Young, Gifted & Black (YGB) is a theater troupe that is a part of the Teens N’ Theatre programming at the Rose Theatre in Omaha, Nebraska. I’m Olivia Jones and I’m a Teaching Artist at The Rose. As an arts administrator and former performer with Walt Disney World, the arts are in my DNA. I moved 2,000 miles away from my home in Southern California to Nebraska for my first teaching position and the opportunity to work at The Rose and make this program come to life.
By definition “Young Gifted & Black is an ensemble of diverse youth that explore issues presented by being African American [or black] in today’s culture”. This was the first year that the Rose empowered YGB by using the voices of the group to improvise and create new theater works to share their story.
YGB by the numbers: 11 Students. Ages 13-15. 8 weeks. 24 rehearsals. 1 original work.
The most fundamental aspect of creating an original “devised” theatre piece is a safe and supportive environment. At our first meeting, all artists involved collaborated to form a group agreement outlining the rules and comfort levels in order to serve the needs of each student. We then created a list of generation points to explore throughout our process. Similar to an improv troupe, we spent the first few weeks doing some ensemble work fostering the “yes and” culture needed to conquer a devised project. The ensemble building activities allowed the students to become comfortable with each other and to start creating content in low pressure situations before ever having to think about performance level pieces.
One of the first obstacles we had to overcome as an ensemble was how to create a scene intended for an audience without a formal script. Learning how to structure a scene was the first step. We used a few basic worksheets to help document the characters and basic plots to help create structure while still giving the ensemble the freedom to explore. Each member also wrote a monologue that was based on their life experience, providing an insight to their first experiences realizing races exist or a personal experience they’ve had with racism.
In the end, we had a selection of just over 80 scenes, monologues,and poems to choose from. We selected 20 scenes to share with our audiences. Topics varied from bullying, to education, to the effects of racism on a person of multicultural backgrounds. Imani Lamar and Micah Moten wrote an intertwining poem about the challenges of being a mixed teen in today’s society. Aline Fouche wrote a monologue about feeling that your skin color is a curse in your early youth, and coming to the realization that self acceptance is far more important than the acceptance of others. In a monologue by Kya Phillips, she described what it was like to grow up and realize that you don’t fit into the stereotypes used to portray African Americans in the media and being classified as “too white”.
One of our most popular scenes was “A Dropout Dream to Oz”. A few members collaborated to write a scene where a high school student is fed up with the challenges of school. They storm out of class deciding to join a local gang as an alternative. When the student is hiding out from the school’s security guard, they fall asleep and have a dream about Oz. The characters of Oz soon realize this student is not Dorothy through a process of elimination based on scholastic achievement. It is revealed that the teen is in the wrong dream and was meant to have a nightmare about gang violence and incarcerated youth. The teen is then“scared straight” and decides to return to school. These are just a few examples of the creative and powerful content we were able to share.
In a world filled with diversity issues involving casting, access and expression; seeing new content by young and new multicultural artists is inspiring and essential to change. The show was a huge success and made the audience think. After every Teens N’ Theater show the cast leads a Q & A session. The response was incredible. Many audience members, families and friends included, had no idea about the challenges surrounding race that the students ages face on a day to day basis. When an audience member asked the ensemble what they had learned each student in some form or another said: “I’m not alone.” Because of Young Gifted & Black they found that there are other kids going through the same thing. The success is that we have created a safe space for young people to find their voice and to share their ideas because what they have to say is important.
PROMPT: What do you want the audience to take away from this show? What has this experience meant to you?
Imani Lamar (Omaha North High)
“I was in YGB last year. I love the two different ways they were performed. This year it is devised and last year was scripted work (poetry in performance). Both ways have been amazing to be a part of.”
Aimee Correa (Papillion Junior)
“YGB has spent good amounts of time devising amazing skits to help enlighten the greater Omaha area. It has been an amazing two months with this clever, funny, artistic and imaginative cast.”
Taijah Carlisle (Central High)
“In my opinion, Young, Gifted and Black was amazing, but I also struggled a lot. When it comes to making skits/poems, I tend to put way too much thought into it.”
Somer Young (Central High)
” YGB gave me a look into other people’s perspective. I got to learn more than what I hear every day. I enjoyed everyone and their skits and sense of humor.”
Jesse Brazier (Omaha North High)
“I enjoyed the whole experience of the YGB program. This experience has made me more confident in a way. It has also made me open to activities that I can enjoy outside of the this program.”
Diondra Butler (Omaha Central High)
“I want the audience to take away that you can take a serious subject and make it easier to take in and talk about because it is not as blunt.”
Aline Fouche (Papillion South High School)
“I want the audience to hear the message of acceptance from a young viewpoint. I realized that I wasn’t alone in my feelings as a minority in a mainly white community. I also realized that there were so many others like me.”
Micah Moten (Beveridge Middle School)
“It’s been cool because I’ve been watching YGB for years and now I can be a part of it. I hope everyone realizes that teens know things just as well as adults.”