- OnStage Washington Columnist
For young theatre artists, it’s common to feel as if one lacks control. Are you forever fated to flit from audition to audition, hoping someone else sees something in you? Must your life be controlled by seasons picked by Boards of which you are not a part? Is there no way to address the theatrical issues you alone seem bothered by in your community?
Fortunately, there is hope for young artists having a more direct voice in their community, and Clear Space Youth Repertory is here to prove that. Located in the small town of Lynden, WA, Clear Space is the first ever youth led theatre in the town. Their first project is a festival featuring short plays written by both local and national playwrights. Auditions for the festival take place May 17th and 18th at 7:00pm and the performances themselves run June 23rd-25th at 7:00pm. Both events occur at Lynden’s Claire VG Thomas Theatre.
I discussed Clear Space and the challenge of starting a new theatre company over coffee with Clear Space artistic director Mijo Buiskool-Price, a theatre student at Western Washington University. Clear Space has been remarkably fortunate in terms of the support they have had thus far. The idea began when Mijo and technical director Spenser Stumpf were talking backstage about how Lynden needed more theatre for young people. As Mijo put it, there was a “need in the community theatre world because we are retiring a lot of artists and there are not a lot of artists rising up to take their place in leadership.” After voicing this concern, the Lynden Performing Arts Guild agreed to sponsor the creation of Clear Space. It is a wonderful situation in which Clear Space is receiving monetary support and a rent-free theatre space while also retaining creative control. Mijo would like to extend great thanks to the Guild for their incredible support.
The goal of Clear Space is to encourage creative expression for young theatre artists and “develop Lynden and surrounding areas into a destination for theatre.” Mijo noticed aspects of theatre in her community she thought could be improved upon, such as tendency to “focus mostly on entertainment value instead of…wow, theatre can be used to evoke so many different feelings and ideas.” As someone who began theatre at the high school level, she also noticed athleticism being glorified while artistic kids often felt left out. Instead of prioritizing one over the other, Mijo would like to “foster this community where athleticism and the arts can be seen as equal in accomplishing in the end the same goal of being together in a community.” In short, Mijo and the other founders of Clear Space identified the problems with their theatrical community and made the bold decision to go do something about those issues.
When I asked Mijo about advice for other young artists looking to expand their opportunities, she said, “Networking is literally the most important thing.” If it weren’t for Mijo and Spenser’s involvement with the Lynden Performing Arts Guild, they would never have been offered this amazing opportunity. The connections you form with other artists are absolutely crucial to your success. Time management and professionalism are also key, particularly when you are young. The six weeks between Clear Space’s auditions and lights up on their first show are already meticulously planned out. This is an organized, intelligent group who not only know what needs to get done but how to accomplish it in an efficient fashion.
Part of crafting a professional persona is bringing the right attitude to the table. Mijo says she likes to work with “people who realize that theatre is a gift instead of people who would use it for their own self gain. We want people who are interested in doing theatre for the sake of theatre rather than for the sake of puffing themselves up.” Community theatre truly is a labor of love, and egos should be checked at the door. Mijo added that she and Spenser are the first to admit they aren’t all-knowing, and they approach Clear Space as a “growing process.” No one can run a theatre company singlehandedly, and it is important to learn how to “delegate and trust other people.”
While Mijo originally wanted to be an actor, she soon realized directing is her real passion. In the future, she hopes to teach drama at the high school level. With that in mind, we discussed her goals as a director and future teacher. Her experience with high school drama was “mixed” and she wants to offer future generations of students an alternative experience by “taking the time to teach my students and making sure their voices are heard.” It is important to her as an artist that theatre remains a collaborative art and no one is silenced. As Mijo aptly put it, “You cannot hold onto your vision with such a clenched fist because you have to make sure it has room to live and to breathe and to grow, and that is forever important for actors and technicians.”
We also talked about some big picture issues regarding the theatrical world at large. Mijo expressed the idea that “there are some voices that are overused” (think Disney) while other voices, such as the LGBTQ community and female playwrights, don’t get enough opportunities to be heard. Mijo said, “We can’t ignore the things in our nation and in our world that are going wrong, and theatre has the power to address that.” Theatre truly is a powerful tool and, if wielded properly, has the potential to create more unity in a world sharply divided.
The biggest challenge Clear Space is facing is “assuring people we are legitimate.” Clear Space may not be a professional company on Broadway and its members may be young, but their passion and commitment to the craft make this theatre every bit as deserving. Mijo described Clear Space’s importance by saying, “it’s an artistic project that will benefit the community because culture makes things beautiful.” If you are in the Lynden area, I strongly encourage you to support these hard working artists by attending auditions, workshops, or their festival.
But whoever you are, wherever you are, Clear Space serves as an inspiration to young artists everywhere who sometimes feel helpless. It may not be easy or guaranteed, but it is possible to take direct action to change your local theatre environment. Mijo concluded her interview with what could very well be a rousing battle cry for theatre artists everywhere: “See theatre!”