Joe Szekeres, Chief Toronto Critic
As a retired Ontario school teacher, Andrew Kushnir’s ‘Towards Youth’ opening night production at Crow’s Nest successfully accomplished two key components of good drama and good theatre that I tried to share with my former students. Drama and theatre must educate as well as entertain. I would have loved to have participated in a talk back session with the cast and/or crew after for a debrief. I hope there might be an opportunity for future audiences to do so as there is good stuff going on here.
This was my first visit to the Guloien Theatre at Crow’s Nest, and I was quite impressed with the rectangular stage and a runway platform which brought some of the characters into the audience which helped to connect me to the story action out front. Ken MacKenzie’s set design was reminiscent of the type of drama classroom in which I had taught. Costume racks on far stages right and left with chairs and various audio-visual gadgets which were effectively used throughout the performance.
When a theatre cast functions as a true ensemble of players, I’m at the edge of my seat and watching their every move in their characterizations. I’m hesitant to pinpoint any of them out as each drew me with fascination into his and her unique understanding of their world and their environment. Co-directors Andrew Kushnir and Chris Abraham are to be commended for working with the nine-member cast in creating for me genuine and realistic young people. What was highly effective was watching the entire company break the fourth wall at the top of the show in speaking to the audience, and then admiring the fluidly seamless and believable transitions of each performer in his and her characterizations from street smart Toronto youth to other young people from around the world.
I had no knowledge About Project: Humanity and was happy to see its mandate in the programme. For them, ‘theatre exists to challenge us, to nurture empathy and understanding between disconnected groups, to bring us together and to activate our humanity.’ This sounds like a line out of an Ontario Ministry of Education Curriculum Document, but it was an important one to set the scene for me. As a retired Ontario teacher who taught Dramatic Arts in the secondary school for a couple of years (and who used Drama techniques in the English classroom), this play brought me back to that time in my work with young people.
What I found most realistic was the fact that playwright Andrew Kushnir and Dr. Kathleen Gallagher’s research project did not couch the fact that teaching drama and using its’ techniques in the classroom can be a messy and noisy process. To be honest (and from personal experience), using this technique can certainly get on a teacher’s nerves as was so bravely shown in the first scene in its raw and gritty dialogue where the one student wishes not to get involved in the dramatic presentation to the entire school.
And then the audience got the chance to fly around the world and enter foreign classrooms. Amelia Scott’s visual and Deanna Choi’s sound designs definitely led me from one part of the globe to another, and I bought the fact that I entered another world. I wondered if dialects would have been adopted by the actors or if something else would have been used instead. What a delight to hear seven of the performers adopt realistic accents to my ear (thanks, I’m sure, to the work of Eric Armstrong as Dialect Designer).
Final comments: My initial reaction to ‘Towards Youth’ is the play becomes a vehicle for finding the young person’s voice in all this twenty first century mess, whether it is in a classroom, a theatre art setting, or any other locale. Mr. Kushnir goes one step further when he writes the play “gives further audience to these [young people’s] to their already formidable voices.” How true he is on this account.
I would also hope that this play is perhaps seen by as many students as possible. At one point, the question arises of how can we (meaning teachers and those interested in the future of our youth) make experiences worthwhile and neither destroy the moment nor the student. To see this play would be a good starting point for either teacher or student.
‘Towards Youth: a play on radical hope’ continues to March 16, 2019 at the Guloien Theatre at Crow’s Nest, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto. For tickets contact the Box Office at (647) 341-7390 or visit www.crowstheatre.com.
Running Time: approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission
Co-Directors: Andrew Kushnir & Chris Abraham, Sound Designer & Music Composer: Deanna H. Choi, Video Desigh/Tech: Amelia Scott, Dialect Designer: Eric Armstrong, Stage Manager: Sarah Miller.
Picture courtesy of Crow’s Theatre Facebook site.