What happens when you introduce troubled teens to theatre

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MANHATTAN, N.Y. — “I wish I could take it back. Actually, no. I don’t wish I could take it back because what happens to me afterwards is one of the best things that happened to me in my entire life,” Christopher Thompson said.

Thompson is talking about an altercation he had at school. He hit a fellow student in the face with a lock. The student went to the hospital, received stitches and pressed charges. Thompson’s life has never been the same. He’s now a changed man with the help of Stargate Theatre Company.

It was launched in 2013 by the Manhattan Theatre Club. It employed seven court-involved young men to write and perform a play.

“I see kids whose confidence is built, whose ability to express themselves is better than when they came in,” Judy Tate, an artistic director with Stargate. Tate is actually a four-time Emmy Award-winning playwright. For more than 10 years Tate has worked with troubled youth.

“One of the reasons why I feel so dedicated to these young men is maybe they come from areas that have been left behind,” she said.

Youth that have participated in the program admit it’s a completely different environment for them.

“When I first walked in, I was shy,” Thompson said. “I just didn’t feel comfortable. I felt out of my skin. And I was like, ‘Aghhh, this is awful, why am I here? I’m not a talker! But I need the money, so why not stay?’”

Tate said at first many of the young men who come in are wary of any type of authority figure.

“And here I am putting them in this situation and we’re asking them to play,” she said. “Gradually, over the course of time, their shoulders start to go down and their backs start to straighten up. Sometimes you start to see a smile where sometimes you might not have seen a smile before.

Stargate had its first public performance in August 2013.

“When we perform? Oh, my God, it’s like heroine. It’s like the greatest drug ever,” Thompson said.

The young men aren’t after fame or fortune. They perform because the love it.

“Even if people would have said, ‘Wow, you guys are awful,’ we’d be like, ‘We did it and you didn’t. You’re just mad,”Thompson said. “I really enjoy performing. I love it.”

For more information about Stargate Theatre Company, visit their website.

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