A few months ago, I was asked to direct the Lower School musical The Magic Treehouse: A Ghost Tale for Mr. Dickens. While I doubted at first if it was a good idea due to the considerable time commitment, I thank myself every day that I said yes.
The musical is based on the book A Ghost Tale for Christmas Time from The Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osborne. It follows Jack and Annie, two siblings, who travel back in time to Victorian England. There, they meet Mr. Dickens, who has decided to stop writing. Merlin the Magician asks them to help the writer, who is struggling with the social divide in England and tasks the two kids to inspire Mr. Dickens again. The moral of the story is that you must always give your gifts and treat all people equally.
Working with lower schoolers can be trying at times–they’re extremely hyperactive, have had much more sleep than I have gotten, and can yell so high-pitched that your ears ring for a few minutes afterward. They can ask the same questions in ten different ways, and can’t seem to understand simple directions; they get so side-tracked that half of the rehearsals are spent calming them down and clapping to get their attention.
Through it all, however, I couldn’t walk away from them. Their energy is exhilarating and inspiring, a deep breath of fresh air coming out of a dark senior hallway. They come to me with creative ideas and show me new ways in which we could do things. Starting this directing experience, I thought I would only be directing them, but they have allowed me to become a learner in their midst.
Youth is a complex concept. While it’s officially the period between childhood and adult age, it encompasses much more than that. It’s not just the fact that a person is of a younger age or lacks experience–a youthful person has a curiosity and willingness to explore things unbeknownst to them. This is ever-present in the lower schoolers I am working with. They are dedicated to their show and have an urge to learn more about theatre.
The LS musical has opened my eyes to the power of youth, and has shown me the influence it can have on people. Personally, it has lifted me and encouraged me to be better, as they are, and it has reminded me to stop being a dramatic teenager and enjoy things more.
The youth are not only significant in the theater setting, however. Their inspiration cracks borders and can have monumental impacts on our world’s future. In a time where government officials are arguing about abortion laws or women’s rights, the youth are there to show them the way.
We can see the youth changing the course of our environment, for example, with students such as Greta Thunberg leading the movements. In August 2018, at just 15 years of age, she skipped school to protest alone outside of the Swedish parliament in Stockholm. Now, the 16-year-old climate activist has done extravagant things such as crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a solar-powered to show how vital taking care of our environment is and spoken at conferences with world leaders to tell them to change their actions. Another climate activist is the 14-year-old Alexandria Villaseñor, who has been striking outside the United Nations every Friday for a year. She stated, “when the youth are leading, we think outside of the box and outside of the system that’s been created. We think about what needs to happen to combat the climate crisis; we don’t think about what’s politically possible.”
In regards to the protests, Dana R. Fisher, a University of Maryland sociology professor who has studied and surveyed climate movements for years, “the people who are in the streets are much, much younger than they were before.”
Apart from climate activists, the youth have changed the world in other sectors too. Take the key figure in educational and female movements: Malala Yousafzai. At 11 years old, she was prevented from going to school by the Taliban in her town in Swat Valley. Nonetheless, she spoke out “publicly on behalf of our girls and our right to learn.” In October of 2012, a masked gunman boarded the bus she was taking home from school and shot her on the left side of her head. She woke up 10 days later in a hospital in Birmingham, England, where her story had touched the lives of many. In 2014 she established the Malala Fund with her father, whose mission it is to give “every girl an opportunity to achieve a future she chooses.” This work earned her the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, making her the youngest-ever Nobel laureate. Now at 22 years old, she has the Malala Fund, which aims to stand up for education availability for females. Even in Brazil, her positive change is reaching female students. Her organization is helping to train teachers on gender equality and reporting on gender-based violence, as currently, four children are sexually abused or exploited every hour in Brazil. Her organization will also help the 1.5 million girls out of school and decrease the illiterature population, especially in rural areas.
Seemingly, the youth can impact the world profoundly and positively, if only we give them a chance too. Directing the lower school musical is a chance for me to be taught by the youth, and reading about the youth leading global movements is a chance for society to be taught by them. Whatever happens, we need to make sure that we are listening to the youth around us and helping them to change our world for the better.
Sources: CNN, Malala Fund, Malala Fund: Brazil