Young People's Theatre: Building community and learning through play
Hello Neighbourhood Arts Network members! From our neighbourhood to yours, we bring you this community feature about Young People’s Theatre, a space dedicated to providing young people with education and engagement with theatre arts.
Sabrina Fields, Communications Intern
Andrea Pothiboon, Community Volunteer
On Thursday February 22nd, Neighbourhood Arts Network intern, Sabrina Fields, and community volunteer, Andrea Pothiboon, had the opportunity to chat with School & Community Programs Manager, Amber Ebert, after viewing One Thing Leads to Another, a collaboration by Maja Ardel, Audrey Dwyer, Mary Francis Moore, and Julia Tribe created for the youngest patrons of the arts: babies.
In this intimate space, parents and babies alike were invited to sit on the floor, take off their shoes, and play. Maja and Audrey, the only two performers, made a point to engage with each audience member before the show began. The performers maintained eye contact with their littlest audience members as they used large and small props with bright colours and added sounds to accompany each movement. The babies were as much a part of the show as the performers - you could observe them mirroring the performers, mesmerized by it all. At the end of the performance, the babies were invited to play with all the props onstage. It was during this time that Maja Ardel picked up a ball, rolled it around inside a hula hoop and said, “This is what a baby taught me.”
Rarely do we see adults discussing what a baby has taught them. This idea that everyone can learn from each other is further proof that learning is at the centre of Young People’s Theatre’s programming. During our conversation with Amber Ebert after the show, she mentioned that Young People’s Theatre is a dual mandated organization: to produce high quality theatre for young audiences and to provide young people with a space to learn about theatre arts. Ebert emphasized, “the idea of learning and this place being the centre of education means we are all very curious and we are up for learning new things, always.” Through the theatre’s programming, youth get a chance to recognize what they are to each other and foster a sense of compassion, empathy and community that extends far beyond the theatre.
Adjacent with that sense of community, Young People’s Theatre is dedicated to making all performances as accessible as possible for members of Toronto’s diverse communities. This includes American Sign Language (ASL) interpreted performances, audio described performances, and relaxed performances where the theatre lights and sound are adjusted to accommodate people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and first time theatre goers. Ebert stated, “When we are integrating new accessibility initiatives we also offer staff training – that’s everybody from administrative and executive, to our box office, to people working in our shops [costumes, set design, etc.]. They all get involved in learning because these are patrons, these are kids that are going to be in our audience. How are we going to best interact with them and make their experience great?”
"These are kids that are going to be in our audience. How are we going to best interact with them and make their experience great?"
Young People’s Theatre recognizes the importance of full staff trainings to compliment accessibility and cultural diversity initiatives as a holistic and equitable approach, to ensure that all staff members are educated on these social topics as well. Recently, the staff engaged in a workshop that was organized and facilitated by Young People’s Theatre’s Community Engagement Facilitator, Lindy Kinoshameg entitled, “Indigenize Us.” During these workshops, Kinoshameg along with artist Elders in the Indigenous community, taught seven art based workshops with a focus on the seven grandfather teachings. Throughout these workshops, staff members learned not only about the arts, but about important discussions surrounding Indigenous relations within Canada and their communities.
"We are not just welcoming people in, but we are making people feel welcome when they are here."
This commitment to communal engagement is evident in the many community organizations partnered with Young People’s Theatre. One of their partnerships is with H.appi Camper, a program focussed on helping Syrian refugee children integrate into Canadian communities. Through this partnership, along with their involvement with the “Welcome to the Arts” initiative, Young People’s Theatre was able to think about what it means to welcome Syrian families new to Canada into the space of an arts organization and a theatre. They provided Arabic interpreters at performances, upon request, and families had the ability to order tickets online in English or Arabic. The theatre fostered new relationships with Syrian newcomer families that have sustained throughout their stay in the community. When asked about this initiative Ebert exclaimed, “We are not just welcoming people in, but we are making people feel welcome when they are here.” Ebert emphasized the importance of welcoming newcomers into a theatre space and the space of an arts organization as a space to reclaim agency.
Young People’s Theatre also provides artists with professional development opportunities through apprenticeships, internships, bursaries, and residencies to name a few. The theatre offers Resident Artist Education programming and training which further develops the instructional abilities of artists and teachers in the community. They also offer a number of drama programs and workshops for young people. “With the drama programs we run it’s not script based, it’s process based. We believe that it is a student led process that allows kids to collaborate together to tell original stories”, Ebert noted.
Young People’s Theatre shows its commitment and dedication to fostering positive spaces for youth of all different communities which is demonstrated in each level of the organization. All staff members are eager to continue to grow and expand their reach as a hub for the professional, emotional, and social development of young people and are committed to ensuring that the teachings learned at Young People’s Theatre extends far beyond the organization. To conclude, Ebert re-emphasized the importance of continuous learning, “The idea of learning and this place being the centre of education means we are all very curious and we are up for learning new things, always.”
For more information about Young People’s Theatre’s current season, current and upcoming programming, visit them at their website.