Post image for The Imperative Value of TYA

About 30 years ago, TCG seemed to be primarily focused on mainstream regional theaters that catered 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 (TYA).

I sense that few of our colleagues in adult theaters are aware of the new works TYA 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 multi-generational 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.

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.

Robyn Flatt co-founded DCT in 1984 with start-up funds of $500.  Under her artistic leadership, the theater’s creative and operational stature has grown over the past 28 years to reflect its current annual budget of more than $3 million.  Her theatrical career has brought her acclaim as a professional director, actor and lighting designer.  During her tenure as a member of the Dallas Theater Center Resident Company, she served as Assistant Artistic Director, and Director of Theater-in-the-Parks.  She holds an MA Degree from Baylor University and studied under Paul Baker, Juana Laban and Hanya Holm.  Ms. Flatt’s many acting credits include roles she created for award-winning world premieres: Dewey Dell in Journey to Jefferson and Martha Ann Sickenger in Preston Jones’ The Oldest Living Graduate.  Her directing credits at DCT include several world premiere adaptations by Linda Daugherty of Steven Kellogg’s story books; Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; The Miracle Worker; Island of the Blue Dolphins;and critically acclaimed productions such as And Then They Came For Me and To Kill A Mockingbird.  She has served on such national boards as AATE and ASSITEJ/USA and is a recipient of The 500, Inc.’s prestigious Ken Bryant Visionary Award, Dallas Historical Society’s 1999 Excellence in Community Service for Creative Arts, the 2002 Leon Rabin Standing Ovation Award, and the Excellence in Nonprofit Management Award. Ms. Flatt is a member of the College of Fellows of American Theatre and is currently Treasurer of the Children’s Theatre Foundation of America. She was nominated by The Dallas Morning News arts staff for the 2010 Texan of the Year Award, and received the Northwood University 2011 Distinguished Women’s Award.

  • Heidi Wermuth

    What a wonderful topic of discussion. In all the years I have thought about the meaningfulness of TYA, I never considered that today’s kids are tomorrow’s patrons of the arts. What a great and important thought.

  • Noa

    Aren’t today’s kids already patrons of the arts… today? Why can’t they be considered patrons and tastemakers in their own right, now, as opposed to the “patrons of the future” as often gets touted?

  • Boomer

    Yes, let’s celebrate intrinsic/imperative value of all theatre INCLUDING theatre for young audiences. And of course, engaged audiences of today stand a better chance of being engaged audiences of tomorrow. But perhaps what makes great theatre for any audience is that the story being told, the art on stage, is relevant, provocative, insightful, sophisticated, intelligent and inspirational to that audience of TODAY, and not because it has been created to market to whomever that audience will grow to become. I know it’s preaching to the choir of those engaged in TYA, and applaud your work Robyn, and I think we need to advocate that the imperative value is intentional work for this audience TODAY and the consequential value is perhaps engaged audiences of tomorrow.

  • Mark Lutwak

    Beyond the fact that young people deserve (and better utilize) quality theatre, and beyond the fact that these are the “audiences of tomorrow”, regional theatre ought to consider the fact that young people attend theatre with their families. Those regional theatres that are not programming any family appropriate work are not only losing the 6-16 audience, they’re losing their parents. That’s the true lost generation of theatre subscribers. When the weekend rolls around, they want to be able to share cultural events with their families. Hollywood gets it.