I was not familiar with the concept of a documentary play before seeing Towards Youth: A Play on Radical Hope by Project: Humanity and Crow’s Theatre. Of course we are all familiar with a documentary movie, where the idea is to film real life events to entertain, inform, and educate. It turns out that a documentary play involves actors dramatizing real life events – in this case a theatre research project wherein youth in high school classes around the world collaborate on creating a show about their own lives under the guidance of a professor of theatre.
Given that this is a play about kids making a play, the whole show is quite meta, with the action mostly comprised of behind the scenes dialog as the kids workshop their piece. The class rooms span the globe taking us to England and Greece, India and Taiwan. When put together, the piece highlights the underlying similarities of youth experience and culture, across diversity.
Written by acclaimed playwright Andrew Kushnir, the play was originally commissioned by Dr. Kathleen Gallagher’s to disseminate her research project Youth, Theatre, Radical Hope, and the Ethical Imaginary. Dr. Gallagher is a character in the play, and while watching a professor explain a study to a room full of teenagers, review human subjects research ethics, and obtain informed consent doesn’t sound like scintillating theatre, it was actually highly engaging. The questions the youth asked of her were on point and engaging and set an immediate tone of youth empowerment and agency.
The set for this production is the high school drama class room. The space was left open concept with lots of room to manoeuvre. Costumes are the casual, relaxed looks I see on kids on the streetcar on their way to Jarvis CI. While the cast members, assuming various roles, were not teenagers, they did a superb job of assuming the body language and speech mannerisms of this age group, without descending into caricature or condescension. As we visit different drama class rooms, they paint a picture of youth holding on to their hopes and dreams with all the tenacity of youthful vitality while the world around them descends into chaos.
As a Xennial, I often wonder what being a teenager in 2019 is like. I could be seeing the past through rose coloured glasses, but it strikes me that times were much simpler when I was a teen. We didn’t have cyberbullying, viral video or hashtags. I also wasn’t worried about the rise of the alt-right and white nationalism, or incel uprisings. Conservatism was not synonymous with populism, and while I had heard of global warming, climate change was not a clear and present danger. The world had its problems, but we were not worried about the end of fossil fuels and life as we know it. It was a simpler time.
We could all I’m sure have a lengthy discussion over a latte or a pint about what “Radical Hope” means. My takeaway was this: youth have the insight and the drive, to lead the way into a future where destructive populist regimes are overturned and concrete action is taken on issues of global significance, like social justice and climate change. While current events make it easy for someone of my age to feel only despair, productions like this, and interactions with young people if we are lucky enough to have them, are an antidote. Hopefully, they will drive us older folks to also do all we can.
- Towards Youth: A Play on Radical Hope played until March 16, 2019
Photo of Amaka Umeh by Aleksandar Antoniejevic