In an exciting new theatre project that will employ the talents of young people in Perth, Burning Passions Theatre (the parent company of the Classic Theatre Festival), will soon be holding auditions for “Listen Up, Perth!,” a play that will be devised and written by and about the challenges faced by young people in a rural setting. Working with the Festival’s Artistic Producer, Laurel Smith, youth aged 14-25 will have a chance to discuss issues ranging from age discrimination and abuse, to poverty and addictions in a safe setting, developing themes and stories that will then become a play that will be performed in Perth and a possible presentation at a national gathering of youth centres in Ottawa later this spring.
“In a climate of social silence regarding challenges and obstacles facing young people, providing a platform for honest and open discussion of critical issues that otherwise are easily ignored is a major first step in putting the issue onto the public agenda, with the chance for further discussion about solutions,” says Smith, who has plenty of experience working with young people in an artistic setting, from a series of youth troupes that toured the Greater Toronto Area as “No City Limits,” to last year’s successful “Perth through the Ages” historic theatrical walking tour, in which young Perth performers trained and performed in a summer-long production that drew many visitors who learned about town history through an entertaining, accessible play.
“Too often, the problems faced by young people are viewed as individual issues as opposed to broader social concerns affecting the majority of the age group: recognition of this broader issue will assist all of us as adults in the community to become more empathetic towards and dedicated to youth-positive policies and programs,” explains Smith, who believes post-play discussions with adult audience members will provide an important wake-up call and an opportunity for cross-generational dialogue.
The idea for the “Listen Up, Perth!” project grew out of the Classic Theatre Festival’s mentorship of young people during the summer season. “Our employment of young people during the summer and our ability to provide volunteer hours to high school students has been a gift for us,” says Smith. “To hear all summer long directly from the mouths of young people about the troubles in their hearts, their souls, their minds, the sense of hopelessness so many face, even those who would normally be considered ‘good’ students. We have taken these words to heart and see them as a challenge, a call for us to use our skills as theatre artists to create a safe space for those who are marginalized and vulnerable to come forward, to shine, and to inspire the kind of community change that will help them as well as the next generation of young people growing up in this area. Ultimately, young people are looking for ways to connect and relate, and we know that theatre is a powerful tool to allow them to do that.”
Social statistics in Perth and Lanark County do not present the shiniest of pictures for young people. Indeed, a report from 2013 found that in Lanark, Leeds and Grenville Counties, young people aged 15-19 reporting “quite a lot of stress” in their lives numbered 10% higher than the provincial average. Depression, youth unemployment, homelessness, suicidal thoughts, pressure from school and family life, coupled with a relative lack of resources and programming for young people, combine to present social health indicators that are a wake-up call. “Listen Up, Perth!” is an effort to, in one modest way, address the issues in a manner that is non-judgmental and likely to inspire change.
Youth wishing to participate in “Listen Up, Perth!” – no previous theatre experience is necessary, but rather a desire to be involved, share stories, and help craft the scenes to be presented – should send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 613-264-8088. Anyone wishing to contribute to the costs of the project will receive a charitable tax receipt, and can obtain further information by contacting the company at the above email and phone number.