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Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Power of Theatre

by Patrick Torres, Middle and High School Program Director

For the past nine years I have been working as an arts educator and theatre director in Washington, D.C. Most recently, I was the Associate Artistic Director at Young Playwrights’ Theater teaching students to express themselves clearly and creatively through the art of playwriting. During my time in D.C., I had the opportunity to work with incarcerated youth, the homeless community, and students from all over the world to create original plays. And while I will always cherish each of those experiences, I can say without question, “It is good to be home.”

I was born and raised in Odessa, TX. Shockingly, it was there that I got my first taste of the power of theatre. I confess that I committed the worst sin in West Texas – I quit playing football the year before I turned varsity to join the drama club! At the end of my senior year, I directed a controversial play called Loyalties by Murphy Guyer. The play confronts audiences’ perspectives on patriotism and war, and it caused a stir when it was finally performed. Some parents were so angry about the content of the play that they did not want their children to be friends with me any longer. My reaction was,

“Wow. I can’t believe directing a play has infuriated people this way…I want to do this for the rest of my life!”

Now that I am a little more mature, I recognize that what was so exciting about that experience in high school was seeing the power of art to lead people to examine their thoughts, perspectives and beliefs.

  • Theatre requires us to sit in a room together and wrestle with our own preconceptions of social issues, morals, and personal choices.

  • It can teach us empathy, conflict resolution and critical thinking.

  • And it can inspire us to take action to create the kind of world we want to live in by sparking civic dialogue and encouraging social change.

For these reasons, I believe it is critical that every young person is exposed to the arts throughout their lives. The lessons taught by participation in the arts equip our youth with the skills they will need to succeed in the 21st century.

Theatre Action Project is preparing students for the future by letting them know that their voices have power and their experiences and imaginations have the potential to change the world around them. I am humbled to be a part of the team and look forward to all of the youth I will have the privilege of teaching. I look forward to hearing their stories and seeing the difference they will make in their communities.

Join us at our Youth Arts Festival on May 21st to see what our students have been up to! See you there!

How Can A Mistake Turn Into A Masterpiece?

by Amanda Davis, Marketing Associate VISTA

“I made a mistake; can I have a new sheet”
“If you make a mistake, fix it”

These were the words exchanged more than 18 years ago between my first art teacher, Mrs. Maupin, and I in my kindergarten classroom. At 5 years old, I was told to take my mistake and fix it, to make it into something else, to create a masterpiece out of it. These words have stuck with me all my life and I have not only done my art by this but I have also lived my life this way. This teacher paved my way for the art world. She taught me to look at art not as just another slide of a paintbrush or a stroke of charcoal, but instead to see each piece through the artist’s eyes. I fell in love with art that day and have never since gone back.

Working here at Theatre Action Project, I have had the opportunity to see so many people take something and make it into a masterpiece, whether it be our mural outside or taking a book and making it into a magnificent play. It is wonderful to see people use their imagination and take it to others. By working at TAP I am getting the opportunity to surround myself with people that can take what others call a piece of junk and turn it into a beautiful masterpiece, to take a mistake and fix it.

What are some memories that you remember from your art teachers growing up? Is there something that has stuck with you?

Colorful Accomplishments

By: Dustin Wills, Programming Specialist

Last Friday, the TAP After School Elementary Team had a marvelous training at the Terrazas Library. One of the activities during the training was the creation of a mural that displayed all the things our teaching artists had accomplished in their classes this year. The mural ran all the way across the training room and our teaching artists filled every last space on it with pictures of Greek drama, large scale puppets, movie titles, quotes, playwriting processes, class titles… and the list goes on.

It was a really neat way to look at all the different types of a programs we offer in elementary after school, as well as all the various skills that our teachers bring to the table. Thank you to our teaching artists for all you have done during this past semester!

Saving the Earth

by Kelly Schiller, Community Relations VISTA

In light of Earth Day, I feel it is imperative to reflect on the ways that Theatre Action Project so creatively integrates environmental consciousness into our daily practices and programming.

We rely on donated supplies for most of our programming which inevitably enables TAP to maintain a light ecological footprint. In this state of receptivity, we can’t be picky and choosy. That’s when we thank the universe that we are artists; embracing the craft component of the notion arts and crafts.

I see the teaching artists come into the supply area daily and stand there with hands on hips, scratching heads, eyes glazed as the right brain begins storming. Aha! They start to grab here and there, above and below, collecting the oddest assortment of materials. I wonder, “What on Earth could they be creating this time?” Before I know it, a masterpiece is complete; created entirely out of salvaged materials.

Just the other day Lilly Hollingsworth, one of our Teaching Artists, came in to prepare for her class. I watched her transform a massive, worn, orange comforter into 15 ant costumes for her classes’ upcoming play. A blue beanie and yarn that was knotted beyond knitting use, which would have been tossed in the trash by many, was turned into a magnificent, wearable, lion’s mane. The ingenuity of the teaching artists to create the infinite from any material is inspiring, and so simple. Creative resourcefulness is something anyone can do. This is the beauty of what they teach to their students each and every day; empowering their students to embody the craft of being an artist.

We thank the many organizations and individuals who have so graciously donated materials to Theatre Action Project and for practicing re-use rather than contributing to the already full, unsustainable, and polluting landfill system.

15 ideas for re-using simple household items:

1. Reuse old plastic bags. There are 10 creative ways to reuse plastic bags here.

2. Reuse paper bags as school book covers, or be a little more creative with these ideas.

3. Reuse pens and art supplies by donating them to Theatre Action Project.

4. Reuse your old food scraps by composting them.

5. Reuse your used margarine and butter tubs by cleaning them and keeping them for leftovers (free Ziploc containers!).

6. Reuse the stuffing from old pillows and comforters into new items like puppets. Reuse the pillow covers for rags.

7. Reuse newspaper, interesting magazines, and other paper products by using them as wrapping paper.

8. Reuse your old paint by finding things to paint in your home, touch up, or donate it to Theatre Action Project.

9. Reuse your old toilet paper rolls.

10. Make a piece of artwork with your old metal cans.

11. Reuse Popsicle sticks with these ingenious, crafty ideas.

12. Even bicycle tires can be reused.

13. There are at least five ways you can reuse your old drinking straws.

14. There are some creative things you can do with old metal pie pan plates.

15. Reuse your old CDs and DVDs.
Ideas provided by Squidoo.

What are some items that you have created using recycled materials?

Happy Earth Day!

By Sarah Rinner, Elementary School Program Director

As the weather grows steadily warmer and the end of the school year gets closer, we are all thinking of summer. Growing up in the countryside of Iowa, Earth Day always made me look forward to summer vacation days spent between the swimming pool and the woods around my house. I don’t think I wore shoes from June to September until I was in junior high (yes, my middle school was ‘junior high’!).
Now spring is my time to reminisce on my favorite childhood experiences, when I collaborated with family and friends to stage our own plays and stories in inspiration of the collaborative and arts-based experiences we provide to youth in our summer camps. So take time today to kick off your shoes, dig your toes into the dirt, and look forward to summertime fun!
What were some of your favorite Earth Day Activities growing up? Did you ever stage your own creative plays? If so, what were they about?

Favorite Storybooks

By: Cassie Swayze, After School Programs Associate VISTA
One of the best parts of my job is managing the TAP library, which contains over 350 books. We have everything from children’s storybooks to nonfiction resources like theatre theory and devising techniques. Today I wanted to share a few of my very favorite storybooks with you.

The first time I read Yoko by Rosemary Wells I couldn’t stop smiling! Yoko is a kitten whose mother packs her lunch every day. She rolls special sushi for Yoko and packs it all in a willow-covered cooler. At school Yoko’s classmates have a variety of lunches. Timothy eats a peanut butter and honey sandwich, Fritz has a meatball grinder, Doris eats squeeze cheese on white, and the Franks (a pair of bulldogs) have franks and beans. I love the watercolor illustrations of each student’s lunch. Rosemary Wells even makes a raccoon eating a meatball sandwich look appealing. The other kids think Yoko’s lunch of raw fish and seaweed is Yucko-o-rama! Yoko’s teacher decides to host an International Food Day in response to the teasing. Yoko is a story about bullying, tolerance, and acceptance. It holds a special place in the TAP library and receives rave reviews from TAs!

Another book I love is Willy and Hugh by Anthony Browne. At the beginning of this story Willy, a monkey, is lonely and friendless. Browne walks the reader around Willy’s town as he tries to meet new monkey friends. Eventually Willy runs (literally) into Hugh, a much larger, intimidating gorilla. Hugh and Willy become fast friends after Hugh stands up to the gorilla who bullies Willy. The rest of the book shows the pair having fun together, visiting the zoo where humans are caged instead of gorillas, and jogging through park with other grimacing gorillas. The illustrations are wonderful. Brown uses watercolor, pencil, and ink to express fright, anger, frustration, and delight in the character’s faces. I love looking at the differences in Willy and Hugh’s clothes! This book packs a great message about friendship, bullying, and celebrating differences. And it always makes me giggle.

The last book I would like to share is Reckless Ruby by Hiawyn Oram. Ruby is a very brave little girl with fiery red hair. She is so beautiful that her parents expect her to, “grow up and marry a prince who’ll wrap her in cotton and only bring her out for glittering banquets.” What a fate! Ruby decides to be as reckless as she can by handlebar dancing on a moving bicycle, swallowing porcupines, smoking multiple cheroots, and attempting to walk on water in lead boots. To her parents dismay she sports various injuries throughout the book: black eyes, broken bones, and ever more reckless behavior. Reckless Ruby is a great book for young girls and boys alike. It made me laugh then cry! I love Ruby’s determination, courage, and self-assuredness in spite of her parents’ insistence that she is wrapped in cotton. This is a new addition to the TAP library and sure to become an old favorite.

If you want to browse all of our children’s books please visit TAP’s Shelfari. What are some of your children’s favorite books?

Are You Interested in Changing Lives?

Submitted by Nitra Gutierrez, MS/HS Artistic Associate
and written by
Kelsey Lawrence, University of Texas Journalism Student

The Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble’s 2011 tour of “Reach Out, Speak Up” is coming to a close. We’re recruiting for next year’s ensemble now, so if you know a teen who lives in the Austin area and would be a good candidate for this work, please have them contact to schedule an audition. Want to know what it’s like to tour an original show with amazing teens? See the feature article from University of Texas Journalism student, Kelsey Lawrence, who attended one of our recent performances.

This afternoon at Burnet Middle School, “The Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble” — one of the ensembles that Theatre Action Project employs – -is about to begin their 4:30 performance of Reach Out/Speak Up for the Boys and Girls club students.

This afternoon’s piece, written by group members last fall, features a classic new student in school situation as Claire, the main character, starts her first day at a new school. After innocently talking to another girl’s boyfriend, her friendliness is misconstrued as flirtatiousness and she becomes the target of a cyber bullying campaign. The play talks about feelings of isolation and loneliness as a result of bullying and not knowing how to reach out for support.

“Theatre can be very transformative for ensemble members,” Gutierrez said. “Creating something with a group can be an empowering experience. Think back to being in high school. Can you remember being asked what you thought about something, and had 400 people in front of you waiting to listen? The theatre work gives them the chance to walk in someone else’s shoes. Acting can be a great way to study human behavior and help us gain empathy for people in situations beyond our own experience.”

An ensemble of nine teens walks out onstage, taking seats at stools arranged to face the audience.

“Isolation!” they shout in unison.
“Do you know what being alone feels like?” asks the main character Claire, who is played by Nicole Barrera, a 16-year-old Austin High School sophomore.

The play commences as Claire, the new girl in school, accidentally knocks the books out of the hands of a boy she passes in the hall. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she says picking up his stuff.

Known only as “Dude” in the play, he starts a friendly conversation with Claire. This exchange does not bode well with “Dude’s” girlfriend, and she starts a Facebook attack on Claire. Things get rough for Claire as insults like “slut” and “easy” are hurled at her in the hallways and she is ignored in her classes.

While the play being performed today is a fictionalized account, instances such as this are all too common for teens in school. The evolution of social media has created a vicious new breed of bullying, and its effects can be seen played out in the media. A 14-year-old Washington girl who sent a male crush and fellow schoolmate a nude photo became the target of a brutal smear campaign as her photo was forwarded to hundreds of teenagers throughout the region. Cyber bullying has also lead to suicides by teens who, tragically, were not able to get the support they needed to stop the bullying and see beyond the situation they were in now.

Changing Lives takes these real world situations and turns them into plays where fictional characters can be used to explore issues of how to be a “courageous bystander” and how kids can fight back against bullying. This afternoon, Burnet Middle School’s previously chattering, squirmy kids are completely silent and engrossed in the trials of Claire and her schoolmates.

“If we were in the same grade, they might just blow us off completely and be like ‘Whatever, we’re in the same grade,’” said Barrera. “Being a few years older we’re more vulnerable to them because we’ve been through this. We’re telling you straight, flat out, we’ve been bullied or might have even bullied a little bit. We want you guys [the audience] to know that if we got through it, anybody can get through it. The play is to tell people they’re not alone; there are people you can reach out to.”

Her fellow ensemble members share this sentiment as they sit around a cafeteria table after the performance. They are teens of all different ethnicities and backgrounds. As they talk excitedly in a post-performance rush, they are just kids having a good time together, unaware of differences for the moment, with the realization that they’re giving something back to the community.

“If feels really good for me because I’m a busy person and I feel like I don’t do a lot to give back to my community which has given me so much of my life,” Lina Green, 15, a McCallum Fine Arts academy student says.

“I’ve been through bullying and it’s a hard thing to go through. Sometimes you feel really alone, so I think it’s nice to have high school kids older than you come and show you that it’s alright, there are other people in the same situation as you.

“It’s nice to put young people in front of other young people and let them demonstrate how to make positive choices,” Gutierrez said. “It’s about being cool and powerful within yourself, not for other people. Changing Lives members are hungry for this kind of work. There are so many things they are told they must do to get through the day, such as schoolwork and other tasks. This is something they really have a say in, something they can get their hands on. It’s dynamic and different, and they get really excited about it.”

This passion and youthful enthusiasm is evident as the group walks out of the cafeteria. A couple of male ensemble members high-five some boys who tell them how awesome they thought the play was. Greg Orsak-Ramirez, 19, and a theatre freshman at ACC leads the group down the hall. He has a calm, mature presence and is one of the last ensemble members to talk.

“I love the entire process, starting with meeting a big group of kids who have no idea who they’re looking at,” Orsak-Ramirez said. “We actually get to meet these people and learn who they are and befriend them. We show them it’s actually easy to start a friendship in a healthy environment and how to embrace somebody with warm arms. It’s like ‘Hey, what’s up, everything’s gonna be cool. We just need to hang out for a few days and get used to it.’ That’s what drew me in. If it got me, it’s gotta get somebody else.”