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Tag Archives: Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble

Happy Thanksgiving

by Alyssa Ely, Texas Tower PR

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and people are starting to count their blessings. Texas Tower PR is thankful for many things this season, one of them being our great client Creative Action. Over the past few years, we have helped them with fundraising events, social media reach and everything in between. Lucky for us, this semester wasn’t any different.

Starting early in the fall, we had the privilege of helping with the event I Spy Pie! Our team worked on everything from writing blogs and creating PSA’s to making pie hats. We had a blast watching I Spy Pie! come to life and even more fun volunteering  at the event. We are so glad that the fundraiser was such a huge success and are already looking forward to next year.

Later in the semester our team had the chance to spend an evening with some of the students in Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble. It was great to get to see the program and its positive effects first-hand. While there, we played a series of games with the students and answered a few questions, all geared towards the topic of the day: knowing your limit in relationships. We were all surprised by how welcoming the students were and how much we enjoyed ourselves while we were there.

We are grateful for all of our experiences working with Creative Action. Yet, we are most thankful for a program that helps to educate kids about critical issues while giving them a healthy outlet for them to express themselves. We have had another fabulous semester with Creative Action and can’t wait for many more to come.  Happy Thanksgiving!

About Texas Tower PR
Texas Tower Public Relations is The University of Texas at Austin’s PRSSA nationally affiliated student-run public relations firm. The goal of Texas Tower Public Relations is to provide students with hands-on experience in the field of public relations and Austin-area nonprofits with quality public relations assistance.

Retreat Brings Changing Lives Group Closer Together

by Nitra Gutierrez, Middle School and High School Program Associate

Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble (CLTYE) had an AMAZING retreat this weekend.

Being part of this ensemble takes hard work, focus and determination. Our work together can look many ways. Sometimes it means having big conversations about power, gender and relationships. Sometimes it means playing theatre games that help us let down our guard and be our authentic selves together. But sometimes, being part of this ensemble means letting go of the everyday and doing something extraordinary. That’s what we did this weekend.

Saturday morning we packed up our sleeping bags and headed out on a mini-road trip to the Candlelight Ranch.

We jumped right in and started our adventure with some fun on the zip-lines. This group was FEARLESS!

We traversed a canyon on a wire (think a tightrope) and even though we were locked into safety harnesses, we had to conquer some serious nerves to do it. We made dinner together, painted each others’ faces, played games, made a fire, told scary stories, serenaded each other with improvised love songs and woke up the next morning to work on our teamwork on a low ropes course before we packed it all up and came home. It was an experience full of energy, friendship and fun.

Something magical seems to happen on these retreats (and I don’t just mean that now my 35 year old mind is playing “Call me Maybe” on a loop) I don’t know if it’s because we had some concentrated time to live together as a family or because facing our fears of heights drew us closer together. What I do know is that we learned a little bit about who we are as individuals and a lot about who we are as a team – and we are more of an ensemble than ever.

A big THANK YOU to our fantastic community of Changing Lives ensemble members, their supportive families and guardians and our volunteers for making this retreat an unforgettable event.

Changing Lives Members Bond Over Common Interests

by Madi, Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble

Fall in Austin is here once again, that means a new season of Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble (Changing Lives) has begun.

A unique group of creative teens congregates to collaborate on ideas for a new script to tour in the fall. Before we get that far in our creative process, we have to bond as an ensemble.

That could be difficult for a group of teenagers that are at first strangers to do fairly quickly, but for Changing Lives members it’s not a daunting task. We are brought together by theatre and a common interest in social welfare. As a 3rd year Changing Lives member, this is what brings me back each year. The journey each year is unique; there will never be another group that is the same as the last. Ideas and opinions will differ with the exclusive collaboration of ideas and minds of each year.

I have met the most clever, gifted, and inventive people in Changing Lives, I feel honored to have been able to work with them all. The year ahead is very promising and I’m excited to see what it has in store for the ensemble.

Changing Lives Peer Leaders

by Nitra Gutierrez, Middle School and High School Program Associate

In the Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble, we strive to make our work together better every year. Sometimes that means adding a new theatrical frame, working with guest artists who challenge us to find better practices or adjusting our program model to improve it. This year, we have rolled out a new peer leadership model we learned about from our friends at the Theatre Offensive in Boston.

Four of our returning ensemble members (students who have been with the program for at least a year) have gone through our application process and have been selected to be Peer Leaders for our group. They will function as group leaders for our new ensemble members, help with administrative duties, help plan and facilitate rehearsals and be our go-to students for last minute opportunities that come up through the year.

Congratulations to Lina, Madi, Vivienne & Gary for being our first cohort of Peer Leaders. Keep an eye on these folks. They’re going to accomplish great things this year!

Azulina (aka Lina) is a sixteen year old senior at Garza High School in Austin, Texas. She enjoys sewing, theatre, film making, and most other silly things. For the past two years she has found the Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble to not only be a great way to advocate for change, but to also be an excellent creative outlet. She hopes to major in international relations and work to supply humanitarian aid to third world countries. In addition to Changing Lives, Lina is a member of a Destination Imagination team and takes classes at Austin Community College.

Madi is a 17 year old senior at Lanier High School. Outside of theatre she enjoys writing and playing tennis. This is her third year in The Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble and she is ecstatic about what this year has to bring.

Vivienne attends Gonzalo Garza Independence High School as a junior. She has spent one and a half years in the Changing Lives Youth Theatre Project. In her spare time, she writes, roller skates, and works at Bush’s Chicken on Brodie Lane. Theatre had always been a secret passion for her, but when she heard about Changing Lives, she knew it was just the program for her and her will to help the teens who need it.

Gary Livingston-Weaver is coming back for his second year with the Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble and is also a member of A Chick & A Dude Productions. Gary has been interested in theatre for as long as he can remember. His credits include- with The Royal Court Players: Scenic Crew for Evita, Junglebook, Omnium Gatherum, The Who’s Tommy, The Beauty Queen of Leenane and Parade. With Hyde Park Theatre: Assistant Stage Manager for Body Awareness. With A Chick & A Dude Productions: Voice-Over Actor for HIT., Scenic Crew for Winterland: A Journey Through ChristmaHanuKwanzaakkah, Paradise Key, and Glengarry Glen Ross. With ADV Flims: Voice-Over Actor for The Getbackers. Gary is currently attending Austin Community College with hopes to transfer to a four-year university to further study both performance and design aspects of theatre. Gary is happy to be working with Changing Lives again and very excited for the upcoming season.

If you are age 14-20 and are interested in taking on a paid position in Changing Lives, please contact to find out how you can use your talents to be a positive force in the community while making friends and having fun.

Changing Lives Auditions Are Right Around the Corner!

by Nitra Gutierrez, Middle School and High School Program Associate

When I was a young actor, I approached auditions with a mix of anxiety, challenge and excitement.  I would get nervous and feel the heat rise to my cheeks as my heart beat fast with anticipation.  Once or twice, I decided that avoiding the audition process altogether was a safer choice than facing someone who would tell me whether I was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ for the part.

It’s a high-stakes experience.  When we want to perform, we want to share ourselves with the world.  What could be more deflating than sharing yourself with a group of strangers only to be rejected?  Performing is an act of tremendous courage. It takes a lot of courage to take risks.  It takes guts to put yourself in front of people.

I empathize with young actors who enter any audition process. I know it can be scary, so I work to make our auditions as positive an experience as I can.  It’s not competitive.  It’s not stressful.  Trying out for Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble feels more like attending a rehearsal than an episode of America’s Got Talent.

I think it’s most important for youth trying out for the program to decide whether they are a good fit for the ensemble.  I ask them, “Do you enjoy this?  Is this the kind of work you can commit to with your whole self?  Do you see yourself giving the ensemble the time and dedication you’d give to an extra-curricular sport or a part-time job?”

People ask what ‘we’re looking for’ in Changing Lives auditions. My response is always the same. “I want team players, not divas or stars.  I want strong voices but not necessarily the loudest voices in the room.  I want kids who have something to say and are also ready to listen to others and collaborate artistically. Most importantly – I want youth who are willing to be themselves and commit fully to the play-making process.”

Changing Lives is a group of teen artist/activists who write and perform original theatre pieces about issues that affect teens. In the fall semester, we work together to build our performance skills and have meaningful discussions about the issues as we zone in on a topic. By spring, we turn all those skills into a full theatre piece that we tour to local middle and high schools. Key info about participation:

  1. Ensemble members must commit to the ensemble for the full school year and are paid a stipend for their work at the end of each semester.
  2. Rehearsals take place on Tuesdays & Thursdays from 7-9 p.m. at a location in central Austin.
  3. Students are responsible for their own transportation to rehearsals and performances.

Auditions for the 2012-2013 ensemble will be held on August 30th from 7-9 p.m., location TBA. To reserve a spot at auditions, please text your full name and the word “audition” to 361-537-6163.

If you have questions, please email for more information.

P.S. My first day of school was AMAZING! I conquered my fear of nuns and discovered that Sister Rogelia and Sister Rosario were fantastic story tellers.

This youth theater is Changing Lives: Advice crafted for and by teens, onstage at a school near you

Reblogged with permission from Culture Map Austin
Originally Posted by Erica Lies on November 28, 2011 at 11:00am

Early on a recent Saturday morning, eight students from the Changing Lives Youth Theater Ensemble performed at the We Are Girls conference in an Austin High classroom packed with middle school girls. One by one, the actors stepped into the spotlight to introduce their characters.

“Just because you call me a slut doesn’t mean I don’t deserve respect.”

“Just because I’m into academics doesn’t mean I don’t know how to have fun.” The honest, frank language is characteristic of a Changing Lives show.

A joint program of Theatre Action Project and Safe Place, CLYTE is a theatre arts program comprised of paid  14-18 year old actors who tour to middle schools and community events in Central Texas, presenting original plays focused on teen social issues like bullying and relationship violence.

Changing Lives has been addressing these topics since 2003, but recent attention to them have made CLYTE’s work particularly salient. The growing number of school fight videos on YouTube—not to mention the widely-reported recent suicides of gay teens—evidence that school bullying has escalated from rite of passage to life-threatening for many adolescents. Add in a recent study that revealed the pervasive sexual harassment of 7th-12th grade students, and it’s clear that students today struggle with issues many adults don’t have the tools to address.

A number of initiatives and media campaigns to draw attention to the detrimental effects of bullying have sprung up in recent years, but most focus only on the bully and the target, turning primarily to adults to stop the harassment. Changing Lives, however, employs a unique model that uses theater to teach kids strategies for interrupting destructive patterns.

The ensemble spends a semester conceiving of and writing a play with the help of TAP and Safe Place program directors, Nitra Gutierrez and Susie Gidseg. Beginning with image-based games and exercises fromTheatre of the Oppressed, the ensemble often shows a problem and then a moment of intervention where that problem can either be solved or exacerbated. For their current production, the players discussed labels and stereotypes that get attached to various students—be it clown, outsider, loud kid, nerd or slut—and used them to explore the real situations students face at school each day. In the spring, CLYTE will tour the production to area middle schools where it will be followed by a talk-back examining the problems presented in the show.

At their recent performance, Gutierrez and Gidseg sprang to action, asking audience members to identify problems in the relationships portrayed onstage. After exploring solutions to a moment where two characters picked on a third, Gutierrez directed attention to another scene. “Where else might we see bullying going on up here?” The students focused laser-like on the other side of the stage: one character had called another a slut. “Did anyone know that calling someone that sort of name is sexual harrassment?” They didn’t. Gutierrez followed up, “Why are we so hard on girls?” It’s that sort of information combined with critical analysis that CLYTE gives to students, encouraging them to imagine alternative solutions to common middle school social problems.

And it’s no mistake that Changing Lives is using theater to discuss harassment with middle schoolers, either. “Drama looks just like people walking and talking and living their lives,” Gutierrez explains. “It’s an effective way to interrogate those themes that we see in the real world. This sense of ‘rehearsing reality’ gives you something to chew on later. And that’s our biggest hope—that kids are talking to each other about the shows after we leave.”

Student feedback about the plays stresses how real the themes and characters feel. This relatability comes from a writing process that often digs into the artists’ own middle and high school experiences and observations. But Changing Lives isn’t looking solely to put relatable incidents on stage. The idea is to show how those common events can be changed by both participants and observers. “Bystanders could out-power bullies in immeasurable ways, if only we all realized the power that we have,” Gutierrez suggests. “If we start creating a mentality among young people that, ‘Hey, we are all watching this and allowing it to happen, we hold some responsibility in this situation and we do have a role to play,’ I think it could change dramatically.”

See the original article at:


Both Theatre Action Project and SafePlace are non-profits that fund the Changing Lives Youth Ensemble, among several other programs. If you’d like to get involved, TAP accepts both volunteers and donations.

Changing Lives Summer Program Interviewing New Ensemble Members

by Nitra Gutierrez, Middle School and High School Program Associate

Photo by: Carol Acurso Photography

This summer, we’ll be working with Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble students in a two-week conservatory style acting program to continue nurturing our artistic practice for the upcoming school year. We’ll be holding classes to hone our skills in voice production, movement and scene study. Students will:

  • Develop their presence on stage
  • Learn tricks to stay in the moment during scene work, and
  • Continue cultivating their memorization and projection skills.

Students will meet in the afternoons from July 16-27 at the Scottish Rite Theatre to unlock the skills that professional actors use in their creative practice.

Photo by: Carol Acurso Photography

Changing Lives is a group of teen artist/activists who create original pieces of theatre to spark dialogue about issues that affect teens. During the school year we work as a group to create an original theatre piece about an issue important to teens. In spring we tour our show to middle schools all over the Austin area. Ensemble member positions are paid during the school year program. This year’s summer program is designed to serve students who would like to continue with the ensemble in the fall semester.

If you know a teen between the ages of 14-20 who would like to use their voice to create positive change in their community, is interested in performance and would be a good fit for the ensemble, please contact our Artistic Director, Nitra Gutierrez ( to schedule an interview.

P.S. I never went to summer camp.  Summer camp was my Grandparents’ backyard — we lived in our bathing suits.  My favorite summer was probably the one when we watched Dirty Dancing every day (twice sometimes!)