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Goldberg, Moses-To An Unknown Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) Dreamer

To An Unknown Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) Dreamer
November 2013 -Commentary from Moses Goldberg

The older I get -- the more I observe the vibrant field of Theatre for Young Audiences -- the more I realize that there is no one simple formula to make good TYA in the community where you happen to be living. While human nature is basically the same everywhere, and while children everywhere start out remarkably like children in other cultures, yet there are social and political differences that must be considered if we are to meet the goal of bringing wonderful, life affirming theatre to the particular children we serve.

• Is the community homogenous in values and culture, or multi-cultural? If the latter, how important is it to represent that diversity on the stage?
• Is TYA a rare event that lacks public support or one that is well-funded and assumed to be an integral part of the community’s arts scene?
• What is the attitude of the artists in your community regarding TYA, or – in fact – regarding children and childhood?
• Who is paying for the arts programs? The parents? Some unit of government? A generous philanthropist? (We know it is not the young audience that is paying.)
• Are you aiming at an audience of school children who are brought to the theatre by their teachers, eager to make use of the art of theatre to further their curricular directives, or are parents and families your target audience, in which case entertainment for entertainment’s sake becomes at least part of the draw.
• When you announce Cinderella as part of your season, are you reading dozens of scripts until you find one that speaks to you, or do you have a playwright on your team who is poised to create a new Cinderella script that fits your (and only your) artists and your community.
• What are your motives? To change the world? To address a wrong in society? To reach one particular child in a meaningful way? To express your inner creativity? To make a living?

From my experience, there is no “right” or “wrong” about your answers to these and other questions. There is only your ability to assess the strengths and weaknesses, challenges and opportunities in your own sphere of operation. And although you have to find your own unique solutions, there is great value in networking with other groups and individuals who struggle with the same issues. No solution from another town will fit your town exactly, but the process of analyses, the examination of available choices, and the assessment of your own biases is something we all go through. While the destination we each reach may be different, the journeys are remarkably similar.

One common thread we all have is that we tend to work in relative isolation. Probably the nearest TYA Company to yours is many miles and hours away. Even in communities with lots of performing arts programs, yours may be the only one that targets young people. The pressures of administration, fundraising, “friend raising”, marketing, etc, etc. take their toll and we end up feeling that no one else understands our challenges. Fortunately, you are not alone. There is a healthy and growing community of folks committed to TYA and you can find them at places like TYA/USA, AATE, the Bonderman, New Visions/New Voices, One Theatre World, International ASSITEJ Congresses, and other gatherings. Go to these conferences and share your issues. But don’t go expecting to find a pattern that will exactly fit your needs. Go looking for other kindred spirits who are on the road with you, even if they will end up in a different place than you will. And, of course, they want to share your struggles and triumphs as much as you want to share theirs.

Ultimately, the goal we all strive for is the same one: to bring every child in our audience to a place of wonder, where he or she can identify with worthy characters and grow as human beings by sharing, empathically, a voyage of the human spirit.
---Moses Goldberg

Moses Goldberg has recently retired after twenty-five years as Producing Director of Stage One: The Louisville Children’s Theatre. He now works as a freelance director, teacher, and playwright. Moses is a Trustee Board Member of the Children’s Theatre Foundation and serves as Board Secretary.

Zeder, Suzan-Of Young Turks and Old Farts

Of Young Turks and Old Farts
January 2014 Commentary from Suzan Zeder

More years ago than I care to count I found myself standing in a corner of the Seattle living room of Barbara Salisbury (Wills), listening to an elderly English gentleman sitting on the couch. He was surrounded by a sea of students, their eyes bright with expectation, hanging on his every word. This founder of an important Theatre Centre in London, author of two important books and several plays that were considered seminal in children’s theatre at the time, was holding forth on various subjects related to theatre, education, children and everyone in the room was charmed…except me. I slouched deeper into the corner, filled with a totally inappropriate arrogance that ignited an ember of equally inappropriate anger, and thought to myself…. “ Look at that old fart on the couch, grandstanding! What a load of utter crap!”

Full disclosure! My earliest impulses for writing plays for and about young people were not so much inspired by the early “Mothers” and “Mentors” of our field, as much as they were fueled by a judgmental hubris that rebelled against most of the plays I had read and productions I had seen in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The plays written by the revered, honored and, in some cases beloved playwrights of that time held no fascination for me and I judged them harshly. I was determined never to be “THAT” kind of playwright, who wrote “THOSE” kinds of plays.

I had just finished my dissertation which focused on 52 child protagonists in 42 of the most frequently produced plays for young and family audiences and what I found disturbed me deeply! The field was totally dominated by adaptations of familiar fairy and folk tales, often watered down to the point of inanity. Child characters were thinly drawn, pale, passive protagonists, deeply divided along gender stereotypes. Plots were predictable as themes of good vs. evil were polarized with little subtlety or shades of grey. I could find almost no truly original stories, plays not based on other sources and virtually no contemporary characters, stories or themes. The two plays that presented the most complex and interesting young characters were, ironically a very old and a very new play:
Peter Pan, in its original Barrie incarnation and The Ice Wolf by Joanna Kraus.

Why I ever chose to dedicate my creative life to what I then considered to be such a barren landscape was, and still is, a mystery to me.

For the past 40 years I have taken great solace in the belief that things have changed since those days when I was a Young Turk and that we have come so far as a field in both the creation and production of “quality” theatre for young people. While I do not doubt that this is so, I had a sobering moment as I prepared to write this article. I went through the last three years of Marquee, a TYA/USA publication, to see what plays for young audiences were actually being produced nationwide over the last three years. This was a similar exercise to the one I undertook four decades ago when I was writing my dissertation to get an overview of actual plays in production.

Imagine my horror and astonishment to discover that EXACTLY the same production trends are in evidence now as then! The field is STILL dominated by fairy and folk tales and by adaptations of award winning books. Although some classic stories have been updated, given new twists, a hip hop rhythm, or an urban setting, the actual list of titles might just as easily have come from 1973 as 2013! Even more alarming to me is a commercial virus running rampant that spawned countless productions of
The Cat in the Hat, Pinkalicious, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Lyle the Crocodile, and ANYTHING to do with Dr. Seuss. I could count the number of original plays, not based on other sources, on one hand… over three years!

A mere list of titles is not really a fair judge of what has changed in TYA , since those bad old days of yore when “we” were the Young Turks and “they” were the Old Farts. The field is definitely more professional. We now have multi-million dollar, state of the art facilities. Production values are undoubtedly MUCH higher, even in community, educational and touring theatres. There are two major new play development programs focused specifically on work for young audiences. Organizations like Theatre Communications Group, the National Endowment for the Arts and a host of Foundations take TYA far more seriously than they used to. Colleges and Universities offer courses and degree programs, generating research and scholarship in all aspects of work for and with children. There is a core cadre of sincere, serious and significant writers dedicated to excellence in craft, dramaturgy and relevance in plays for children. There is also greater cross-fertilization between theatre artists who work for adults and child audiences with equal fervor and conviction. So why does my heart sink at the litany of familiar, safe and crassly commercial titles done and redone, by theatre after theatre, year after year all over this country? With all this activity and interest shouldn’t MORE be different in the make-up of our seasons?

There are perfectly obvious reasons for what appears to be a failure of courage and an anathema to innovation from many of the flagship institutions, university programs, and even the smaller professional and community theatres. The economic stakes are just too high. The major theatres have huge payroll and operating costs. A single season of negative box office numbers, cancelled tours or just plain sluggish sales can plunge a theatre into a life- threatening deficit. Innovation is expensive AND risky. I know of many courageous artistic directors who regularly do battle with their boards and their balance sheets to do ANY new work or unfamiliar titles. These are also desperately conservative and politically polarized times. Any hint of controversy can scare off even the best-intentioned producer. Ironically, when I was first writing it was MUCH easier to approach “taboo” subjects like divorce, death, racial and economic inequity. Today, a whole tour can be cancelled because a politically panicked Superintendent of Schools fears that SOME parents might be offended by a sweet little play about two same sex penguins who adopt an egg!

Yet, the need for truly relevant, original, provocative and emotionally powerful theatre for young people has never been greater; and the possibility of producing this work has never been more discouraging. In this politically polarized, deeply dysfunctional society, when our national governance seems more like theatre of the absurd than statesmanship, where are our political writers? In these desperately dangerous times for families in war torn countries where genocide and cultural suicide are in evidence throughout the world, where are our writers of outrage? Even if there was a, flinty-eyed young writer burning with that ember of anger and arrogance, and if this rabble-rouser wrote a play of heartbreaking emotional velocity, deep social significance with a plot you can ride like a stallion… would anybody produce it? When there needs to be a call to arms, to aesthetic activism, to caring, to compassion, to the efficacy of empathy to illuminate both the triumphs and tragedies of the times, we respond with
PINKALICIOUS ???

There ARE exceptions: funding initiatives to create and produce plays about bullying, work for very young audiences about gender identity, and partnerships between universities and professional theatres that allow for larger casts or less well-known titles, but these are the rare exceptions in a sea of similarity and safety! As a teacher of playwriting I encouraged my students to be bold, to take on controversial subjects, to write the plays that they are burning to write about subjects that trouble their sleep and confound their minds. But I do so knowing full well that the “market” will most likely NOT support their efforts and that they will have to also create their own production opportunities with like-minded collaborators. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing, because that’s how all of us who were once Young Turks got started.

Many years after my encounter with that elderly English gentleman, I found myself in Tempe AZ, sitting on Don Doyle’s couch after ASU or Childsplay had done one of my plays. I was surrounded by a group of eager grad students and I was holding forth on some subject having to do with theatre, children, or education when suddenly a realization struck me like a gong!

I AM THE OLD FART ON THE COUCH!

I think I even blurted my epiphany out loud and a chorus of kind souls assured me that I wasn’t, but I WAS and I AM! I am an even older fart now than I was then!

The next time I am sitting on a couch, or standing at a podium, or on a panel, or at a symposium, pontificating there, as I am here, I do sincerely hope that there is someone slouching in the corner, someone with a gleam in his or her eye, deciding then and there that he or she will never be THAT kind of playwright, writing THOSE kinds of plays. I desperately hope that you are out there, just waiting to overturn all of our apple carts.

This is my prayer for you!

Dear Playwright, who art not yet in production
Heralded someday be thy name
A kingdom might come, when your original vision can be done
On stage as it is in television
Give us this day some bread worth eating
Illuminate our sins, celebrate our graces
Deliver us from banality
And lead ye not into the temptation of adaptation
For thou art the promise!
Seize the power
Find the Glory
Amen

After twenty-three years as Head of the Playwriting Program at the University of Texas at Austin, Suzan Zeder has recently "graduated" and is writing plays and living the good life in Santa Fe New Mexico. Suzan is a Trustee Board Member of the Children's Theatre Foundation.

North, Carol-Here Comes the Circus!

Here Comes the Circus!
June 2014 Commentary from Carol North

It’s Circus season in St. Louis. Every year in June, Circus Flora sets up its bright, red and white striped tent in the lot behind Powell Symphony Hall. For one month, St. Louis audiences stream into the magic of an intimate, one-ring experience where we sit close enough to smell the horses and taste the sawdust.

I once ran away with the Circus. The Circus had no tent, no horses, no sawdust, and thank heavens, no one expected me to walk the high wire – well, not literally. I ran away with Metro Theater Circus, a professional touring theater founded in 1973 by outrageous dreamers whose daring work had enchanted me three years earlier when I first sat in the audience with my young child. Now, here I was at the age of thirty-one with two kids, an English degree, a mortgage, and an insatiable appetite for movement, music and invention. I’d found my creative home.

Was it a circus? Well, not really. The founders had embraced the word ‘circus’ for its evocation of color, music, movement and surprise. We who signed on later grew accustomed to explaining, “Well, no, we’re not that kind of circus…” It was no big deal to any of us because we weren’t focused on what we were called, but rather on what we were doing. We were making it up! Does it get any better? When we started a project we had a general idea of where we were headed, but each day of rehearsal was a discovery process that generated multiple possibilities for getting there. And those multiple possibilities kept redefining the “there.” Even after a piece opened, we continued to change and refine the moments as we connected with and learned from our audiences. Each day’s drive in the van was a mini-think tank, as the ensemble delved more deeply into what we were discovering. Some people might call it obsessive; I just thought of it as the way to get better.

In 1980 artistic director Zaro Weil, Metro’s co-founder and my boss, announced that she was leaving the Company. “Take it, or it dies, Carol.” I had no idea how to run a theater company, but neither could I bear the prospect of its death. I said yes, and in that moment, I stepped onto the high wire of our circus.

George Thorn, Portland-based arts consultant and thinker-extraordinaire, handed me the metaphor when he described not-for-profit leadership as a continuous walk on the high wire. As wire walkers, we know we’re headed toward that platform on the other side. All the while, gravity beckons! We know all too well that disaster or even death awaits us if we fall. We step forward. We step backward. We assign no judgment to our movement in either direction, because the one thing we know for sure is that we cannot stop moving.

Metro Theater Circus kept moving, making it up, changing – even our name.

In 1987 Circus Flora moved to St. Louis. It was no contest. They had a tent, sawdust, horses, and a baby elephant named Flora. Shoot, they even had The Flying Wallendas who walked the high wire! Thus came the decision to change our organizational name to Metro Theater Company. We continued to make it up with some of the best in the field: writers Suzan Zeder, James Still, David Saar, Jose’ Cruz González, R.N. Sandberg, Wesley Middleton, Mariah Richardson; composers Steven Radeck, Michael Keck, Greg Bolin, Lance Garger. We toured. We taught. We kept moving.

Now, thirty-seven years since the day I ran away with the Circus, I’ve stepped out of the ring. I’m happy to be in the audience, applauding Metro Theater Company’s new artistic director, the fabulous Julia Flood. Julia stepped onto that high wire of leadership in February and it’s very clear from my vantage point that she knows how to keep moving.

So do I…and I like the way it feels.

Carol North
June, 2014

After thirty-six years with Metro Theater Company, Carol North is now enjoying independent projects and great adventures. She serves as a trustee and member of the executive committee of the Children's Theatre Foundation of America.

Kornhauser, Barry-Deepest Gratitude

Deepest Gratitude
August 2014 Commentary from Barry Kornhauser
Written and presented by Barry Kornhauser in acceptance of CTFA’s 2014 Orlin Corey Medallion Award, at the CTFA Medallion Event & AATE Conference August 1, 2014 in Denver, CO.

Thank you for the very kind words of introduction, Dorothy; congratulations to Holly and the Denver Center Theater; and good afternoon, everyone.
We are honored today to have an eminent neuroscientist deliver our keynote address. I wanted to help assure you, Dr. Immodino-Yang, that your time with us is at well-spent as possible, so during my brief remarks I will be donning this 100% completely genuine and authentic EEG cap (Barry reveals a clearly homemade headpiece, and responds to the audience’s reaction.) Suspend your disbelief; you’re theater people! This, doctor, will provide you with the opportunity to examine, firsthand, the brain waves that mark “Deepest Gratitude.” (Barry dons headpiece.)

This cap also doubles as an electro-shock apparatus, and should I speak beyond my allotted time, my wife Carol right over there has been charged with administering a small jolt of electricity, an act that will give her as much pleasure as it will me pain. So I’ll try to be quick.

The renowned 20th-century philosopher Marx – that’s Groucho, not Karl - once remarked, and I quote: “Art is Art, isn’t it? …Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce, they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now you tell me what you know.” End quote.

Well, I know that there’s a lot that I don’t know. About children. About theater. About arts education. But I also know that I am looking out into a room filled with some of the most passionate, caring, creative -and nicest - people anyone could ever hope to have as colleagues, and who, by the very nature of our calling, are a collaborative lot, attending conferences such as this to generously share their knowledge with each other, including folks like me. And I know that I am very grateful for that.

I’m also grateful to have had the privilege and pleasure of getting to know so many of you personally, and to have worked with such heroes of mine as Peter Brosius and Elissa Adams; David Saar and Jenny Millinger; Eric Johnson; Rosemary Newcott; Steve McCormick; Kim Peter Kovac; Wayne Brinda; Dorothy Webb of the Bonderman ; Jose Cruz Gonzalez – at both the Bonderman and the Denver Center; Sandy Asher; Kathleen Collins who put up with me longer than most; and Suzan Zeder, an early mentor (and as of last night – with all those “stand-ups,” “sit-downs” - my new personal trainer). Also the TYA/USA board members whom I served with over the years, and publishers - the inimitable Gayle Sergel, Michelle Wright, Marilee Miller, and my very first – the namesake of the Medallion, the legendary Orlin Corey himself. And you know, Orlin, we never forget our “first.” I apologize to those of you I failed to mention, but please bear in mind I’d risk electrocution trying to name you all.

I know how grateful I am to the family I love – my children Max, Sam, and Ariel who are my greatest joy and inspiration. And to my wife Carol. They say that behind every great man is a great woman. Well, I’m here to tell you that behind every middling run-of-the-mill man there can also be a GREAT woman. I’m grateful, for your strength and wisdom, Carol, and that you didn’t choose to hide under your chair when I put on this goofy headpiece. (To audience) Of course, you all know what Groucho Marx said: “Marriage is a wonderful institution….
CAROL (completing the quote): But who wants to live in an institution.”

And there’s my mom and late dad. I was lucky enough to grow up in a warm and wacky household with incredibly understanding – and forgiving - parents, and my mother couldn’t be more proud of me than if I was William Shakespeare. …Or even Orlin Corey.

I am grateful to the Fulton Theater, my artistic home for 3 decades, and to Millersville University, where I now proudly hang my hat – an extraordinarily creative campus that truly, deeply values the arts and arts-education. And I am certainly grateful to the thousands of kids – many of the hard-scrabble sort – that I've been blessed to work with and learn from, over all these long years.

But today, above all, I know that I am especially grateful to the Children’s Theatre Foundation of America for all it does to advance and enhance our field and, of course, for bestowing this very unexpected honor on me. I can’t tell you how grateful. As they often do when I sit down at the computer keyboard, words fail me – a terrible admission from a playwright. So please do know, CTFA, that this honor means far more to me than I can say. (To audience again) I’ll let you all in on a dark little secret. The Medallion ceremonies used to be held at luncheons that came with a ticket price just a bit too steep for me. So whenever I thought I could get away with it, I would sneak into the back of the room, not to grab a lunch, but to applaud the recipients who I so greatly admired. I’m not certain that I belong in their company, that I am worthy of this recognition, but I am so very appreciative of it, and inspired by it, even at my advanced age, to continue to learn and hopefully to serve.

Doctor Immodino-Yang, I expect you know that other neuroscientists have made the case that creativity and mental illness go hand in hand. (The highest rate incidentally is among playwrights.) And, yes, others may think that we’re all a bit crazy to pursue this field with all of the difficulties and dismissiveness we encounter. But we persist in spite of this, because we all know the importance, the necessity, of what we do. As the Talmud tells us, “whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” Well, that we do every day. Or, at the very least, we touch many single lives, and in that touch embrace the world. And this is a nothing less than a sacred trust, one that I am grateful to share with all of you, as together, and each in our own special way, we help ready young people for their future by opening gateways to new and diverse perspectives, paths, and peoples; fostering thought and sensitivity; evoking wonder and delight; igniting an imaginative spark; and sharing in the celebration of the human spirit.

And oh yes, I know, too, that I am very grateful that today, at long last, I didn't have to sneak into the room. (Pretending to receive an electrical shock) OUCH! Thank you so much.

--BARRY KORNHAUSER is an award-winning playwright having received The Charlotte Chorpenning Cup; the Twin Cities’ Ivy Award for Playwriting, The Helen Hayes Outstanding Play Award, two AATE distinguished Play Awards; and the Pennsylvania “Best Practices Award” for his ALL IT TAKES, a HIV/AIDS Prevention T.I.E. project. His YOUTH THEATRE program for at-risk teens and those living with disabilities was honored at the White House as one of the nation’s top arts-education initiatives. For his work with this ensemble, Barry also received AATE’s 2011 Youth Theatre Director of the Year award.
Following a long tenure at Fulton Theatre, Barry currently serves as Assistant Director of Campus & Community Engagement for Millersville University.

Zeder, Suzan-The Pulse of Passing

The Pulse of Passing
July 2015 Commentary from Suzan Zeder

Every once in a while there is a quickening of clarity when memories of the past collide with visions of the future in a present moment that feels ripe with possibility.

I had such an experience recently while standing in line waiting for a bus at the One Theatre World conference in Chicago. I don’t even remember which performance we were all headed out to see, but I do remember the line. Directly ahead of me was Roger Bedard, esteemed President of The Children’s Theatre Foundation of America , a bit further back was Rives Collins, professor of Child Drama at Northwestern, the personification of energy and inspiration. Already on the bus were Dorothy Webb, matriarch and mentor to us all in new play development, and near her was Orlin Corey, Dean of Everything that Matters. Also in line were Kim Peter Kovac, Majordomo of New Visions New Voices at the Kennedy Center, and Robyn Flatt, steadfast co-founder and Executive Artistic Director of Dallas Children’s Theatre. Farther down the line I saw Jenny Millinger, and Talleri McRae and Wendy Bable, young artists of enormous energy and talent and far ahead of all of us were the OTW Student Interns, waving bright flags to guide us on our way and keep us from going astray. Waiting to board that bus were exemplars of the past, present and future of TYA in the USA . We were all standing in the liminal space of a threshold between major epochs of our field.

Perhaps the recent and not so recent losses of so many of the founders of our field made this moment particularly poignant. We had just learned of the passing of Nat Eek and would soon hear of the death of Jed Davis. These two gentle giants inspired generations of students and practitioners nationally and internationally by their examples of generosity and kindness. Their passing brought to mind others: the indomitable Anns -- Hill and Thurman, the magnificent Swortzells, eduridite Jonathan Levy and the ever ebullient, Agnes Haaga. All of these losses made me keenly aware of legacies they have left behind and the debt we owe them all. While there are others who left us longer ago, it is hard for me to mourn our history with the same ferocity as I do those with whom I have shared time and laughter and perhaps a martini!

I was also struck by the synchronicity of another kind of passing marked by recent transitions in leadership at some of our major organizations and institutions: Gayle Sergel’s graceful moving away from Dramatic Publishing Company, the elegant choreography of the Carol North’s and Nick Kryah’s exits from Metro Theater Company as Julia Flood made her entrance as Artistic Director, the academic “graduation” of Roger Bedard from ASU and my own matriculation from The University of Texas, and the plans, still in progress, for changes in leadership at several other major TYA companies helmed by their founders, all happening within a relatively short span of time. These comings and goings came together for me like a dance in time and space.

Transitional times are never easy even when they seem to be seamless. For some they come with the troubling feeling that time has passed them by, and they no longer fit in this new world order. For others, change comes with the deep satisfaction of watching the fruits of their labors blossoming in the care of different gardeners. For some of us who have been blessed with the luxury of students, transitions provide tangible evidence that the sparks of our teaching are made manifest and magnified in the brilliance of our students’ excellence. Just days before OTW I attended Write Now, formerly the Bonderman New Play Development Showcase and Symposium organized by Indiana Repertory Theatre and orchestrated by their astonishing Associate Artistic Director, Courtney Sale. I watched in awe as so many of my former students and other young artists I have mentored or watched from afar, stepped into leadership roles, spoke with voices of authority and claimed this field as theirs to shape.

This is a time of seismic shift in the field of TYA. The landscape of leadership is changing in ways that are subtle and profound. The flagship theatres are or will be sailing with different captains in the not too distant future. In academia, those brilliant Assistant Professors are becoming program heads, changing curricula, and ushering in the next generation of leaders as they recruit a new crop of graduate students every year. When I think back about the changes that have taken place in the 40 or so years I have been a practitioner and teacher I am astounded by the growth in organizational size and structures, depth and quality of scripts, and a profound commitment to social change. I am certain that the next four decades will bring about similar transformations, but these changes will come from other minds to dream them and other hands to make them.

What surprises and delights me in all this are not actually the transitions themselves, those are inevitable, but the fact that they seem to be happening with such grace, goodwill and a remarkable lack of blood letting. We are all familiar with examples of academic and artistic palace coups, usurpations and those who did not go gentle into that, or any, good night. Respected scholars and artists who were forced out of positions of power and left to stagger Lear-like into an uncertain future, blind-sided by the betrayal of those they trusted; or the quieter, but no less painful, diminutions of offices moved to the basement, titular responsibilities built of hollow honors, leaving legacies of pain. Although some former leaders have had more of less trouble letting go and some new leaders have experienced bumpier roads than others, these are remarkably few and far between. What is it about TYA that, for the most part, keeps us civilized and sane?

The immediate explanation seems to be generosity and good planning, but I think it goes deeper than that. I think it is in the DNA of the work we do. None of us who have built our professional lives in TYA and related pursuits of Applied Drama and Theatre did so with any illusions that this work would bring fame or riches or recognition beyond the generous boundaries of the field. Perhaps because our work has to do with children and families and social justice, it breeds a kind of altruism that eschews irony and distance. We are granted the privilege of passion. We do what we do because we believe that it makes a difference, not just to us, or to an external criteria of “success”, but to children who are the personification and epitome of change.

In his book, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, scholar, poet and theologian John O’Donohue, has a chapter titled “Work as a Poetics of Growth.” In it he asserts that “the secret heart of time is change and growth.” And only by “remaining faithful to the risk and ambivalence of change” do you engage your whole life. In TYA our work lies at the nexus of young people and the arts, both allow us to always look to our touchstones of imagination and innocence. Not innocence in terms of naivety or a lack of sophistication, but the innocence that is always at the beginning of what comes next.

So in this time of passing, literal and metaphoric, whether we are coming or going, or staying , whether we are passing a torch or taking it up, whether we are at the back of the bus or driving it, or just waiting in line, we can take heart at a blessing offered by O’Donohue:

May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal
To those who work with you and to those who receive your work.
May your work never weary you
May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration and excitement
May you be present in what you do.

After twenty-three years as Head of the Playwriting Program at the University of Texas at Austin, Suzan Zeder has recently "graduated" and is writing plays and living the good life in Santa Fe New Mexico. Suzan is a Trustee Board Member of the Children's Theatre Foundation.