Theatre for Young Audiences Class in New York University

Last Fall 2018, when David Montgomery asked me if I were interested in facilitating a theatre for young audiences (TYA) class for his Introduction to Educational Theatre course in New York University (NYU), I jumped at the opportunity. I had just come back from my study abroad trip in the United Kingdom, which had broadened and deepened my love for TYA; I saw this as a chance to reapply what I had learned there and to share that knowledge with the NYU Educational Theatre community. More importantly, I rarely got to work with NYU students as a “teacher” (I had been a teaching assistant in David’s Introduction to Drama Education class the year before) and I wanted to challenge myself.

The truth is, I get nervous when I’m in a so-called position of power in a predominantly white and/or Western space. “What does this chubby Asian girl think she knows?” “Who is she to be teaching?” “What is that accent?” These cruel and unworthy thoughts race through my head, making me feel sick to my stomach and so unnecessarily afraid. Experiences like this class help me work through my own internalized oppression.

The class was three hours and forty-five minutes. It was inspired by a workshop I participated in at NYU London with veteran TYA practitioners Tony Graham and Carl Miller. In that workshop, my study abroad peers and I went through texts and asked the pertinent question, “Where is the young person’s perspective and how can this manifest in the storytelling?” The session also included an activity I learned from Tim Webb of the renowned TYA company Oily Cart. Below is the session plan I designed.

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Introduction to Theatre for Young Audiences – Session Plan
You can download the PDF here.

I aimed for a balance between knowing, i.e., seeing different kinds of TYA, and doing, i.e., making small pieces of TYA. I also introduced to them Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process when we were reflecting on each other’s work.

We also discussed the societal implications of TYA, like ageism. The discussion became passionate when we talked about the “junior” version of plays. One of them described how outsiders would scoff when they hear that the musical a school would be putting up is a “junior” version. I admitted that I used to have the impression that it was the “dumbed down” version of the original. Another vehemently disagreed and pointed out how “junior” versions considered the realities schools face, such as needing to have a large cast. The “junior” stereotype served no one.

I invited a colleague of mine, Susanna Brock, who is part of Spellbound Theatre, to observe me and give feedback. Below is her evaluation.

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Susanna Brock’s Evaluation
You can download the PDF here.

I had a lovely time sharing space with David’s students and getting to know them, however briefly. (They have feelings about the length of the class.) They were welcoming and receptive; while they were all in different places skill-wise when it came to making theatre, their engagement with TYA was genuine and, if we had more than just one session, I would have liked to see how our short pieces of theatre could have evolved.

Predictably, my irrational fears about being rejected by the class was unfounded. While I would like to think I was mostly able to set my insecurities aside, I need to acknowledge that it did affect how directly I gave comments and how much I pushed. Because of how I felt about my identity—as an international doctoral student of Asian descent just handling the class once—I held my tongue when I felt some students could have explored a little bit more when they were making their pieces of theatre, i.e., a group only talked about what they would do and didn’t test it on their feet. This is something I would like to work on, even if it means rocking the boat.

I am not opposed to teaching in a university, especially on the undergraduate level because I particularly enjoy working with young people. I look forward to more opportunities like this.