Atlantic has been my artistic home since 2001. I began as an acting student at Atlantic’s NYU program before moving on to direct and choreograph shows for Atlantic Acting School. Eventually, I found myself on staff as the School Artistic Director.
Atlantic’s community is my artistic family.
And for that reason among many, I feel beyond privileged now, as the Atlantic for Kids Artistic Director, to play a role in bringing our two annual family-friendly Atlantic for Kids (AFK) shows – professional plays and musicals created for young audiences and their families – to our stages. Our AFK productions, which we have offered since 2000, are open to the general public on weekend mornings and weekday performances are open to school groups through a matinee program designed to offer affordable and age-appropriate theater to students across NYC.
Through over two decades of producing, we have discovered that stories grounded in truthfulness and emotional authenticity are the best way to engage audiences of all ages.
The work we produce aims to speak to the height of children’s intelligence and curiosity, the depth of their soulfulness, and the breadth of their wildness and creativity. We look to create a space that allows for any and all experiences, feelings, and thoughts; a place where kids can bring their full selves to the theater.
Atlantic’s mission, to empower simple and honest storytelling that fosters greater understanding of our shared world and can inspire us to reflect on our role in society, is perhaps most meaningful when we think in terms of the young community we serve. Stories help kids make sense of the world around them, contend with big questions, and ultimately locate themselves. Through the witnessing of embodied stories, kids discover who they want to be and who they can become. The power of theater can’t be overstated when it comes to shaping the lives of children. And with that power comes responsibility.
It’s crucial for us to produce theater where kids see characters that look like them, talk like them, and share their customs and traditions; to share diverse stories that address the social, political and environmental issues of our time. As a company operating in NYC, one of the most diverse cities in the world, we owe that to the children coming to our shows.
We are always looking to collaborate with artists who share our vision and values. Jeanna Phillips and nicHi douglas, the creators of The Last Grove, are two artists who I believe share these beliefs about the nature of art and education.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, we took a break from producing AFK shows and focused our energy on building a more formalized New Theater for Young Audience (TYA) Development Program that included piloting the AFK Residency. This Residency is an artist-centered program that seeks to support an early stage idea for an original TYA project. When identifying artists to participate in this Residency, I instantly thought of Jeanna and nicHi. When they described The Last Grove, my enthusiasm only grew, knowing that a topic as big and complicated as climate change would be in the hands of writers who would bring both humor and sophistication to the piece.
The Last Grove is an interactive, outdoor TYA piece about climate justice, identity, and the way we name the world around us.
In the words of the writers, “Five hundred years from now, trees have taken on the form of humans in order to save themselves from human climate damage. But humans may not outlast every other species after all, and the trees are now on a mission to revert to their original form. Will the trees figure out how to return to the grove, or will human hubris run out the clock?” The interactive aspect of The Last Grove is such an exciting prospect for AFK. While we haven’t produced a truly immersive piece, we always seek to find ways to “cast” the audience and ensure they are active participants in the storytelling.
Following a year of Zoom classrooms and screen overload, we are eager to support a story that encourages kids to connect with themselves, each other, and nature.
I have been wowed by some of the discoveries that Jeanna and nicHi have made through their time in the AFK Residency. As Jeanna beautifully states, “Identity runs deep through the piece. When I first conceived of it, I was on a road trip across the country, and I found myself obsessed with trying to name the trees and plants I saw out west, as well as the names of the indigenous people who stewarded the land. And so, a crucial seed of this piece is the question, ‘What are we doing when we name something?’ We name things to make them “real,” to acknowledge their value, to acknowledge their very existence. Naming is a method of activation and agitation: the ritual speaking of names is a core practice in today’s racial justice movement. Naming oneself can also be a part of “outing” oneself – from declaring one’s sexual identity to stating one’s pronouns to changing one’s name to resonate with one’s gender identity.
“We’ve realized over the course of our development period that we can’t talk about climate without talking about community. The climate justice movement, whose values run through the piece, posits that empowering communities to make positive change is the first step to a just transition to a regenerative, rather than extractive, economy. And the more we learn about the science of trees, the more we’ve learned that everything they do, they do in community, connected by deep invisible root systems underground.
“The piece celebrates the power of acting in community, but it also aims to unravel what it means to find oneself at a point of rupture with one’s community because of shifts in the way one names oneself.”
This June, AFK will joyfully be partnering with The Future Perfect Project to bring The Last Grove to the next phase of development through a 10 day workshop that engages a small group of NYC based LGBTQIA+ youth and allies in devising this site-specific happening rooted in Environmental Justice, Identity, and Youth Empowerment. The workshop will culminate with an in-process sharing to a live audience in a local NYC park.
Jeanna explains, “One of our characters, Ash, is a tree who decides they want to remain in human form. Another, Willow, is a human who wants to become a tree. We see these characters grapple with who they thought they were, who they are now, and how their truths fit into their community’s expectations of each of them. Part of why I am so excited about working with a young LGBTQIA+ population is because of the possibility it offers to problematize these storylines. It’s possible that Ash and Willow’s character arcs are clean metaphors for what it means to be trans and queer. But it’s likely that it’s more complicated than that. A collaboration with young people, AFK, and Future Perfect will be our opportunity to explore that complexity.”
If you are a LGBTQIA+ writer/ performer aged 16-21 and interested in participating in this workshop, we invite you to apply!
More details on how to do so can be found below. We are accepting submissions on a rolling basis and would love to hear from you!
The Last Grove
June 15 – 25, 2022
Ages 16 – 21
at Atlantic Acting School in NYC
The Last Grove is an interactive, outdoor theater piece for young audiences about climate justice, identity, and the way we name the world around us. Five hundred years from now, trees have taken on the form of humans in order to save themselves from human climate damage. But humans may not outlast every other species after all, and the trees are now on a mission to revert to their original form. Will the trees figure out how to return to the grove, or will human hubris run out the clock?
Participants receive a $300 stipend.
Submissions accepted on a rolling basis until June 5, 2022.