What's it about?
Anthem is an original musical drama and The Possibility Project's latest theatrical work. The piece is written and performed by a bunch of politically and socially aware teenagers. I could have gone to school with any one of these kids, who are creative and funny and far too familiar with the New York City justice system because they can't afford not to be. Understandably, they are fed up at the many societal complications that surround the world they live in and deeply influence their lives. Anthem's stories are very personal in nature, and they explore the connection between adversity and art. The vulnerable, heartbreakingly honest voices of our New York City youth are the focus of this show, and very much the voices we should be listening to in the hopes of finding potential ways forward through the hardship that life throws our way.
Interesting note: No participant in The Possibility Project is selected based on the talent showcased in their audition. Instead, the participants are selected based on their desire to take action to achieve the social change they want to see.
What'd I experience?
I had no idea what to expect from Anthem, but if my high school experience at LaGuardia had taught me anything, it was not to underestimate teenagers. I sat next to two very excitable women who very clearly had at least one kid in the show they knew. In fact, I got a sense that most of the people there with me were family of the performers. Little did I know that my two happy neighbors would be on their phones for HALF of the performance, getting phone calls and even ANSWERING THEM.
Before the show officially started, a video was played for the audience. More than anything, the video really came across as a love letter to The Possibility Project, which is a non-profit designed to "empower teenagers to transform the negative forces in their lives into positive action" via the arts.
The first character I was introduced to was a scrawny, bespectacled teen sporting a beanie and carrying a boom box. His name was DJ, and he was a subway musician currently living in his mom's basement. He had personality, DRIVE, and dreams larger than any New York City property could possibly contain. His charming opening song was quickly followed by an ensemble piece that had the particularly haunting recurring lyric, "No one is gonna take away my right to survive."
How chilling to think that these teenagers feared for their survival...
They had every reason to protest, to get PISSED. These were their LIVES, and they were only children. And yet there they were, loudly (but peacefully) performing on stage.
Anthem's multiple storylines touched upon the heavy but ever present issues that these young people had experienced in their short lives. The big ones were: sexism, slut shaming, homophobia, violence, abuse, poverty, gentrification, heartbreak, involvement with Child Protective Services (CPS), imprisonment, and peer pressure. If you added all that to the anxiety that came with simply being a teenager and existing, it was fairly significant.
The most successful artists, according to DJ, were successful because they were authentic and took the time to bring their personal experiences and views into their art. By listening and incorporating the experiences and views of the people around them into their art, they only furthered their successes. If we all lived a little more like our most authentic selves and listened to the people around us, we would be better off for it. I don't have all the answers, and I don't think any one person does. Those kids sure didn't, but what was important to witness was them addressing that changes needed to be made, and soon, because they were growing up in a world that was basically built to fail them.
Anthem provided a platform for teens to voice their concerns for their lives and the lives of generations to come. For once, there was nobody to censor their thoughts. They wrote the words they spoke and sang and together, crafted the show over a period of six months. The spotlight was on them, and I couldn't think of a better focus for my attention. I knew that they were our future, and that any hope we had of righting the wrongs of our present rested in their hands.
Want to see it?
$10 Student Tickets
@ Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater at The West Side Y
thru December 17th
What'd you experience?
Let PXP know in the comments...