For this week’s blog feature, we talked to Justin Wade, Executive Artistic Director of Young Actors Theatre, about their mission and approach to Self-Empowerment Theatre, and the role music plays in their productions. Young Actors Theatre will open two shows this weekend: Sleeping Beauty, and Twelve Dancing Princesses, at The Toby at the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields. Get tickets for these upcoming performances here.
Young Actors Theatre: Model Citizens in the Capital City
What is the mission of Young Actors Theatre?
The mission of Young Actors Theatre is to create theatrical opportunities that instill confidence, creativity, and discipline in youth. We presently do around 90 performances a year, which is about 20 productions and many one-time performances. Our goal with all of our programming is for students to learn how to apply confidence, creativity, and discipline in their personal lives through vigorous artistic training. We believe in helping to form the next creative class.
How is YAT’s approach to theatre different from other approaches?
The thing that separates YAT is that all our plays are Self-Empowerment Theatre shows. This has five elements. Every show is decidedly devised; we never start with a script. Everyone is onstage for the entire show (often 20 plus students) which we call the energetic ensemble. The shows have quotations of inspiration from famous minds, and words to empower. And finally, we always have a point in the show where the students switch the story up and start to tell their own story as it pertains to the subject matter. We call that real-life stories.
What is a Model Citizen and how does YAT encourage its students to be one?
One of our tag lines is Model Citizens in the Capital City. We believe that a Model Citizen would be someone that everyone in the community looks up to. We think there are many local Model Citizens and many global Model Citizens. We often hear kids mention names like Bill Gates, Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt. We believe that a theatre of education can create an experience for a student to feel what it might have felt like to be a Model Citizen. By saying lines that Model Citizens have said, and pretending to go through Model Citizen’s trials and tribulations, we believe that kids start wanting to be one themselves. We also deeply believe in getting out your aggression through art and it is our hope that our art collective is a gracious group of students that handle themselves well in the public forum partly due to their deep involvement in theatre being therapeutic.
What role does music play at YAT?
We’re music obsessive. Music is one of the key elements of a play, along with movement, voice, lighting, sound, and sets. Our staff listens to music constantly, keeping up with the newest ambient, electronic, classical, and instrumental music on iTunes and Spotify, for use in our classes and performances. For an original piece we did last fall for Start with Art, our student actors ran lines with 50 different songs to feel out what would work best for the final performance. If we like an artist, like Max Richter (composer of The Leftovers soundtrack), we will examine his/her entire discography. We’ll listen to entire ballets if the music is interesting. Music is an enormous part of every single class.
How do you use music in a YAT class?
We let music lift us through the story. For example, with younger kids, we may start off a class with a story about super heroes, to explore the concept of confidence, using the soundtrack to Batman v. Superman. With classical music, we will use it to envision the world around us. We also value the importance of local artists, especially young artists 18 or younger. We invite them to create original compositions in classical, electronic and instrumental music for our shows.
How do YAT students enrich our community here in Indy?
Our students are the future creative class. The Athenaeum and Mass Ave are like second homes to our students, they also perform regularly at the Central Library and the Toby Theatre at the Indianapolis Art Museum at Newfields. They believe in Indianapolis because of their involvement. Our students feel the way successful start-ups in Indy feel right now. Our city is growing exponentially and they feel a part of that growth. They look to be involved in everything cultural in the downtown area. These are kids from over 40 zip codes, and they want to be downtown. Our inner city needs a youth presence and we forget how important it is to have youth that have a sense of belonging in the downtown area when we speak of the big idea of Indianapolis. These are the kids that will invest in this city long term. They want Indianapolis to be a cultural hub and an exciting place to be.
Any closing thoughts or anecdotes you want to share?
I believe a theatre of education can help a student find the pathway to their dreams. Innovative theatre, when done right, helps the student become a visionary, an innovator, someone who believes that he/she can create change in the world. Art will change the world.