Boston Teen Acting Troupe has come of age
Passage of time has founders asking if fifth season will be last
Three members of the creative team — a director, a producer, and an assistant stage manager — watch avidly as actress Grace Stanfield rehearses a monologue. They interrupt periodically to adjust her pacing, check her emphasis, or modify her blocking, reinforcing each other’s suggestions and encouragement. The atmosphere reflects a typical professional theater rehearsal environment; the only difference is that not one of these pros is over 21.
The Boston Teen Acting Troupe is celebrating its fifth and perhaps final season with two shows: “Eight,” which is in rehearsal now and will have just two performances at Oberon in Cambridge June 18 and 21; and “i don’t know where we’re going but i promise we’re lost,” a new play by MJ Halbertstadt, which will run at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre July 30-Aug. 16.
The rehearsal observers include troupe cofounder Jack Serio, 19, who has just completed his freshman year at New York University; director Garrett Sager, who will turn 18 next week in time for his graduation from Milton High School; and Olivia Hayhurst, 21, who starts her senior year at Syracuse University in the fall. The team’s professional approach to rehearsals for “Eight” reflects the company’s experience producing plays since its launch in 2011.
“We started the company because we wanted to produce theater that teens don’t get to do,” says Serio, who cofounded Boston Teen Acting Troupe with his friend Catherine Spino. “High school theater tends to be very generic, or limited to musicals,” he says, “and we were looking for plays that appealed to people our age.”
“Eight,” written by Scottish playwright Ella Hickson when she was 24, was a favorite at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2008 and went on to a critically acclaimed New York run. The show consists of eight monologues from characters ranging in age from 18 to their mid-30s, dealing with choices and their repercussions. They include a young mother, a convict, a pregnant teen, a gallery owner — seemingly ordinary people responding to life’s extraordinary moments. Stanfield, 16, whose father is a pastor, plays Millie, an experienced prostitute reflecting on the economic demise of her best clients.
The specific situations the characters encounter may be beyond the experience of the teens on stage, but director Sager says the struggle for connection is universal. “Each of these characters is searching for intimacy,” he says. “They are very emotional people trying to function in a world that encourages apathy and numbness. They are trying to win over the audience, even as they’re trying to convince themselves.”
Says Serio: “These are not the kind of polished monologues actors use for auditions. They’re very conversational, casual almost, and the challenge for the actors is to draw the audience into their stories.”
The Boston Teen Acting Troupe’s productions are an eclectic mix and have included “Dog Sees God,” “Red,” “The Dream of the Burning Boy,” “All My Sons,” and “An Inspector Calls.” The troupe has moved from venue to venue, but with each show, the audiences have grown.
“We’re committed to producing the best shows for the least amount of money,” says Ritchie Sullivan, 19, who just finished his freshman year as a finance major at Boston College. “Our goal is to make a little more money with each show, so that we can turn a good show into a great show.”
Sullivan’s role is to help with logistics, and he admits he wasn’t hooked on theater initially. “Jack asked me to help out in the beginning, but I wasn’t really all in until after the first show,” he says. “Now I’m trying to figure out if it’s financially and logistically feasible for us to continue when we’re all starting to focus on our own careers.”
They will be inviting youth groups to “i don’t know where we’re going . . . ” since they believe Halberstadt’s play will appeal to that audience; it’s the story of siblings who flee their parents because they don’t support their brother’s gender transition. They also say they are excited about the three-week run at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre. But what happens in the fall is anyone’s guess.
“We usually plan a season of three shows, and when the shows were running we were reading scripts,” Serio says, “but we cut back to two, and now we’re not sure what’s next.”
Since the Boston Teen Acting Troupe, by definition, consists of teens (21 and under is their actual range), the founders wonder if they’ve created a company with a planned obsolescence as they age out.
“So much of what made the company was what the three of us put into it,” says Sullivan. “We’re mainly a volunteer operation, so it’s a matter of who would make the commitment to pick it up after we move on.”
Play by Ella Hickson
Directed by Garrett Sager
Presented by the Boston Teen Acting Troupe
At: Oberon, 2 Arrow St., Cambridge, June 19 and 21
Tickets: $20, 617-547-8300, www.americanrepertory theater.org
Play by MJ Halberstadt
Directed by Jack Serio
At: Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, July 30-Aug. 16
Tickets: $20, www.bostonteenacting troupe.com