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Responding to Changing Needs in Our Community

by Nitra Gutierrez — Middle and High School Artistic Associate
We have all seen recent headlines in the news about youth in our communities facing new issues like cyber bullying as our relationship with technology evolves. Youth of the 21st Century are now referred to as “digital natives.” These young people have never lived in a world without cell phones, texting, the Internet, and social media connections that are active and within arm’s reach 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

As these technologies speed up our lives, the social repercussions that come along with them evolve as well. Media reports about the dangers of cyber bullying and sexting showcase escalated repercussions brought about by these behaviors.

At Theatre Action Project we try to create spaces for students to have conversations about these behaviors before they become the tragedies we see on the news. Crossing the Line, a TAP in the Classroom program for middle school students was created to address the evolving needs of our tech-savvy youth. This program addresses issues like gender-based bullying, sexual harassment and cyber bullying in a way that is engaging and grounded in the realities our youth face from day to day.

This program is collaboration between Theatre Action Project and the University of Texas School of Nursing in an effort to explore the nuances of bullying as youth transition into adulthood. The reality is that behaviors like bullying evolve into higher-risk behaviors like assault and sexual assault that have consequences far greater than a trip to the principal’s office.

In Crossing the Line, students watch the paths of three major characters from age six through middle school in a fully produced theatrical production. Three days of fun follow-up activities with the actor-teachers offer students an opportunity to discuss the behaviors they see in the play and reflect on the characters’ motives and points of view in a safe, engaging context. During parts of the program, students even have the chance to step into the action themselves and make new, positive choices that help the characters get what they want.

One thing I love about this program is that the characters are written like real kids. Nothing is black and white. There are no “good guys vs. bad guys.”

We see characters we like making choices we don’t agree with and that’s part of what makes it honest. We frame the roles of bully, bystander and target as roles we all have the capability of stepping into at one time or another. I think this is important because it’s easy to label someone as a “bully” and then create an artificial distance between us. In truth, we all adapt to our situations from moment to moment. The same person who participates in bullying behaviors may in fact be acting out in response to moments of their own victimization. Likewise, I think it’s empowering for young people to recognize that we are all constantly reinventing who we are. We have the power to create ourselves with every choice we face.

About creativeactionaustin

We are based in Austin, Texas and reach more than 16,000 young people every year through our unique blend of theatre and education programs.Our programs expose young people to critical social problems and offer opportunities for them to creatively think about how they can be a part of solutions to these problems. Creative Action is a unique blend of art and education – for us, the two are intertwined. We believe that using the arts as a teaching method provides a fun, engaging and inspiring way to learn – it incorporates the whole mind and body.

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