Youth Theatre for Change allows young people to bare their souls
Change will be in the wind, in a good way, on Wednesday, Aug. 16, when 12 local young people share their stories in a performance at 7 p.m. in the Osterman Theatre on campus at Clackamas Community College.
The teens have spent six weeks working with a professional theater director and a playwright as part of the Youth Theatre for Change program. With their performance, the community will "have a rare and unique opportunity to learn about our youth and how amazing they are," said Lisa Smith, Clackamas County Arts Alliance Youth Arts for Change coordinator.
"The goal of Youth Arts for Change, of which Youth Theatre for Change is [a part], is to utilize the arts as a catalyst to open doors for youth, promoting positive change, and forging constructive connections between youth and their community," she said.
This is the sixth season that Youth Theatre for Change has held workshops to help local young people find their voice and their place in the community.
Kirk Mouser, executive artistic director for Portland-based Stumptown Stages, has been with the program since the beginning and said what has kept him coming back every year is "the important investment in our youth — they are our future."
This summer, he and playwright Jenni Green Miller have watched as the youth made personal discoveries, experienced positive growth, and worked as a team to develop better communication skills and a willingness to try something new, Mouser said.
As for the biggest challenge, look to the phone.
"We live in a smartphone society that creates enormous distractions for our youth. Asking them to put their phones away and be present without distractions is the greatest challenge," he said.
The Youth Theatre for Change program is important because "investment in early preventative measures is essential if we want to create healthy change. Youth Arts for Change builds upon this idea by providing a platform for the youth to re-examine the world and their actions within it, and allowing them to voice their growing concerns."
In her role as YAC coordinator, Smith has attended all the workshops this summer and said Mouser and Miller do "an amazing job" of taking a hesitant group of young people, most with no theater experience, and helping them to become comfortable on stage.
The youth "learn communication and teamwork skills through a variety of fun or game-oriented exercises," she said.
"These activities are supplemented by prompted journaling sessions that encourage youth to share what is really on their minds — their challenges, hopes, frustrations and successes."
Each year presents new challenges, Smith said, adding that this "forces all of us to be flexible and agile to meet the youths' needs."
Part of the process is "building trust between the youth and the adult staff, and encouraging them to constructively voice their opinions, letting them know that not only do we value their thoughts and experiences, but that this performance is a really powerful way to share their voices with the community," she said.
"As with every season, there are ebbs and flows, but the trust grows, the friendships develop, and a very poignant set of stories and voices emerges."
As the rehearsal process continues, "one can see their confidence growing and the pieces coming together," Smith said.
The public should support these youth by attending the performance because the young people are part of the community, she noted.
"They have worked hard for six weeks in this program and have really amazing, wise and poignant things to say that deserve to be heard."
Youth Arts for Change
The summer theater workshop is just one of many programs sponsored by Youth Arts for Change.
"For each of our programs, we see engaging youth in creativity as a way for youth to not only benefit from the instinctive need to create, but also as a means of expression and sharing their voices," Smith said.
"Youth Theatre for Change participants have the unique experience of [sharing] some very personal thoughts, opinions and experiences in the safe and supportive environment of the theatre."
This kind of program is invaluable, she said, "because not only does the program give the youth a voice and a stage, but the community also benefits by getting the opportunity to really hear what teens are thinking."
For those who administer the program, the "hope is that the youths' sharing and the audience truly listening will open dialogue and forge bonds between the community and our youth."
Smith added: "There are also those amazing moments when the play has concluded, and the youths have reached their goal of putting on this performance and the crowd has given them a standing ovation. Each year seeing those moments of pride/relief/elation from the kids is priceless."
Change is good
What: Youth Theatre for Change presents its annual showcase
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 16
Where: Osterman Theatre in the Niemeyer Center at Clackamas Community College, 19600 S. Molalla Ave., Oregon City
Details: The performance is free, but a $5 donation is suggested.
More: Call Lisa Smith at 917-721-2739 or visit clackamasartsalliance.org.