The Launch of Youth Speaks’ New Model for Multidisciplinary Performance Work

by Sean San José

in MetLife/TCG A-ha! Think It Do It

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At Youth Speaks, we have just begun a new and dynamic initiative to reignite our performance program and form a new performance company. Our goal is to create a new company led by younger artists working and collaborating with all types of folks, including extensive creation and collaboration with many of the experienced and regarded Youth Speaks staff members and collaborators, mainly here in the Bay Area. This new company, Bomb Seed Stages, will be a coalition of artists from ages 18-27 who will learn all aspects of performance through our Fellowship Program and a wide array of workshops in playwriting, dance, ensemble creations, and more. Within three years we hope to have a company of 12 – all running, devising, producing, presenting and creating new works.

This work will be guided by Sean San Jose, new Artistic Director of our Performance Program and co-founder of the new performance group Campo Santo, along with Joan Osato Youth Speaks’ Producing Director and former Producing Director of Youth Speaks’ Living Word Project. We will begin by forming a Fellowship program that will bring in three younger artists through a call to our local and national networks. The three selected Fellows will become salaried staff at Youth Speaks for the next three years and will be integrated into all aspects of Youth Speaks’ education and engagement work. We will provide training and mentorship around presenting, producing, managing and marketing new works and performance pieces.  At the same time, these Fellows will lead the charge on reaching, engaging and collaborating with other excited, eager and active younger artists from all fields to join our newly forming company.  We will then immerse this growing coalition in an array of workshops led by local companies here in the Bay Area, as well as afford them incubation time to develop their own work under the direction of our Performance Program staff.

Sean San Jose3

Mehserle3

Universes workshop3

We will create an inaugural new performance piece based on the experiences and learned outcomes of this initial workshop and development stage. We will premiere this piece at the annual International Brave New Voices’ Festival, Youth Speaks’ gathering for young poets. Following this premiere, we will formalize our company and spend the next year creating our first multi-generational, full length piece titled You Better Run And Fast, inspired by the strong heroines of our social and political movements. This piece will premiere at the Brave New Voices Festival the following year and will tour thereafter.

As of today – almost the end of October – we have already completed our first series of workshops. In conjunction with the current production at Berkeley Repertory Theater of Universes’ Party People, we have spent the last month engaging more than 20 younger artists from the Youth Speaks family in writing and performance workshops led by the ensemble members of Universes. We will share the new work generated in these intensive workshops at a performance event at Berkeley Rep featuring 16 of these younger artists.

We have plans in place for future workshops with several great companies here, including Playwriting with Cutting Ball Theatre led by Mellon Fellow Playwright Andrew Saito, Global Street Dance with Soul Nubian Dance led by choreographer Rashad Pridgen, and new performance creation with Campo Santo. We have also partnered with California Shakespeare Theatre towards the creation and development of a new performance piece.

Universes workshop4

San Jose and Sapp3

Tree City Legends

It is a very exciting beginning, all on the heels of closing out our former Living Word Project model with a bang – presenting the world premiere of Chasing Mehserle by Chinaka Hodge at Intersection for the Arts and Z Space, and performing another of our Living Word / Campo Santo pieces, Tree City Legends by Dennis Kim, at the Asian American Theatre Conference and Festival in Philadelphia.


About Youth Speaks: Founded in 1996, Youth Speaks is a multi-faceted organization that understands and believes that the power, insight, creativity, and passion of young artists can change the world. Through the intersection of arts education and youth development practices, civic engagement strategies and high quality artistic presentation, Youth Speaks creates safe spaces that challenge young people to find, develop, publicly present, and apply their voices as creators of societal change.  Youth Speaks exists to shift the perception of youth by combating illiteracy, alienation, and silence, creating a global movement of brave new voices bringing the noise from the margins to the core.

Sean San José is Program Director and a founding member of Campo Santo, and the Artistic Director of Youth Speaks. He is a native of San Francisco, of mainly Filipino and Puerto Rican background. An award-winning actor, he conceived the theatre project Pieces of the Quilt, a collection of new, short plays confronting the AIDS epidemic. As a Co-Founder, he works with Alma Delfina Group-Teatro Contra el SIDA, presenting these plays in schools, libraries, clinics and community centers. Started as an homage to his parents who died of AIDS, the collection involves eighteen writers, including: Edward Albee, Lanford Wilson, David Henry Hwang, Tony Kushner and Migdalia Cruz. Part 1 was premiered at the Magic Theatre in 1996, where he performed for four seasons. He has appeared in the premieres of works by Caryl Churchill, Philip Kan Gotanda, Octavio Solis, Jose Rivera, Marlane Meyer, Nilo Cruz, Danny Hoch, Octavio Solis, Erin Cressida Wilson, Naomi Iizuka, Migdalia Cruz, among others.

Photo Descriptions: 

(1) Sean San José, Artistic Director

(2) Chasing Mehserle (credit: Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi)

(3-4) October workshops with Universes (credit: Joan Osato)

(5) Sean San José and Steven Sapp from Universes (credit: Joan Osato)

(6) Tree City Legends (credit: Joan Osato)