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Monthly Archives: May 2011

Texas House of Representatives Approval of House Bill 1942

by Karen LaShelle, Executive and Artistic Director

We have some exciting news to share, courtesy of our friends at Equality Texas. On May 24th, the Texas House of Representatives gave final approval to House Bill 1942, relating to bullying in public schools. The House’s final vote to concur with Senate amendments was 118-26. The bill will make its way to Governor Rick Perry, who is expected to sign it into law.

Rep. Diane Patrick (R-Arlington), the primary author of HB 1942 stated, “Parents and children deserve to know they are within safe walls while receiving an education.” She added, “I am especially grateful for the work that Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin) and other House Public Education members contributed to lead this bill to fruition.”

Indeed, the efforts to pass an anti-bullying law have extended over multiple legislative sessions dating back over 15 years to legislation filed by former Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt, and current members Reps. Garnet Coleman, Harold Dutton, Mark Strama, Diane Patrick and Senators John Whitmire, Wendy Davis, and Leticia Van de Putte.

But it was the courageous efforts by Texas parents whose children have suffered from bullying that propelled the bipartisan effort in the Texas House and Senate to finally pass meaningful anti-bullying legislation in the wake of recent bullying-related tragedies in Texas and across the country.

Amy and David Truong of Houston lost their son, Asher Brown, eight months ago to bullying-related suicide. The couple has been working tirelessly for passage of the law. “It was a promise I made to Asher the day that he died before his little body left this house,” Amy Truong said. “I told him that I would never stop fighting until we did something to change this.”  David said, “We’ll never let this happen to any other family.”

Equality Texas made anti-bullying legislation its top priority for the legislative session. Executive Director Dennis Coleman stated, “Our 2010 Equality Poll showed overwhelming public support for legislation to address the problem of bullying in schools. We were determined to focus all our efforts to provide school administrators, teachers and parents with tools to create a safe learning environment for every student.”

The new law will:

  • Establish a new bullying definition that includes bullying through electronic means;
  • Integrates awareness, prevention, identification, and resolution of and intervention in bullying into the health curriculum;
  • Provides local school boards with discretion to transfer a student found to have bullied to another classroom or to another campus in consultation with the parent or guardian; and
  • Requires local school districts to adopt and implement a bullying policy that recognizes minimum guidelines such as prohibition of bullying, providing counseling options, and establishes procedures for reporting an incidence of bullying.

The sponsor of HB 1942 in the Senate, State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) stated, “Texas could no longer ignore this problem. It was imperative that our state take action and implement the appropriate steps to prevent further unnecessary bullying that unfortunately occurs in our public schools.”

Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) added, “The real goal is prevention. We’ve got to hold public school officials accountable when they know about these acts.”
Here at Theatre Action Project, our programs The Courage to Stand and The Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble empower young people to be courageous allies in the face of bullying. Our programs are one part of the changing tide on bullying in our country. We are so pleased to see that policies are changing in Texas and that laws will now be in place to help protect young people.

Youth Arts Festival : Thoughts from the Producer

by Aron Taylor, Teaching Artist and Youth Arts Festival Producer

This year, I was given the opportunity to produce the Youth Arts Festival for Theatre Action Project presented on May 21 at the George Washington Carver Museum Theatre. The responsibilities were great, but so were the rewards.

Executive Director, Karen LaShelle being interviewed by KXAN TV and KEYE TV.

The day-long festival of music, performance, film, and dance kicked off with a level of energy that only seemed to increase throughout the day. TAP staff, volunteers, and participating students were excited and willing to make that energy explode into a feeling of community that can only happen when the spectacle and spectator are folded in on each other – as was the case for this event. This is not to say that the only people in attendance were the performers, quite the contrary. In fact, the entire showcase quickly lent itself to a standing room only event – something to be kept in mind for next year’s festival.

Viewing students, parents, friends, and television news crews filling the auditorium from the front of the stage all the way to the back walls of the Boyd Vance Theatre was almost as incredible as the action on stage itself.

Photos by Carol Acurso, Amanda Davis,  and Mary Alice Carnes.


Theater People

by Anita Ashton, Development Director

Last week at an event, Karen LaShelle, Theatre Action Project’s Executive Director, and I were chatting with the mother of a high school student considering college choices. The mother’s son was interested in a theater program. We began discussing the strengths and characteristics of “theater people.” As an English major with no formal training or practical experience in theater working with scads of people steeped in that world, I have found that the defining attributes of my theater-trained colleagues are somewhat different than I’d have expected.

Among my co-workers, you will definitely find resonant voices capable of projection to the back of a performance venue and yes … you would recognize a penchant for costume and a love of having an audience, but I have come to think differently about how the theater arts comes to define people and their skill sets.

The real mark of “theater people” is an effortlessly creative resourcefulness.

Space and budget constraints are often as demanding as artistic concerns. The result is often real ingenuity. The open under-carriage of a giant alligator puppet in my office reveals a flexible skeleton made of interlocking pieces of foam core that are a feat of engineering. Theater experience is tantamount to chicken wire genius, apparently. I’ve seen Dustin Wills freestyle chicken wire into the form of giant forks and spoons that are transformed by papier mache and glossy paint into beautiful utensils.

On any given approach to our office, you might come upon a scene like this one…Karen and Dustin freehand sculpting a bull head for a production of Ferdinand the Bull by Munro Leaf.

So the next time you come across a big voice or outsize personality, before you use the term “theatrical” to describe the bearer, take the person’s problem-solving, idea-engineering and resourcefulness into consideration!

The Amazing Students from Garcia Middle School

by Patrick Torres, Middle School and High School Director

When I first arrived at Theatre Action Project, it was important me to work with a group of students as quickly as possible. I knew that no matter how many staff members I met with or how many grants, articles, or handbooks I read about the organization, I wouldn’t understand the heart of TAP until I got in a room with some of our participants. Luckily, that opportunity came in my second week as I accompanied Florinda Bryant to our after-school programming at Gus Garcia Middle School.

For those of us working in education, we know from a variety of experiences that middle school students in an after school environment present a variety of challenges. It is often difficult in these settings to keep the students focused and motivated. And while these challenges do exist at Garcia, I have never worked with a group of students who overcome those challenges so quickly.

It is astonishing to see how invested they can be when presented with a chance to let their creative juices flow.

These particular students dive into scripts like professional actors, studying their characters and dissecting the conflicts of their plays. It is similar to watching someone on a treasure hunt as they work to make sense of the language and the scenes they are given to act out. During rehearsals, they work to accurately convey the emotions of the characters and motivate one another to dig deeper and try harder. It has been fun to watch! And they have reminded me of some very important lessons:

  • Students need to be challenged. Many times problems with focus come from students feeling uninspired by what you’ve given them.
  • Students are way more perceptive than you think…if you believe they are going to be trouble…they will be trouble. But if you respect them as individuals and believe they are capable of success, they will be successful.
  • Drama is fun! While working on a play takes hard work and they can be used to teach us serious lessons, it is called a “play” for a reason!
  • Theatre as an art form brings us all together to have a common experience, so no matter who made us mad earlier in the day or what I might be frustrated with in my environment , telling stories allows me to connect to those around me.

I am thankful the students at Garcia were my first class at TAP. They have reminded me of the reasons I love what I do for a living and that middle school students are just as capable of being great artists as any of us.They have their final sharing this afternoon and I cannot wait to see them in action!

Joy and Community at the Youth Arts Festival

by Mary Alice Carnes, Community Relations Manager

Theatre Action Project’s 4th Annual Youth Arts Festival was certainly something to celebrate this past Saturday at the George Washington Carver Museum. Several middle and high school youth and TAP Teaching Artists showcased their work at the festival for a full house of students, parents, and families.

Before a single presentation happened however Sarah Rinner, TAP’s Elementary School Program Director, led all participating festival students in a series of fun warm up exercises to help energize the group and shake away any last minute nervousness.

Marcelo Teson Teaching Artist talks about Del Valle Middle School film "The Queen

As promised, the performances were as diverse in their celebration of art, which included stop-motion film, light-box animation, videos, dance, plays about friendship and healthy and unhealthy relationships.

Volunteers once again supported the festival with equal joy. Several individuals and the Junior League of Austin braved Austin traffic and thick humidity to set up, greet students, fold programs and usher, serve pizza and snacks throughout the day, and clean up and load out.

My favorite part of the festival was the communal celebration of art in all is forms. The post showcase entertainment provided by Diverse Effect Skate Crew and Free Angola Capoeira Society also gave us a fun platform to express our passion.

Here are a few photos from the day from photographers Amanda Davis, Carol Acurso and yours truly.  Enjoy!

CYD Courage in Action All-Star Camp

By: Emily Tindall, CYD Program Manager

This is the fourth year that Theatre Action Project has received the Community Youth Development (CYD) grant, a grant designed to provide free programming for youth in the 78744 zip code here in Austin. This grant is awarded to TAP by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, through the City of Austin.

Each year through the CYD grant, TAP serves over 1000 youth – in one zip code alone! We have 4 programs under the grant – the Courage to Stand for 4th and 5th grades, Courage in Action for 5th and 6th grades, Alternative Solutions for 6th-12th grades, and a summer program open to any youth 10-17 that live in 78744.

This summer, we are excited to announce that we are expanding (by combining) our summer and Courage in Action programs! We have designed the Courage in Action All-Star Camp – This camp is an extension of Courage in Action, an opportunity for youth to work together with other students from 78744/Dove Springs-area elementary schools to recognize problems in the world and to develop creative and peaceful solutions to those problems, expressed through the arts. The camp will feature special guest speakers, visits from community leaders, field trips, and a public presentation of the students’ work, hopefully to be broadcast on local news outlets. This camp will provide an excellent opportunity for youth in the 78744 to develop valuable skills in teamwork, leadership, and creative expression.

Our Special Agents of Courage (known to TAP as Natalie Goodnow and Keri Boyd) are currently back in schools in the ’44, asking youth to join them for this exciting super-secret mission. We are so excited to have an opportunity to partner with the Dove Springs Recreation Center, where the camp will be held, to bring new, exciting programming to the ’44, and extend our work with these youth!

If you’d like more information on this camp, the Community Youth Development grant, or would like to get involved, contact Emily Tindall, CYD Program Manager at emily@theatreactionproject.org!

George and Martha, The Wump World, and Tar Beach

by Cassie Swayze— After School Programs Associate VISTA

Hello again from TAP’s librarian! I’m here today to share a few more of my favorite storybooks. TAP has a vast library with a myriad of resources. It’s hard to choose just three!

One of my favorite – and one of the funniest – books in the TAP library is George and Martha by James Marshall. The book features five stories about two best friends and loveable hippopotamuses, George and Martha. These stories are pretty silly but the underlying message of friendship, compassion, and sharing shines through. In one funny tale, Martha makes far too much split pea soup and George, out of politeness, eats even though he can’t stand the taste. Instead of telling Martha he doesn’t want to eat anymore he hides the soup in his loafer! The story ends with Martha and George reconciling over a plate of cookies. This is just one example of a sweet and funny yarn with a message about friendship and honesty. I would highly recommend George and Martha for children and adults alike!

Another beautiful and educational book that I love is The Wump World, story and illustrations by Bill Peet. This is the story of the Wumps who live on the Wump World planet. They play and frolic all day in the meadows and crystal-clear rivers of Wump World. Then one day a fleet of potbellied monsters zoomed down to the Wump World and out marched the Pollutians from the planet Pollutus. They take over Wump World, driving the Wumps underground, and build cities full of skyscrapers, apartment buildings, overpasses, and underpasses, cars, and trucks! Soon Wump World was overrun with pollution:  smog and smoke filled the air and the water was no longer clear. The Pollutians decide to leave Wump World, leaving the Wumps to clean up the mess. Although the illustrations are simple the book will spark conversations among students, children, and parents. This is a powerful book that uses a simple metaphor for conservation that even young children will appreciate.

The last book I want to share with you is Tar Beach, story and illustrations by Faith Ringgold, which was my favorite book as a child. I love Tar Beach’s for its beautiful illustrations, magical story, and since the main character’s name is Cassie! The book begins with Cassie remembering, “…when the stars feel down around me and lifted me up above the George Washington Bridge”. She goes on to describe Depression-era Harlem and the New York City from above as she flies through the night sky. Ringgold used quilt painting – acrylic on canvas paper and fabric – to illustrate this wonderful, timeless story. We have several of Faith Ringgold’s books in the TAP library, If A Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks and Cassie’s Word Quilt, which are both wonderful storybooks.

If you would like to browse all the children’s books in the TAP library, please visit our Shelfari.