Giving Teens a Voice

Stagenotes: Murder on the Orient Express

Giving Teens a Voice at Hartford Stage: An Interview with Amara McNeil

By Natalie Pertz, Resident Teaching Artist

Amara McNeilHartford Stage’s Teen Council is a leadership group for area high school students with a passion for theatre arts. The Teen Council, which began in the 2016-2017 season, empowers participating teens to have a voice in their theatre-going experience and to advocate for the value of theatre to their peers.

“The Teen Council began out of a conversation at an education department retreat over the summer. We recognized that our teens who came to see shows with their schools at student matinees seemed to really enjoy their experience. We wanted to make sure that teens also knew they could come back to the theatre together and have that experience on their own – outside of a field trip,” said Scott Bartelson, Management Associate at Hartford Stage and co-advisor of Teen Council. “Hartford Stage is a place for everyone. We hoped a teen-led council would help communicate that idea to our teen audiences and become a regular option for any young person who loves attending shows with their peers.”

“I think it’s really important for students to have a sense of agency and ownership when seeing a play,” said Aurelia Clunie, Education Associate for Student Audiences of Hartford Stage, and one of the advisors of Teen Council. “The theater is for them as much as it is for adults who have been going to the theatre for 20 or 30 years. I want young people to feel like they belong here and that they can take charge of their own theatre-going experience. The hope is that Teen Council helps to build that sense of belonging.”

Amara McNeil has been active in Teen Council since the beginning. An 11th grader at Classical Magnet School, Amara was kind enough to answer some questions about her experience with leadership and the Hartford Stage Teen Council.

Tell us how this opportunity began for you. When did you first get involved in Teen Council?

Amara McNeil (2nd from left) and other Teen Council member.

Amara McNeil (2nd from left) and other Teen Council member.

I first found out about Teen Council four years ago when I was in 8th grade. I had been taking Monologue Building (taught by Emely Larson, Studio Manager of Hartford Stage), and we were performing for a share day. After the performance, another staff member approached me and asked if I would like to attend a focus group to help envision a teen council. The group was going to look at existing youth-led theatre councils across the country as inspiration to craft their own. Of course, I said yes!

As a teen leader, how has your experience been thus far? Has anything surprised you?

I found myself learning things that have helped me in other aspects of my life, such as taking minutes, creating agendas, and navigating scheduling. These are tasks that don’t normally come to mind when you think of theatre, but I have learned that for anything to run smoothly you need organization behind it.

What surprised me the most would have to be the different types of people we’ve had on Teen Council over the years. We’ve had “techies,” actors, “sports kids,” and people who aren’t even necessarily interested in theatre. No matter what, we were always successful in our mission. Every year we have succeeded in getting new teenagers to come to Hartford Stage.

In thinking about Teen Council, what has been the best and/or most memorable moment for you?

In general, I’m a very goal-oriented person. I like to write what I want to accomplish and cross things out as I achieve them. Last year, the 2016-2017 council had a group retreat. We discussed our year, learned about becoming better leaders, and planned out future goals. We charted out one, three, and five-year goals. To this day, I still have that list above my desk and highlight it as we go. Making that list is my favorite memory because it motivated and inspired me to help Teen Council accomplish every single one of those goals.

Why is it important for teens to take on leadership roles? What would you say to teens that are hesitant to lead?

I think it is important to take on leadership roles so that we, as a generation, are represented. Whether it is in theatre or in another aspect of your life, there will always be programs and decisions made for you, without any input from you. Learning how to be an advocate for yourself and for others is a skill that you can carry with you throughout life.

I would say it is not as hard as you think it is. All you need is to know what you want, be passionate about it, and care. You will learn everything else as you go.

Throughout Teen Council, how has the Hartford Stage community supported you?

The staff members at Hartford Stage are literally the best! Not only have they opened many doors for me, but they also care about my opinions and what I have to say. Honestly, the fact that they are putting effort into Teen Council shows that they care about teenagers’ reception and perception of theatre.

If you could tell curious teens one thing about Teen Council, what would it be?

We are here for you. The whole reason Teen Council exists is to give teens a space to learn and see theatre while getting to know other teens.

For more information on Hartford Stage’s Teen Council, please visit https://www.hartfordstage.org/youth-council. Membership is open to all high school age students, and applications are accepted year round.