Inspiring Generations to Explore the Wonder of Their World

by Hannah Grannemann

in Diversity & Inclusion,Theatre for Young Audiences

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(This post is a part of the Diversity & Inclusion blog salon led by Online Curator Jacqueline E. Lawton. Check out further Diversity & Inclusion interviews on Jacqueline’s blog. If you are interested in participating in this or any other Circle blog salon, email Gus Schulenburg.)

JACQUELINE LAWTON: First, tell me about the work you do as a theatre artist or administrator.

HANNAH GRANNEMANN: I am the Executive Director of Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, which produces, tours, and presents theater for young people and families, as well as houses a large education department that offers classes, community programs, and teacher training.

JL: How do you identify in terms of race, culture, and gender? How has this identity impacted your ability to work in the American Theatre? Have certain opportunities been made available to you owing to “who” you are? Have certain doors been closed to you?

HG: I identify as a white, American female. I recognize my race is a source of privilege in the American theatre. Being female has at times provided opportunities, and at other times I’ve experienced sexism. I don’t feel that certain doors are closed to me but, as a woman, gaining entry to some doors is harder or takes longer.

JL: What inspired you to work in the Theatre for Young Audiences field? What impact do you hope to have?

HG: I am new to the theatre for young audiences field, having just started at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte in July. I think of TYA as theater for young people, families and educators, as the adults have great influence over the impact that the work has on the children. After working in the “theater for adults” field for 15 years, I was intrigued by the challenge and responsibility that comes with serving these groups. The stakes feel higher to me than for “mainstream” theater. A contributing factor to my perception of higher stakes is the fact that the children we are serving are ethnically and culturally diverse as individuals and as a group. We have a responsibility to meet the needs of all children we serve, and serve children from all the communities within our reach. The mission of Children’s Theatre of Charlotte includes the phrase “inspiring generations to explore the wonder of their world”. There is no more important impact that I can hope to have in this field than to support and create theater that inspires exploration. Embedded in the idea of the “wonder of their world” is understanding of, respect for, and friendship with people of different cultural backgrounds. I strive to ensure that impact reaches each and every one of the children and adults we serve.

JL: Do we need more organizations dedicated to fostering new plays for Theatre for Young Audience? What is gained by focusing our attention, talent, and resources to this community?

HG: Fostering new plays for TYA audiences is essential. The standards for these plays and musicals needs to be high and they need to be written with diverse and multi generational audiences in mind, as the adults in the children’s lives contribute to shaping the impact of the work. They must be relevant, playful, and complex in their ideas and artistry. Our theater is in a building called ImaginOn, shared with the children’s branch of Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, with whom we are partners. For that reason and others, many of the plays we do are adaptations of both classic and contemporary children’s literature. I have been watching with interest the calls in the literary world to publish more children’s literature featuring diverse characters and from non-white authors. I am too new to the TYA world to know if that call should be extended to our area of the American theater. I know I am interested in producing diverse work at our theater, and we have a role to play in creating new work for our own productions and for the TYA canon, such as The Magic Kite, a play we are commissioning with the support of the Arts & Science Council from José Cruz González based on paintings by Rosalia Torres-Weiner, on a family’s experience with deportation.

JL: I’ve seen a number of YTA plays successfully address Bullying and Bad Behavior, Class and Economic Issues, Living with Disabilities, Diversity and Inclusion, Family Structures, Life Cycles (birth of a new sibling and death of a loved one) and Injustice and Violence. Why is it important that we introduce these topics to our young people?

HG: The power of theater is that it can help a person see through an “issue” to the human impact. Seeing theater helps a person to push past judgment of others to understanding of others, even while he or she is having strong feelings. It is important that we introduce social topics to young people and their families through theater because theater artists make possible insights that lead to understanding in a way that is singularly impactful. Understanding is the first step to action on a personal, local, or global level. For example, we tour a production of a play called Liars by Dennis Foon to schools for an 8th grade audience. Liars shows the repercussions and intergenerational impact of alcoholism and substance abuse across socioeconomic status.

JL: What can TYA Theatres do to better serve a larger and more inclusive community?

HG: I can’t yet comment on TYA theaters in general, as I’m new to this area of the field, so I’ll comment more broadly. When there is a community that is not being reached, we must start with two questions – is our work relevant and compelling to that community, and are we welcoming to that community? If the answers were yes and yes, they would already be coming. Therefore, we must investigate. Do we know what relevant and compelling theater is for that community? Let’s go find out.  How are we perceived in that community? Let’s ask. Then, let’s go to work – together.

Hannah Grannemann joined Children’s Theatre of Charlotte as Executive Director in July 2014.  Prior to joining CTC, she was Managing Director at PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill, NC, Associate Managing Director of Yale Repertory Theatre, Associate Producer for the Guthrie Theater’s 2006 Opening Events, Managing Director of ACTIVE EYE, Associate Consultant at C.W. Shaver & Company, and has worked with New York Stage & Film, Snug Harbor Productions, and Elissa Myers Casting. She holds an MFA in Theater Management from Yale School of Drama and an MBA from Yale School of Management.

Jacqueline Lawton_headshotJacqueline E. Lawton received her MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener fellow. Her plays include Anna K; Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet Water; The Hampton Years; Ira Aldridge: Love Brothers Serenade, Mad Breed and Our Man Beverly Snow. She has received commissions from Active Cultures Theater, Discovery Theater, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History, Round House Theatre and Theater J. A 2012 TCG Young Leaders of Color, she has been nominated for the Wendy Wasserstein Prize and a PONY Fellowship from the Lark New Play Development Center. She resides in Washington DC and is a member of Arena Stage’s Playwrights’ Arena.