Guest Post: Directing Theatre with Young People – Matthew Church

Matthew Church notes the limitations that many young people face when working in a rehearsal environment. In particular, he notes their seeming inability to ‘trust their instincts’ and places the blame squarely on the lack of attention paid to this part of their learning in the current drama curriculum. What do you think? Drama teachers, TYP people … ?

A Professional Environment

It is always interesting working with school students who have a keen interest in taking up professional theatre as a career. They show up to the first rehearsal of a production extremely excited for the journey ahead.

The problem with drama school curricula or school musical rehearsals is that acting intuition is lost from the working equation.

How can we train a new generation of actors when we are teaching them at school level to ignore their instincts?

We get started working around the table, breaking down the text, asking questions and they get extremely excited when they find out new information about their character. We play with a few improvisations, and end week one on a high.

As we begin week two I start to block the play. This is where the lack of attention in school drama curricula to rehearsing and rehearsal environments becomes apparent. Students expect to be told where to go; they wait for me to tell them “two steps to stage left”, or “look shocked on the word ‘Mum’.”  As a director, it so very saddens me when students work like this.

My work is primarily focussed on encouraging – pushing – young people to work as if they are in a professional environment. I assume the role of a professional director and I expect them to work accordingly. When a senior secondary student joins my cast, I ask of them what any director might do: make offers and play with the text. Students are challenged by this, but what astounds me continually are the types of offers that are made by young people. Their limited but very different life experience allows them to inform work in a very different way.

Theatre for Young People (TYP) is a powerful medium. It is an incredible sounding board for the next generation of actors who are being encouraged to work in a professional environment but it is also a wonderful medium for informing young people. That is what we can provide for them, not simply a stage, but a whole learning experience.

In my opinion, the role of a TYP artist is to encourage young people, and to prepare them for a career in professional theatre: NOT to take advantage of one’s own experience to get the best production.

Matthew Church is the young Artistic Director of Half Life Theatre. He is living the life in Trinity Beach, FNQ. You can find (and like) Half Life Theatre on Facebook

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