Tuesday night, I had the privilege of being in the audience for the General Theatre Studies final performance at the Goodman Theatre. Titled Heartscape, this piece of original theatre created and performed by eighty teenagers had a vitality that made it a joy to watch.
I had little idea what to expect when I walked into the Albert Theatre and took my seat, but the energy in the room was undoubtedly positive. Families and groups of teenagers milled about, searching for one another and for the best seats, naming the friends and family members they were there to see. The program allowed each of the participants and teaching artists a mere six words for their bios, and the creativity of their responses kept me entertained until opening.
The show began with an introduction by Director of Education and Community Engagement Willa J. Taylor, who spoke passionately about the bonds formed among the group of artists in the program in the six weeks they were together. She then introduced the InterGens program, a mixed group of teens who had previously participated in Goodman’s educational programs and senior citizens who are part of GeNarrations. They performed a short piece in which each of them shared a moment of their life through poetry, and the connection between the old and the young became clear as each individual moved out of their disempowered status in society and took charge of the stage to make their voice heard.
Then, the main event began. Heartscape was developed entirely by the participants in the program, and it blended together elements of traditional narrative, parody, song, dance, and visuals to create a heartfelt narrative that was both laugh-out-loud funny and deeply thoughtful. Born out of demographic research in which the participants asked their friends and family about a time they had to fight for love, the story follows a young girl named Olivia, who is raised by her grandmother after her mother dies in childbirth and her father abandons her. A concurrent narrative about a noir-style detective, played with great dramatic flair by a female participant, provided comic relief and, surprisingly, tied in with the main narrative at the end. Parts were cast without regard to age, race, or gender, and it’s clear that diversity was important to the cast members, who included several gay characters in their story.
Moments of narrative storytelling blended with flashbacks, musical interludes, and moments of exaggerated fantasy, such as the game show imagined by kindergarteners in which their parents duke it out in a boxing ring. Issues such as parental abandonment, non-traditional families, rejection by peers, social anxiety, cancer, love, and death were all dealt with in a sincere and honest way by artists who likely have experience with these issues themselves. The show used contemporary popular music and references to modern pop culture to communicate its points, and there was a freshness and a genuineness of spirit present throughout the performance.
In short, the Goodman Theatre’s General Theatre Studies program empowers young people by offering them a chance to share their voices in ways they might not have been able to otherwise. Offered for free thanks to generous sponsors, this program, as well as the Goodman’s many other educational programs, is making a positive impact on the surrounding community, and I look forward to seeing how they will continue to inspire the next generation.
The Goodman General Theatre Studies program showcase was performed August 11 and 12 in the Albert Theatre. For more information about the Goodman’s educational programs, go to goodmantheatre.org