Young Players Ensemble was founded by Hilari Scarl to create original, company-developed theater that addresses current issues and conflicts among young people through theatre.
Since 1989, Young Players Ensemble has worked with multi-cultural cast members ages 9 to 17 to create original theater productions based on their lives, opinions and stories. The purpose of the program is to provide a creative and safe place for young people to explore writing, acting and stagecraft while fostering teamwork, confidence and communication.
Young Players Ensemble has facilitated several international exchanges, bringing cast members together from Russia, Scotland, India, France, Japan, Switzerland, Somalia, Northern Ireland and across the United States. Original theatre pieces have been produced in Atlanta, New York, Maine, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and across Northern Ireland. Casts have performed in theaters, nursing homes, AIDS hospices, orphanages, summer camps, at-risk youth centers, fairs and site specific locations.
The productions encourage kids to discuss topics and issues relevant to their lives. Themes of these productions have covered prejudice, identity issues, politics and homelessness. Theatrical styles are chosen and developed by each cast through improvisation, group discussion and creative writing. Past styles have included musical theater, political drama, broad comedy, romance and mythology.
Young Players Ensemble accepts any young person with a passion and commitment to the program, regardless of past experience or current abilities. Ensemble members may choose participate as a performer, part of the technical crew or both. Guided by professional guests and mentors, the entire production from the script to the lighting design is built and run by the ensemble. The cast and crew are empowered to make all creative and technical decisions, including the name of the show, costume choices and set design.
Cast members gain confidence as they are introduced to new skills and are empowered to make creative decisions. The entire production is built upon the ensemble’s individual and collective interests and strengths. The crew can elect to skip on a technical area such as lights or costumes, or can initiate areas of interest such as musical composition. Once technical areas are chosen, top theater professionals are brought in as guests to mentor the cast and crew. Past productions have included original music, choreography, Irish dancing, special effects and audience participation all created entirely by the ensemble.
Many cast members have gone on to be leaders in their schools and communities. A few have become professional actors and writers: Liz Feldman won an Emmy for her writing on Ellen and is a staff writer for the TV show 2 Broke Girls; Sara Paxton who starred in the feature film Aquamarine and the TV show Darcy’s Wild Life and Liam who starred in Oliver in London’s West End.
Northern Ireland Now – Belfast, Waterside and Derry, Northern Ireland
Three groups of workshops across Northern Ireland discussed how young people have progressed since the sectarian violence of The Troubles. Unbeknownst to each group, the three casts (Catholic, Protestant and mixed) wrote short plays based on stereotypes of another town. All three groups were brought together to perform for each other and discuss their surprised reactions. The documentary “Northern Ireland Now” followed each group through auditions and rehearsals to performance and a collaborative group discussion. The cast was inspired to continue working together after the completion of the project.
Mythical Dreams – Northern Ireland/Los Angeles
Born out of the Celtic Art’s Center Northern Ireland Pen Pal Project, 10 young people from across Northern Ireland wrote letters to their peers in Los Angeles. They wrote of “the Troubles”, myths, and stereotypes. The American cast explored cultural misconceptions, and felt united with their pen pals in their mutual desire to understand each other. Both casts were inspired by Joseph Campbell (reincarnated in our play as a 9-year-old African American girl,) concluding that it is the journey of life, not the end solution that matters most. The production was invited to perform at the Edge of the World Theatre Festival. Publicity was headed up by 16-year-old Hanna, who took the initiative to establish relationships with the press community.
If Kids Ruled the World – New York
Young people poured out anger and frustration as they expressed their worldviews on war, politics, homelessness and the environment. This production premiered Off-Broadway as New York audiences heard sophisticated political debates firsthand from young people on the verge of inheriting the world and its problems. The cast performed at the Ronald McDonald House and was the first youth program ever to perform at an AIDS hospice in New York in 1992.
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Kids, But Were Afraid to Ask - Atlanta
A multi-layered show about peer pressure, divorce and coming of age in America. The cast reunited a runaway youth with her family after her mother heard about the program and saw the show. This sold out production received standing ovations on a nightly basis, and sparked the beginning of the Young Players Ensemble.
Inside Out – Maine/Scotland collaboration
This production explored the concept of perfection, and misconception that seemingly “perfect” kids are without problems. The cast wrote a mystery centering around a popular girl who goes into hiding to see if people really cared about her. The case was solved by Milk Mustache, an oddball Scottish detective who loves milk and always wears one scuba flipper.
Orphan Magic – Los Angeles
A bunch of orphans overhear plans to tear down their orphanage to make way for a greedy businessman's plans to build over their home. They expose thieves through a magical book of spells, which manifested Albert Einstein, the Exorcist and Richard Simmons to help them. Love of theatre brought together young people from all over Southern California, including youth from at-risk neighborhoods. One 12-year-old cast member from a low-income housing project was home-schooled and not allowed out of the house except for a few limited activities. After taking the bus by herself to the audition and arranging for transportation to and from rehearsals, her work and confidence flourished. Encouragement from the cast convinced her to enter her poems in a local poetry contest, winning her support and accolades.
The Color of the Sky – multinational
The multinational cast explored themes of prejudice by creating a mystical story based on Romeo and Juliet. The cast created two mythical societies of the Night People and the Day People who live in fear and hatred of the other, but are forced to confront each other during an eclipse. After watching a few rehearsals, 15-year-old Kevin was inspired to create incidental music for the production. He ended up writing an entire original score. He went on to produce his first CD when he was 19 years old about peace and diversity.
Ya! – Russian/U.S. collaboration
Meaning "Me!" in Russian, Ya! explored identity issues between young Russians and Americans. Cast members discovered they shared similar pressures about finding their identity and growing up despite language and cultural barriers. "Ya" was co-directed by Hilari Scarl from the U.S. and Artur Bogotov of Russia, bringing Russian and American kids together right after the Cold War.