The youth respondent method : an exploration of reception studies with youth in New Work development for Theatre for Young Audiences



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I define the youth respondent method as a process by which artists and/or producers involve children and/or young adults through planned theatre activities or discussions with the objective of answering specific questions about the development of the work and collect feedback to improve the text or further the production. This pluralistic practice grants agency for the target audience, while informing the creators of the possibilities of the play and answering challenging questions regarding the work. Considering a continuum that places creative dramatics and children’s theatre at its poles, the youth respondent method demonstrates a merger of the two genres affiliated with youth, theatre, and play. My dissertation documents the youth respondent method’s application in a number of mid-twentieth century and contemporary case studies from the U.S., all of which received national attention through festivals and professional productions at regional theatres throughout the country. These case studies include: Playwright Charlotte Chorpenning’s work with the Goodman Theatre (1940s), Deni Kruger’s play MUDDY BOOTS (2005), Jason Tremblay’s play KATRINA: THE GIRL WHO WANTED HER NAME BACK (2009), Lydia Diamond’s play HARRIET JACOBS (2008), and Duncan Sheik and Stephen Sater’s musical SPRING AWAKENING (2006). This diverse group of plays and musicals relied on variations of the youth respondent method at different stages of their development and production processes, in which youth took the reins to serve as collaborative creators. The child is another essential collaborator in determining how their generation can make a better future through the practice and art of theatre. I examine the dialectics between artists, scholars, producers, and children, applying the youth respondent method. This model strengthens Theatre for Young Audience (TYA) plays while it gives children the agency to learn, exchange ideas, and address subjects that are important to them. TYA is a continually expanding field, although there is a significant lack of scholarship documenting its growth and such important practices as this method. By documenting various forms of the best of this practice, I hope to educate other scholars and practitioners about its vitality.