Children’s, youth, and student theatres exist all over the country, however, none are entirely run by any of the above, under the college age, other than the Metropolitan Youth Theatre in Washington DC.
More often than not adults dictate student theatres or at least curate them. Theatre education for kids (students generally between the ages 13-18 in this particular situation) creates opportunities for the study of history, culture, diversity, and the human experience as a whole. More importantly, MYT provides a more targeted vocational experience rarely ever provided or even facilitated by communities. This sets them apart from other theatre companies around the country.
Each learning opportunity and each performance is a unique experience created both by the performer and the personal experience of each audience member. Taking part in theatre either in a classroom setting or an elaborate production as a performer, audience member, director, designer, writer, technician, etc. is fundamental in experiencing the process. However, certain positions rarely are experienced prior to actually getting that career post high school; such as director and producer. James Woods, the Musical Director of MYT, puts it best: “Very rarely do we get the chance to actually put up a production of our own and run it at the same time. We’re usually performers, or we’re maybe stage managers, at best.”
Through theatre, the youth of today have the opportunity to influence the world. Theatre education develops skills vital for the challenges that youth will face both professionally and intellectually, more so when they get to experience the professional hardships that come with a theatrical career. Sam Cornbrooks, the producer of MYT, said, “Getting that experience is just preparing us for going into our careers. Getting that experience now is something that not a lot of people get.” He also said that, “to go through the process ourselves is just fantastic. It’s challenging, but it’s very rewarding,” which exhibits the dedication of those involved in Metropolitan Youth Theatre.
In January of 2015, MYT put on The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. The assumption being that all these teens mobilized and created a company is incorrect as the idea came from novel beginnings. As Kyra Smith, a performer who played Cathy Hyatt in The Last Five Years put it: “Originally it was just an idea I had in my basement.” But eventually this group of teens realized that they needed to create an official theatre company in order to put on a show and to do the financial work.
Their production of The Last Five Years gave new life to a contemporary musical meant to be led by performers in their twenties as 16 year-old Ben Cherington and 17 year-old Kyra Smith played Jamie Wellerstein and Cathy Hyatt, respectively. As Chad Vann, the Artistic Director of MYT, said, “I think being young gives us a new perspective. We give a teen perspective to the shows that we do, which students normally wouldn’t get the chance to perform.” These chances also set this theatre company apart from others.
Metropolitan Youth Theatre continued to put on culturally relevant and significant productions this past season by producing the Broadway classic Rent in July.
When asked why they were interested in producing Rent Chad Vann answered: “I feel that there aren’t many relevant productions of Rent, especially nowadays. Since we’ve lost that connection with the AIDS epidemic and homelessness…we don’t connect to that passion for the issues, and I wanted to direct a student production of the show that actually did that.”
James Woods said: “The show is about artists. There are so many questions in the show that teens ask themselves every day.” He also addressed that Rent was meant for adults, but could just as well be portrayed by teens.
The main point of the Metropolitan Youth Theatre is to be created by and for teens; therefore, when asked about this Sam Cornbrooks said that they strive to find teens to pass down this company to that will bring something new to it. Producer, Sam Cornbrooks, added: “It’s been an amazing year for us and we cannot wait to continue bringing relevant and meaningful theatre to today’s youth and continue to show the world what young artists are capable of.”
Everyone can look forward to the future of the Metropolitan Youth Theatre and their next season which includes such titles as Songs for a New World, Night Mother, Red, and Assassins.
MYT’s productions of The Last Five Years and Rent ran sold-out runs this past season.
Yves Nguyen is currently a senior at Arbor View High School, Junior Editor of Fashion Feed Magazine, and freelance writer. Twitter-er. Mild instagrammer. Twitter: @yingiblingbling Instagram: @yingiblingbling
Review of The Last Five Years on DCMetroTheaterArts by Lee Levine.
Review of Rent on DCMetroTheaterArts by Yvonne French.
Interviews with the cast of Rent on DCMetroTheaterArts.
Interviews with the cast of The Last Five Years on DCMetroTheaterArts.