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The Upstage Interview: Deborah Forde on BTW's YouthWorks Program
People need a place that is safe, well informed and connected to the market.
Upstage Co-Producer and CharPo Contributor Sarah Deshaies spoke with Deborah Forde, Black Theatre Workshop YouthWorks Program Director. Below is an abridged version of the interview edited by Estelle Rosen, CharPo Editor-in-Chief.
UPSTAGE: Could you give us a synopsis about the program and how it’s changed for this year’s session?
FORDE: What we do is work with young artists at two points in their career. One is aspiring artists when people know they want to be in performance, haven’t had training yet but know they have the heart and energy for it.
That is our HeadStart Program which aims to help young people to either go directly to market, enter into a formal training program or to re-orient them into one of the other fields within the arts.
Then we have our JumpStart Program for young people who have completed their education, are starting their careers, have done a first or second gig, and need a hand up in connecting to the field and buildiing their network. Maybe more than anything else, they need a grounded place to discover what’s the truth about this thing called professional theatre; how do I go from being an apprentice to a professional.
at the end of the program both groups come together and create a full production, allowing an audience to see their work
UPSTAGE: No matter where they are in the broad age range 16-30, what is the thing that’s most needed for someone looking to become professional?
FORDE: The first thing needed is support. It’s a tough decision to make because lots of myths still exist about having a professional career. Second, energy is most important. Lots of work involved and self discipline is crucial. What you put into it is what you get out of it. You also need to know how the game is played. Basic needs are skill sets, attitude and energy.
UPSTAGE: Sometimes people have parents who support them all along; other times the opposite. I suppose that’s where the support is really needed to build up confidence.
FORDE: Absolutely. Sometimes even when one has support at home often people don’t have an understanding of the reality of how things happen. People need a place that is safe, well informed and connected to the market.
UPSTAGE: Do both levels offer a production at the end of the program?
FORDE: In one level we’re training all the way through to practical skills and performance. In the other program we’re getting the career off the ground. But at the end of the program both groups come together and create a full production, allowing an audience to see their work. It’s a great launching pad for young people.
UPSTAGE: What is being done differently this year?
FORDE: We’ve increased the age range, 16 to 30. We thought it important to aim at those who were career-minded. We’ve also increased the number of hours in the program, and it’s now a full year program. Ours is an Afro-centric approach to training which means that we don’t see the barriers customary to the West in terms of dance, spoken word or theatre. We train them not to see those boundaries.
UPSTAGE: What’s the most important thing to take away from the program?
FORDE: I think the most important thing is from the time the program starts we can only help them to get where they want to go. BTW isn’t going to hand you something. Theatre performance is tough work; it’s rewarding but they have to put in the work to reap the rewards.
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