Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Keepers of the Story: Young Theater Artists Thrive at Irondale

Kate Quarfordt


Keepers of the Story: Young Theater Artists Thrive at Irondale

Posted: 10/23/2013 9:14 am

"Being a brilliant storyteller is different from just being a raconteur," says Jim Niesen, co-founder and director of Brooklyn-based Irondale Ensemble Project, looking up from the photocopied text in his lap at the actors gathered around the script-strewn table. On his left, several adult Irondale actors nod in agreement, while on his right, four teenage members of the ensemble's Young Company squirm a little and dodge his gaze. Jim grins at them. "Maybe 'raconteur' is a new word for you all," he offers. Andre, a slender high school student with short-cropped hair and a dazzling smile, bugs his eyes out and whispers, "Busted!" There is playful laughter from the group. Jim swivels in his chair, ignoring the more experienced actors now and directing himself with laser-beam focus straight at the teens. "A raconteur is someone who can tell a good anecdote, hit you with a one-liner. A wise-cracker, right?" Andre and the other kids nod. "But a storyteller is different. A brilliant storyteller in some cultures is revered as a shaman. The keeper of the history of the tribe, you know?"
2013-10-23-Terryandthecast.jpgIt's two weeks from opening night of Dead End, the first-ever production in Irondale's 30-year history that puts teenage actors from the group's Young Company in prominent roles alongside their professional adult counterparts. I'm sitting at the table with Jim and the cast, feeling privileged to be watching kids on the cusp of becoming professionals being taught by example how to take responsibility for the stories they tell.