as thinkers and doers.
The reason the stage is shared between adult and teenage performers is because I do not want to ask our children to tackle these problems alone, nor do I want them to embody these traumas without being surrounded by a handful of professional actors who can train them, our emerging artists, in the technique and self-care routines of a working actor. These three adults are extremely talented and generous performers who have provided a daily master class for our children, allowing them to grow faster and stronger than they ever have before. The adult actors are also portraying mothers, which allows our children to play themselves in a realistic and truthful way. In fact, it has empowered them to notice with openness and curiosity the differences in point of view between adults and teenagers. The dialogues that have occurred on and offstage have proven to me the importance of cross-generational art-making in today’s world.
I was an Andy’s kid in the 1990’s and have been creating work here for 10 years now. As leader, I hope to provide a collection of work that opens up critical thinking, collaborative strategies and content that challenges us all as humans. Sometimes that means a circus play, sometimes that means a football musical, and sometimes that means emotionally challenging content that an older group of kids would like to explore. Fortunately, we are able to provide all of those things this summer, and the children are always beautifully brilliant. I hope you attend this production. The children are not only empowered but also are teaching us adults how the next generation will think critically and constructively about a better world. If you do attend, and do have questions or concerns, we provide a talkback with the children at the end of the play. Just the children, because what they have to say about these topics is something worth listening to.