By Claire Rouleau, YPT Resident Artist Educator
Between my pink beehive and dangly gold earrings, and above the sound of my heart racing post-dance number on stage at YPT, I could hear the whispers, questions and comments from young viewers sitting in the dark theatre. In fact, most friends and family who came to see Seussical had more to say about the curious audience members around them than about my retro moves. This level of engagement always affirmed for me that we were making an impact. Just like the tiny citizens of Whoville, who tried so hard to be heard, we were being heard by young hearts and minds.
To share the story from the stage is a complete joy and facilitating talkbacks afterwards felt like a continuation of the most important work of comprehension and inspiration. Some days the questions would revolve exclusively around the technical elements of the show. “How did you all fit in the hat?” was a favourite. Other days a child would express great concern. “Why were the animals so mean to Horton?” The conversations after each show were invaluable and illuminating, and always ended with regret at not being able to delve further into the inquiries of every waving hand. It wasn’t until the end of the run was in sight that I came to realize that I was only a small part of a theatre experience much larger and richer than our hour and a half-long musical.
I couldn’t believe it when I discovered the ENORMOUS scope of programming outside of the YPT Mainstage. I did not know, for example, that interpreters were present at shows when Syrian refugees were in attendance, that resident artist educators were delivering programming at SickKids, women and children’s shelters, and Parent Resource centres, or that 300 Seussical workshops were being carried out in schools all while I bopped about in the Jungle of Nool! I was so excited to think that our audience members were engaging just as deeply as we were onstage.
Since that discovery, I have had the pleasure of jumping into many education and facilitation opportunities at YPT off stage, and it is the most complimentary parallel to the work being done under stage lights. Discussing the important themes of James and the Giant Peach in schools before students see the show is reminiscent of the exciting prep work that takes place for a performer or creative team member before going into rehearsals. Leading exercises that explored the physicality of all the insects that would be in the show was a kind of rehearsal in and of itself. Prompting thoughts in the post-show workshops about what might happen next for James and his new family in NYC opened up an entire world of creation based on what was offered onstage.
In my experience, the educational programming related to a show directly fosters an understanding and appreciation for the theatre process and the skills in teamwork, patience and bravery it requires. At the same time, the performers and creators humanize a story and provide a shared experience unlike any other, serving as a springboard for discussion, empathy and creation. I am delighted to have been able to work on both sides of this enriching equation and look forward to what comes next.