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Monthly Archives: May 2010

Decker Elementary’s FLY Gurls take the stage

This week I joined TAP Teaching Artist Jessica Evans’s after school class at Decker Elementary. They were rehearsing for the final performance of their original play, “FLY Gurls.”

The play is about a group of girls who act as superheroes to help stop the bullying and gossiping going on at Decker Elementary.

When asked what being a FLY Gurl was all about, the class enthusiastically responded: “Being a FLY Gurl is about respect, friendship, kindness, and having fun!” Originally FLY stood for First Love Yourself, but throughout the process of writing the play it became Friendship, Love and Yup.

One student comments that “the change just made sense because we all know that being a FLY Gurl is about friendship and love.”

Watching the rehearsal process was a lot of fun. The girls were so supportive of one another. If one girl forgot a line, there were five more there to help. They all assisted in scene changes, costume changes, and there was always a different girl calling “action”!

Not only did they make an excellent team, but their character development was fantastic. The Mean Gurls were vicious, sassy, and full of spunk. The FLY Gurls were brave, outspoken, and kind. They loved having an audience and were excited to tell their story.

When asked about what she had learned over the year and what she will miss most, one student commented, “This class has helped me love myself and my friends. And I will miss the play. It’s been my favorite thing.”

Jessica’s class showed me first-hand the impact that we are having in these schools and communities throughout Austin. These girls have gained self confidence, honed tools for creative expression, made new friends, built on existing friendships and have learned how to confront bullying situations they encounter. They are Decker Elementary’s FLY Gurls!

Sarah Garza
Community Relations Assistant VISTA

TAP in the Austin Business Journal!!

Check out TAP’s article in the Austin Business Journal

Austin nonprofit ‘staging success’

by: Sandra Zaragoza

When Karen LaShelle began volunteering in 2003 for Theatre Action Project, little did she know that within her creative side lay a head for business and that it would make a big difference.

Soon after LaShelle started, she became the then-fledgling nonprofit’s executive director and found herself facing all the typical challenges of an entrepreneur, from marketing and hiring to identifying funding and managing growth.

“I started to do a lot of program development and marketing of those programs to schools,” said LaShelle, who has a master’s degree in community-based arts from New York University and a bachelor of fine arts from Illinois Wesleyan University. “My creative side just started kicking in, and I saw how building the business itself was a place that my creativity could really come into play.”

What she’s built is a nonprofit that serves more than 16,000 young people a year and presents its programs on 56 campuses throughout Central Texas. And with 13 full-time staff members and several volunteers, Theatre Action Project is preparing to expand its after-school programming to Del Valle next year while positioning itself to one day build a permanent home for its theater-based programs.

Early on, LaShelle saw a need to package the nonprofit’s programs and explain their potential impact on students to stakeholders who were often not familiar with educational theater.

“Part of what I try to do is communicate the vast array of what we do simply,” LaShelle said.

And it’s her ability to reach out and build partnerships that has enabled her to sell the nonprofit’s value and build partnerships to help deliver it, said Rich Smalling, a longtime Theatre Action Project board member and president of American Innovations.

“One of the things that the top person needs to do is really connect with the outside world, and she does that really, really well. She can speak to the mission in detail because she’s involved, and she can explain it in terms that anyone can grasp,” said Smalling, whose company helps keep gas and oil pipelines safe. “And she’s good at forming partnerships, like with SafePlace and Communities in Schools and all kinds of other partnerships that she’s put together to drive the organization.”

Theatre Action Project has four program categories:

  • Through TAP After School, young people explore age-appropriate social issues, learn life skills and build self-esteem through creative activities, such as theater, visual arts, puppet and mask making, dance, creative writing and filmmaking.
  • TAP In The Classroom provides multiday interactive shows that engage students with drama, role playing, songs and discussion. Some of the social issues tackled include cyberbullying, dating violence and anger management.
  • TAP In The Community works with dozens of community organizations — including FirstNightAustin, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and Heart House — to create customized programs for community events, festivals, summer camps and workshops.
  • In Youth Theatre Ensembles, young people are paid to create performances addressing dating violence and related issues, which they take on tours to area schools and community centers. The program is run in partnership with SafePlace, a nonprofit that helps women and families deal with domestic and sexual violence.

Despite not joining the organization with a business background, LaShelle has taken to the financial side of running a nonprofit, impressing board members.

“I think one of the most unique things about LaShelle as a leader of an arts-based nonprofit [is that] she understands financials better than a lot of MBAs,” Smalling said. “She’s really embraced using financials as a way to measure and gauge how [the nonprofit is] growing and what it needs.”

LaShelle has grown Theatre Action Project’s budget from about $35,000 in 2003 to nearly $1 million in 2010. About 60 percent of its budget comes from contracts with school districts, individual schools, the Housing Authority of the City of Austin and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

So while LaShelle’s head for finances has been valuable, she continues to stress communication. Theatre Action Project assigns several staffers to manage existing relationships with schools. They also make cold calls to schools it hasn’t worked with, understanding that many local school administrators are not familiar with the nonprofit.

LaShelle initiated the Del Valle Independent School District expansion by encouraging the district to apply for a grant that would enable it to contract with Theatre Action Project and other nonprofits.

The grant was approved, enabling the district to establish an after-school program to serve more than 1,200 students every day throughout the district’s 10 campuses, LaShelle said.

Looking ahead, LaShelle said the nonprofit is focused on establishing a permanent home in three to four years that can house programs, administrative offices, classrooms and a theater space. The nonprofit’s office at 701 Tillery St. lacks a performing arts space.

“In the three-to-five-year range, we see ourselves developing different ways that our kinds of programs can be replicated in other cities or in other schools that we can’t reach,” she said. “We see ourselves becoming a resource for people outside of the Austin area.”

TAP had a great morning!

This morning Manor ISD recognized all community and business partners affiliated with the district. Through nomination, Theatre Action Project was made the After School Partner of the Year.

“This is a huge honor and really impressive considering we just started working in the school district this year”, said Karen LaShelle, TAP Executive and Artistic Director.

This award would not have been made possible without TAP’s amazing team of teaching artists: J Muzacz, Rhianon Renae, Natalie Goodnow, Kai Salim, Lucia Duncan, Colin Wilkes, Rachael Shannon, Eric Wincott, Lauren Tarbel, Christina Tran, Mcarthur Moore, Jessica Evans, Stephanie Chavez, Erika Gonzales, Naomi Caballero, Emily Bolt, Miranda Saucedo, and the awesome programming team that supports them: Florinda Bryant, Nitra Gutierrez, Amanda Hashagen, Elizabeth Kohut, Sarah Rinner, and Dustin Wills.

“This semester was a great starting foundation and I hope to build on it for years to come”, said Amanda Hashagen, TAP Middle School andHigh School Program Director.

A video of our work in Manor is coming soon!

The TAP lawn got a makeover!!

We had a great lawn beautification event here at TAP! Thank you to all our awesome Convio volunteers!

Also, a big thank you to Rain Lily for donating beautiful plants, Geo Growers and The Natural Gardener for donating great organic soil, and the City of Austin Household Hazardous Waste Facility for donating great paint. AND to the individuals that donated plants, pots and tires! Pictures coming soon!

The Courage to Stand at the Texas School for the Deaf

This past week I journeyed out again to see another one of our classroom programs, The Courage to Stand at the Texas School for the Deaf. Courage to Stand is TAP’s program for fourth and fifth graders that addresses issues of bullying.

The first day of the show starts with Alex, a fifth grader waiting for the school bus on Graduation Day. While at the bus stop, he encounters one of his old friends, Paul. Having made new friends this year, and slightly ashamed of the fact that Paul isn’t as “cool,” Alex is lukewarm to Paul’s attempts of kindness and friendship. At this point Joe approaches the two of them and starts making fun of Paul’s hat. Eager for acceptance from Joe, Alex does nothing to intervene and stop the bullying. Joe takes Paul’s hat and throws it into the river.

In an attempt to go retrieve the hat, Alex misses the school bus only to encounter a complete different vehicle, Bussy 3000 driven by Bessie a quirky retired bus driver. Together they embark on a journey to examine what bullying is, and what it means to be a bully, a target, and a bystander.

From there on out Alex finds himself traveling through time to see examples of bullying and courageous bystanders. On the first day he is taken back to Little Rock, Arkansas where he plays the role of Ernest Greene—one of the first African American students to attend an integrated school.

On the third day he and Bessie travel back further in time to Nazi occupied Gilleleje where the members of the town help their Jewish neighbors escape from deportation to the camps.

Lastly,on the fourth day, he returns to present time where he re-witnesses the bullying situation from the bus. Feeling discouraged and guilty, he turns to the audience members for help on how to make things right, and how to be a courageous bystander.

I felt really privileged to see this performance because it really demonstrated the quality of our programming. To the side of each actor was an ASL interpreter, and the entire show and student responses were translated back and forth. Each student was engaged and excited to help Alex be a courageous bystander. The class ends with the students receiving friendship bracelets to remind them to be a courageous bystander.

Check out this video about the impact of Courage to Stand:

Check out excerpts from the TAP in the Classroom Program Evaluation 2010 results, by Sarah McCafferty, LMSW.

83% of 4th and 5th grade teachers said that they had witnessed students being the “courageous bystander” after participating in the Courage to Stand program.

83% of 4th and 5th grade teachers said that students had been using vocabulary from the Courage to Stand program to help them prevent bullying in the

Author: Maria Quinn, Marketing and Development Assistant VISTA

Theatre Action Project on KOOP this Wednesday!

We’ll be talking about the Youth Arts Festival, bullying issues, The Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble, TAP After School Programs and more!

Tune in to KOOP, 91.7 fm at 1:30pm this Wednesday May 19th…tomorrow!

Off Stage and On the Air
Wednesdays, 1:30 – 2:30 pm

Host: Lisa Scheps

Each week focusing on one local Austin theatrical music production and the music that surrounds it.

Off Stage and On the Air website

It’s Showtime at Norman Elementary!

Last week, I joined TAP Teaching Artist, Frank Nappi’s
3rd through 5th grade after school class at Norman Elementary. They were rehearsing their modern take on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet for the school Talent Show.

This event is free and open to the public and takes place at Norman Elementary this Friday, May 21, 2010 at 6p.m.

It was inspiring to see youth reciting Shakespeare by heart and having fun at the same time! When talking with the students, they said, one of the hardiest parts of making the play was
memorizing the lines. “I study them at home and over the weekend with my grandma” said DaMarco.

To help with this process, Frank worked with the students through listening and copying techniques and not letting them read from a page. Another hard part of working on the play, “is trying not to laugh, people are silly” said Linda.

“We practice with games to hold our emotions in when things are really funny so that we won’t laugh when we’re saying our lines in a play.” said Dot.

A popular favorite part of the play was the dancing, this modern take on Romeo & Juliet included dances to “So What” by Pink and “I Gotta a Feeling” by Black Eyed Peas. Frank also worked on quick movement techniques with the students through playing “Night at the museum”, where they pretend to be statues and can only move when the guard is not looking.

When asked about what they thought of Shakespeare the students said:

“I think Shakespeare is inspiring” said Aria.

“I love the way he expresses himself and I love his plays”, said Dot.

Not only did the students learn about Shakespeare and how to make a play, they also took note of the moral behind the story. “You get nothing out of fighting” said, Linda. “Violence, drugs, or suicide is never the answer.”

The Cast:

Aria: Tybalt
Chris: Chorus
DaMarco: Romeo
Dejanae: Intro Juliet
Dot: The Prince
Jalan: Lord Capulet
Jayden: Lord Capulet
Linda: Juliet
Maira: Friar Lawrence
Rachel: Mercutio
Sylvia: Benvolio
Whitney: Lady Capulet, Chorus