Treehouse Shakers

Treehouse Shakers
Hatched, BAM Fisher, Hillman Studio

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Let's Talk About IT!, Making A Work For Teens

Let's Talk About IT! (LTAI) performs January 2012 at The Ailey Citigroup Theater, NYC. This will be LTAI's 3rd performance run in NYC. We premiered the piece in 2009 on tour in Wyoming, and then the same year at Playwright Horizon's Peter Jay Sharp Theater in NYC. Until this point, we had made work primarily for young audiences through 5th grade. We didn't want to lose the audience members who had grown up with Treehouse Shakers, we wanted to sustain our audience. We also weren't seeing work being specifically made for teens.

It was *Emily who first came up with the idea to make a work for teens. She came across a book while in Serbia called, "Sex for Beginners." The book has two grannies talking about the body, its physical changes, and the beginning conversations about sex. She kept saying, this could make a great show and we need to make it. A few years went by, we made other shows, and then circled back to the idea. In the fall of 2007 Let's Talk About IT! began development rehearsals.

Let's Talk Abut IT! at Playwright Horizons Peter Jay Sharp Theater, NYC
Originally, the performance was to focus on the teen body, the exploration of the body, and sex. Who better to make this statement than a dance-theater company. Emily could use choreography to describe the physical changes, and the emotional ones. Through development, we brought in other aspects of the teen world; bullying, self-esteem, media influence, peer pressure and finding one's place. Soon we began interviewing teens and filming their answers regarding these subjects. These filmed interviews are now interwoven throughout the performance.

While writing the script, I wanted to include a folktale that explored teenage angst. I was soon pondering the classic, Little Red Riding Hood. This is a societal tale told to many of us since toddlerhood, and yet it feels much more appropriate for the young adult who is navigating for the first time through the thick, shadowy forest as to which path will best shape their future. What would happen if we met these well-known characters in High School. Little Red becomes the most popular girl, while the poor wolf is shunned for his physical attributes. I also loved the idea of this tale because it is universal and well-known. I'm not sure it would have worked as well if I had used a more obscure folktale. Little Red Riding Hood is ancient world pop culture. And speaking of pop culture, for the record, LTAI was written well before MTV's Teen Wolf.
Little Red Riding Hood & The Wolf, Let's Talk About IT!
One of our wonderful and long-time company members, Sarah Young, found a 1950's  McCall's Guide to Teenage Beauty. I kept the message of this book, and we made it into small game show segments that are woven within the piece. Next, we explored free writings of our teen experience with our bodies, first dates, love relationships, experimentation. I deconstructed these writings, weaving them between the other stories. In the end, the script blended together many different writing styles, stories and theatrical elements.

It was the blending of the company's creative forces that truly brought the show together. Once in rehearsal we continued to make changes. We wanted to explore coming of age in every sense of the meaning. It is more than the body’s physical changes, but is the heightened emotional and the often psychological investigation, that parallels the changing body. Emily deconstructed her movement phrases that she had developed over the year. She had the performers continue to create movement based on words, feelings, experiences. She added partnering, and her own spin on hip-hop. She played with the symbolism of an apple, which appears both in the dance and the story lines. The result is a 50 minute performance extravaganza. 

None of us will ever forget when a NYC Public High School teacher stood up at the end of the performance, told us it was her second year bringing her class, and how deep the conversation had continued in the classroom weeks after the show. We also won't forget the mothers who brought their nine and ten year olds so they could begin the conversation about the next phase of  adolescent life.
Let's Talk About IT! at Peter Jay Sharp Theater, NYC
We envisioned how kids would react while making the piece, but it wasn't until we brought the show to Middle School students from small towns in Wyoming did we have an idea. They got it! They loved it! They wrote to us, they treated us like stars after the show. But what about High School students from some of New York's toughest schools? In the end, they have proven to be our most enthusiastic audiences, they clap, they shout out, they react! And they love the show. Some of these same kids continue to call us, write to us, and email us. The show makes an impact, it begins discussions, it helps this age figure things out, reflect on their peers' experiences and ponder their own experience.
Performer Malinda Crump in Let's Talk About IT!
So for now we continue to tweak the show. We have to constantly update pop references and this fall we have been teaching new company members the piece. We look forward to our January audiences seeing the show, and how we can continue to expand our outreach work for this age.

If you would like tickets to the January shows please contact us at: 212-715-1914 or
To find out more:

Photo Credits: Dan Ozminkowski

Special Thanks to all the Company Members who have worked on this piece since 2007; Caroline Edeline, Kristy Kuhn, Sarah Young, Amber Ford, Josh Tag, Elise Smith, Malinda Crump, Maxx Passion, Sarah Milosevich, Ashley McGill and Miranda Wilson.

*Emily Bunning, for those new to our blog, is Treehouse Shakers' co-founder, artistic collaborator and choreographer.

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