The Gift of Knowledge

Img 791Adolescent Anarchy is one of the more unique theatre groups in the Des Moines area, comprised of all youth. Now under the auspices of Des Moines Young Artists' Theatre, their summer production is The Giver, based upon the best-selling book by Lois Lowrey about a society where knowledge is a precious commodity... much like the knowledge gained by the young artists of Adolescent Anarchy.

In The Giver, we are introduced to a utopian society, but one in which that utopia is only maintained because the inhabitants are unburdened by the memories and knowledge of their history and their emotions. Everything is in balance... but while that means there are no lows, it also means there are no high points. There's no hate, but there's really no love either. Society is level, even, stable... but there are some who are burdened with the knowledge of the past... and others who are destined to receive it.


Here Begins the Journey....


While not a burden, the idea of the passage of knowledge is a central purpose for Adolescent Anarchy (AA). The organization began when a group of young people at the Des Moines Playhouse wanted to put on their own show, but they wanted to learn how to do it completely... meaning not just perform or direct, but have youth in all of the jobs normally held by adults. This meant everything from publicity to negotiating the performance rights, and financing to ticket and ad sales. Beginning in 2012, the organization has presented a play each summer staffed entirely by youth, mentored by adult "advisors" who serve, much like the character of The Giver in the play, as the vessels of knowledge... but the final decisions rest with the members of Adolescent Anarchy, which has continued to evolve since its start.


Ashley Howland is the director of this year's production. "I do know that this is the first year with no founding members of the group! I went to Roosevelt High School and I had a couple of friends who were members of AA, and hearing them talk about it convinced me to apply!"


"Our hardest thing behind the scenes for this show is either funding or promotion, these are two things that every member of our group is cooperating to make sure that this show happens! We ran a trivia night, we are offering business and personal ads for our program, and we are doing multiple other things to raise money. We are also promoting through social media, posters, and word of mouth!"


"For The Giver in particular we went into choosing a show thinking we wanted to do a show that 'leaves people thinking' and The Giver did that for us. I believe that is kind of what AA goes into a lot of decisions thinking, 'how can I get the audience to leave wanting to know more?'"


That passage of knowledge and interest even goes from one youth to another. The cast of the play ranges from 9 years old up to 21, and Ashley herself only just graduated from high school this past May. So she has found herself in the unique position of both learning the ropes of directing and trying to express information to those younger than her.


"There is a point in the show where Jonas [the young lead character, played by 9-year-old Sailor Schervish] experiences war," says Ashley, "and I had to talk through how war would affect her because as a 9-year-old she is kind of shielded from war in this world." 


To Know is to Be Amazed....


Another person who gets to both learn and teach is Brianna Stoever, currently a student at Simpson College in Indianola. While she's been in other productions, both with Des Moines Young Artists' Theatre and in her college career at Simpson, the AA experience is one she's cherishing. And she's also impressed with the young talent.


"It's been especially interesting to work with Sailor, the girl playing Jonas, for this production. I've never acted alongside someone so young, and she absolutely amazes me. I'm extremely excited that I get to work with people of so many different ages. It's a new experience and I'm glad for the opportunity."


Img 759"I had never heard of Adolescent Anarchy when I was in high school, and I really wish I had. The work these students do is amazing, and the experience is even better. I was impressed with how well everything came together with the production last year, and I find myself again being impressed with what I've seen this year."


"A production like this is very humbling because the things I've only learned as a college student are being brilliantly executed by students who are still in high school or just graduating. The work they do is tremendous, I know from my experiences in college, and I think this program is great. I'm positive there will be a lot of talented individuals in the theatre world very soon based on the talent I've seen here."


As far as this summer's production, Brianna is playing the title role of The Giver, the character who carries the knowledge and burden for her society. Her role means she has a definitely contrasting experience while playing her part.


"The Giver is a complex character who holds, essentially, the entire world on her shoulders. She's the only member in this community who knows pain and suffering. Everyone else is content with their lives all the time and worry about nothing. They're able to be carefree. As The Giver, I look at her more as someone who can't be as carefree - she understands it, but she is constantly in pain due to the memories she is always reliving. It's an interesting idea that I'm still exploring, and will continue to explore as we get closer to the show."


"Working on The Giver has been a fun challenge over the summer, and I can't wait to see how it all comes together."


Back to director Ashley Howland to sum up Adolescent Anarchy in general, and The Giver in particular.  "We want the members of our group to leave with more experience and a greater appreciation of theatre. We hope our audience leaves thinking about the importance of choices, individuality, and history in our community."


The Giver has only three shows, Friday and Saturday August 11 and 12 at 7pm and Sunday August 13 at 2pm. Performances will be held at Des Moines OnStage (2124 Grand Avenue). Tickets are available through the DMYAT website or at the door. 

Des Moines Young Artists' Theatre Adolescent Anarchy Ashley Howland Brianna Stoever Sailor Schervish Des Moines OnStage