Teenage Graceland Presents ADMISSIONS This Weekend
Toronto director, actor, producer, playwright and arts educator Tanisha Taitt has announced the debut presentation by the new community theatre youth collective, Teenage Graceland. Its first piece audiences will be Admissions, about a tutoring session that unravels unexpectedly and leaves a friendship potentially irreparable. Written by Taitt, who will also direct, Admissions will run for five performances from today, April 24th to 27th, 2014, at Artscape Youngplace.
An activist as well as an artist, Taitt says that the creation of Teenage Graceland was an "epiphanic moment" fusing two passions - youth and ending gender-based violence - inspired by an 8-year relationship with V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women and girls which she has helmed in Toronto since late 2006. "Part of my mission is to create a theatrical sanctuary for youth, with a philosophy of egalitarianism and empathy between young men and young women. We live in a society that teaches boys to quash their feelings and teaches girls that they feel too much." Taitt continues, "Where there is suppressed emotion, there is fear of vulnerability and where there is no vulnerability, there can be no connection. I want every boy to look at a girl and see her humanity. But even more so, I want every boy to look at a girl and see his own. Because I say this with absolute certainty: If you can look into someone's eyes and connect to the humanity there, it becomes impossible to rape or beat that person."
In Admissions, Trish, a Grade 12 student, is tutored for a university program entrance exam by her friend Carly. Trish notices something under Carly's sleeve, leading to a disturbing revelation. The response one would expect, however, is derailed by a devastating complication. Taitt says that she is compelled to create works that rattle society's moral conscience. "I want to change and challenge the youth and audiences. Entertainment is great, but resonance is everything and they needn't be mutually exclusive. I'm drawn to subjects that are hard to broach. And I care about reflecting our cultural diversity. It is our greatest strength; it is what I intend to put on our stages."
Taitt has six years of experience directing and facilitating youth arts including projects with Young People's Theatre, Nightwood Theatre, Acting UpStage Company, Children's Peace Theatre, SummerWorks, Toronto Youth Theatre, Boys & Girls Club of Canada, National Arts Centre and Bereaved Families of Ontario. She says that one of the things that excites her most about Teenage Graceland is the freedom to choose the stories she wants to tell, even if the casts are small. "In a lot of youth companies the goal is always big casts and while I understand why, it severely limits your repertoire. There are ways of involving youth in a process that isn't always about them being on stage. I love working with large ensembles and will do that, but there is also something very special about a small group and the openness that that allows. Teenage Graceland will do shows with 10 or 15 kids, but we'll also do a two-hander if there is a show that I feel is important, poignant and in keeping with our mission. Admissions has a cast of three."
In addition to running Teenage Graceland, Taitt will continue to work as a freelance director, performer and educator. "That part of my career isn't going anywhere, nor would I want it to. Working with adults in professional theatre feeds me in a different way. It's the best of both worlds to immerse myself in working with young people, who are amazing, and then to take what that I get from that back to the other realm. The opposite is equally true."
Following Admissions, Taitt is looking ahead to Teenage Graceland 's 2014/15 season: William Mastrosimone's chilling 1999 play Bang Bang You're Dead, the story of a high school shooter confronted by the ghosts of his victims, and 1970's Obie award-winning Best Musical and multiple Tony-nominated The Me Nobody Knows, one of the earliest rock musicals and the first Broadway hit to give voice to the complex true stories of ghettoized youth. "I tell the youth I work with to trust their gut and take chances. I have no business saying one word of that to them if my own choices as Artistic Producer don't mirror it." She continues, "To create theatre is to surrender to courage and intuition. The idea for this collective haunted my dreams. Being an artist is about heeding the hauntings."