By Caroline Morris
The stages at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center are set for this school year and the 2019-20 HOT Season for Young People. More than 40,000 students and educators are expected to attend a variety of productions designed to immerse young people in aspects of life, literature, history, and social issues through the arts.
Supported by TPAC donors and sponsors, this diverse line-up of theatre, music, and dance for student audiences also offers affordable ticket prices, post-show talkbacks, comprehensive guidebooks with lesson plans, and opportunities to collaborate with professional teaching artists in the classroom.
Featuring a mix of local, nationally-acclaimed, and international artistic companies, the season incorporates a mix of classic theatre pieces and contemporary productions designed for all ages.
Students from schools in Middle Tennessee and from as far away as Kentucky travel to TPAC to experience these live productions showcasing the beauty of the arts and incorporating artistic expression into their learning.
The season begins in October with The Code, a play by the Vancouver-based Green Thumb Theatre, that addresses the issue of cyber-bullying in schools.
“Presenting art for teenagers is one of the most challenging and one of the most rewarding aspects of our work. They bring a lot of questions and thoughtful criticism to whatever they study or see on stage,” says Roberta Ciuffo-West, TPAC Executive Vice President for Education and Community Engagement. “The play explores freedom of speech, personal accountability, and the thin line between friendship and romance – all issues relevant to them.”
Other productions evoke reflection and appreciation from the audience. Walk On: The Story of Rosa Parks, The Diary of Anne Frank, and 72 Steps each highlight historical moments while paralleling them with societal issues today.
“Walk On: The Story of Rosa Parks and Nashville Ballet’s 72 Steps, inspired by Tennessee’s pivotal role in ratifying the 19th Amendment and ending the battle for woman suffrage, are not simply history lessons. Both make connections to current events and the issues of our time, especially equal rights and full participation in society,” says Ciuffo-West. “The Diary of Anne Frank has an unparalleled place in history. Performed by a multicultural cast of mostly young actors, this version by National Players brings the perspective of artists who are not far removed from their own introduction to the work.”
The season also features the fun and interactive Shakespeare in Jazz: All the World’s a Song, Homer’s The Odyssey, and a performance by Fisk Jubilee Singers®, the world-renowned ensemble which, under the direction of Dr. Paul Kwami, is an artistic and cultural jewel in Nashville.
Two shows specifically designed for preschool to elementary audiences, Yao Yao and Diary of a Wombat, are from international production companies, representing TPAC’s commitment to feature professional artists from around the world and present a range of cultural perspectives for every age.
Closer to home, A Christmas Carol, adapted by Mark Cabus from the Charles Dickens’ classic, will be presented at TPAC and as a tour to schools. It’s an exemplary work of art by one exemplary artist who connects with young people with flair and great fun.
Also returning this season is audience favorite Doktor Kaboom. David Epley created this character to combine his two great loves – acting and science. He does an amazing job of guiding students through scientific principles and experiments that are both entertaining and educational, and his show inspires excitement for learning in general.
But the season’s impact doesn’t always end after the performances.
TPAC’s ArtSmart program also provides opportunities for classroom residencies and collaborations between professional teaching artists and educators in conjunction with several season shows, including Walk On: The Story of Rosa Parks; Yao Yao; 72 Steps, Diary of a Wombat; and Shakespeare in Jazz.
And a series of afternoon workshops for teachers will provide a closer look at Diary of at Wombat at the Nashville Zoo, explore Walk On: The Rosa Parks Story with members of the cast, and use inspiration from Shakespeare in Jazz to enliven Shakespeare lessons with the performing arts.