As adults we have an abundance of amateur theatre companies to choose from. However the younger generation, unless Annie or the Sound of Music continues to be recycled, do not seem to have as much choice. In recent years, Catchment Players and Williamstown Musical Theatre Company have introduced thei 'kids' branding for one show a year. Other companies like Altona Theatre Company, Players Theatre Company,are and Phoenix Theatre Company have embraced the nurturing of the youth of our theatrical community for the past decade. Of course, there many drama schools and high schools that provide an outlet for these youngsters to perfect and develop their craft. As recently discussed in Sandi Laaksonen’s article "Stars of the Future," it is important for theatre companies to provide a “positive, supportive and fun environment that will promote and develop self-respect, confidence, awareness, imagination, creativity, determination, and social skills in young people." These skills are integral to developing a mature and responsible young adult.
The essence to creating a good theatrical experience is being able to provide young performers with the experience of being able to challenge themselves and be able to take calculated risks whilst performing. Many young people who audition for productions are usually ‘single threats’ – singers who can move, dancers who can hold a tune. Being able to help them achieve their potential and transforming them into a ‘triple threat’ makes the rehearsal process. Recently I directed a youth show featuring performers mostly aged between 12 and 25. As a director I find working with performers as they evolve so rewarding. The process is so much more important that the final product. Through this production I had the pleasure of giving many young performers an opportunity to play some featured roles. Each lead role in this production had an understudy. The aim was for them to be mentored by each other the production team to further develop their performance maturity.
As teachers, we strive to scaffold and encourage to the point where we are no longer required. Piaget believes that teachers are facilitators and that allowing children to learn through the experiment is the key to creating a more engaged and connected learner. As directors we need to implement the same notion. It is important to give the actors the tools in order to bring forward the character and portray it in a way that feels comfortable.
There are many issues that young performers face when trying to make their way into theatre. The biggest issues are a lack of opportunites or the same people getting the roles. This situation would be diminished with a greater offering of theatrical productions for young people.
As previously mentioned, there are a small amount of companies that annually offer their youth members an opportunity to strut their stuff. With the launch of Catchment Kids in 2000 (as a sub-branch of Catchment Players) it relaunched the need to nurture youth participation in theatre. The primary aim of Catchment Kids was to encourage leadership and foster growth and friendship in an avenue in which they feel comfortable. Whilst Catchment Kids have been quite successful there have been many theatre companies that have used this ‘spark of creation’ to ignite passions of younger performers in a range of suburbs.
Phoenix Theater Company Inc., formed in 1995, has always had the goal to encourage and foster the spirit of theatre amongst younger performers. In the early days many of these young performers belonged to groups of families that performed in tailor-made variety shows where a range of people were given opportunities to show their strengths and develop their weaknesses. From here Phoenix now aim to produce a youth production once a year. These range from shows like Kids on Broadway, Godspell, and Little Shop of Horrors.
Williamstown Musical Theatre Company Inc. has most recently launched their youth branch with the spectacular debut of Beauty and the Beast Jr. This inaugural production aimed to foster the needs of the local community: “WMTC wants to share its passion for musical theatre with children and teens so that they, in turn, can continue this creative tradition as teachers, performers and arts patrons for generations to come”.
For many years those interested in theatre were restricted to performing arts schools such as Young Australian Broadway Chorus, Victorian Youth Theater, Helen O’Grady, and local dance schools. With many theatre companies now embracing the need of a collaborative learning environment, I believe the new generation of theatre performers have a broader range of experiences that they can bring to a show in order to make the production unique and exciting. I hope that other theatre companies start to follow in the footsteps of the aforementioned companies. Without fresh talent and nurturing of one’s art form how do we expect theatre to continue to grow and prosper?
an is currently writing his PhD in musical theatre at Monash University and holds a master's degree in musical theatre, a bachelor's degree in drama, an AMusA in flute performance, and a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education. His honours thesis was entitled Transposition in Jonathan Larson's RENT, and his master's examined Jason Robert Brown's early-career compositional techniques. In his extra-curricular life he is a sought-after musical director and runs a thriving vocal studio from his home in Clayton South. Visit www.iannisbet.com for more information.