Mosaic Youth Theatre puts the spotlight on youth mental health

Student Justin Washington and Executive Director DeLashea Strawder join CultureShift to talk about the upcoming New Voices Festival.

Mosaic Youth Theatre DeLashea Strawder (left) and Justin Washington (right) in the WDET studios.

DeLashea Strawder (left) and Justin Washington (right) in the WDET studios.

The next generation of Detroit storytellers are finding their voice at Mosaic Youth Theatre. Ten winners have been chosen from over 50 submissions for the theater’s New Voices: Detroit program, which highlights youth playwrights and composers.

One of those winners is Justin Washington, a junior at Rochester High School. He and Mosaic Executive and Artistic Director DeLashea Strawder joined CultureShift to talk about the New Voices program and what Mosaic Youth Theatre is doing here in the city.

Before becoming one of its leaders, Strawder was in Mosaic herself as a teenager.

“I was one of the troublemakers, always asking the teaching artists then at the time if we could do things a little differently, and I guess I asked them enough times where they said, ‘Hey, how about you give it a try?’”

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She says New Voices: Detroit puts the power in the hands of young people, allowing them to make their own decisions about the art they want to make.

This season, the high schoolers decided to focus on youth mental health. Strawder says their theme, “Behind the Mask,” addresses the complexities of putting on a brave face during difficult times.

“There’s also a saying in the industry, ‘The show must go on.’ But the reality is, there’s a lot of layers behind all of that. And what you see isn’t all that there is to the story.”

For his contribution to the program, Washington wrote a short story called “Please Don’t Mind My Mind.” He says that while its premise is broadly relatable, it enriched his writing process to draw from his own specific experiences.

“I just tried to write things that come from the heart, because I believe that when you write from what comes out of you, it’s better than just trying to write something that you think would be cool or would blow up.”

He and the other nine winners will be performing at the New Voices: Detroit Festival this Friday. It will take place on the lawn of the Detroit Institute of Arts starting at 6 p.m.

Listen: Strawder and Washington talk COVID-19 and the importance of youth art spaces.


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  • Ryan Patrick Hooper
    Ryan Patrick Hooper is the award-winning host of "In the Groove" on 101.9 WDET-FM Detroit’s NPR station. Hooper has covered stories for the New York Times, NPR, Detroit Free Press, Hour Detroit, SPIN and Paste magazine.
  • Sophia Jozwiak
    Sophia Jozwiak is the Digital Content and Communities Assistant for 101.9 WDET.