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Working with Teenage Actors

May 8, 2013

So now that the semester is winding down (and I’m almost done with my master’s), most of my work this semester has been production based. Lots of Directing, Playwriting, Devising, and Dramaturgy (in other words: my favorite things to do in theatre). However one thing I’m so grateful for this semester was the opportunity to work with teenage actors in several settings.

It’s a little weird to think about, since I feel like I was a teenager not too long ago. Yet I worked with teens 10 years younger than I am (time flies huh?). Working with teens who want to do theatre is such an amazing and rewarding experience, since you get to teach and inspire while doing what you love.  However, it’s really important to remember that being a teenager is tough in itself. They are hormonal and sensitive and it’s a tough time (and that’s without any personal things that may be going on in anyones life). It’s important to know how to be firm with them, but not step on toes at the same time. The great thing however, is when you work with teens in a theatre setting, they usually want to be there, so you usually get to do all the fun stuff and utilize their teenage energy in a way that’s constructive for them.

To focus on my most recent experience, I was fortunate enough to be one of the directors for the NYU Youth Ensemble. It’s a company of about 20 teenage actors that works with grad students in a showcase of scenes and monologues every semester, one classical and one contemporary. This semester was contemporary (which is interesting in itself to make the contemporary in the Spring), and I got to work with 2 delightful actors in a scene from “Speech and Debate” by Stephen Karam. Instead of going into the details, here’s a video of their final performance (and to understand the blocking better: it’s a black box where the audience sitting is in an “L” shape, so sometimes you won’t be able to see someones face that the other side of the audience can):

Personally, I feel that they did an amazing job! I actually loved watching them so much I started getting teary-eyed during this performance. Watching them grow and seeing the final product, along with how appreciate they were, in itself made the entire experience worth it. Especially since getting angry and embracing character was a challenge for these two, in a short amount of time they really came a long way. I can’t express how proud I am of them (I even brought my mom to see them on opening night)!

I feel like if most theatre artists had the opportunity to work with teens even just once in that pedagogy aspect, then they not only get to feel that rewarding experience, but they can connect it to their grow as theatre artists as well! I feel the saying “those who can’t do teach” is really the exact opposite for theatre. Those who can do well teach! You wouldn’t want to learn from someone who doesn’t know how to do something. So being a theatre artist who gets to have that teaching experience even just ONCE will be able to know the have the knowledge of theatre to do so. Even if you don’t like it and never want to again, experiencing it just once is the best way to know for sure.

sarah sig

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