Youth find their voice at the PuSh Festival

The Youth Assembly, a one-day performing arts conference run by and made for youth, is returning to this year’s PuSh Festival.

The Assembly will also be one of the final meetings for this year’s PuSh Youth Academy, a smaller group that for the last two months has regularly met up to see shows, listen to guest speakers and have a space to share and support each other.

The 2018 Youth Assembly will take place Saturday (Jan. 20), at the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre.

The academy

Natalie Tin Yin Gan is the coordinator of the PuSh Festival’s Youth Program, which includes both the Youth Academy and the Youth Assembly. Though the PuSh Festival itself doesn’t start until Jan. 16, the Youth Academy has been running since November with a group of 10 individuals between the ages of 16–24 meeting up once every other week.

Natalie Tin Yin Gan, coordinator of the PuSh Festival’s Youth Program. | Photo by Stephanie Gan

“The Youth Academy is a small cohort that comes together like a book club,” says Tin Yin Gan. “We spend time together, see shows together, eat dinner together; it’s a way to be an observer of performance, and as emerging artists, a way to connect.”

In October, the PuSh Festival put out a call for applicants to this year’s Academy, with each applicant writing a cover letter about themselves and why they’re interested in the program.

“What matters to me,” says Tin Yin Gan, “is bringing together a very diverse group that is coming from different experiences, interests, backgrounds and disciplines. When I first met them I got a feel for what topics interested them, and I’ve been bringing in guest speakers every couple of weeks to engage them in these subjects.”

Through guest speakers, dinners, and conversations after shows the group watched together, Tin Yin Gan wants the Academy to be a place where those involved can share what they’re up to, support each other and make new connections.

“A big thing for me is relationships. I would love the Academy members to really feel a sense of community, a sense of safety,” she says, “and that it is a place where we can adore one another and have difficult conversations.”

A learning environment

Jesse Del Fierro took part in the Youth Academy last year, and has remained involved with the PuSh Festival this year as the coordinator for the Youth Assembly.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect last year,” says Del Fierro. “But going into the program, I met a huge range of people. It was such a diverse group, so the discussions would always be different, and I met some people I love dearly and deeply.”

Jesse Del Fierro will help run this year’s Youth Assembly. | Photo by Fermina Del Fierro.

Del Fierro only knew one or two of the sixteen people in that year’s Youth Academy before it began, but the community they built within the group became one that was both comfortable and enriching.

“For me,” she says, “it’s interesting to engage with something you thought you knew. I found it so interesting to engage with those who were still in high school, and it really showed the differences between experiences. It’s a learning experience both ways.”

Del Fierro will be back at the PuSh Festival again this year, but in a very different capacity. While last year she was one of the many attendees to the Youth Assembly, this year she is helping run it.

“It’s a one-day event, for youth and by youth,” says Del Fierro. “We bring in a bunch [of] different artists, and it’s really about connecting with your community and understanding the environment that we exist in.”

The Youth Assembly is an event filled with workshops, speakers and conversation, and it’s a way for local youth who are curious and/or passionate about a career in the performing arts to explore various disciplines, speak with professionals and meet new people.

“I want those attending to feel inspired and encouraged,” says Del Fierro. “The world that we’re in is kind of scary, and it can be lonely sometimes. I want this day to make people feel that you can do something, that there’s space for you, and that it’s safe to be who you are.”

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