Young GTA playwrights share teen experiences through theatre

A series of plays in York Region aims to give audiences a fresh perspective on what it’s like to be a teenager in 2018. The program had teens apply with a concept for a play around the youth experience, and gave them 60 days to write and rehearse it.

'3 plays in 30 days' partners first-time playwrights with experienced mentors

Thorne Brown rehearses his play '802' at the Yorkwoods Library Theatre. (Garry Asselstine/CBC)

At the age of 15, Grishma Patel can already call herself a playwright.

"I had no experience whatsoever, so I chose to do an experiment and try something new," Patel said.

The teen sent her idea into '3 Plays in 30 Days' — a free program for youth to get hands-on theatre experience. Patel was one of three playwrights selected. Her piece 'Shady' is about embracing life as a South Asian teenager in the age of social media.

"At first it was really difficult because it was something I had never done, and it was completely new territory, but as I got to do it more it was a cool experience," Patel said.

Grishma Patel (right) along with Cerys Ford (centre) and Thorne Brown (left) were the three selected playwrights. (Submitted)

"It was amazing to see how a small idea develops into an hour and a half of material."

The series of plays aims to give audiences a fresh perspective on what it's like to be a teenager in 2018. The program had teens apply with a concept for a play around the youth experience. Three playwrights were selected, and additional teens were chosen to participate as actors, directors, stage managers, set and lighting designers.

The team then had 30 days to write a script and 30 more days to rehearse the plays.

'It's amazing what they've come up with'

Sarah Magni is the artistic director at Thatz Showbiz — a not for profit theatre organization in York Region. She said when she got the call that she was receiving a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to make '3 Plays in 30 Days' happen, she cried.

"I wanted to make sure the mentors were all paid, and I also wanted to make sure we didn't have to charge the young people," Magni said.

Magni said the experience has been positive, and she's witnessed many of the teens blossom in the 11 hours a week the team has spent rehearsing together.

"It's amazing what they've come up with, and the stories are really personal and brave and incredible. We found mentors that reflect the young people that are telling the stories," Magni said.

It's the first time the festival is being put on, but Magni hopes to make it an annual event.

Teens paired with mentors

The teens have been working alongside mentors — many who are professionals in the industry.

Hanlon McGregor was brought on as a playwriting and acting mentor. As a transgender man he had the opportunity to guide a transgender teen who was selected.

"When I heard there was a youth playwright who was also a trans man who was writing a piece based on his life experiences, I thought this is some of the most important work that needs to be done," McGregor said.

McGregor mentored teen Thorne Brown, whose play '802' is described as an exploration of identity and transformation.

Hanlon McGregor says that while he is mentoring youth, he's also learning a lot from the experience. (Submitted by Tsholo Khalema)

McGregor said telling stories like this one is important in order to show transgender youth they are not alone, and for audiences to develop more empathy around the topic. He said in the time he's worked with the teens, he's seen a huge shift in their confidence.

"A lot of self-consciousness and giggles just fell away, and it just because people just levelling up and challenging themselves," he said.

"I'm really proud and amazed of what I saw happening in the room, and I can't wait for it to be shared."

Meanwhile, first-time playwright Patel said opportunities for teens to share their stories is important.

"It allows them to feel a part of something bigger than themselves, it allows them to see the influence they have on others and share their stories so they don't feel as alone, and so people can relate to them."

The plays will be presented at York Woods Library Theater on Sunday at 1 p.m.


Talia Ricci is a CBC reporter based in Toronto. She has travelled around the globe with her camera documenting people and places as well as volunteering. Talia enjoys covering offbeat human interest stories and exposing social justice issues. When she's not reporting, you can find her reading or strolling the city with a film camera.