London's Royal National has apparently been nuturing a quite a mature and innovative theatre for young audiences program, "Connections."
The basic idea seems at once simple and, of course, unheard of in the US: commission really good playwrights to write plays about adolescent characters, without any censorship restrictions whatsoever. (Other than limiting scripts to a 60-minute running time.) The result?
Playwrights are simply asked to write their next play, rather than adapting or censoring their vision.
Thus [Mark] Ravenhill's "Citizenship" handled the decidedly touchy subject of a 15-year-old boy wrestling with sexuality, while [Bryony] Lavery's "More Light," a startling play about creating art, included oral sex, castration and cannibalism in a story of 15 concubines buried alive in a Chinese emperor's tomb.
Now if you went to some education-minded grant organization here in the States and proposed bringing kids to plays by the authors of Shopping and Fucking and the child-molester drama Frozen, I think you might get a...well, frozen response.
Makes you wonder. While there is the reputable Childrens Theatre of Minneapolis, NYC boasts no similarly serious young adult venue. (Sorry, but Theatreworks USA with their "Sarah Plain and Tall" fare may be perfectly fine at what they do, but no one's called them "challenging.")
But given the flourising of a young adult book market in this country (for which even Adam Rapp has written a few) and risquee teen-themed cable tv shows, you would think there would be a payoff to taking kids seriously and and acknowleging how media saturation has already numbed them to the subjects parents (and producers, and funders) are still so afraid to expose them to.
One of those payoffs, of course: fostering a new generation of adult theatre goers one day, by showing them--at a young age--that theatre can sometimes take their side, not just their parents'.
Spring Awakening, alas, is probably the best example in the US right now of how successful this idea can be. But I would argue that's only because someone finally had the balls the put Wedekind on Broadway.
By the way, the article mentions ACT in San Fransisco as one of the many international theatres the National has partnered with in some of these plays. Have any Bay Area playgoers out there seen any of this work?