On Giving Youth the Stage

Posted October 16, 2020 in Articles

Author: Mariah Burks

Helping create this show was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. If we look at the title of this project, RISE: The Isolation Project, we are able to grab a somewhat obvious gist of what it might entail. However, if we are looking at both words, “RISE” and “Isolation” we get two, very distinct words that have powerful and multifaceted meanings. At the very beginning stages of this, Trinidad and I had been in very lengthy conversations about the vision and overall end product of the show. Throughout our exchange, some of the questions I kept circling back to was “What is RISE? What does it mean and what does it mean for us and this group of young artists?” and “Why do we rise? What and who do we rise for or against?” As I started to explore “Isolation,” I started to think about what that might mean for each cast member, what they are going through right now, and at that moment I had a very strong feeling that this ensemble would bring forth a vast, pure, personal, and unapologetic perspective.

Rehearsals were not like your average rehearsals. Each session/rehearsal we gathered on Zoom as a whole ensemble and then we broke off into smaller groups. Within those small groups, we offered an open floor to discuss and share ideas, thoughts, creations, etc. As teaching artists, we helped navigate those discussions and sharings as well as prompt them with activities to further explore different day-to-day themes and concepts through either written work, video blogging, music/singing, and more.

What surprised me the most about this whole process was the fact that these young artists were so willing to show up every time we met to be completely open and transparent about their world views. They showed the utmost respect, maturity, and kindness to their fellow castmates.

I cannot wait to see this cast's reaction as they watch their own journey and work throughout the twelve weeks.

I love collaborating with the youth of our community. Each and every one of them has such a vibrant way of thinking and a heart full of passion and willingness to not only be educated but to educate. I sometimes fear that we live in a world that will always see the youth as those who are inferior, uneducated, and unknowledgeable. Always the pupil and never the teacher until they are adults. I find that way of thinking to be rather outdated and belittling. It is that sort of thought process that can easily suppress the wonder, imaginative freedom, and voice of a child. One would be in awe at what they could learn from the voices of our youth.

If I’m honest, I never saw myself as a teacher. Like, ever. I actually shared this with my class about a week before we completed the project. I told them that one of my family members suggested that I should go into teaching because I had such strong leadership skills. I was in the fifth grade when I was told this and was utterly offended at the thought of being a teacher simply because I had such a terrible experience with teachers throughout my early childhood education. I was constantly told that “a child should stay in a child’s place” and that “you only need to talk when spoken to” and that “you know nothing of what’s going on in the world and don’t need to concern yourself with it until you’re older.”

The sad truth was that life had already been making itself my concern by the time I turned 11. Challenges with learning, focusing, socializing, self-identity, mental and emotional stress, family, and worldly tragedies. Theatre started making its way into my world, and I soon became aware of what it meant and felt like to give yourself permission to speak, cry and dream out loud especially when there was an atmosphere provided to do exactly that. The hope, as a teaching artist, is to have been able to collaboratively give a little bit of space and time to these young artists so that they know they can always give themselves permission to stand out, speak up, and rise.

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