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Julianne Boyd: Most of these kids are outsiders and working with people, whether it’s actors or playwrights, you really do start to understand people differently and when young people start coming up with their own solutions, that’s the beginning of them opening up, they can solve their own problem. So, let’s get on with life.
Anita Walker: Hi, I’m Anita Walker at the Massachusetts Cultural Council with a special edition of Creative Minds Out Loud. Recently I visited with Julie Boyd, artistic director at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, to learn more about a program that is literally changing the lives of young people in the Berkshires.
Julianne Boyd: Hi, I’m Julie Boyd, artistic director at Barrington Stage, and the program Anita is talking about is the Playwright Mentoring Project. The Playwright Mentoring Project is a youth-at-risk program that Barrington Stage has been doing since the year 2000 and it is an out-of-school experience for teenagers and basically deals with kids who are having problems adjusting in school or with peers, they feel as if they’re outsiders, and we do a program that allows them to express themselves and really talk about what’s bothering them. The main thing that we do is we teach them conflict resolution skills so that they can start solving their own problems. It’s not psychodrama because they’re dealing with their stories and then we come up with resolutions. What we realized.. the basic thing that we realized in this year-and-a-half and it is in all of the intervening years it has been true.. these kids are angry. They’re angry because they’ve been given a bad lot, because why are the other kids so happy? Why do they have parents who support them and why don’t they have parents? Some of these kids are in foster homes. Some of them are in key residence, which means they’re locked in at night. They sort of failed foster homes or there’s not a foster home that’s appropriate for them and so what we teach them are conflict resolution skills. So, when they’re ready to.. this is one example.. “Well, I wanted to punch the principal out because he was going to suspend me.” We go, “Stop. Does anybody else have a solution? Does anybody else.. can anybody else think of a solution for this young woman,” and it’s interesting when you hear three or four different solutions to a problem. All of a sudden you either say, “Okay, I can take one of those solutions,” or, “Wait, I can come up with my own solution,” and when young people start coming up with their own solutions, that’s the beginning of them opening up and really finding a clue to their life and looking into the future, that they see something they can solve their own problem. So, let’s get on with life.
Anita Walker: What is it about theater? I mean there is something about theater that is a platform for this work that is particularly powerful.
Julianne Boyd: Do you know, I always say this sounds a little strange perhaps, but you don’t have to be brilliant to do theater. You have to be in touch with your feelings and these young people get in touch with their feelings and, by getting in touch with their feelings and then being able to express them, it’s very cathartic.
Anita Walker: Why do you do this? I mean you have your hands full–
Julianne Boyd: <laughs>
Anita Walker: Producing world-class theater here in Pittsfield at Barrington Stage. That should be enough for most ambitious, artistic types.
Julianne Boyd: That’s right. You had heard me howling with laughter when Anita said that. <laughs> Why do I do it, sometimes I wonder. I can get more satisfaction from seeing a young person enter the program totally quiet, sullen, not talking, sometimes suicidal, sometimes not fitting in anywhere at all, and by the end of that year or the following year, just beaming with pride that they know who they are and that they’ve accomplished something. This program, by the way, now is a year-and-a-half to begin with. It’s a six-month program and I believe that when you do these kinds of educational programs, you need a continuum. You can’t go into the schools and say, “Hey, for two classes I’m going to teach you dah-dah-dah-dah,” and then you leave. And I think it’s because they meet once a week, two hours a week for six months, then in the summer we invite them to our shows and they meet the actors and they feel really good that they’re meeting these great actors and they can do it two years and they can do it for three years. We try.. we’d love the kids to only do it for two years. Some of them do it one year, but a lot of them do it for two years, a few do it for three years. I do it because the reward is so.. it’s so immediate. It’s so immediate when somebody comes in crying at the beginning of a session, at the end they’re laughing and they’re hugging a friend. There’s something immediate about being able to change someone’s emotions and understanding of themselves and the world around them.
Anita Walker: We talked about how theater is particularly powerful in this work in youth development, but does your work in youth development feed your theater work in any way?
Julianne Boyd: Well, that’s really interesting. Some actors that I’ve worked with <laughs> are not exactly emotionally mature. You know, so– It makes me more understanding of people who are not middle of the road people, because most of these kids are outsiders and working with people, whether it’s actors or playwrights or other creative types, you really do start to understand people differently. I can’t say that it’s been a strong influence, but every once in a while I go, “Yeah, or conflict resolution skill or they need to take a little easy.” And so– and the other thing that I find is that it’s really important for the community. This is a community-based program. We work with youth in Pittsfield and North Adams. So, we started in Sheffield, we moved up here in 2000, here meaning Pittsfield in 2006, and the community gets it. If they don’t get theater, they get what we’re trying to do with the youth and therefore they’re drawn to us, they like us, and then if I can get them into the theater, if I get them in that point of entry, which is the theater, then they really appreciate us and understand. So, I think the education program and the theater program feed one another.
Anita Walker: It’s working at Barrington Stage.
Julianne Boyd: Thank you. It’s fun.
Anita Walker: Julie Boyd, one of our Creative Minds Out Loud.
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