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DSA’s Teen Cohort Pursues Authenticity

In our last blog post, Downstage Arts revealed what the Teen Cohort has been up to, now that college auditions are finished. Our Teen Cohort Showcase planning is well underway, and I am here to share that watching our students work on solo pieces of their own choosing has been sheer joy for us (the teachers)! We wanted to give this opportunity because we know the benefits of feeling ownership over one’s art. First, our students have the responsibility to tell their stories. Second, they have the power to choose what stories they wish to share.

Hitting the right notes, paying attention to how we sound, saying the lines correctly, following stage directions, and other technical aspects of performance can be valuable guides, which can influence our performances more than the stories. Other times, the common desire to be as amazing as the original Broadway artist can pull our performances into places that feel less authentic. We don’t blame students for having these goals. After all, our theatre industry has told us numerous times that a specific look and sound matters.

Until recently, the message from the powers that be has been clear: Don’t be yourself, unless you fit into the tiny box that’s been built specifically for your character. As a consequence, our artists needlessly question themselves, and our industry denies them the kind of support that should inspire actors, dancers, and musicians to explore and perform their own choices. Moreover, the need for authenticity (before any other factor) is one of the main reasons why our stages continue to be dominated by white, heteronormative bodies.

The white supremacy and the heterosexist beliefs in the theater community has been hobbling our craft, because we are limiting the range of our imaginations. It is a thrill when BIMPOC and LGBTQIA+ actors are cast in roles that are traditionally filled by white, straight actors, yet this imperative step toward social progress and a better future isn’t enough. Yes, we should celebrate when barriers are broken down, and when the imaginations of the creative teams are not limited to one type of look and sound. At the same time, we must continue to support and speak up for one another, so that our stages reflect our multifaceted, kaleidoscopic, and multicultural world.

Because each student's unique voice is vital to the integrity of our craft, we ask our students the following imperative introductory questions:

  • Why does this story need to be told?

  • Why have you chosen to be the storyteller?

  • How will you bring your authentic self into the work?

After establishing their motivations, we work with our students to discover how they will use their unique perspectives and skill sets to develop the truth and power of each story.

We see the light flicker in our students' eyes, we see the passion for their stories, and we continue to challenge them by asking more questions that will push the story to the forefront.

Thank you for following along with us, Downstagers! Even if you aren’t a performer, we hope you know that your authentic self is a gift to us all. You are you, and that is your artistry.

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