I was a theatre geek in high school. I directed school plays, I went to arts camp, the works. But beyond school-sanctioned extra-curriculars, there wasn't a lot of programming for kids like me who were interested in theatre. There were plenty of arts programs, but not so much theatre-specific.
That's changed in Ontario in recent years with the Paprika Festival. This is a free festival run and organized by under 30s for kids under 21 years of age. And the kids do everything, as I learned when I spoke to Dan Daley, the 26-year-old Artistic Director of the festival. From programming (a new track this year) to directing and acting, the kids rule. The way it works is like this: a budding director/writer can submit to the festival and Dan and his team will invite the submitter to meet with their team. The festival isn't just about showcasing, it's about making sure there's a right fit for the year.
As Dan said, "This is really a great program for young people from all levels of experience. It’s great for kids who want to express something artistically and want to move into the arts as a profession. If there are parents who are considering programs similar to Paprika, what makes us different is that we let the kids lead and learn by leadership." So, when a young Woody Allen submits her script idea, and is accepted into the festival, she's in charge of everything from finding her cast, to lighting and the works.
While this sounds daunting, this can be the step towards higher learning many kids didn't know they could do. Rena Godfrey is the mother of one such kid. At 15, her son Sam first got involved in the festival after years of artistic endeavours at school. A play he wrote, workshopped and directed at Paprika eventually went on to The Sears Festival, winning best new play. Now, Sam is one of only 5 students in the Carnegie-Mellon University's Directors BFA program. A huge accomplishment.
I asked Rena how she knew that this was what her son wanted, and she stated that as a family, they let him take chances, exposed him to theatre and other arts that interested him, and helped him develop based solely on his interests and not what they expected of him. She touted the festival as a real help to get him towards his goals and suspects he may end up working on Broadway in future.
I really wish there was something like this for me 20 years ago. I would have been right on it. But, it's not too late for those of you with kids who are interested in spreading out (and they don't have to be polished professionals, either). Up until October 18th, the festival is accepting submissions. In recent years, they've had kids come from as far away as Ottawa and London (Ontario) to produce works for the April festival.
And one of the best parts is that the kids get to work with well-established mentors in the Canadian theatre community. How great is that? Let me know if your kids submit this year, so we can head out and check out their show. Henry's becoming quite a fan of live entertainment.
And that makes me happy.