It’s very important to reflect their role as young people in our community back to them, so they can consider and reflect. At Roseneath, we see young people as little adults, not kids. They have just as complex an emotional life as any full grown adult, so why treat them any differently?

Roseneath Theatre’s Artistic Director Andrew Lamb. Photo by Cylla von Tiedermann.

The realities of young people today are becoming more and more complex. They are faced with challenges that are difficult to discuss and are often left with more questions than answers. Roseneath Theatre’s latest production of Hannah Moscovitch’s “In This World” directed by Andrew Lamb tackles the issue of how to handle unwanted sexual attention.

In this Q&A, Andrew shares with us his thoughts on the role that theatre can play in guiding our young people, and the unique experience of working in both the world of education and performing arts.

Andrew, tell us about yourself. How did you come to cultivate your two interests in education and drama?

When I was a teenager I took weekend classes in the drama school at Young People’s Theatre and then went onto Concordia University where I did my undergraduate degree in Drama In Education. I then landed an internship in the education department at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, England where I also trained as a director.

Tell us about Roseneath Theatre. What was the impetus that led to its creation? In what way is it unique?

Roseneath was founded by David S. Craig and Robert Morgan in 1983. It was their desire to develop plays together to then tour and perform in schools. Roseneath is the only professional theatre company that has toured to every school district in the province of Ontario and we perform to appropriately 100,000 students a year.

There is an impression that plays for young people are “colourful” and “hi-boys-and-girls” kind of productions—like some children’s television programming. For me, this approach doesn’t respect the young person in the way that we aught to. It’s very important to reflect their role as young people in our community back to them, so they can consider and reflect.

At Roseneath, we see young people as little adults, not kids. They have just as complex an emotional life as any full grown adult, so why treat them any differently? Theatre is a way to get them to talk about issues they face openly. We do extensive Q&As after the show, highlight community resources that they have access to, and we leave study guides for teachers so they are prepared to handle the conversations that come up.

Cast of “In This World”: Meilie Ng as Bijou, Oyin Oladejo as Neyssa. Photo by Mark L. Seow

Can you tell us more about upcoming production of “In This World”? Why did you decide to program this work?

Having spent five seasons as the Director of Education at Tarragon Theatre I had gotten to know Hannah Moscovitch and become a fan of her work, as she is a playwright-in-residence there. When I learned she had written a play for teen audiences I knew I had to check it out and I was instantly draw into the heightened conversation between the characters, Bijou and Neyssa. The play addresses the issue of date rape in a very real way that doesn’t speak down to it’s audience, which for me is exactly the spirit of Roseneath and the kind of work we’re known for.

She was in our rehearsals and shared with us how the interviews she conducted with teenage girls in Montreal that influenced the dialogue in the play. She paid special attention to the girls’ speech patterns which is emulated in the dialogue. She noticed that there was one girl at each school she went to that everyone deferred control to. Moscovitch referred to them as the “alpha girl”. After her interviews, she wondered what would happen if the two alpha girls found themselves in the same room, and that idea set the stage for “In This World”.

What is the most rewarding thing about working in both theatre and education?

It’s when the penny drops for that young person. A study was done on our “Danny: King of the Basement” production. It’s about a hero who lives with his single mom, and the story’s about poverty. A study showed that after seeing this play, kids were more likely to self-identify as poor, or as from a low-income family. The play portrays Danny as a hero, for example, because he uses his imagination more because he can’t have a video console or a computer. Poverty is not something to be ashamed of and the play offers a positive and alternative perspective to how young people see themselves.

“In This World” is about wanted and unwanted sexual attention between teenagers. Our world is highly sexualized, and young people are inundated with sexual messages. We all have a fear of intimacy; we’d rather type on our mobile devices than have conversations with each other. Pornographic images remove the element of love.

Our sexual education curriculum hasn’t been updated for over a decade, and we need to be able to address these dramatic changes and current issues such as sexting within our schools. Our work is a spring board or catalyst for these discussions. I feel very strongly that young women in particular need to have these conversations before they go off to college or university. If you’re on your own, and you haven’t discussed how to deal with unwanted attention, you are unprepared.

Cast of “Dib and Dob and the Journey Home”: Colin Doyle and Andy Trithardt. Photo by Mark Seow.

What do you see as the main challenges for the performing arts community in general, and theatre in particular?

This is a big question. The simplest answer would be funding. In conversations that I’ve had with my colleagues from all across the country our biggest challenge is being able to fund a thriving theatre community. Many cities in North America and Europe have a much higher level of financial support per capita, and the City of Toronto with its recent multi-year increase to the Toronto Arts Council is a big step in the right direction, but we do have some catching up to be at the level of San Francisco, Chicago or London.

I’ve heard people in our industry say that in Europe, you spent 80% of the time doing it, and 20% justifying it. In North America it’s the opposite. It’s frustrating so a shift is needed in order to have more balance. I’d love to get to the point where it’s obvious that support for the arts means benefits for the whole community. The arts has a symbiotic relationship with the city, and there is lots of room for growth.

Can you give us an example of how you have responded to those challenges?

In terms of fundraising, Roseneath launched our Friends of Roseneath program this year to engage our individual donors even further with our company and I’m pleased to say we already have over 50 friends who have joined the program. We have also invested in a part-time development person to assist us to raise funds through applications to foundations and corporate donors, which we hope to build into a full-time position over the next two years.

Another thing we try to do is to instill in young people an appreciation of the aesthetics of the performing arts, what theatre and performing to an audience means, and how that’s different to TV or other media. More potential audiences need to be aware of how awesome our sector is. In Toronto, we have about 25% of the population actually seeing performing arts in a year. We have lots of room to grow within that. In part what we need to do as a community is to really reflect our community of Toronto on our stages. We are already starting to see this through more diversity in casting and types of storytelling in the shows that are doing well.

What words of advice do you wish you had been given when you were first starting out?

See as much theatre as you can. There are many companies who have rush seats, pay-what-you-can performances and even opportunities to volunteer as an usher to see a show for free – making theatre performances accessible to anyone.

Public performances of “In This World” is running at Tarragon Theatre from March 19 – March 24, 2013, followed by a tour of Ontario Schools from March 25 – May 10, 2013. You can also see a remount of “Dib and Dob and the Journey Home” at Roseneath’s Performance Showcase Fundraiser on April 28th.