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 Citizenship

Written by Anna Solar-Bassett on February 10, 2009

Art – music, theatre, dance – can change the world… man. Seems like a voice straight out of Woodstock ’69. For theatrical director, Lee Lewis, however, it’s reality. Mastermind behind Australian Theatre for Young People’s latest offering; Citizenship, Lee recently confessed to Music Feeds her ultimate belief in the transitive power of the creative spirit; her words sure to send shivers of inspiration down the spine of any innovative, artistic reader.

“Theatre is completely changing the world,” she explains. “That’s completely why I do it. It’s the arts [industry] version of being a surgeon! You want to leave it [the world] better.” Determined to continue “finding stories that I think are important, and that need to be told now,” Lee’s upcoming show centre’s around how teenagers negotiate the stickiest of subjects on their youthful minds – what else but sex?! An important, but extremely difficult subject to tackle without ‘preaching’, Lee explains how playwright Mark Ravenhill has focused on “the conversations actually going on [between teenagers] – the difficulty of expressing yourself when surrounding by conservative society.”

The difficulty of expressing such a taboo subject is a vast challenge to be surmounted, but Lee feels positive. “The writing has avoided all the clichés,” which she explains is unusual in a world of ‘youth’ theatre which usually tries to ‘teach’ its audience; as opposed to conversing with them. Lee has found that, in reality, “the lack of support and true sexual dialogue” about who does what, where and when (and how!) has lead to teenagers becoming “stifled” by adult communities driven by a fear of their kids finally growing up.

“Kids are overindulged these days,” Lee speaks passionately. “We’re keeping them younger longer, maybe it’s a good idea in some ways, but the backwash is we’re not engaging seriously with what they need to talk about.”

Main actress Claudia completely agrees. Aged fifteen, she has seen first hand how conversations around sex, sexuality and all the associated sin of naughty-late-night acts become shut down quickly without “a real connection” between speakers. Involved in acting from the youthful age of six, she is just as passionate as Lee about seeing these issues raised on the platform of a stage. “A lot of theatre under the ‘youth’ is cheesy but this was really different. Once I read the script it was just like, ‘yep, I’ve got to do this.” The patronization of adults on the subject of sex, however, continued into the casting process – “we had to get our parents to read the script and say it was OK before we were cast!”

Conversely, the most refreshing and empowering faecet of the show, Claudia tells with glee, is the fact that “all the actors playing teenagers are, like, actually our age!” In the current age of 10 Things I Hate About You and Dawson’s Creek featuring thirty-year-olds to play peeps half their age, “it’s a rare thing to see eighteen year olds playing eighteen year olds. That’s why people should come see the show!” Theatre by the teens, for the teens, so to speak.

Both Lee and Claudia admit that opening up avenues of discussion without “awkwardness” is difficult, but Lee admits that the “amazing challenge” of presenting a play that was “cringe worthy in a good way” has been met by “staging the private moments very carefully.” So there’s not going to be any crazy kind of confronting onstage… er… ‘moments’, then?! Claudia laughs. “I’ll let you know straight away if two of the cast members suddenly start liking each other,” she promises.

Lee giggles along with her young cast member, who certainly puts truth to Lee’s claim that “[directing youth has] a completely more raw and truthful intensity, a lot more energy and a lot less fear…” The energy, the focus, the realness, is what she loves. “This is how I connect with the world,” she asserts with calm confidence. Having conversations so that [youth] feel safe talking to people – it’s when they’re not talking its dangerous.”.

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