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Monthly Archives: February 2010

To be inspired…

My name is Freddy Carnes. I have been a working theatre artist in Austin, TX for many years. I joined Theatre Action Project in 2005 and have so many wonderful memories of teaching in the East Austin schools. I remember my start; doing world theatre with the children, learning about different countries: Kenya, Mexico, Russia, ect.

When it came to teach about England I hesitated, unsure if there would be an interest in Shakespeare plays. It didn’t take long for my fears to subside.

In telling the story of “Hamlet”, I knew I had the student’s interest by the time Polonius was stabbed by Hamlet. After the story we had a discussion about what character started all the violence that led to the ending of the story. Of course, Claudius seemed like the obvious villain.

We discussed why a father (who was already dead) would ask his own son to avenge his death by killing his brother. A pretty lively discussion ensued as the children debated what Hamlet should do.

The discussion got even deeper when they discovered that Hamlet was similar to the story of Disney’s “The Lion King”. Suddenly the students were discussing a “classic” tragedy as if they were talking about the newest video game. I saw the genius of Shakespeare. His themes of romance, revenge, madness, ect. are universal and continue to be accessible for all people.

There was one girl who was way too “cool” to participate at first. Most of the girls wanted to play Ophelia, but this girl, (when she finally geared up to participate) was set on being Hamlet. She learned the “To be, or not to be” speech and wanted to wear the Hamlet costume. This led to a discussion of gender. I told them that at the time of Shakespeare, women were not allowed on stage. I told them that the original Juliet, Ophelia, Lady Macbeth, Desdemona and Gertrude were played by men. After their initial “Yuck!” we decided that as an actor you are just playing a role.

The girl blossomed. After “Hamlet” I told them the story of “Romeo and Juliet” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” By the end of the program the children were doing speeches from these plays, remembering details from the stories and still eager for more.

The success of Shakespeare led me to try Greek Mythology.

I had begun studying “The Odyssey” on my own, not intending to use it in my classes, but decided to try. Once again, there was a girl at another elementary school that taught me the impact of these stories. I began by telling the story of Odysseus from his battles at the Trojan War to his return to Ithaka. Of course, they were intrigued by the war and the Trojan Horse, but they really got interested when they heard about all of his adventures. Different stories resonated with different children. When we began to act out the scenes some of the boys wanted to be warriors with swords, and some wanted to play Odysseus or the Cyclops. When the girls found out that the Enchantresses were evil, but beautiful they wanted to play Circe, Calypso, or the Sirens.

I had a lot of problems with one girl in particular. She acted out and seemed entirely disinterested in “The Odyssey.” I went on with teaching the story. I brought in props, puppets and set pieces but it wasn’t until I started bringing in the fabric and dresses for the Enchantresses that she became interested. She was the first to try them on and then offered to play Cirece. There was a total transformation. Her attitude completely changed and she truly became the character. She ended up playing Circe in our big showcase for other elementary schools in Austin.

I am continuing to expand my programming but I will always remember the girl who was Hamlet and the girl who was Circe.

Author: Freddy Carnes, TAP Artistic Associate and Teaching Artist

New Stages: Arts Empowerment for Juvenile Offenders.

I haven’t been with Theatre Action Project long and already I can tell you that I am in love with this organization! TAP is all about using theatre to get communities talking, a kind of “theatre for living.” This type of theatre is about empowerment– about people being the experts in their own lives and being able to use theatre as a means of creating change.

All of our programs carry this message to a certain extent; I find this especially true in looking at our program New Stages: Arts Empowerment for Juvenile Offenders. This is a program for teens in the Travis County Juvenile Probation Department residential program at Gardner Betts.

I just got back from the performances, Little Brother and Our Story, and was completely blown away by the courage the youth had in telling THEIR story.

Throughout the performance several of the youth expressed their feelings of being “forgotten,” “misjudged,” or no longer wanting to “live in the dark.” So often as a society we decide what is best for today’s youth without consulting them. We often don’t do this intentionally but it does happen and that is what I think is so great about this new program; it gives youth a chance to express themselves creatively.

The boys’ performance, Little Brother, directed by Andrew Dolan, TAP Teaching Artist, was created through letter-writing. What kind of letter would you write to your younger self? What would you write to yourself thirty years from now? Collectively, over 40 letters were written to a character called Little Brother. The main message of this piece was that “I’m here and I matter.”

The girls’ performance, Our Story, directed by Amanda Hashagen, TAP Middle and High School Program Director, was created using a collection of monologues, poetry, and movement, written by EVERY girl that has lived at the facility since October. The performance was a combination of true stories and others created through character work. I was very moved by the monologues the girls gave. Some of the things these girls have had to endure are unimaginable; they are survivors.

I applaud these young men and women on their hard work over the past few months. In performing, not only did the youth have a chance to get their voice out there but also were able to overcome personal fears– getting up in front of a group and saying “this is me-this is my art” is no easy task. I am excited for this program and can’t wait to see it develop and expand as we continue to grow here at TAP!

Blog Author: Sarah Garza, TAP Community Relations Assistant

Step on up to support the arts!

Big Kid Birthday Bash 2009, Wine bottle ring toss!

Often considered nice but not necessary, arts education—both in school and after school—seldom receives sufficient public funding. Yet, the arts are essential to a 21st century education, teaching children vital skills that nurture intellectual and creative development. Young people learn to think creatively, work on a team, and practice challenging tasks until completion. For hard-to-reach students (who cope with disabilities, violence, or poverty), the arts are frequently the reason they stay in school.

Research shows that arts education correlates with better grades and test scores and facilitates learning in other subjects. We need to make art a right for all young people, regardless of their socioeconomic status and life circumstances. In challenging economic times, funding for the arts is the first to be cut, yet nearly 95 percent of voters see the arts as a basic part of a child’s education, as fundamental as English and mathematics.

Living in Austin the “Live Music Capital of the World”, I believe we hold arts in higher esteem than many other communities. This is why it is so important that even in difficult economic times we support our arts education programs to support and develop our future Austin artists.

TAP’s Big Kid Birthday Bash is a perfect opportunity to support local arts education. The tickets are cheaper than dinner and a movie, starting at $15 for starving artists, you can come have a great evening on the town. Get together a group of friends and be prepared to have a rocking good time.

You don’t want to miss our famous cakewalk featuring Austin‘s finest bakeries, the Ring Toss for wine, Hula-hooping contests, photo booths, magicians, balloon artists, jugglers, fortune tellers, silent and live auctions and music by Sara Hickman. Buy Tickets now and help TAP reach more youth!!

Until Next Time,
Julie Flores (Parent/Teacher/Chil
d Advocate/TAP volunteer)