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Monthly Archives: June 2011

Guest blog: The ultimate form of self expression

by Susie Gidseg, Managing Director of Changing Lives

When I was a child, I was super shy; so shy I would be scared to stand up in front of a room and even say my name. My mother put me in an acting class–and it was like magic–all of a sudden, I had something to say, a place to belong, a character I could try on if I was too nervous to be myself. All throughout middle school and high school, theatre became my passion.  Looking back–the best moments of theatre I produced was theatre that helped people in some way “changed lives” so to speak.

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Fantastic Tales and Creative Sharing

by Amanda Davis, Marketing Associate VISTA

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the final sharing of the Fantastic Tales summer camp. Since this is my first year seeing Theatre Action Project’s summer camps, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

As all the parents filed into Paragon Prep to see their children and grandchildren’s performances, I stood by and quietly observed their anticipation.  The performances started and I was amazed at how much the kids could make me laugh to the point of tears with the stories they had written. The stories were full of funny bits and lots of “and then he died, the end” scenarios, which just made me laugh even harder. I wanted to be able to share some of the photos from the first week of camp. Head over to our Flickr Page to see more!

We began our second week of camp, Dance and Drums, this past Monday and we have many more exciting weeks to come. There is still time to sign up for our other 6 weeks of camp, just head over to our website and fill out the registration.

Your children will have so much fun with the TAP crew and the creativeness that flows throughout our camps.

A review of this year’s Summer Pageant in the Park

by Mary Alice Carnes, Community Relations Manager

I want to share this fun review of our recent Summer Pageant in the Park. This reprint is courtesy of Mariana Diaz, University of Texas. Thank you Mariana for joining us this year.

Theatre Action Project Turns the Organic into Artistic

The kids of TAP display their artwork

One of the many puppets that walked around the market.

“Exploring good nutrition through creative outlets”

by: Mariana Diaz

Colorful grasshoppers, ants, butterflies, and snowflakes filled the various pathways of the Sustainable Food Center’s Farmers Market in downtown Austin, at Republic Square Park on a muggy Saturday morning.

As these creatures continued to march down the market, they sang, cheered, and chanted the names of the various seasons they represented. This parade was part of Theatre Action Project’s (TAP), fourth annual event, “Summer Pageant in the Park.”

This year’s theme was titled “How Our Food Grows.”

TAP a nonprofit organization designed to serve both youth and community in Austin was founded in 1997 by a group of graduate students at the University of Texas. The project began from a single play this group created about preventing school violence to perform around different schools in the Austin area.

It was so well received that people recommended they form a company, Karen LaShelle, executive director of TAP, said.

“It’s morphed and evolved quite a lot since the beginning into many other kinds of programs,” LaShelle said. “But everything is related to the sense that we are using the theatre and the creative arts to empower young people, and help them develop creativity, critical thinking skills, and to be leaders in their community.”

To prepare for “Summer Pageant in the Park,” LaShelle said TAP worked with kids from seven different elementary schools, including BarringtonWooten, and Reilly, for two weeks to teach them about the different seasons in which their food grows. To help them understand the lesson better, they had them create puppets and other pieces of artwork that belonged to the four different seasons; winter, spring, summer and fall. With the aid of the puppets, LaShelle said the kids were able to understand what type of food grows in a particular season.

A little girl displaying the banner she made as she marches along the market

Once the puppets were done, it was time to take to the farmer’s market, Lashelle said. Lashelle and her team coordinated getting 170 people to the market to march in the parade, as well as making sure they were fed afterwards.

LaShelle said this year’s theme was chosen because healthy eating is a topic TAP had designated as instrumental to youth development, and the vital step to understanding this lesson was for the kids to learn where their food came from.

Mary Alice Carnes, community relations manager for TAP, said she could relate to this lesson because when she was younger she grew up with a family that produced its own food, but did not really understand the process of how it grew until she was much older.

“I grew up in peaches,” Carnes said. “However, I just thought when you were hungry you just went outside and picked what you wanted.”

Therefore, Carnes said she was really glad they were teaching the kids this concept at an early age because nutrition is an important lifelong topic.

The market was turned into a colorful piece of art thanks to all the artwork.

After the kids proudly demonstrated all their hard work to the several hundred spectators in the market, they dispersed all over the park to find their families and enjoy the rest of the afternoon in a closer sense of community.

“It’s good to have families come out to spend the day with us, and see how their food grows in their community,” Suzanne Santos, the farmer’s market director, said. “The farmer’s market is a perfect stage for their pageant because it is a natural environment for food.”

Crystal Smith and her two daughters and son after the event.

In addition to food, the farmer’s market also provided a setting for the children and parents who participated in TAP’s parade to celebrate their accomplishments.

“I feel proud, happy, and Joyful,” Crystal Smith said about her two daughter’s, Brianna and Angelica, marching in the parade. “I am happy to see them be productive and showing off who they really are.”

It is attitudes such as these that TAP aims to promote through the various programs they offer all over Austin. These programs include touring shows in the classrooms, after school programs in six school districts, low income sites and apartment complexes, youth theatre ensemble and community events including parades, conferences, and workshops.

Through all their programming, Carnes said TAP serves about 16,000 children and youth in the Austin community, of which about 80 percent come from low-income households or underserved communities.

“We offer programs in which we teach kids the skills to be role models and stand up for their peers,” Carnes said. “What we hope they gain from this is that they observe others standing up for each other, and in return take those skills back to their communities and pass it on.”

TAP strives to reach out to many kids by promoting the arts.

With over 480 hours a week of programming, LaShelle says she feels confident TAP is doing everything in their power to “pass it on.”

Above all, she says she feels proud of the change TAP has created in young people’s lives, and that “Summer Pageant in the Park” is just one way TAP is achieving the change.

“To provide a way for people to foster their sense of being connected to one another and their sense of community through the arts is such an amazing way to allow people to connect with one another,” LaShelle said. “We want to build their relationships and to strengthen their communities and their schools, it’s all about community programming.”

My Top 11 TAP Memories as I Depart

by Dustin Wills, Programming Specialist

11.Lindsey, the “fake” volunteer: I have an alter ego at the Theatre Action Project office, who is Lindsey, one of the most troublesome volunteers you could ever imagine. She is overzealous, always lost and enjoys leaving ten minute messages on the TAP voicemail, most of which are her accidentally forgetting to hang up. Poor Megan Fullen received the bulk of this whim.

10. Karaoke at the Christmas party: Particular highlights include Natalie Goodnow stealing Peter’s microphone and singing the Thong Song, Amanda Hashagen’s rendition of White Rabbit and of course Sarah Rinner bringing her own copy of WHAM’s Last Christmas.

 9. Piano Time: Some very nice person donated an old turn of the century player piano to TAP, with scrolls of old music. Thus began a sometime tradition of the staff gathering around to sing old lauds from yesteryear. It also ended up in a play I directed – which is also when we tuned it.

8. Taking students to the Globe theatre replica: I had the pleasure of taking students from Copperfield Elementary to the Globe Theatre replica in Austin, where they put on a performance of the storm form Twelfth Night. It was the perfect culminating event for a great first semester at that campus.

7. The Revenge: Many may not know that until recently TAP had a kickball team called the Revenge. The Revenge was well named because we never won, so, were always on the revenge. Who could forget Sarah’s infamous Sasquatch armbands, Red Fox’s actual red fox shirt and Julia Smith’s scream of terror running down the first base line?

6. Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed/PTO Conference in Omaha: An incident with the tiny bicycle. And of course, listening to Augusto Boal speak.

5. TAP-ABS or Friday Beyonce dance party: For about 1 month we had a weekly workout regime here at TAP that involved crunches, push-ups and a Flashdance. This fizzled away quickly but was replaced by a Friday Beyonce office dance party – usually to Single Ladies. Staying active!

4. Parades, in general: I have collaborated closely with Karen on 2 First Night parades, 2 Summer processions and a Pageant play about the Life of Cesar Chavez. Planning such large-scale community projects is sometimes frustrating, demanding and overwhelming, but is always rewarding and fun. Lots of late night puppet making with Karen – sometimes so late the delirium kicks in and you begin to wonder if there is a carbon monoxide leak… lots of lifting and sweating and corralling and running up and down parade lines. A great time, to say the least.

3. Seeing the Cycle 4 and 6 students grow up: For 4 years I have worked primarily with 6 schools: T.A. Brown, Wooldridge, Hart, Barrington, Wooten and Reilly – I have watched these kids mature from 1st to 5th grade through our after-school program, from our First Night and Summer Pageants and in our touring programs like Heroes and The Courage to Stand. I am frequently amazed by their growth into strong creative individuals who hold TAP values as their own. These are testaments to the impact TAP has over time.

2. Daily Face -2-Face time with Florinda Bryant: Florinda and I tend to sit facing each other in the office, slightly obscured by a computer screen or a file cabinet – no matter which room of the office we move into. I think that is because of our one-shot faces. I have practically memorized Florinda’s facial expressions, like the face on a barometer. One look can make me burst into laughter or immediately leave the room. I like to think she can read mine too… and if she can’t, she can always tell by the number of empty coffee cups on my desk. This office time also included lots of singing, secret messages, G-chats, and raising a child together (or we like to pretend)…

1. Courage to Stand at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired: This was by far the most rewarding singular moment for me at TAP. The courage offered by these students in the context of this program left me speechless. Karen later created a way for me to return to the TSBVI to teach an in school theatre program with the Elementary students. Every week I was inspired by these students and was taught volumes about ability, strength and the limitless potential of the imagination. I could not thank those kids more for what they gave me that semester.


  • Amanda Hashagan as “The Creeper”
  • Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble 2009 show
  • The Story of Humphry and Lucille
  • TAP lunch-share
  • TAP staff scavenger hunts
  • Papier Mache, in general.
Dustin leaves Theatre Action Project to attend grad school at the Yale School of Drama this fall where he will be in the directing program. We will miss you Dustin.

Thank You Dustin Wills

by Karen LaShelle — Executive and Artistic Director

Dustin Wills, Programming Specialist

It is a sad, yet happy, day for Theatre Action Project as we say “arrivederci” to one of our staff members, Dustin Wills, Program Specialist, who has been a part of our team for more than 4 years now. Dustin leaves us to attend grad school at the Yale School of Drama this fall where he will be in the directing program.  We are thrilled for this opportunity for him, but will miss him a whole heckuva lot.

First Night Austin 2009

Summer Pageant 2011

Thanks for sharing your talent and passion with us, Dustin. Good luck and come back to play with us often.

We love you!

P.S. Should we get balloons?  YEAEAEAEAAASSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

First Night Austin 2010

P.S.S. We hope you buy some proper shoes before winter hits in New Haven 😉

TAP Summer Camp is Fantastic!

by Patrick Torres, Middle and High School Program Director

Theatre Action Project has started summer camp!

This first week, our focus is on Fantastic Tales. I have to admit I was very nervous about starting camp because it has been several years since I have found myself teaching elementary students. Every time I work with this particular age group, I worry that I won’t be able to relate to them and that they will lose interest in what I am trying to teach them. This is also my first camp with TAP, so I was anxious my contributions to Fantastic Tales might not be fantastic at all. After finishing my first day at camp on Monday, I realized one simple truth…I worry too much! What I tend to forget about elementary school students is that they are extremely perceptive and their imaginations inspire me! The campers’ energy and enthusiasm reminded me of the power of our own imaginations to create worlds and characters that have never been thought of before. In the two groups I taught on Monday, the students created a diversity of interesting characters including: a knight the watches over his underwater kingdom, a 5-year-old explorer named Squeeky, and a boy who turns into a tornado. These young people are succeeding at this camp because they are fantastic and the tales they will tell at the close of camp on Friday will reawaken your imagination.

If you have a child that needs a creative outlet this summer, remember it is not too late to register for our other camps! If this first week is any indication of what is to come, then we are going to create some top-notch art over the next two months! Don’t miss out on being a part of it!

Recipe for a Yummy Summer Pageant in the Park

by Mary Alice Carnes, Community Relations Manager


7 Elementary schools
5 Teaching Artists
6 Staff
7 Volunteers
Family and friends
Theatre Action Project

SFC Farmer’s Market

A bright sunny day

Next Steps:
Dream, learn, and work.  Mix well and add a dash of fun and excitement as you march in a grand procession at Republic Square Park at SFC Farmers’ Market Downtown Austin in celebration of the seasons.

Serves hundreds with delight.

Here are a few photos from our fun build day on Friday and the colorful Summer Pageant this past Saturday. To see more photos head over to our Flickr page (pictures by Mary Alice Carnes and Amanda Davis).  What was your favorite part of this years Summer Pageant in the Park?