Building the school canon: Playscripts and Keen team up to commission and road-test new plays
by Debbie Kennedy, Dramatics magazine
Playscripts, Inc. president Doug Rand said the collaboration, called Keen Teens and modeled after the Guthrie Theater's now defunct teen-focused play commissioning program, is an attempt to bridge what he says is an unnecessary gap between professional and educational theatre.
"On one hand, you have professional theatre in which playwrights focus their attention on edgy adult material that runs roughly ninety minutes and has as few roles as possible because of Equity rates. On the other, you have high school theatre programs that are looking for shorter plays with an enormous cast. They can't pay like the professional theatres can, and there's a feeling that the material has to be PG or juvenile or people will get fired and we don't think it has to be that way."
The two plays, whose nine- and fourteen-member casts are made up entirely of teenagers, do not shy away from the big questions simply because they're intended for high school consumption and production. Conspicuous explores the often emotionally treacherous terrain of trans-racial adoption. In Circumvention, a young woman who passes on a class trip to Mexico because of her fear of water gives her friend an underwater camera to document the journey. According to Blake Lawrence, Keen's associate artistic director, the play is La Ronde, Arthur Schitzler's look at male and female relations, meets Chekhov's concept of the universality of the soul.
"Our main mission is to produce sincere, high quality plays that are not afraid to look at situations with emotional candor. A lot of theatre written for high school students patronizes them, condescends to them, but we want to challenge them in exciting ways," she said.
If all goes well, Keen Teens will be an annual program, with Playscripts and the Keen Company commissioning more and more professional playwrights to write with young people in mind.
Torey Marks, a senior at New York City's Children's Professional School, has a part in both Conspicuous and Circumvention. In the former, she plays Helen, an older woman suffering from manic depression, and in the latter, Anna, an awkward sixteen-year-old girl struggling to find her place in the world. An experienced performer, Marks said Keen Teens rehearsals are structured so as to guide the beginners and challenge the veterans. Now she's just hoping that opening night will challenge audience members as well.
"Whenever I do a show, I hope they leave asking questions. When someone leaves asking questions, you feel like you've captured them. If they don't, I know I haven't done my job."
Circumvention by Anton Dudley
Conspicuous by Winter Miller
More information about Keen Teens