Dallas Children's Theater Blog

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The Imperative Value of Theater for Young People

This piece, written by DCT co-founder and executive artistic director Robyn Flatt, was written in conjunction with the Theatre Communications Group’s annual conference, held in Dallas this summer. It was originally posted on TCG Circle, the Theatre Communications Group’s blog. TCG is the national organization for American theatre.

Credit:  Mark OristanoAbout 30 years ago, Theatre Communications Group seemed to be primarily focused on mainstream regional theaters that catered mostly to Anglo audiences. Happily this situation has  changed a lot over the years. Bravo for TCG’s leadership in this matter.  However, I feel that there is still a disconnect among members, a lack of recognition for the high quality work being done for the broad spectrum of today’s audiences.  I can’t speak to the entire spread of exciting national theatrical activity, but would like to raise a question about the field’s perspective of professional theater for young people.

I sense that few of our colleagues in adult theaters are aware of the new works TYA(Theater for Young Audiences) theaters generate, the quality and depth of productions, or the value of the role we play in our own communities and beyond.  If live regional theater organizations are to survive as a viable form of entertainment into the future, it is imperative that TYA voices be recognized as critically-needed stepping stones to adult theater’s future audiences, performers and donors.  As Jay McAdams of 24th Street Theatre says, “TYA is one of the new horizons for literally creating new audiences.”

Our country now has a substantial number of professional TYA theaters which are playing a major role in the development of high quality productions for the multigenerational audience.  These theaters are serving large family audiences in addition to their matinees for students.  We are also commissioning new plays, developing performers, theater artists and advocating for live theater through our boards and donors.  TYA theaters are major players in the development and sustainability of the live theatrical field.  We are distinctly innovative and collaborative, not only presenting musicals and great entertainment, but also addressing subjects of profound substance with powerful artistry and employing union talent to do so.

It should be noted that in the last 30 years, TYA theaters have followed the path regional theaters faced 50 years ago.  I know because in 1962  I became a company member at one of these regional theaters, the newly formed Dallas Theater Center.  Struggles for recognition, acceptance and funding were enormous at that time. I have followed the same path, leading Dallas Children’s Theater over the past 30 years, as have my colleagues in other TYA theaters.  If we look back far enough, the arc of our development for both the adult regional theater and the professional theater for youth movements have many similarities.  America’s regional theaters are now nationally recognized as important theatrical centers. What’s the rest of the arc for professional TYA theaters?

With funding more difficult than ever and audiences dwindling in theaters nationwide, is there a new opportunity for regional adult and youth theaters to help each other in major and significant ways?  Is this possible in the current “must achieve financial success” climate?  I think it is a conversation worth having.

DCT Blog Readers:  We would love to have your participation in this conversation. Please share your ideas and examples of how to raise the awareness and valuation of TYA’s contributions to the field.

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