All the world’s a stage: Youth find their voice with Poetry in Action
A 15 year old girl is seeing her poetry brought to life right around Australia after winning a competition run by a youth-focused performance organisation supported by Arts NSW.
Maya Duel from Cape Byron Steiner School in Byron Bay NSW won the 2014 National Poetry Challenge run by Poetry in Action.
Bryce Youngman, Artistic Director of Poetry in Action, said: “Maya wrote a simple and elegant poem about staying up late to do homework and how that made her feel. We chose her as the winner because the poem struck a chord with all of us and spoke to anyone who’s ever been under pressure, plus it was ideal for our audience.”
Poetry in Action uses poetry as a medium to communicate and inspire youth to discuss relevant topics.
In 2014, with Arts NSW support, Poetry in Action performed before 25,000 students in NSW and over 50,000 students nationally. In 2015, this number is expected to increase, clearly showing that performance poetry has truly caught the interest of young people.
How has an organisation focused on an ancient art form been able to enthral youth across the country today?
Instead of reciting poems in front of an audience, a team of three actors bring poems to life through comic scenes, dramatic monologues, character studies, classical recitations and contemporary interpretations. Poetry is made fun, accessible and easy to understand for even the most average of students.
“We try to put an artistic spin on poems that leads to conversation, instead of delving into the mechanics of the poem,” Mr Youngman, a graduate of Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA).
“By placing it in a fun and artistic space, our emphasis is on how a poem makes you feel as an actor or as an audience member.”
Mr Youngman said the word ‘poetry’ and what it means to students presents a constant challenge for their shows.
“Poetry is thought of as something literal on a page to be looked at and studied, so the biggest challenge for us is to overcome this initial perception and show people that poetry is vital to life and being alive,” he said.
“Every year while planning our shows, we try to find ways of making poetry fresh and relevant – to present it as a resource that young people can tap into and be inspired by, rather than feeling confronted.”
This innovative approach has certainly caught the interest of students judging from the number of positive comments the company receives on their official Facebook page. “We have a few concepts that we stick to when creating shows,” Mr. Youngman said.
“We never condescend to our audience or show that we are trying to put on a show for kids only. How we perform different types of poetry is very specialised and unique. I think the kids definitely pick up on it and that’s how we succeed in connecting with them.”
Topics covered in a typical show run the full gamut of human experience and emotions; from ‘Big Bad Poo’, set in a sewer, to First World War poems by Wilfred Owen and the works of William Shakespeare.
“We aim to provide a poetry experience from across the world, across time and across human emotions,” Mr Youngman said. “It’s likely you’ll sit down in a show and hear poems you’ve never heard before.”
Topics and poems are also chosen considering what’s really important to young people. The Poetry in Action team encourage students to take up different causes with confidence and deliver their thoughts with eloquence. To continue this wave of inspiration, in 2016 the actors will be examining and performing great speeches in history. Students should leave their shows feeling inspired and with a desire to change the world.
Performances aside, Poetry in Action also provides a week-long workshop taught by actors and company directors for students interested in learning performance skills or public speaking. Poetry in Action also gives informal feedback on sample poems submitted by audience members, which often happens following a performance.
By 2017, a second team of actors and extra performances will be added to expand the organisation’s reach across different parts of Australia. Let the poetic revolution begin!
Poetry in Action is supported by Arts NSW through its Annual Program funding, which supports the costs of delivering multiple arts and cultural activities throughout the year.