A Mentor’s Love Letter to The Next Generation
Photo Credit: Andrea Klohn
Last week I was in Madison with the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) for the second time as the guest critic for the journalists’ program. I absolutely adore working with the festival folks and the students who are where I was 7-10 years ago. What struck me about my students this year, which I really needed, was this profound need for deep theater. Not just theater that shocks or awes, but work that connects on a human level.
My students reiterated something my colleagues and I endlessly scream into the void: “give us more.”
More stories told by and about women, people of color, bettering the world, bettering ourselves, being honest and retelling history. What we all crave is a genuine connection with the written word transposed onto the stage. We want theater that shakes us to our very core and makes non-theater people take notice.
I can’t express how grateful that my first foray in theater in the new decade was with a group of students who made it very clear that our craft is headed in the right direction. Whether they find careers as theatermakers, journalists, dramaturgs, or something not even related to theater, I know that they will fight for the kind of theater we need to survive. They’re not falling for the same old b.s., they want a fresh perspective.
Personally, I can’t wait until these stories that matter become instinctual. I can’t wait for the day when, as theater critics, we don’t have to praise a show for taking a different storytelling route. We don’t have to boast “a diverse cast” or a strong female voice or being the first “xyz” on stage. I can’t wait until our theater scene is diverse enough that what makes pieces standout isn’t their focus on EDI initiatives, but the work itself. When theater finally represents the multitude of faces that make up our world rather than the sea of old, white faces that make up so many of the present-day audience.
I know that theater will get there sooner rather than later.
Why? Because of students like mine. A brilliant group of likeminded folks who are wise beyond their years, my students last week (as the ones I met last year, many of whom were back again for a second year) reinvigorated my passion for change. They’re hungry for new stories, retold stories and powerful stories that change us. With artists like them at the helm or in the audiences of tomorrow, I know we’ll get those stories. So long as people are championing the work of tomorrow or the reworking of the pieces of yesterday, I know that theater has some beautiful days ahead.
And I am so grateful I get to witness them.