Before my week spent observing the workshops and performances for winners of YoungArts Los Angeles, I knew of this program by reputation alone. I knew, for example, that it attracts some of the nation’s most promising young talent in the visual, literary, and performing arts. I also knew that after a week of master classes led by industry leaders, these emerging artists would then showcase their work and maybe win a scholarship while they’re at it.
What I didn’t know was that beyond the prestige of the competition and beyond the national acclaim, at its core, YoungArts is a community. It’s a professional network and a supportive family that can stay with you forever.
Behind the Scenes
My first clue about the impact of this community came when I was talking to Rebekah Lanae Lengel, Director of Artistic Programs. I had been asking her about the technical nitty-gritty when she mentioned that she was a YoungArts alum herself and was a finalist of the play writing division.
When asked about her personal experience she gushed, “It completely changed the direction of my life. Suddenly I had validation outside of my mom and dad.”
“It made me realize I had something worth saying. YoungArts is a transformative experience for artists at the emerging moment in their life.”
Now, Rebekah gets to experience YoungArts from the other side—so to speak—but she is just as passionate about it. “It’s amazing to see the next generation of minds—how committed they are. You don’t hear about these young people enough but they are engaged and want to better the world through art. It makes the sleepless nights worth it. You want to support them”
Rebekah was hardly alone in her sentiment. By the end of the week I met a good number of alums. Some worked for YoungArts, some were Resident Advisors for the students, and some just came out to support. I kept hearing similar sound bytes:
‘YoungArts changed my life,’ ‘I met lifelong friends,’ and ‘I learned more than I ever anticipated.’
It only took one look around the room on the last day to witness the validity of those statements. To give you some context, the last day was the exhibit for the visual arts finalists. The room was abuzz with support. I recognized some of the dancers smiling warmly at one end of the gallery as I passed a photographer praising another artist on her painting. Of course it goes without saying that every bit of praise for these artists was well deserved. The caliber of work I saw throughout the week was exceptional. Still, it warmed my heart to see the camaraderie in the room.
The vibes I was picking up on were later confirmed when I talked to Evan Sagadencky, one of 2017’s choreography winners. I had the pleasure to watch him dance and the honor to get to interview him.
Q & A With Dancer Evan Sagadencky
What were you expecting or looking forward to about the program?
I had no idea what I was in for. To be frank, the only advice that almost every single alumnus gave me was, “It WILL change your life!” Hearing that simultaneously terrified and excited me. It obviously goes without saying that all expectations were exceeded… I was most looking forward to meeting peers in medians other than my own art form: dance. This particularly interested me because I was genuinely curious in the similarities and differences with artist my age.
What a whirlwind of a week! What was it like socially, educationally, artistically, etc?
From the moment we arrived, our Resident Advisors (RAs) created an atmosphere where everyone was not only heard but also respected; we mingled, played “two truths and a lie,” usual camp-like activities. As the week progressed and we were able to observe one another’s “specialty,” that is when the group as whole really opened up. I only knew these people for 48 hours but I felt like, because we were able to connect on an artistic level during such an intense week, they felt as though they were my great friends.
Educationally speaking, the faculty, mentors, and RAs were professionals with entire carriers of experience and throughout the week all they seemed to want to do was share their knowledge with us all. Not a day went by were I did not learn something new. Whether it was in a master class with a renowned artist, rehearsal for the end-of-the-week show, or merely swapping stories during meals, the entire week was constantly teaching us more.
I am privileged enough attend an established arts high school (the Los Angeles High School for the Arts or LACHSA) where I was able to find and shape my artistic voice since freshman year. YoungArts was able to take my understanding of what I wanted to say in my choreography and give me the tools to take it a step further. Not only that, but I was also encouraged to broaden my understanding of Theatre and Vocals, along with their trials and tribulations in art. Similar to the educational aspect of the week, mine (as well as every single winner’s) artistry was supported, enhanced, and given the resources to continue bettering each individual voice.
Did you learn anything cool or new about yourself as a person and/or as an artist?
I always knew that I was going to be a dancer, but attending the week and just dancing in such a supportive environment that pushed my mental and physical limits validated my passion.
YoungArts is a program that I plan on recommending to any and every young artist because no one should miss such a phenomenal opportunity! My yelp review: 10/10!
If any of you young creative folks want to take up Evan on his recommendation, check out Apply to YoungArts for more information. Applications in Cinematic Arts, Classical Music, Dance, Design Arts, Jazz, Photography, Theatre, Visual Arts, Voice and Writing are open now until October 13, 2017.
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