FORT GREENE — In the winter of 2013, when Andre Evan Knight was a sophomore in high school, the East Flatbush teen showed up at the Irondale theater at the suggestion of a teacher, feeling “extremely nervous and insecure” about his talent, his personality and his appearance.
“The thing about Irondale is they break that down,” the 18-year-old, now a freshman at Sarah Lawrence College, said of the theater’s teen acting program. “And through theater you learn how to come into yourself. How to be a person.”
Knight spent the rest of his teenage Saturdays at the Lafayette Avenue theater as member of the Irondale Young Company. First playing acting games and improvising and later performing full plays and devising new pieces, Knight and his fellow players found friendships outside of their schools and neighborhoods.
“I think there was an expectation that my ensemble held of me, that we needed one another to kind of move forward as a group,” Knight said. “It was kind of like we were responsible for everyone.”
Now in its seventh year, the youth ensemble is led by Irondale actor Michael-David Gordon and also taught by a rotating crew of artists associated with the theater. The troupe meets every Saturday at the theater from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to rehearse and create projects. They work on scenes and monologues, study text analysis, and practice movement, voice and speech techniques to learn "listening with the whole body,"Irondale's Director of Education, Amanda Hinkle, told DNAinfo New York.
The ensembles spends a lot of time improvising, working "the same way the adult company rehearses," Hinkle said.
"The goal is for the students to further their acting through ensemble-building and improvisation, writing, devising, going on field trips, seeing other performances, and definitely inspired by our off-Broadway company, to create something that is meaningful and important to them," Hinkle said.
Their most recent production, "Vernon," in which Knight played the title role, told the story of a school shooting and a witch hunt that followed it.
Students must volunteer for three to four hours a month at the theater, helping out by ushering Irondale’s professional shows or coming in early to check on the house, Hinkle said. But the major requirement for participation is commitment.
Knight said he made his best friends those Saturdays.
“I think any kid that has ever felt alone, any kid that has ever felt that no matter where they go they’re unliked or in the educational system they’re overlooked, I think anyone who’s looking for a positive community that will support them at every turn, Irondale is the place for them,” he said.
“It’s only kind of about theater,” he said. “It’s more about building the skills to communicate and be yourself.”
The free-of-cost program is open to all 14- to 18-year-olds across the city, and requires no audition. Interested young people can show up for the first day on Oct. 10 at 85 S. Oxford St. at 11 a.m. Email Amanda Hinkle, email@example.com, for more information.