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Category Archives: New Stages

New Stages Takes Flight

by Patrick Torres, Middle School and High School Program Director

The New Stages Youth Theatre Ensemble met for the first time last night, and it was great. The participants were funny, insightful and honest as they offered stories from their lives and spoke about what they hoped audiences would learn from the original piece they will create this year:

  • Do not judge people by how they look.
  • People who have been through the system can be successful.
  • Everyone has their faults.
  • We are people who have made bad decisions but are working to be better.
  • Don’t get it twisted. You don’t know what you think you know.

If last night is an indication of what is to come over the next year, then we are all in for an excellent ride as we support these youth in the creative process. At different times in our two hours together, I felt challenged and inspired and so happy. And this morning I thought about how the new name of our organization, Creative Action, really does capture the essence of all of our programs, especially the New Stages Youth Theatre Ensemble:

These youth will not only develop their creativity, but use it to push themselves forward, to change their community, and to challenge the way audiences see them. Their potential is limitless, and I promise to keep you informed on our progress!

The New Stages Youth Theatre Ensemble is for students between the ages of 14 and 20 who have been released from the juvenile detention system. The Ensemble will together to create original plays about their experiences and will tour their shows and perform for more than 2,000 Austin area youth at schools and churches annually. A social worker will be a part of the program which will meet twice weekly at a halfway house. Youth members of the New Stages Youth Ensemble will receive compensation for their creative work with the program.

UPDATE: Theatre Action Project is now Creative Action. Read more about our name change.

Hammers and Nails

by Patrick Torres, Middle School and High School Program Director

I recently attended the Texas Juvenile Justice Summit, a week-long conference for people who work with court involved youth. It was an incredible experience to be among so many people who are working hard to help young people make more positive decisions and overcome the roadblocks they experience on their path to healthy relationships and bright futures.

I was the only person attending the conference from an arts organization – which was actually great! Everyone I connected with was very impressed with Theatre Action Project’s dedication to working with these youth and expressed their confidence in the New Stages Youth Theatre Ensemble to affect change in the lives of these students. I sought out and soaked up every bit of knowledge from the Probation Officers, Casework Managers, Detention Guards and Social Workers who I had the pleasure of meeting. During the conference, one thing became abundantly clear:

TAP’s work to intervene in the lives of youthful offenders begins far before they get involved in the court system. As an entire team of staff, teaching artists, volunteers, etc., working to achieve our mission of activating the academic, social and emotional development of young people we are giving the all of our students the tools they need to live healthy and productive lives.

This realization hit me during an inspiring keynote address by Dr. Steve Parese. During the speech, he stated, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

In childhood education is essential to diverting youth from the system. One simple statement, he affirmed all of the work we do here: Every effort we make as a company is to equip students with the tools they need to succeed, so they have a variety of tools to access in the myriad of situations they will encounter in their lives. This starts the moment we step into any classroom to serve our youth no matter what their age. Another affirmation of TAP’s work came through one of the refrains of the conference: Early childhood education is essential to diverting youth from the system.

So, to truly impact the level of juvenile crime in Austin, we must continue to ensure our Elementary and Middle and High School Programs are functioning as a team. One of the most shocking tidbits of information I learned at the conference was that the state estimates the number of prison beds they will need by assessing how many 3rd grade students are unable to read.

So this is the work we do. From our Pre-K classrooms all the way through our New Stages Youth Theatre Ensemble, we are committed to giving students tools to navigate this tricky world. We teach them there is no need to use a hammer when glue will do just as well. And we know that if we give them the best variety of tools possible, the community they build for us will be something to behold.

Read more about the New Stages Youth Theatre Ensemble and support received from Impact Austin.

Deep Impact

by Patrick Torres, Middle School and High School Program Director

Karen receives call from Impact Austin

On Monday night, our Executive Director, Karen LaShelle, and I gave a speech to the women of Impact Austin as the final step in our bid to receive funding for our newest program serving formerly incarcerated youth – The New Stages Youth Theatre Ensemble. As we prepared our speech, we realized the biggest challenge was going to be editing it to meet the five minute time limit allotted to us. There is simply so much to say about the program and how much we believe in it. We talked about:

  • How theatre arts builds the social and emotional skills necessary for these youth as they re-enter their communities
  • The lack of programming for them once they leave the system, and
  • How we truly believe that this program will lower the rate of recidivism (currently, 75% of youth released will return to detention within 3 years at a cost of $62,000 per youth, per year).

But mostly, we talked about how this program will have a huge impact on the participants as we help them experience the power of their own voices as they learn how to write and produce an original play. However, that is only the start.

The true impact of the program will be when the youth become positive influences in their neighborhoods – as they tell their stories to their brothers and sisters, neighbors, and peers. They will take their past mistakes and use those experiences to help others make more positive choices. When this starts to happen, the impact of the program will be immeasurable, and that is our goal.

And, I am proud to let you know that the women of Impact Austin believed in our project as well. We received the grant! The New Stages Youth Theatre Ensemble will begin this fall. We cannot wait to introduce these youth to you. You will be inspired by their creativity and their stories. I hope you will follow this blog to keep up with our process during our first year with this exciting new ensemble.

P.S. My favorite camp memory comes from the summer before my 6th grade year when I won the egg toss. I even got a trophy.

This is Your Pilot Speaking

by Patrick Torres, Middle and High School Program Director

Theatre Action Project is currently implementing a pilot program for our New Stages Youth Theatre Ensemble at the transitional housing center at Gardner Betts. This new phase of our programming serves formerly incarcerated youth who are working to successfully transition back into the community. The work they have achieved in the time we have been working together has been remarkable. The sessions are noticeably different than the classes that take place in the residential facility. Their renewed sense of freedom coupled with the insights they gained through the successful completion of the leadership program required as a part of their detention has resulted in more insightful perspectives in the development of their play.

In just a matter of 5 hours, the participants were able to:

  • create a compelling character named Jimmy
  • work together to define his given circumstances and conflict, and
  • create a first draft of an original play about the far reaching affects of a person’s choices.

It has been an exciting process and the students have a strong sense of pride about what they have been able to accomplish. For our remaining time together, we will be working on how to successfully perform the script and on revising to have the most impact on the audience. If this pilot is indicative of the work we will achieve once we launch our full program, then these young people are going to have a big impact on their community!

The Goodwill Retreat

by Patrick Torres, Middle and High School Program Director

Today, Theatre Action Project (TAP) had the pleasure of joining Goodwill’s Workforce Investment Act (WIA) youth investment team for their staff retreat. They invited us to perform some of the material generated in our program at Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center, New Stages: Arts Empowerment for Juvenile Offenders. Ms. Florinda, Ms. Nitra and I performed a collection of monologues and poetry and fielded questions about strategies we use to engage the students. It was a wonderful time, and we were grateful to be invited to share our work with them. It is good to know that our programs are well-known in the community and it is truly exciting that they devoted a portion of their day to learning about us and our techniques. However, the best part of the day was the reminder that there are so many passionate, intelligent and creative people working all around this city on youth development.

I was very impressed with their programs and excited about identifying ways we can work together to better serve youth in our city, especially those involved in the Juvenile Justice System. I am always inspired by people who devote their time to helping youth achieve success, and today I am thankful I had the opportunity to meet this team!

And I would love to meet more of you who are out there working with youth. So, if you are reading this and we haven’t had the chance to meet each other, leave a comment or contact me here at TAP. I want to know what you are up to!

P.S. My favorite big hair is Conway Twitty’s. See you at TAP’s Big Hair Country Fair on March 24th at the Salt Lick Pavilion! To buy tickets visit: TAP Big Hair. Proceeds benefit Theatre Action Project.