TPAC’s diverse line-up of theatre, music, and dance for student audiences, the 2019-20 Season for Young People, is expected to engage more than 40,000 students and educators from preschool through high school. Supported by TPAC donors and sponsors, this signature program offers reduced ticket prices for students, post-show talkbacks, comprehensive guidebooks with lesson plans, and opportunities to collaborate with professional teaching artists in the classroom.
Roberta Ciuffo West, TPAC’s Executive Vice President for Education and Community Engagement, reflects on the upcoming series and how it connects to classroom learning.
Q: What are your thoughts on the season overall?
Roberta Ciuffo: As a whole, I love the wide variety in the productions, from the different mediums to the way the performances are staged. The settings in time are also diverse, from Ancient Greece to 2019. We have a number of big productions with large casts, including two with live musicians on stage. I’m most excited that the artistic companies on our season create quality work germane to the learning and themes of school environments. They all have significant experience in creating, producing, and touring works for young audiences.
Q: The season opens in October with The Code, a play for high school students. What guides your selection of titles for older school groups?
RC: 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. Cyber-bullying is central to The Code, which also explores freedom of speech, personal accountability, and the thin line between friendship and romance. Green Thumb Theatre, based in Vancouver, is able to connect with young people on issues that are relevant to them.
Q: What are some of the other themes explored in works for older students?
RC: Two of our performances are based on actual events and explore civil rights: 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. They’re not simply history lessons, however, and both make connections to current events and the issues of our time, especially with regard to equal rights and full participation in society – in our country and in others around the world. The Diary of Anne Frank is typically studied by middle school students, and its place in history is unparalleled. 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.
Q: Then there’s Homer’s The Odyssey and George Orwell’s 1984, both from Aquila Theatre Company, which one critic noted “takes the classics off their pedestals and presents them as live action, flesh and blood adventures.” What do you say to that?
RC: It’s always exciting to work with Aquila. They produce classics in a contemporary way, reaching high school students where they are, academically and socially. Their productions are energetic and beautifully produced. Through the way they use language, staging, and production design, they get right to the heart of the story and give students entry points to the work of art, its time, and its themes.
Q: Tell us about Shakespeare in Jazz.
RC: Everyone loves this show, young people and the young at heart. Daniel Kelly adapted and arranged Shakespeare to different genres – mostly jazz and improvisation, but other musical styles, too. This amazing quartet of musicians interacts with the audience, asking the students to put themselves in the scene that Shakespeare has set. There’s a lot of “call and response.” Sonnets and scenes come to life, and the students quickly connect to the messages and the language. It distills Shakespeare in such a fun way, and teachers are going to love this, too!
Q: Is it correct to say that A Christmas Carol, Doktor Kaboom, and The Fisk Jubilee Singers® are back by popular demand?
RC: Doktor Kaboom is definitely an audience favorite. 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. We’re so lucky to have The Fisk Jubilee Singers® on our schedule for the tenth consecutive year. This world-renowned ensemble, under the direction of Dr. Paul Kwami, is an artistic and cultural jewel right here in Nashville. One of the singers said she first saw the group as a student at TPAC and was inspired to become a Jubilee Singer herself. A Christmas Carol, adapted by Mark Cabus from the Charles Dickens’ classic, will be presented at TPAC and as a tour to schools. Consistently sold out in the past, it’s an exemplary work of art by one exemplary artist who connects with young people with flair and great fun.
Q: Two shows for preschool and early elementary school children are coming to TPAC from South Korea and Australia respectively. Tell us about those.
RC: First, I want to note that both of these shows are clever and full of humor. We’re going to hear a lot of laughter from the audience as the stories unfold. We’re so excited to welcome an artistic company from South Korea for the first time. The central character in Yao Yao is a very young girl whose unlimited imagination inspires these magical and interactive projections on a large backdrop. It’s a beautiful example of how little kids think, and I’m reminded of how sophisticated their thought processes are and how we should not underestimate their abilities. Diary of a Wombat is another remarkable play for PreK and early elementary school audiences. The puppetry created to personify the wombat is phenomenal, and the show is based on an award-winning book that essentially records the daily activities of a highly industrious marsupial and the people she visits and ultimately commandeers. We’re delighted to bring Monkey Baa Theatre back to TPAC.
TPAC’s ArtSmart program provides free opportunities for collaborations between professional teaching artists and educators on fun classroom activities in conjunction with seeing the shows. The ArtSmart focus works this season are Walk On: The Story of Rosa Parks; Yao Yao; 72 Steps, Diary of a Wombat; and Shakespeare in Jazz. For more information on TPAC education programs, visit TPAC.ORG/Education.