Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bill Irwin: On Protecting and Cultivating Young Minds (part 2 of 3)

New 42 Board Member and Tony Award winner Bill Irwin speaks on the art of listening and our responsibility to young audiences at a meeting of the New Vic Council. Members of the New Vic Council are ambassadors for The New Victory Theater, working to broaden the public’s awareness of the importance of arts education and championing the New Victory Theater Education Program and the New Vic/New 42 Youth Corps.

On Protecting and Cultivating Young Minds (part 2 of 3)

So there I am at Dan Zanes’ show at The New Victory and the kids are dancing in the aisles, and many thoughts in my mind. This audience at The New Victory Theater will evolve. They will grow. They don’t need to be led by the nose – and they wouldn’t go for it if you tried – but they will need to be offered guidance, shown possibilities, because eventually there are offerings like Toni Morrison’s piece The Bluest Eye for them to see (done as part of The New Victory series at The Duke on 42nd Street). The Bluest Eye is a strong piece -- it asks a lot of audiences, of any age. How do we intimate to these kids a path -- from the exhilaration of dancing in the aisle to a place where–at this theater and elsewhere in life–they will hear the stories of loss, of implacable hatred, of unresolve-able differences, stories which the theatre also has to offer? How to hear those stories, tell those stories, and still be able to dance in the aisles?

I make some of my living in the university scene, doing master classes in acting and theater. The professors in these programs are charged with the most complicated responsibility of teaching these kids–all of whom have come to them out of the exhilaration of being in the theater in high school. You ask an incoming freshman why he or she wants to be in the theater, “Because I dunno…it’s just all that feeling…and then there’s the closing night party…” You remember that youth -- it’s poignant -- and you realize there’s a needle here to thread…to say ‘KEEP that exhilaration – keep it -- AND embark now on a kind of work in which, as you’ll eventually see, your job is–to a very great extent–to tell the story of human loss.’

I talked to a woman who teaches basic acting and theater movement -- she’s also a resident at a dorm, a resident advisor at the dorm–which means she has to stand by when kids are struggling with being away from home the first time – contradictory job, sometimes, I thought – investigating loss on one hand and comforting and shielding from loss on the other. And with audiences, a similar double responsibility: How do you bring kids into the world of theater – dancing in the aisles -- and also gradually take them through to the story of loss? -- So that when they stop coming to The New Victory (should they ever stop) they graduate out into the world as audiences who are savvy and seasoned and ready to see a ‘mirror held up to nature.’

I think one great and essential service we owe the young is to say: “Listening… it’s everything – it’s the most important part of the acting profession, it’s the most important part of being part of an audience, of being a citizen….. listening.” And to say it whether they want to hear it or not. And then of course to try to practice what we preach…….

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