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.
“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 Barrington, Wooten, 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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”