Sometimes, well okay lots of times, my job at Spareparts allows me to do some pretty cool things under the guise of "work." For example, yesterday I got to attend a play at Persephone with a bunch of elementary school kids called "People Like Vince." After the play I was able to chat with Will Brooks, The Youth Program director, about this year's season and the benefits of the Youth Theatre Program in Saskatoon.
Danny Mysak, the owner of Spareparts, decided several years ago that Spareparts would take on an adopt-a-school sponsorship position with The Youth Theatre program so that more kids could be given the opportunity to learn from the theatre experience (...a great dude, that Danny). After my talk with Wil, I understand how much of a positive impact the theatre experience can have on a young mind.
Will Brooks, Youth Theatre Program Director.
What is The Youth Theatre Program?
There are a whole bunch of different parts to The Youth Program...
The Youth Series is presentations of shows from other companies across the country. So, I spend part of my year going to shows and seeing shows on video: shopping around in that manner, trying to grab the best ‘theatre for young audience’ shows that I can get from wherever I can get them. We bring them in and they perform in our venues for kids in Saskatoon and surrounding area.
And then there’s the tour that goes on the road, so we take the show to the school. That’s mostly Saskatchewan actors and Saskatchewan Artists who put the show together and rehearse it. Then they drive around the province for a couple of months doing shows.
Lastly, we have a school as well that has about 600 kids a year taking acting classes and things like that.
How many shows per year?
This year there are four, sometimes there is five. And then we do two as the tour as well, so in total about six or seven youth shows per year.
The youth tour sees twelve thousand kids, and six or Seven thousand kids come out to play like today's. All in all about twenty thousand kids per year.
Yeah it’s been growing a lot over the last few years and is continuing to grow still. If you do the math, 1 in 8 kids in the entire province sees a persephone show (or is involved in a persephone program).
What kind of things do you hold extremely important in the program, what do the kids get out of it?
Well, Persephone does a lot of youth program/theatre and does it in a very “real” way, you know, we do shows for kids as adverse to just having a student matinee of one of our mainstage shows. Which is great in it's own rite, but it’s important to do shows that are meant for kids. We don’t do it because we are trying to build our audience 25 from now, which is the mentality of a lot of places - you know, building the audience for the future. That’s perfectly valid, perfectly good, I mean you need an audience in the future - we all want to keep our audiences young and fresh and all that sort of stuff. BUT what a lot of people forget and don’t think of, is that we are a public service organization, which means we serve our community - that’s what we do.
There’s absolutely no reason that anybody could ever give me to prove why somebody who’s eight years old isn’t a member of our community who deserves to get served just like somebody who is 75. We go out of our way to try to do shows for them as people - as parts of our community, because they just plain deserve to have theatre, just like everybody else does.
Amen. That's the TRUTH!
We are also trying to do a lot more stuff these days with study guides and getting the teachers to talk about the show when they get back. We're doing outreach programs now too: trying to set up programs with schools and businesses and communities and old folks homes and whoever we can set it up with so that we can go out into their space and share what we have with them because there’s... there is often a big veil in front of what, well, art in general, but definitely what theatre is. People think you make theater by magic, and [laughs] we kind of encourage that sometimes! “I can’t tell you about my process it’s too important, too close to my soul...” [jokingly]
We’re just kind of tired of that you know? There’s no reason why we can’t show people what we do and get them interested and involved in it, and as a result, build the community in as many ways as possible.
What kind of feedback have you received from parents, teachers, and most importantly, the kids about the program?
For a lot of kids, that kind of thing is a place where they find a home where they didn’t quite expect it. There are a lot of kids who end up getting involved in theatre because there is this very social kind of inclusive environment for them.
It's like football, there’s a team and an environment that you’re part of... Social structures at school can be awful and mean sometimes [laughs]. You’re not encouraged to be your own person most of the time.
A lot of these kids show up to a theatre class and go “Oh! So I’m actually allowed to run around and be creative and and do things? I’m not being told to sit at my desk? and I have kind of strange, interesting, weird ideas and weird stuff comes out of my mouth sometimes - if I say that at school everybody makes fun of me, but if I say that here it can actually be a good thing...” because they have to come up with new material for whatever they are working on, you know? So it’s great that way.
We try to do a lot of classes that are teaching people to be theatre artists and supporters and patrons, and audience members and all that sort of stuff, but also for a lot of these kids it’s about showing them social usefulness of all of it.
Tell us about the play you’re hosting today, “People Like Vince”
It’s about a grade 5 girl getting to know her mentally ill uncle and sort of starting to realize that there’s nothing wrong with being mentally ill and it’s an illness just like anything else and we shouldn’t be a shamed of them and all that sort of stuff.
The kids sitting in that audience, in a very real way, start to learn the empathy around that sort of thing. And in a specific way to understand that somebody who is bipolar is not, you know, to be stuck in a corner and be ashamed of. But also in a less specific way, kids that go to theatre and kids that learn how to make theatre just start understanding how to deal with people better. The social skills they learn here are countless, because it challenges them socially, and they have to figure out how to deal with each other in a healthy way.
Theatre is a communal event. 400 kids come into a theatre to watch one thing. The kids in the front are from Mayfair. The kids in the middle are from brunskill. Two very different areas of the city & two very different schools, but they are all reacting the same. They don’t know they are learning all that of course, but they are.
How do you decide which plays to bring in?
I try to attend as many as possible in person, and preferably with kids. There is a big difference between a great piece of theatre thats really well made and put together, and one that the appropriate kid is really going to hook into.
A lot of our stuff ends up being either curriculum based on occasion (ie. first nations treaties) or about issue-based stuff (ie. dealing with mental illness or bullying)
We try as much as possible to look for shows that aren’t the same thing they’ve already been seeing, like today. We've never had a show about mental illness before. So far it's been very interesting in the Q and A's afterwards.
Thanks so much Will! If anyone wants to find out more information about this very important program, please head to The Peresphone Theatre website.