After completing MFA degrees in theatre for youth at Arizona State University in Tempe, Xanthia Walker and Sarah Sullivan knew they wanted to start a theater company, so they looked around and considered the community need.
“We noticed that no one was doing full-time, community-engaged theater with youth,” recalls Walker. They’d found the need — “creating original plays with youth based on their true stories.” And so Rising Youth Theatre was born.
At this point, says Walker, it’s a “pilot project.” The task at hand is “developing our model for creating work.” They expect to do residency work all over the Phoenix metro area for a good six months or so, creating a youth theater production and building the reputation they’ll need to move forward.
Once they’ve laid this foundation, says Walker, they’ll seek additional funding and partnerships. Walker notes that they’re already working with several Valley agencies serving youth — including the Boys and Girls Clubs, Flight 33 in Guadalupe and Barrio Nuevo Phoenix.
They’ve already spent more than a month working with groups of youth at seven different sites in Phoenix, Tempe, Chandler and Guadalupe. “We’re probably working now with about 1oo to 150 middle school or high school age youth,” says Walker.
“A team of resident artists work with us to facilitate story gathering with students,” explains Walker. Their current project focuses on “what it means to be an Arizonan in 2012 from the perspective of a young person.”
Walker notes that the artists use various methods to help youth capture and share their thoughts about Arizona – including improvisation, story sharing, theater games and writing exercises. They then look for universal notes, comments and stories that elucidate common threads and themes.
Playwright José Zárate, who attends each of these workshops with youth, takes notes that get translated into outline form – material that he’ll eventually craft into a play performed by Rising Youth Theatre. Walker expects to hold auditions around the end of February, then move forward with rehearsals and developing the program.
Auditions, shares Walker, will be open to both youth involved in the residency phase of the play’s development and youth from the larger community. She expects the process of developing the play together as a cast to take about six weeks.
“The play will have a full production team and professional actors performing alongside participating youth,” says Walker. Actors Ricky Araiza, recently seen in Childsplay’s “The Sun Serpent,” and Elizabeth Pollen, who performed last season in Childsplay’s “The Tomato Plant Girl,” have already signed on to the project. Both are energetic, vibrant performers.
Rising Youth Theatre recently became the resident theater company of the Phoenix Center for the Arts, which is sponsoring their first production. It’ll be performed at the center the last weekend of April in 2012.
Rising Youth Theatre is offering six theater classes for youth which start in January of 2012 and cost just $60 each. There are two for first through third graders (“A Whole New World: Imagination and Adventures” and “Choose Your Own Adventure”) and four for fourth through sixth graders (“The Actor’s Tools: Body & Voice,” “Who Do You Think You Are?,” “Clowning Around,” and “What’s The Story?”).
To learn more about Rising Youth Theatre, the “Arizonan Project” or theater clases for youth, click here.
Note: Click here to read a “Stage Mom” review of an earlier work directed by Xanthia Walker which shares the stories of youth and families living with autism. Click here for information on other classes offered at Phoenix Center for the Arts.
Coming up: Making my holiday reading list
Photo courtesy of Xanthia Walker