The teenage years can be an incredibly stressful time in one’s life: learning what and who one likes, expressing that while still being parented, and dealing with the pressure to be just like everyone else. Having a healthy outlet to release the stress of those formative years is essential. For some, it may be a sport or a creative outlet like a choir or theatre group.
PlayRight, a dramatic arts training program launched by the Cathedral in February 2023 and returning in September 2023, provides that creative outlet. Thanks to a grant from the Anglican Foundation the PlayRight program is offered free of charge. The impact of those sessions on the lives of young people is priceless.
Lauren Odile Pinkney, the Cathedral’s Children, Youth & Families minister who developed the program, was inspired by a similar program she was involved with in the UK. “It gave young people permission to explore their personality and identity fully. When they didn’t know how to integrate this with what their peers and society expected of them, creative arts programs were a safe haven for them. I’ve seen young lives changed because young people had a safe place to be fully themselves. That’s what I want to provide youth in Vancouver.”
Each week PlayRight focuses on a different aspect of dramatic arts: musical performance, makeup for stage, costuming, improvisation, and many other related topics. The topics explored are driven by what the youth are interested in learning about.
Having a space in which to explore creative abilities and fully express oneself can turn a difficult life season into a fruitful one. Allegra Calabrigo, one of the staff who helps run the PlayRight program, recalls how important theatre class was in her life.
“I like to be loud. I was always the silliest kid in the room. My teen years were a struggle. Drama class brought together all of us loud, silly kids who felt like we were on the outside. No one was asking us to ‘tone it down’ and we could fully be ourselves,” she said. That shared space where Allegra and her friends could be themselves led to forging important lifelong friendships. That is an experience she wants other youth to be able to have.
Lauren is heartened that PlayRight is already providing a space where youth are free to explore their creative talents. She has already seen this draw participants out of their shells. She says one week the group focused on lipsynching musical performances. One young person seemed particularly disengaged and withdrawn during the technical part of the session. The staff were doubtful this young person would take part in the activity. “And then it came time for the participants to prepare their own performances. This young person lit up from the inside out and gave this fantastic, captivating performance full of energy. That’s what we’re here for.”
For Allegra, there isn’t one specific event that signalled to her that PlayRight is on the right track. “Whenever we’re doing improv, and I look around the room and there are youth involved in a scene and they’re rolling around on the ground laughing because they’ve done the most hilarious things in response to the scene prompts we throw at them, I think ‘this is great! We’ve got teens fully immersed in the experience”. The uninhibited laughter signals to Allegra that she’s done her job well, removed the fear of looking or being silly and given participants the opportunity to dive in fully. “This is perfect, this is what we want,” she says.
Seeing youth come out of their shell is just one part of what makes PlayRight so necessary. Lauren explains drama training is just the beginning.
“Most drama programs in the city are offered at community centres, or specialized drama schools and their mandate is very narrow: offer drama training, for profit, full stop. In the lower mainland performing arts classes for youth cost upwards of $400 for a 12-week term” says Lauren. Unlike those programs, PlayRight recognizes that many families in this city are feeling an economic pinch and a free drama program means no youth are left behind in difficult economic times. Beyond the economic factors, PlayRight offers this important program through lens of extending the unconditional welcome of God’s love. “As a church-run program, we have the resources and training to create a space in which young people experience God’s unconditional love through the welcome we provide. And, quite naturally, when youth feel that welcome and feel free to explore their talents and capabilities, they engage us in important conversations. Fundamentally those conversations are about truth, love and purpose. We can offer resources, and if and when they’re ready we can offer the doorway to an experience of the living, loving Christ.”
PlayRight is open to young people ages 12-16, free of charge. Sessions are held at Christ Church Cathedral on Thursdays at 6:30pm. Drop-ins are most welcome. For more information, or to register, contact email@example.com