Big Brain Awards

Xanthia Walker of Rising Youth Theatre: 2015 Big Brain Awards Finalist, Performing Art

You submitted nominations for the best and brightest emerging Valley creatives, and the results are in. Presenting the 2015 Big Brain finalists.

Leading up to the announcement of winners at Artopia on May 9, Jackalope Ranch, Chow Bella, and Up on the Sun will introduce the finalists. Up today is Xanthia Walker.

Xanthia Walker sits in a room with a zombie nurse, a fox, and a girl in a platinum blond wig.

She's invited them to meet with her and some other Rising Youth Theatre staff. Well, technically the invitation was for the people inside the costumes to attend RYT's cosplay workshop so Walker, partner Sarah Sullivan, and their playwright could research fandoms for the theater's next production.

Sitting in a circle, the attendees, many of whom had never worked with RYT before, went around and discussed the different shows, movies, and comics they loved. In the midst of excited outbursts caused by someone mentioning a certain character, Walker scribbled down notes in a journal, the phrase "fail better" scrawled in pen on the inside of her wrist.

See also: Announcing the 2015 Big Brain Finalists

This is how Walker envisioned Rising Youth Theatre working when she and Sullivan came up with the idea in 2009, incorporating kids into every aspect of the production from writing to lighting.

Walker and Sullivan originally looked to Chicago as the place to start Rising Youth Theatre, until she found an abundance of similarly focused theaters in the city. But not in Phoenix.

"Phoenix didn't have a theater company exactly like ours already," Walkers says. "There was space."

Walker says she wanted to create a place where she could share the experiences of young people through cool art and collaboration.

The inclusive nature of Rising Youth Theatre doesn't stop at the people who help create the productions. Walker says RYT also aims to bring theater to people who may not actually go to the theater on their own accord.

The best example of this is RYT's View from the Tracks: The Light Rail Plays in June 2014, which involved pairs of one adult and one youth performing theatrical pieces on the light rail.

Admittedly, the theory of bringing theater to the people doesn't always work, but Walker isn't afraid of failure.

"It's a really open process, because if we fail at something, it's okay," she says.

Currently, Walker splits her time between Rising Youth Theatre and the theater department at Arizona School for the Arts, where she teaches children in the fifth through 12th grades.

"I feel like I get really most inspired and driven by young people's stories and ideas," Walker says. "There's sort of a tendency in the world to not see young people as people with fully formed ideas and opinions, and I've always thought that that's strange."

Walker hopes RYT will get to the point one day where she can devote all her attention to it. That is the goal, anyway.

As the laughter after the final mini-skit of the cosplay workshop dies down, Walker asks all the participants to be in the upcoming performance. The costumed attendees quietly look at each other for a moment, as if trying to figure out whether the offer was genuine or not, before thrilled voices start sending ideas through the air again at a mile a minute.

The 2015 Big Brain Award winners will be announced on Saturday, May 9, during New Times' Artopia, an evening of food, drink, art, and music at Monarch Theatre. For details and tickets, $25, visit

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Evie Carpenter is a visual journalist. Using photography, videography, design, and sometimes words, she tells stories she hopes make a bit of difference in the world, even if those stories are in list form and include GIFs.
Contact: Evie Carpenter