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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!