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Teen Theatre Ensemble chooses poetry over attitude

teen theater ensemble

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Whereas many teenagers are slamming doors, blasting music or “giving lip” at the height of their pubescent angst, these young adults are writing poetry to express themselves and explore what could be considered one of the most challenges times in their lives—certainly the most confusing.

Coming soon in February, the Teen Theatre Ensemble of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company will present an evening of poetry and prose. In Faith Journey: Untold Stories Of Courage, Strength and Power, teens share personal anecdotes about their lives and respective faiths.

“It was important to me that their thoughts, feelings and experiences are heard,” said Hilda Willis, director of education and associate director of the Teen Theatre Ensemble. “It will help build understanding, compassion and hope for a better tomorrow. We have much to give to them in terms of wisdom but we would be much more effective and provide better guidance if we are willing to listen.”

To encourage them to share their ideas, members were given writing prompts that asked them to explore thoughts, feelings and experiences around peer pressure: how they see the world, their voices, their contributions, their value and their communities. The group then dialoged about each and explored where these messages come from, as well as which ones are helpful and which ones are hindrances.

“There was no pressure to write towards a script or a play,” Willis said, although she intends for them to use the show as a collaborative foundation that will prepare them to eventually produce a play.

Willis says the inspiration for the original performance came not only from the season’s theme, Faith and Healing, but the fact that she believes there are few safe places where teenagers can share their in-depth thoughts and the questions they ponder.

“This is the something that I absolutely love and feel strongly about,” Willis said. “There is no such thing as a non-youth issue and I have spent a significant part of my artistic career in support of using the arts to engage young people and helping them find positive outlets in expressing themselves.”

“I wanted to make sure that the youth had an opportunity to contribute to the conversation (on faith and healing), and while they didn’t have as much to say about physical health, they were clear that there is an ongoing need for spiritual, emotional and even environmental (one’s community) healing,” Willis added. “They were all clear that there is something greater than who we are and that something is connected to our belief system — faith.”

The Teen Theatre Ensemble is for young emerging artists, aged 13-19. Participants are selected through an audition process and are required to complete a 12-week intensive program designed to improve their skills in all artistic disciplines.

Willis was appointed as the director of education and associate director of the Teen Theatre Ensemble (TTE) in September, which was a perfect fit since she’s been a performer, director and educator for most of her life.

With her parents’ support, she started her career in the arts at the early age of six, starring as Mary in Black Nativity at her church. After moving to Virginia from New York at the age of 11, she joined the Children’s Musical Theatre Company.

“I was very fortunate to have parents who didn’t question what I wanted to do or discourage me in any kind of way,” Willis said. “They grew up with me being an artist, so it was a part of their lifestyle with me.”

As a theatre major from North Carolina A&T State University, Willis has since made many accomplishments, including directing her first show, the New York premiere of Images in Saint Martin, in 1986 at Saint Martin Dinner Theatre. Later she directed the world premiere of Heaven Sent at the National Black Theatre (NBT).

She also directed Things That Hurt, which opened earlier this month, at the Academy Theatre in Atlanta, and has just finished an interview segment to be featured in a BET documentary on India.Arie that will broadcast soon.

Wanna go? The Teen Theatre Ensemble presents Faith Journey: Untold Stories Of Courage, Strength and Power February 10-12 in the Montcastle Forum, Hanesbrands Theatre, 251 N. Spruce St., Winston-Salem. Tickets are $15. For tickets and more information call 336-723-2266 or visit ncblackrep.org.

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