Why Do We Need An Award For Outstanding Teen Critic?

Hello, Holly Arsenault here. I am one of the people who run the TeenTix program.

In case you haven't heard, this year's Theatre Puget Sound Gregory Awards will include a new category: Outstanding Teen Critic. The nominees for this year's award were all drawn from this very blog--they are members of our Teen Press Corps who wrote theatre reviews during this year's eligibility period.

On TPS's facebook page recently, a theatre colleague raised some perfectly valid questions about the necessity for the award, and I found that my answer was getting a little too long for a facebook comment, so I thought I would share it here (in hopes, also, that some of the readers of this blog will chime in with your opinions.)

So, Gerald's comment was this:

"Not really sure I understand this one. Why? I understand getting teens involved in theatre, but do the Gregorys really need to have an award for Teen Critics? Just how many teen critics are out there? Should we have an award for regular critics? It seems that the Gregorys are still low on a number of categories for theatre awards. Couldn't the time and energy be spent to get another award to deserving theatre artists?"

Here's my answer:

Gerald, I appreciate your question, and I think I can help with some part of the answer. First, there are lots of teen critics. The TeenTix Press Corps has about 100 or so members. Since we started the TeenTix blog in 2006, they've written over 300 reviews of local arts events. Next year, this awards will be opened up to young people writing arts criticism for their school papers, as well. Arts writing is featured in almost every school paper in our region, so that represents a lot of young writers.

I was thrilled when TPS approached me about finding a way to include teenagers in the Gregory Awards, and I think that choosing to bring attention to the great contributions that young writers, including those who write for this blog, are making to our local discourse about the arts, is a great way to do it.

Why? Because if we are serious as a community about welcoming young people into our audiences, we must also welcome their voices into the critical conversation about our work. Why recognize teen critics and not adult ones? Because it sends a crucial message to young people that their voices matter to us.

I don't work for TPS and I can't speak to what motivated this award, but I don't think it's an award just for awards' sake. I think it's a little piece of activism--a contribution to the effort to dismantle the barriers that keep young audiences out of our theatres.

One of those barriers--perhaps the most significant one--is the pervasive belief on the part of young people that our art form is not for them. (They're not totally wrong about that, by the way. Most theatre is not programmed with younger audiences in mind. But that's a subject for a different post.) The offspring of that conviction is the sense that their opinions are worthless--that they are not entitled to any opinions about the work that they are seeing. And who wants to engage with work that you're not allowed to have an opinion on? Nobody.

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