The Importance of Intimate, Optional Theatre for Teens
By Bronwyn Carradine, Education & Outreach Coordinator, Green Thumb Theatre
We recently opened Cranked by Michael P Northey, a multi-award winning one-man hip-hop play first produced in 2004 in the wake of the meth epidemic. For the past two years we’ve been talking about bringing it back as we find ourselves in the middle of another deathly opioid epidemic with fentanyl killing thousands of people in Canada.
As part of a new initiative this season, we’ve begun hosting subsidized after-school performances of Cranked in high schools around Vancouver. The intention of these shows is to create a more specific and intimate setting, allowing audiences to partake in more in-depth conversations, without the pressure of trying to ‘get it right’ in a classroom setting. And most importantly, and perhaps risky, students only show up if they’re interested.
As always with openings, I find myself wading through a sea of teenagers to get to the drama room, only this time I’m hit with the sound of loud hip-hop. DJ Elizabeth Wellwood has her headphones on, curly blue hair piled atop her head. “Woah” the young girl beside me whispers to a friend. Students file in slowly, sitting, talking, nodding their heads to the newest Billie Eilish, Drake, and Ariana Grande tracks, all mixed live on the spot.
I sit nervously in the back row. Teens are the most transparent of all audiences – if they don’t like your show, if they don’t think you’re real, they’ll let you know very quickly. And when you’re putting on a show about hip-hop, you best be real.
The lights go down. As Chirag Naik, who plays Stan, begins the crowd goes dead silent. Pin drop silence. Which is the best reaction you can get when dealing with teenagers, especially those who have chosen to stay after school on a sunny spring day. I sit in the back, and watch not the show, but the students. I see an intimate audience of 30 teenagers sit completely silent, all of us watching Stan struggle, fail, and fall into a harrowing drug addiction. I also watch as all 30 of them stand (yes, stand!) and cheer for him as he raps a song he penned in recovery about his ascent into sobriety. As far as I can see no one’s standing to try to be cool, no one’s clapping along to impress anyone; in that moment we’re all simply willing theatre goers, moved to our feet in a small dark room by the same story.