If you think you understand what Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) is all about, I can assure you that you don’t. It’s better than you think. Lynda Hill, is the Artistic Director at Theatre Direct, a company that produces highly-intelligent and uber-fun shows, that takes TYA to new heights. Below, this veteran of the theatre scene, sheds some light on why she’s so passionate about TYA and why it’s important to the arts.
1. Where do you work? Can you sum up your job in 3 sentences or less?
I work for a company dedicated to engaging, empowering and inspiring young people through theatre! Theatre Direct has been part of the theatre for young audiences movement for 35 years and has been an innovator with productions that really challenge and change our audiences . We’re not afraid of treading into dangerous territory and tackling difficult subject matter that adults are often afraid of discussing with children and youth.
2. Why Theatre for Young Audiences? What’s made you focus your energy there?
Theatre for young people or young audiences speaks to every part of me as an artist, an educator, a mother and a citizen. I have always worked on behalf of communities that are outside the mainstream-through companies likeNightwood Theatre, a Feminist theatre, then Cahoots Theatre Project, dedicated to reflecting the cultural diversity of our Country, and Native Earth. But the constant for me over the last 20 years has been theatre for young people. I was given my first opportunity to direct professionally very early on in my career by Theatre Direct! They mentored me and when I was appointed, I felt like it was opportunity to give back while I continued growing in a company that felt like home.
3. The arts have a reputation of being lots of work with little pay; true or false? Can you elaborate on your answer?
Well it isn’t a reputation, it’s true. There is no money in theatre. Canadian theatre is a mission, we’re all ultimately missionaries trying to inspire and change our audiences. People who do this kind of work aren’t looking for cash but boy, do they deserve the same status as other artists around the world, and closer to home in Quebec,
I am very lucky because I have had full time employment in the arts for the last 10 years. As a freelancer, I worked as a temp in the corporate world to buy enough time to direct shows or create my own work.
4. What’s the best thing about working in theatre in Toronto?
Toronto theatre is so dynamic and multi-faceted. In fact it is difficult to speak of Toronto theatre as a whole, there are so many companies and artists constantly crossing from small experimental work to “big house” productions. We all share a hunger for experimentation, risk and deep pride. Canadian theatre as we know it, outside of the long tradition of community and amateur theatre, is not very old, really only 40 years! We’re not trapped in or fighting against 400 years of theatre tradition, we’re busy building. Many of our founders are still leading and inspiring emerging artists as they did when I first started working. That creates a sense of collective purpose and community.
5. What’s the worst thing about working in theatre in Toronto?
On a personal level, as a mother and now in my “40-ish year”, I can’t get out to see all the stuff I want to see and that isolates me sometimes and that reduces the amount of contact and collaboration with other artists. Beyond that, I suppose the worst thing about working in theatre in Toronto might be not working. I don’t really know what’s bad..the lack of certain funding and the increasing competition for everyone’s precious time. Trying to engage a distracted, restless, and stressed out audience is a huge challenge. It is hard to win the war against awesome TV and Film or funny youtube cat videos. We need to sit together and listen to stories.
6. What’s an adjective that can describe most of your days at your job?
An episode of “24” or “ER” without the physical torture or sex.
7. Describe (in 3 sentences or less) what your favourite memory is from your current job.
Oh my God I have so many. We are reminded daily, especially when we’re performing or teaching for young people, why we do what we do. Children are so absolutely honest and direct-they teach and inspire us. Anyway, I remember last year when we premiered our new version of Head å Tête, over March break, a young girl came with her Mother every day to see the show. Every day. She needed to watch this gorgeous piece over and over. Why not? Good art deserves to be visited over and over.
I also remember the boy recently arrived from Rwanda, who, after not speaking a word in school for months, finally expressed after seeingBeneath the Banyan Tree and participating in our workshops.
8. What’s the last play that you saw that really made an impression on you?
I saw a piece in Montreal from a company called Demolecula entitled Parapapel which was stunning. Dance, installation, happening, it was 2 and 3 year olds and it was gorgeous in every way…I hate theatre that doesn’t give a hoot about its audience or is condescending.
9. If you could do any other job, arts professional or not, what would it be?
Doula, restaurant owner, teacher, librarian.
10. If the Toronto theatre scene was a woman, what advice would you offer her?
Stop trying to be liked and demand respect. Be patient. Be persistent and don’t listen to the jerks who say you’re a frill and the real work isn’t art. Making art is hard.