Courtney J. Boddie on Theater for Young Audiences

Courtney J. Boddie at New York University Steinhardt's Educational Theatre Program's special roundtable event
Courtney J. Boddie at NYU Steinhardt’s Educational Theatre Program’s roundtable

Last summer, New York University Steinhardt’s Educational Theatre Program hosted a special roundtable event in conjunction with New Plays for Young Audiences’ 20th Anniversary, to explore theater for young audiences in today’s world.

Panelists included Laurie Brooks, award winning theater for young audiences (TYA) playwright, José Cruz González, a leading Latino voice in TYA, Cecily O’Neill, foremost drama-in-education authority, David Montgomery, Director of NYU’s program and author of Theater for Change and Courtney J. Boddie, Director of Education/School Engagement at The New Victory Theater. The panel was moderated by Philip Taylor, NYU Educational Theatre professor.

Below, Courtney takes us through where she thinks the future of TYA is headed. To hear from the rest of the panel, take a listen to the podcast!

Thank you so much for having me here today! I graduated from NYU Steinhardt’s Educational Theatre Program in 2003 and I’ve worked at the New Vic ever since. This program really helped me find my home. At The New Victory Theater, I love to provide a place where kids are heard and where they can express themselves. TYA opened my eyes to this world because, prior to that, I only understood theater for adults. My parents took me to shows, but—for a long time—I didn’t understand that shows could be made specifically for kids too.

The New Vic opened in 1995 and since we’ve been the premier theater for New York City kids and their families. My job mainly focuses on the 40,000 kids from 170 schools we welcome to our theater each year. The majority of these schools have a general education curriculum with amazing teachers who understand that it’s important for kids to have theater in their lives from an early age.

Due to testing and budget cuts, middle and high schoolers don’t see a lot of theater. The New Vic is different because we serve pre-k through high school, but the majority of schools we work with are elementary schools. In order to showcase how affective theater is for kids of all ages, we are working on a longitudinal research study with WolfBrown. In two years, we’ll be able to share our findings on topics like theater’s intrinsic impact on elementary and middle school students with the public. We know that theater is good for all audiences, and we’re hopeful that the results of our study will inspire schools and other theaters to invest in young audiences.

I hope studies like this positively affect the future of TYA, because it’s so important to make sure that provocative, sophisticated work continues being created. We want to truly represent our audiences. There are many kids coming to our theater who are Black or Latinx and they, sadly, don’t often see themselves on stage. We aim to represent all kids so they all can grow up feeling represented by the characters that we, as creators of TYA, show them.

The thought that young people can’t appreciate theater is ridiculous. Kids are the most honest audiences in the world. My favorite thing to do is to watch our education performances, because those kids are going to tell the actors right away what they really think. They’ll let you know if they don’t like the show, but, more importantly, they’ll tell you if they love it.

There is always a beautiful reciprocation that happens between artist and audience, but with kids there’s this palpable energy that’s so synergistic, it’s difficult to describe. What we need to push for is a range of performing arts that kids are exposed to, as well, as the number of stories they can connect to. Being with these amazing artists today and seeing the incredible work created around the globe, I have hope that my goals for TYA will come true!

Courtney J. Boddie Headshotg

Courtney J. Boddie, New Victory Director of Education/School Engagement, oversees the New Victory Education Partnership program and professional development training in the performing arts for teachers. Ms. Boddie was President of the Association of Teaching Artists (ATA) from 2015 to 2017 and is currently on the Board of Directors. Additionally, she serves on the Teaching Artist Committee of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable, the editorial board for the Teaching Artist Journal and is a member of the National Teaching Artist Collective in association with the National Guild for Community Arts Education. She is an adjunct professor at New York University and The New School. Prior to joining The New Victory Theater in 2003, Ms. Boddie was Program Associate for Empire State Partnerships (NYSCA) and a teaching artist for Roundabout Theatre Company. She received her Master’s degree from the Educational Theatre Graduate Program at New York University.