Wednesday, December 1, 2010

INCEPTION: What is Young Adult Theatre (YAT)?

Planting a seed, watering it with sweat and tears, and nurturing its growth.

Our Cousin, YAF: Young Adult Fiction
Young Adult Fiction (YAF) has grown into an essential literary field. Bridging the gap between juvenile fiction and adult literature, YAF recognizes that the emotional lives of adolescents / teenagers / young adults have their own arcs, curves, obstacles, and dramas. If I chose ten fiction books that chronicle my evolution as a reader, it would look like this.

Goodnight, Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
*The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
*To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
*The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

The *starred titles feature young characters facing life-altering conflicts, a key aspect of what I consider quality Young Adult Fiction. These books helped my love of reading to evolve into a love of literature. They introduced me to stirring concepts like ambiguity, social justice, epiphany, and resilience. Cormier, Lee and Salinger validated my adolescent hopes, fears, opinions, angst, and longing in print. Books have since remained my constant companions.

YAT: Young Adult Theatre
Appallingly, dramatic literature has no formal equivalent to Young Adult Fiction. Theatre for/by adults has been around since the Ancient Greeks started playing around on a stage. Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA), or Children's Theatre, began sprouting with J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan in 1904. It has since grown into a healthy, worldwide field that boasts Equity theatres dedicated to its production, and with its own organizations, publications, and awards. Another time, I will vent about the frustrating and discouraging dominance of adaptations over original stories in the current TYA universe.

What about those who are too old for TYA/children's theatre and not quite old enough to fully appreciate theatre aimed at adult audiences? Must adolescents face a choice between Charlotte's Web on one end and Death of a Salesman on the other? Where are the theatrical equivalents of The Chocolate War, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Catcher in the Rye? (I absolutely reject stage adaptations of those novels.)

Where is the field of YAT, Young Adult Theatre?

For myself and many friends, our love of theatre began in middle and high school. Perhaps we participated in our first school play or church pageant. Maybe we saw a stunning theatrical production that made us want moremoremore. (For me, it was a touring production of Les Miserables at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle. Thanks to my sister Norma, who took me as a birthday present.) How much deeper would my connection to theatre be if I saw stories that reflected my life experiences as a teenager? Moreover, with so many young actors in middle school, high school and college, why don't we have more quality scripts for them to perform?

This blog aims to promote original plays by playwrights, past and present, that represent the best of Young Adult Theatre (YAT). In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a playwright who often writes YAT plays; I will certainly claim Blogger's Privilege by promoting my own works. I plan to shine the spotlight on deserving scripts that I know of, produced and unproduced, published and unpublished. But to begin, let's start a conversation that answers the following three questions. Feel free to answer one, two or all three in the comments section.

1. How do we define Young Adult Theatre (YAT)?
2. What are the elements of a quality YAT play?
3. Who owns YAT? Adults creating theatre for teenagers? Teenagers creating theatre for teenagers? Can it be both?