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Category Archives: Youth Theatre Ensembles

The End of the Beginning

by Nitra Gutierrez, Middle School and High School Program Associate

After a full year of working with Theatre Action Project’s Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble, I often find myself faced with mixed feelings come May. Part of me (I think it must be my brain) tallies up the successes we have experienced together:

  • Writing an original play, learning performance skills, touring shows for audiences of 600+
  • Having peer leaders make appearances in the news and on panels advocating against bullying and unhealthy relationships and
  • Taking CLYTE students on our first performance at a national conference

I consider the challenges we have faced as a team:

  • Wrangling 20 energetic teens, maintaining our focus, getting them to be loud when we needed them to be (and getting them to be quiet when we needed them to be)
  • Dealing with the unexpected actor illnesses on performance days
  • Working through the frustrating moments when we wished the play could write itself

Another part of me (you might say it’s my heart) is simply awestruck at the growth and beauty I have witnessed while working alongside these students.

It’s remarkable how much growth a person can experience in a year. In September, I had a motley group of shy kids and self-professed weirdos who “didn’t fit in anywhere else.” Some were silly. Some were silent. Now I see a unit of authentic individuals who have grown by listening, laughing and working together. They recognize the ensemble as a family whose relationships will continue to grow far beyond this school year. Where I saw fear in September, in May I see young adults rising to any occasion with confidence. I am proud of them, not just because they have become better actors or because they have learned to work as a team, or even because they have achieved so much but because they have allowed this experience to change their own lives- and mine.

Dealing With Middle School Bullies

Reblogged with permission from Youth Radio
Originally Posted by Youth Radio Editor on April 16, 2012 at 02:02pm

photo: trix0r/ BY-NC-SA

I’m Colton Gillum. I’m in the eighth grade.

I have blonde hair. I’m a blue eyed boy. I’m fairly tall. I’m 5’6”, maybe 5’5”. And I’ve been bullied.

Through middle school, I’ve learned you basically have to know who to mess with and who not to mess with. And to know that, you basically have to look around and see who is doing what. If someone is picking on a kid, you know ‘Oh, that guy’s a bully.’ Don’t mess with him.

What I’ve learned is how to maneuver between bullies. Every time someone bullies me in a hallway and they are coming after me, I just basically swivel through the crowd so they can’t see me anymore.

I was getting bullied one time in the seventh grade and this kid was running after me. So I went in a classroom and just hid there for like five minutes and the teacher gave me a pass to class.

I guess how I’m here today is the support from the program Changing Lives and my mother always telling me, “Just don’t go after him. He’s not important in your life. If he picks on you — not important. You just keep on going.”

I feel like people need to know what’s happening in middle schools. You get bullied and you don’t really tell anyone until the eighth grade. And you really can’t do anything about it. I want people to know that you have to tell someone what’s going on.

Make a friend before becoming a bully.

Colton Gillum, troupe member of the Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble. Photo by Theatre Action Project.

Join Theater Action Project for a conversation about bullying. Visit us at:

A Bid Farewell

by Emily Watkins, Account Executive, Texas Tower PR

Over the past two years, Theatre Action Project (TAP) has opened to my eyes to a world of creativity. It has been a magical world of Ferdinand the Bull, country fairs, Swimmy, lanterns, cookies, Sara Hickman and of course cupcakes. Behind the events and social media, it has been wonderful watching TAP change Austin’s perspective on the power of arts education.

The biggest thing I have taken away from TAP is that through the arts we can educate our youngsters on important topics that are not easy to talk about, such as bullying. Recently bullying has been a topic of discussion and national issue, however TAP has been fighting against bullying all along with arts programs. TAP has been making an impact on bullying, and the statistics can prove it.

Courage to Stand

In the Courage to Stand program, 91% of responding teachers said that they had seen an increase in students sticking up for other students when confronted with issues of bullying since viewing the CTS program.

In Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble, 59% percent of audience respondents report that the program helped them speak up when they see abusive or harassing behavior.

The Heroes/Los Heroes

In The Heroes/Los Heroes program, 72% of reporting teachers saw an increase in students engaging in a 4-step conflict resolution process since viewing the Heroes program.

I am sad to be leaving TAP, but I am thankful for the opportunity I had to work along side such generous and kind people. I am not going too far and plan on helping TAP continue their good work in any way I can.  They can’t get rid of me that easily!

With her transition to a new position with Texas Tower PR, we take the opportunity to say thank you to Emily and her devotion to TAP. We are most grateful for our partnership with Tower PR and their hard-working team which helps to expand TAP’s outreach and fulfill its mission.

This is Your Pilot Speaking

by Patrick Torres, Middle and High School Program Director

Theatre Action Project is currently implementing a pilot program for our New Stages Youth Theatre Ensemble at the transitional housing center at Gardner Betts. This new phase of our programming serves formerly incarcerated youth who are working to successfully transition back into the community. The work they have achieved in the time we have been working together has been remarkable. The sessions are noticeably different than the classes that take place in the residential facility. Their renewed sense of freedom coupled with the insights they gained through the successful completion of the leadership program required as a part of their detention has resulted in more insightful perspectives in the development of their play.

In just a matter of 5 hours, the participants were able to:

  • create a compelling character named Jimmy
  • work together to define his given circumstances and conflict, and
  • create a first draft of an original play about the far reaching affects of a person’s choices.

It has been an exciting process and the students have a strong sense of pride about what they have been able to accomplish. For our remaining time together, we will be working on how to successfully perform the script and on revising to have the most impact on the audience. If this pilot is indicative of the work we will achieve once we launch our full program, then these young people are going to have a big impact on their community!

Traveling with Changing Lives

by Susie Gidseg, Managing Director, Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble

Changing Lives Youth Ensemble has the exciting opportunity to take five of our students to the National Conference on Health and Domestic Violence, put on by Futures Without Violence, in San Francisco, CA. Our students will be performing a 15 minute selection of their play, Outside the Box, to over 650 audience members from all over the US. This is an awesome opportunity for Changing Lives to be showcased on a national level and also for us to experience traveling together.
There is a lot that goes into traveling—but we know our students are ready for the challenge! From first time plane flights, to navigating the hills of San Francisco, to performing in new and exciting spaces, to exploring Chinatown– I am sure this will be a trip that we, and our students, will remember for a long time.

Stay tuned to find out how it all went! (The photo above of San Fran bound students was taken by Changing Lives-er Summor Elliott.)

P.S. My favorite hairstyle is anything big, curly, and rock and roll. See you at TAP’s Big Hair Country Fair on March 24th at the Salt Lick Pavillion! To buy tickets visit: TAP Big Hair. Proceeds benefit Theatre Action Project.

Changing Lives Performs at the Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired

by Nitra Gutierrez, Middle School and High School Program Associate

Touring a performance with the Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble is a unique experience. Each new stage means a new set of blocking adjustments for the cast. Every new space requires a different amount of vocal energy from each actor as we strive to be heard. The biggest variable is always the audience. Some school day performances have a frenetic energy, an excitement that lingers in the air and says, “It’s awesome that we don’t have to go to sixth period!” At the Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired, there is always one certainty – that our students will have one of the most engaged, energized audiences that we meet all year.

The Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired (TSBVI) is a public school that serves students ages 6-21 who are blind, visually impaired or have additional disabilities. Some students are from the Austin area, while others live in dorms on campus and visit family across the state on weekends and holidays. The school culture there is inclusive, empowering and welcoming to guest performers like our ensemble.

Theatre is a highly visual medium and every year people ask me if we make adaptations to our show for the TSBVI audience. While we may make tiny modifications to dialogue for clarity, adding subtle clues about the stage action, we find that TSBVI audiences are super-attentive and need very few modifications to stay invested in the story. From the stage we catch an occasional whisper from a blind student as they ask their sighted companion to describe a piece of action but without skipping a beat they jump right back into the story, ‘ohh-ing and aah-ing’ as the drama unfolds.

The attention these student audiences give to detail and the overall themes of the show becomes apparent as we engage in the post show talkback. This year, we are assisted by TSBVI student and Changing Lives Alum, Jory Freeman who helps us by calling on students by name as they raise their hands to respond to our play, Outside the Box. We ask, “Are stereotypes harmful?” Many students raise their hands to answer, “It can be hard to hear the judgments people make about you because over time, you can start to believe them.” Another student comments, “But they are just words – they only have power over you if you let them.” A third student raises his hand and asks, “Can I come up and meet y’all?”

After the talkback, TSBVI students rush the stage to meet our ensemble members. They ask questions about the characters, ask where the students go to school, ask if they like the same bands and TV shows, ask if they can become Facebook friends, some kids even ask for autographs. Our students leave this performance with renewed confidence and commitment to their work. Changing Lives’ visits to TSBVI always remind us that our work together resonates with the community and has an impact that can only be measured by our experiences together. Thank you, Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired for being such gracious hosts and exemplary audience.

P.S. My favorite hairstyle is Peg Bundy’s from Married with Children. See you at TAP’s Big Hair Country Fair on March 24th at the Salt Lick Pavilion! To buy tickets visit: TAP Big Hair. Proceeds benefit Theatre Action Project.

The Power of Their Own Voices

by Patrick Torres, Middle and High School Program Director

This year we are continuing our New Stages program at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center. Last fall, we worked with a group of young women to turn their experiences into poetry. Under the guidance of professional hip-hop and TAP teaching artist, Jbro, the participants learned how to share their unique perspectives to create captivating pieces and tap into their creativity. As a group, the poets also decided to work together to write an original hip-hop that share their collective feelings about incarceration and the lessons they have learned.

In every way, this class introduced these amazing young women to the power of their own voices and how their thoughts, experiences, and imaginations can engage and affect anyone who hears their story.

Currently, Jbro is professionally recording their original work at a local music studio. When he is finished, the young women will not only have a professionally produced copy of the work they so boldly put forward, but an opportunity to share their talent with the rest of us.