Next Generation Voices
Ahhhhhh, to be a teenager again. Living at your parents' home without a bill to pay in the world. Maybe working a weekend job to earn some extra spending money. Those were the days...
But thanks to the City of Austin and The Paramount Theatre, twenty-five Austin area teens have been hard at work with their 20-hour per week, minimum wage positions they secured through the city's workplace learning program.
Working at the Paramount is unique from other jobsites throughout the city, however, because these students have been learning the hands-on action that goes into creating a brand new piece of theatre. This includes writing, producing, songwriting, acting and movement lessons, with the help of the Paramount's team of teaching artists.
Over the past five weeks, the 2012 Paramount Youth Theatre Company has toiled together at the theatre on an ethnographic "devising" project that has allowed them to create a cohesive play based — like Studs Terkel's 1974 sociological exploration — on the real-life stories of hardworking Americans and their experiences with earning a living.
"We were inspired by an article we found with the headline that read 'Austin's success rests on its workers,'" says one of the PYTC's three direcotrs, Jennifer Luck, "We took that phrase and have integrated it into the performance. What does it mean that we are Austin, and we are its workers?"
The theme is especially interesting considering that, for many of the PYTC's members, this is the very first official work experience they've ever had. This summer intensive has therefore taught them about the virtues of working while offering an eye-opening look at the myriad of ways that capitalism profoundly affects the American spirit and way of life.
The first step in the devising process began with an ethnographic interview of their story subjects. With stories ranging from a teenage workaholic, a pissed-off barista, a female engineer at NASA and an immigrant to the country, the chorus of voices presented by the PYTC reminds us that, while we all have our own individual burdens to bear, our universal goals are ultimately the same.
In the context of the current economic recession, the topic gains a special poignancy and is sure to read differently than it would have, say, two years ago. Overall, there is a common thread in the stories and songs of new choices, career changes, and that ever-elusive dream jobs.
But that's not at all to say that this show is a downer. With well-crafted songs, hysterical anecdotes and clever choreography, the PYTC production is guaranteed to knock your socks off with hope and youthful energy.
"These students, who come from all walks of life, all have something important to share in the story," says Luck. "They are all at the beginnings of their own careers, of their work histories. And now they're working together to share the human story of the job crisis and about our identities as workers."
After Saturday's performance, the PYTC will take their show on the road to private performances Front Steps program at ARCH and Settlement Home for Children in order to spread some goodwill and continue this vital conversation.
Y'all better work.
The Paramount Youth Theatre Company performs this Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Paramount Theatre. Tickets are available online.