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Originally published Friday, August 1, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Young Americans' Theatre Company: Teen thespians take reins of their own troupe

Seattle teenagers launch the Young Americans' Theatre Company with productions of Jonathan M. Sherman's "Women and Wallace" and Craig Pospisil's "On the Edge."

Seattle Times theater critic

Theater preview

Young Americans' Theatre Company

"Women and Wallace" and "On the Edge." Double bill plays Thursday,

runs through Aug. 17 at the Little Theater, 608 19th Ave. E., Seattle;

$5-$12 (www.brownpapertickets.com

or 800-838-3006).

Starting up a new theater company is always a labor of love, bound to raise hopes and jangle nerves.

And it's no different for the teenagers behind the Young Americans' Theatre Company (YATC), a new Seattle troupe making its debut with a bill of Jonathan M. Sherman's well-regarded Off Broadway play "Women and Wallace," teamed with another one-act, "On the Edge" by Craig Pospisil.

The co-founders of YATC are getting a speedy education in the theater biz by doing all the work themselves — raising funds, assembling costumes, garnering publicity, selling tickets. And, oh yeah, acting and directing, too.

But chatting recently over lemonade, founding members of YATC seemed ready to take that big bow. And when asked why form a new stage outfit, in a city with so many good drama programs for youth already, they had a firm answer.

"Because we don't want any adults involved," stated Tommy Fleming, the Garfield High School senior who dreamed up the new company, then "roped in" his friends. "We feel like we've earned a certain amount of independence."

Don't get Fleming wrong. He and his cohorts, all grads of the Young Actor Institute at Seattle Children's Theatre, are grateful for the encouragement and tutelage of parents and teachers.

In fact, some were, as the old saw goes, born in a theatrical trunk. Fleming's dad, Don Fleming, is a local playwright, director and staff producer at Seattle Children's Theatre.

And Zoey Belyea, who'll be a freshman this fall at Tulane University in New Orleans, is the daughter of two Seattle thespians: Shawn Belyea and Jena Cane.

But as YATC member Chelsea Taylor noted, the determined teens want to learn how to run the show — and to escape the content restrictions often imposed by adults.

A senior at Holy Names Academy, Taylor declared, "At my school we can't show weapons in a school production, not even a stick, or do plays with alcohol or sexual references. But we want to do theater that's about what it's really like being a young person, which means not excluding those things."

"A lot of adults don't give us enough credit," chimed in Belyea, "for knowing how to deal with mature subject matter and difficult concepts."

School "censorship" of drama is a real issue, asserted Fleming — not only in regard to scripts containing sex, profanity and violence, but in dialogue adults worry may be "politically incorrect," therefore offensive.

But some grown-ups have been quite supportive of YATC tackling a play with mature content — off the school grounds. University Prep senior Hattie Andres helped obtain a grant of up to $2,000 (dependent on expenses) from her school to mount the group's inaugural show.

Heading up the double bill at Capitol Hill's Little Theatre is Sherman's "Women and Wallace," staged by Fleming. A dark, semi-absurdist comedy that won top prize at the Young Playwrights Festival in 1988, the extended one-act focuses on a boy's personal evolution from ages 6 to 18 — in the wake of his mother's suicide.

The "women" in the play's title include Wallace's grandmother, a female therapist and his first sexual partner. Says Sam Tilles (who plays Wallace), "It's a perfect play for us, because it's about things [young people] have to deal with all the time. It sounds weird, but I can really see myself in Wallace."

Pospisil's "On the Edge" (directed by Tilles and Emma Kelley) also considers suicide — from the perspective of a lovelorn teen.

Acting is hardly new to the YATC folk, who have been studying and performing for years. (Several have already worked at the Intiman, Seattle Rep and other professional theaters.)

And if this first production is a success, YATC hopes to offer annual summer shows — eventually replacing themselves with younger teen drama buffs, as original members move on to college and other pursuits.

But marketing the show? That's a challenge. And to get the word out to their peers, they've done what any sharp teen in 2008 would do: put up a Young Americans' Theatre Web page on MySpace and Facebook, two popular social-networking sites that are must-reads for adolescents.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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