Blog: Jenny Koppera and Erin McDonald

The stage can be a role model for youth struggling to find their voice. Jenny Koppera, a founding director of the CrossTown Theatre Troupe, together with Erin McDonald, director of the theatre, will be writing about the need for youth programming and dialogue in the community.

Post 2: What is YOUR Truth?

Teenagers are a group that is often misunderstood because they are IN BETWEEN and speak a language that is neither that of children nor adults.  It is unique to them, and though it would be easier in many ways if they could instantly jump from one side to the other of the child/adult spectrum – the result would leave us a void in one of the most honest and creative moments of our lifetimes.
Having the opportunity to work with young people in Washtenaw County, and more specifically in the community of Ypsilanti has presented us with an interesting cross-section of diverse young people.  In CrossTown Theatre Troupe (CTT), we get to see the passionate, direct, and hopeful side of teenagers that most other people don't get to see.  Given the place to speak out and to be listened to, they often are able to use their 'youth voice' expressively and powerfully to communicate this complexity of their lives with fresh takes and potent sincerity.
It is important to note however that with this kind of work, where youth are sharing so much of themselves and putting so much out there, that we, the adult CTT teaching artists, have to be careful with their words. We strive neither to filter not exploit their ideas. We realize that this kind of work can be therapeutic, but it is not by any means therapy. CTT teaching artists help to spotlight the students' truths and their honesty but are not therapists or social workers. CTT teaching artists help them mold their ideas into performance materials and find the aesthetic in their youth perspectives.
Our group of CTT teaching artists come from a variety of different backgrounds and share a common goal of creating a supportive and collaborative environment for our students and ourselves. One of our teaching artists, found that "the greatest joy is the collective effort we share with the students that goes into creating our shows. As a teaching artist I view everything we do as a collaborative effort to create art." Our CTT teaching artist support system, which provides us with the ability to share ideas and techniques, is incredibly valuable to developing the CTT program itself, our youth's work, and improving ourselves as artists.
But one of the most important questions we need to ask our youth is -- is this, in the end, still your truth? After we help sculpt their material for performance, we need to make sure what is left is still true to them.  And since many of our teaching artists are in this community but not necessarily from it – another question then arises: What is the potential impact our teaching artists have in establishing not only the youth perspective but also the entire community's identity?