YOUTH ENSEMBLE PROJECT: NYC Meetup by Aaliyah Stewart

I've been with Irondale Ensemble Project’s Young Company for three years now. One of the members who's also my best friend Danajha Davis introduced me to the company. She found out about Irondale through Amanda Hinkle who came to her school, Bishop Loughlin, recruiting youth for Young Company. I was extremely nervous because the only acting experience I've had has only been school related. Although I believe one shouldn't limit themselves to one stage. So I took a leap of faith and landed on a cloud.

My first year consisted of me observing everyone. Danajha and I were not only the youngest members, but the newest recruits. So I spent a lot of time looking up to everyone older than me, because they had so much talent and I had so much to learn. Even though we were all on different levels of training, it never felt like a competition. It felt like school except my teachers were my peers. I think that's why I like Irondale so much, there's no such thing as a wrong answer. Everything we do has a purpose and something to take away from it. Some of us want to be actors, writers, teachers, speakers, etc. So we encourage and inspire one another to do whatever they wish. I think the best thing about an ensemble is when everyone has on different hats but we all come together in a coherent matter where everyone gets a chance to shine. I get an education I don't get from my school which just so happens to be a performing arts school.

Irondale isn't just a place where a bunch of teens play challenging theatre games and learn basic acting skills. Irondale is home for young artistic individuals. Not only do we create our work to produce in our seasonal productions; we learn what it means to be an artist and a human being in this day and age and being comfortable with ourselves. Which enhanced my high school career immensely. School has become a place I dread. Not only because of the restless nights of me doing what seems to be redundant homework assignments, but the lack of passion for the arts. A lot of people don't want to be there because they just lack interest in what my school has to offer, so they make it difficult to learn anything at all. In Irondale, everyone isn't a theatre major. Some people have a passion for computer science, politics, animals, the list goes on. One thing we all have a common is the love and respect for the arts. We are in the same book on the same page. I think that's important for any ensemble. Discover the objective, decide how you wish to get there and make it your life duty to keep obstacles out of the picture. If anything comes up, handle it accordingly but come back to where we are. Another favorite about Irondale, we genuinely care for one another. There was a one member who suffered from a mental disorder and missed a major performance. On his return he wasn't attacked with a whole bunch of "Where were you?" "You ruined our show!" Instead, the first thing asked was "Are you okay?" "Do you need anything?" and "It's great having you back" which is important. As artist we forget we're people sometimes. We forget people go through their own personal struggle aside from the stage. So when situations like this arise, it can be handled the wrong way.

We have always spoke about connecting with other youth companies in the city. So when Amanda first told us about NET (Network Ensemble Theatres) youth exchange not only were we eager but we wanted to start that as soon as possible. Even though it took a while to get the gears running, it happened and it was really interesting. Meeting EarSay was an interesting experience because even though Judith Sloan explained how the way they produce is a bit abstract it's more than similar to how Irondale works. She made it clear that there isn't much funding so their shows aren't as extravagant, but their main focus is making sure a message is received and understood. Which is where we both agreed. That's theatre. That's art. It doesn't matter where or how much or how many people as long as what you're doing is real. Theatre is powerful because it's personal. Speaking of personal, I wish EarSay could've came earlier or stayed longer so we could've actually saw their work and they could've saw ours. That's what I keep thinking about. It's a rare thing to meet with other people who share the same passion as you. That kind of connection is unlike any other. Judith expressed it takes time for their ensemble to come up with a piece because they have to explain certain ideas to each other. English isn't anyone's first language so it's takes them longer to understand ideas that we discuss on a daily basis but don't realize it's meaning. For example, Judith said they once spent a year just discussing what violence is. Violence is a word we hear all the time, but she explained how we sometimes take things for granted. We just throw things out in the air without expecting it to be caught. And when it is, we no longer want to play. Which is extremely similar to Irondale we're not the richest company we work with what we got and we just let the work speak for itself. Usually, our pieces have tons of messages and we know they will get across quite nicely. So we focus a lot on quality and being extremely connected as possible to what you're saying. It's easy for people to smell the bull. Although when people write something they naturally have a connection. So that won't be hard to express on stage. We just do what we love to best of our ability in hopes other people enjoy it just the same.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

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