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The Kids Are Alright: Theatre Junction asks if kids really can change the world

The old adage that children should be seen and not heard has been given a bit of a shake-up in recent weeks, making Theatre Junction’s If I Could Tell You Everything all the more timely.

While it seems teenagers are truly manifesting themselves as the change they want to see in the world, the play asks whether change is even possible and if youthful optimism is enough to sustain it.

Written and directed by Geoffrey Simon Brown, the production, running April 6 and 7 at Theatre Junction GRAND, was written over the course of the past year in collaboration with the students of the company’s high school mentorship program.

“It’s a play largely about creating a play. It’s a play about what the purpose of art is and how to tell a story where, if (teenagers) were asked to say something, what would they say?” says Brown, Theatre Junction’s playwright-in-residence and director of the mentorship program.

“What we’re exploring is this revolution where we ask whether it’s possible to change things? Is it worth it to change things? Is it actually do-able? Or are we doomed to repeat ourselves in cycles?”

Brown describes If I Could Tell You Everything as a series of vignettes, connected in much the same way as a YouTube rabbit hole, with each story building off the themes of the last.

“I’ve been on a few panels or have heard older theatre artists complain that the younger generation’s attention span is lacking because of YouTube and the Internet, and I don’t necessarily believe that students don’t have the ability to sit through a two-hour play. If you actually believe that to be true, why wouldn’t you embrace that?”

As such, Brown says he doesn’t necessarily see himself as the playwright, but a curator of conversations.

Throughout the year, he would record the mentorship program’s students during their improvisation exercises, and would splice their dialogue and thoughts together to build a play that is largely in their own words.

Julia Jelinek, a grade 12 student from St. Francis High School in Calgary, plays Julia in If I Could Tell You Everything, and she says the character is a more scripted version of herself.

So much so that Brown even incorporated part of Jelinek’s audition tape monologue into the play itself.

“She has a lot on her mind and she really wants to express herself, but she doesn’t talk too much in the group; she keeps all her ideas to herself,” says the student.

“Throughout our whole lives, adults are always telling us to be quiet and listen, we’re not really allowed to talk and share our ideas. I think they think we know less than we do.

“We’re at this weird age where we’re almost adults, and especially with our parents or with school, we don’t tell them everything we’re thinking. So with this play, we’re speaking and actually being heard.”

Jelinek describes the stage as a forest of garbage that is used to build their own utopia, a city built literally from the mistakes of the past – be it environmental, educational, or otherwise.

“We talk a lot about things that bother us, and then, when we build our society — we actually physically build a city in our play,” she says.

The Theatre Junction high school mentorship program gives students from across the city the opportunity to learn the technical skills needed to build a production — be it in the spotlight or from backstage – but that’s not to say If I Could Tell You Everything is your average high school drama.

“This is a play being performed by high school students, but this is not a high school play,” says Brown. “This is a professional production. High school students don’t usually get the chance to speak within the theatre world, and if they do it’s community theatre or it’s semi-professional. This is a real play.”

If I Could Tell You Everything runs April 6 and 7 at Theatre Junction GRAND. For tickets, please visit: http://www.theatrejunction.com/high-school-mentorship-program/

Described by some as a “cute dictionary” and a “punk rock Tina Fey,” Autumn Fox is a freelance writer and editor living in Calgary. She loves puns, irony and Vi-Co. Find her on Twitter @AudieCantFail

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