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Texas Tower’s Inspiring Moment with Changing Lives Program

by Alexandria Vandiver, Texas Tower PR

Last week Texas Tower PR had the privilege of attending one of Creative Action’s many programs, Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble (CLYTE). The ensemble works with about 15 students from all over Austin, ages 14-20. creating and present acting selections that address social problems like dating violence, bullying and homophobia to various elementary schools around the city.

The night began with the group coming together, answering a thought-provoking question that tied in to the topic for the session. This icebreaker was great with getting everyone comfortable and focused for the night. We participated in activities that focused on breaking and setting boundaries and bonding. It was easy to see the members of Changing Lives seeking to become tight-knit and really enjoying their experience. The group worked on acting exercises, preparing for presentations.

My favorite part of the night was watching the members do warm up acting exercises which let their personalities and passion shine through. We would definitely love to see more programs like these implemented around Austin like this one that addresses critical questions and issues  teenagers and young adults commonly face. It provides the right tools and resources to help them get through similar situations and aid them in making the right decisions.

We saw and experienced first-hand what a difference it can make. It was a memorable and fun experience to be able to participate in a Creative Action program, a big thanks to all the members of Changing Lives and their director Nitra Gutierrez.

Drawing on their life experiences and what they learn from partner SafePlace’s counselors, Changing Lives youth work with Creative Action Teaching Artists year-round to create, perform, and tour an original, educational show throughout Central Texas.

After participating in Changing Lives, 100% of ensemble members reported that they felt confident sharing ideas and opinions in front of a group; that they cared how their actions affected others; that they could stop hurtful teasing when they saw it; that they could talk to other students about taking a stand against sexual harassment and dating abuse; and that they could respond to others when they are asked for help.

What do you think about our Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble? To learn more about them, contact Nitra Guiterrez, Middle and High School Artistic Associate: nitra@creativeaction.org.

Changing Lives Members Bond Over Common Interests

by Madi, Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble

Fall in Austin is here once again, that means a new season of Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble (Changing Lives) has begun.

A unique group of creative teens congregates to collaborate on ideas for a new script to tour in the fall. Before we get that far in our creative process, we have to bond as an ensemble.

That could be difficult for a group of teenagers that are at first strangers to do fairly quickly, but for Changing Lives members it’s not a daunting task. We are brought together by theatre and a common interest in social welfare. As a 3rd year Changing Lives member, this is what brings me back each year. The journey each year is unique; there will never be another group that is the same as the last. Ideas and opinions will differ with the exclusive collaboration of ideas and minds of each year.

I have met the most clever, gifted, and inventive people in Changing Lives, I feel honored to have been able to work with them all. The year ahead is very promising and I’m excited to see what it has in store for the ensemble.

Changing Lives Peer Leaders

by Nitra Gutierrez, Middle School and High School Program Associate

In the Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble, we strive to make our work together better every year. Sometimes that means adding a new theatrical frame, working with guest artists who challenge us to find better practices or adjusting our program model to improve it. This year, we have rolled out a new peer leadership model we learned about from our friends at the Theatre Offensive in Boston.

Four of our returning ensemble members (students who have been with the program for at least a year) have gone through our application process and have been selected to be Peer Leaders for our group. They will function as group leaders for our new ensemble members, help with administrative duties, help plan and facilitate rehearsals and be our go-to students for last minute opportunities that come up through the year.

Congratulations to Lina, Madi, Vivienne & Gary for being our first cohort of Peer Leaders. Keep an eye on these folks. They’re going to accomplish great things this year!

Azulina (aka Lina) is a sixteen year old senior at Garza High School in Austin, Texas. She enjoys sewing, theatre, film making, and most other silly things. For the past two years she has found the Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble to not only be a great way to advocate for change, but to also be an excellent creative outlet. She hopes to major in international relations and work to supply humanitarian aid to third world countries. In addition to Changing Lives, Lina is a member of a Destination Imagination team and takes classes at Austin Community College.

Madi is a 17 year old senior at Lanier High School. Outside of theatre she enjoys writing and playing tennis. This is her third year in The Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble and she is ecstatic about what this year has to bring.

Vivienne attends Gonzalo Garza Independence High School as a junior. She has spent one and a half years in the Changing Lives Youth Theatre Project. In her spare time, she writes, roller skates, and works at Bush’s Chicken on Brodie Lane. Theatre had always been a secret passion for her, but when she heard about Changing Lives, she knew it was just the program for her and her will to help the teens who need it.

Gary Livingston-Weaver is coming back for his second year with the Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble and is also a member of A Chick & A Dude Productions. Gary has been interested in theatre for as long as he can remember. His credits include- with The Royal Court Players: Scenic Crew for Evita, Junglebook, Omnium Gatherum, The Who’s Tommy, The Beauty Queen of Leenane and Parade. With Hyde Park Theatre: Assistant Stage Manager for Body Awareness. With A Chick & A Dude Productions: Voice-Over Actor for HIT., Scenic Crew for Winterland: A Journey Through ChristmaHanuKwanzaakkah, Paradise Key, and Glengarry Glen Ross. With ADV Flims: Voice-Over Actor for The Getbackers. Gary is currently attending Austin Community College with hopes to transfer to a four-year university to further study both performance and design aspects of theatre. Gary is happy to be working with Changing Lives again and very excited for the upcoming season.

If you are age 14-20 and are interested in taking on a paid position in Changing Lives, please contact Nitra@theatreactionproject.org to find out how you can use your talents to be a positive force in the community while making friends and having fun.

Changing Lives Summer Program Interviewing New Ensemble Members

by Nitra Gutierrez, Middle School and High School Program Associate

Photo by: Carol Acurso Photography

This summer, we’ll be working with Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble students in a two-week conservatory style acting program to continue nurturing our artistic practice for the upcoming school year. We’ll be holding classes to hone our skills in voice production, movement and scene study. Students will:

  • Develop their presence on stage
  • Learn tricks to stay in the moment during scene work, and
  • Continue cultivating their memorization and projection skills.

Students will meet in the afternoons from July 16-27 at the Scottish Rite Theatre to unlock the skills that professional actors use in their creative practice.

Photo by: Carol Acurso Photography

Changing Lives is a group of teen artist/activists who create original pieces of theatre to spark dialogue about issues that affect teens. During the school year we work as a group to create an original theatre piece about an issue important to teens. In spring we tour our show to middle schools all over the Austin area. Ensemble member positions are paid during the school year program. This year’s summer program is designed to serve students who would like to continue with the ensemble in the fall semester.

If you know a teen between the ages of 14-20 who would like to use their voice to create positive change in their community, is interested in performance and would be a good fit for the ensemble, please contact our Artistic Director, Nitra Gutierrez (nitra@theatreactionproject.org) to schedule an interview.

P.S. I never went to summer camp.  Summer camp was my Grandparents’ backyard — we lived in our bathing suits.  My favorite summer was probably the one when we watched Dirty Dancing every day (twice sometimes!)

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!