Students in the Director’s Chair: Emerging Artists Program
An Emerging Artists Program is when a theater (community, regional—any will do!) provides the funds to a group of young creatives, allowing them to put on a production.
Students pursuing performance often find opportunities in their field, such as how young performers can gain experience performing in their schools and community theaters and ensembles. However, for aspiring directors, producers, conductors, music directors, choreographers, etc.—finding a place to stretch their wings in the director’s chair is rather difficult.
I propose the solution: Emerging Artists programs!
Now what is that? I didn’t know until I participated in one this past summer, but an Emerging Artists Program is when a theater (community, regional—any will do!) provides the funds to a group of young creatives, allowing them to put on a production.
This allows for students, usually high school and college age, to select their repertoire, cast it, conduct it, stage it, and bring it to life with full creative control. Student directed, musically directed, produced, stage managed, lighting and sound designed, costumed, with student performers and pit musicians—and so on! The resulting environment is one of great excitement and collaboration, as everyone is in a similar age range and of a similar mindset as they dig into the craft they wish to pursue.
I just had the opportunity to act in Stage 74 at the SYJCC’s Emerging Artist Development Program’s Production of Spring Awakening. Two incoming college freshmen were awarded with a grant allowing them to direct/produce the entire production. Being a part of such a heavy and multi-faceted show led entirely by young artists who were taking their first crack at directing was enriching.
This process presented numerous obstacles, such as how to block and choreograph to accommodate an ever changing image of what the set would look like, or finding a strong balance of vocal parts in a score that is not split by voice part but by character. We all rolled with the punches, easily adapting to the changes and challenges presented—and with each rehearsal, we got closer to the show’s final vision. The relationship between the performers with the directing team was closer than in most projects, as even with varying levels of responsibility, we all worked together as equals since we were all developing artists.
This environment allows for vulnerability and bold choices to occur more freely, which brings more truth and authenticity to the story and corresponding music. Not to mention, way more shenanigans backstage!
I call on more theaters to set up these emerging artists grants. This can be applied to plays, musicals, operas, choirs, orchestras, bands, and any other form or musical or theatrical ensemble—allow young artists to take full creative control, with experienced professionals available to offer guidance when called upon.
Giving students a chance in the driver’s seat encourages them to realize their own capabilities, challenges them to tackle tough situations, and allows them to gain valuable directing experience. In addition to that, these programs give us a window into what the future of performance will look like, as new directors and conductors bring about new visions that challenge not only themselves, but the entire industry.