Xanthia Walker of Phoenix's Rising Youth Theatre: 100 Creatives
Tim Trumble Meet the performing artist.
Phoenix is brimming with creativity. And every other year, we put the spotlight on 100 of the city's creative forces. Leading up to the release of this year's Best of Phoenix issue, we're profiling 100 more. Welcome to the 2014 edition of 100 Creatives. Up today: 50. Xanthia Walker.
Xanthia Walker does it for the kids. But her work in youth theater goes beyond that.
Walker, who co-founded Rising Youth Theatre and teaches at Arizona School for the Arts, aims to build and connect communities. "We create socially relevant original plays through partnerships between communities, professional artists, and youth," Walker says of her work with Rising Youth, which has produced seven new works, recently wrapped up View From the Tracks: the Lightrail Plays (performances that took place with youth and adult performers on the Light Rail), and kicks off its fourth year as a company this September.
Right now, Walker's in Jocotenango, Guatemala, where she's learning and making art in a community-embedded school. "I am observing and working with teachers and artists here, and also creating a short play with a group of high school aged Guatemalan youth," Walker says. "The school exists specifically to engage youth who are difficult to keep in school because of financial hardship and security issues."
Bradford Forehand Anthony Kelly and Clare Emmert are pictured performing Lightrail Plays, which Walker co-curated with her Rising Youth Theatre partner Sarah Sullivan.
She says that the trip is giving her new perspective on immigration issues. "In the midst of the giant spotlight that has recently been shown on migrant youth crossing the border into the U.S. (many from Guatemala), it is really powerful to get to spend time with a community of young people in Guatemala and get to see firsthand how hard people are working to create a safe, strong community here that kids and families feel safe to stay in and feel they can thrive in.
"Being here makes me wonder what could happen if we shifted the immigration dialogue towards building strong safe communities for all people in all places and away from who is allowed in and out of a community. "
I came to Phoenix with no intention of staying. I moved to Phoenix in August of 2007 to attend ASU's MFA in Theatre for Youth program. I thought I would complete the program and then probably move back to Minneapolis (where I lived before). I decided to stay in Phoenix because I fell in love with the sense of space in Phoenix -- space in the literal sense of proximity to nature and wide open desert but more than that, the space of possibility that exists here- I think Phoenix is transforming and becoming a place where the arts matter to people. When we began thinking about starting Rising Youth Theatre, Phoenix felt like a place where there was space for it to exist and thrive -- and now I can't think of any better place for RYT to be.
I make art because I love it. I feel compelled by it. It is an essential ingredient in what makes us human. I also think it is one of the most powerful and effective ways to participate in my community. I believe deeply that art is for everyone and can be by everyone. I feel most excited by art that is created with people who might never have thought before that art is "for them." I love getting to be a part of people discovering that they are artists, and that they have something vital to say about the world. I also love getting to witness people listening to someone's vital thoughts and worldviews.
I'm most productive early in the morning when the world is very quiet. I actually hate waking up early, but it is when I get my best work done.
My inspiration wall is full of... I don't have an inspiration wall, but I have two other things: a treasure box and an artist notebook. My treasure box (a shoebox) is full of trinkets I have collected from all over -- things people have given me, weird little things I find that move me in some way, programs from plays (like Heather Woodbury's Tale of Two Cities, which rocked my world so hard that the program immediately went into my treasure box). I started keeping an artist notebook about 7 years ago, and I carry one with me everywhere. Whenever I fill one up I buy a new one. Now I have this collection of notebooks (maybe 20?) that are full of thoughts and notes and most importantly, tons and tons of stories from people and communities I have collaborated with -- people's stories are really what inspire me.
I've learned most from working with young people. Youth are radical, powerful, un-jaded, wildly imaginative powerhouses and making art with them is so awesome.
Good work should always be honest. That doesn't mean honest in the sense of realism- I think honesty is about finding the universal truth and then taking that honesty as the center point and building the work from there. That's one of the reasons why I love making work based on people's true stories.
The Phoenix creative scene could use more time! There are so many good things happening in the Phoenix creative scene right now. It feels like there are all of these creative people committed to building something here- and that is so exciting. I can't wait to see what kind of cultural epicenter Phoenix is 10 years from now. Along those lines of building, I think the Phoenix creative scene could do with more art that reflects specifically Phoenix. I think that means art in more languages, more cultural contexts, and in more places besides beautiful arts centers and traditional theaters.