By Arielle Sosland
A month ago, Lamplighters, the Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) Club at NYU had their annual professional development panel. This year’s panel focused on the significance and importance of storytelling in TYA. The panel consisted of six professionals, five panelists and one moderator, of all varying experiences including teaching artists, artistic directors, teachers, and professional storytellers. After the panelists enjoyed some food, tweeted about the panel and took selfies in the style of Ellen DeGeneres at the Oscars, we were ready to begin.
Jonathan Shmidt-Chapman, adjunct Educational Theatre professor acted as moderator and led the conversation in a very dynamic way.
The panelists jumped into the discussion with fervor answering the question, what engages you in a story? James Miles, adjunct professor in Educational Theatre began the conversation articulating the importance of conflict in a story. As an actor, Miles explained he is often drawn toward comedy and comedy usually works best if there is a conflict at the center of the story. Lauren Jost, artistic director of Spellbound Theatre expressed a conflicting opinion explaining that in her work, creating theatre for the very young does not always need a conflict, but rather should be relatable to children and adult audiences. Spencer Lott, Artistic Manager with Trusty Sidekick Theater, enjoys fantasy that has “roots in reality, but is a little bit warped.” Carolyn Fagan, an Education Programs Manager at The New Victory Theater, likes to laugh. She prefers to listen to stories that make her laugh and occasionally surprise her! Lastly, Laura Simms, internationally acclaimed storyteller, writer and humanitarian, loves to watch a shift in the audience as a story is being presented or performed. With a flood of fascinating and differing opinions, our panel had begun.
Next, Shmidt-Chapman brought up the question of the difference in telling a story to young people versus to adults. Miles was the first to answer this question explaining that he finds great importance in making sure under represented populations are in his stories, aka women, minorities, etc. Lott pointed out the overused idea of creating TYA based upon “what we think that kids will want” rather than challenging kids and realizing that kids live in an adult world and therefore can experience theatre similarly. Simms brought up the criticality of finding what is meaningful for children versus adults and bridging the two. Fagan finalizes the answer to the question describing how kids receive a story as an “explosion.” Kids have a visceral reaction to theatre that is less seen in theatre for adult audiences.
Shmidt-Chapman subsequently brings up the topic of the difference between stories in a classroom and stories in a theatre. When presenting a story in a classroom, you immediately lose the aesthetic frame available in a theatre. Simms reminded us that when a story is told without theatrical or spectacular elements, children are able to “see through the focus of [their] own imagination.” Miles adds that in more intimate settings like classrooms, the young listeners are just as involved as the performers themselves.
So what is the future of storytelling, asks an eager audience member. Carolyn initiates the conversation with the importance of technology. She retorts that technology should be used to our advantage in telling stories to young people. She reminds us that social media is about telling your story about other people’s stories. Shmidt-Chapman brings in an anecdote about a teacher that had his class participate in Show & Tell by finding Youtube videos that they wanted to show and present to the class. This is using technology and today’s social media world to our advantage. Lott adds that young people desire interactivity and we need to interweave interactivity into our work in TYA.
As we wrapped up with this idea of interactivity, Lamplighters members eager to learn more, got a chance to continue the conversation with our panelists over brunch afterwards. It was thrilling to hear professionals in the field of TYA and storytelling talk about their stances on a fairly narrow topic and I could tell it really excited the group of students about the future of this field.
I want to thank our panelists Carolyn Fagan, Lauren Jost, Spencer Lott, James Miles, and Laura Simms along with our moderator Jonathan Shmidt-Chapman for being so gracious with their time and ideas at this panel! On behalf of Lamplighters, we thank you and look forward to another great panel next year.