“Seek first to understand, then to be understood,” said Kirk Mouser, adding, “Our youth in Clackamas County hold the key to our future.”

Mouser directs an upcoming play being staged by young people ages 14 to 18 in the Clackamas County Arts Alliance Youth Theatre for Change program.

PHOTO BY LISA SMITH - Kirk Mouser, the executive artistic director of Stumptown Stages, and playwright Jenni Green Miller interact with participants in the Clackamas County Arts Alliance Youth Theatre for Change program.The play, which was written by Jenni Green Miller in collaboration with these youths, expresses who they are and reveals their view of the world.

It will be presented in one performance only, at 7 p.m. Aug. 10 in the Osterman Theatre at Clackamas Community College.

The Clackamas County Arts Alliance operates Youth Theatre for Change as one of three projects in its Youth Arts for Change program. CCAA is a private nonprofit organization dedicated to keeping arts and culture central to life in Clackamas County.

Interactions, discussions

Mouser, the executive artistic director of Portland’s Stumptown Stages, has directed all five productions by the Youth Theatre for Change program, and this year worked for the first time with playwright Jenni Green Miller.

Miller said she listened to the young people interact with one another before introducing writing prompts and group discussions. The final product of this process is an original play based on the thoughts and ideas generated by the group.

“What they write about and share informs and shapes the play,” she said.

“This is a great way to learn what their concerns are and how we can grow together to make our community safer and healthier,” Mouser added.

The arts, he went on, “provide an outlet of what is possible, while leaving behind a cultural road map of what has been. We are constantly learning, and the arts merely mirror our discoveries.”

Furthermore, “The outcomes of this program are ones that engage, ignite, educate and empower our youth. We should never take for granted the social well-being that art services provide our youth and our community,” he said.

Personal growth

Mouser said he has enjoyed watching the youth laugh and play, and he has encouraged them to work together and grow creatively.

He regards challenges as opportunities for personal growth and observed that for the young people, “the biggest challenge is getting beyond the stigmas placed on the youth by our society.”

He added, “Woody Allen once commented that 80 percent of success is just showing up. Our youth are participating in a nearly three-hour workshop, twice a week. The demands on them are enormous, and yet they continue to show up and work hard.” Theater, Mouser noted, “is a very disciplined art form. What a great way for the youth to learn discipline, while allowing for creativity and self-awareness.”

The process

Throughout the six-week process, Green Miller said what she has enjoyed the most is listening to what the young people “think and feel and [how they express] their ideas on the world and their place in it.”

She likes “watching them get on their feet and interact in ways many adults might find uncomfortable or silly. I think there’s a lot of bravery in that.”

Why should people come and see the show?

“It’s theater; personally, I think everyone should see theater. But it’s also an opportunity for this group of kids to experience what community support feels like, to stand on a stage and hear applause for something they created and presented,” she said.

Green Miller added that such recognition “can be a very empowering experience, and I think every one of these kids deserves that. Youth Theatre for Change is an incredibly run program. YTC and Clackamas County really care about these kids.”

Working with professionals

Six of the young people involved in the production discussed what it was like to work on the play with one another, Mouser and Green Miller. Because of confidentiality issues, in four cases only first names are used, and in two cases the youth are referred to as unnamed students.

For Tess, 18, the best part about the experience has been being able to express herself, getting to know the other youth, and working with talented professionals.

The audience, she said, “will like that the performance is a collaboration of our own thoughts and words. We are able to freely express ourselves in a safe environment, which is important because there is no judgment among the group.”

She added, “It is important our voices be heard, because we live in a generation where we are often judged for the way we think and act, and this experience enables youth to express their thoughts safely without judgment.”

Overall, this has been a wonderful experience, Tess said, noting, that a lot of youth in the program are dealing with outside issues beyond their control, and “this program gives them an opportunity to leave those problems at the door, relax and be themselves and have fun during the process.”

Tiffany, 17, said it was fun to leave her other responsibilities behind and be able to “just have fun and have discussions about things that are going on in the world and that we’re passionate about.”

She described the final product, as being about “what we normally don’t get the chance to say. It’s about what is most important to us and what we want to be heard.”

Tiffany added, “We’re constantly being ‘shushed’ and told what to do, so when we’re allowed to speak our mind without consequences, it’s really cool to hear.”

‘Face of change

Martín, 16, said his favorite part of the experience has been helping the others get more comfortable with acting, and making a difference in their lives.

The audience will like “how original the piece is [and] how our stories will be presented in an artistic form,” he said.

Martín added that it is important for youths’ voice to be heard, “because we are the future, and we will be the face of change.”

For Isaac, 16, the best thing about the process has been the collaboration with his peers.

“We all connected with each other so fast from the first day and that has really helped us take risks and be open on stage,” he said.

Those who come see the play will appreciate the “personal connections each one of us will have on stage. How each character has a reason to be there and how each one of us will be open on stage.”

Finally, he said the program has “so much potential to make a difference in a person’s life.”

Two other students said that getting to know the others in the group was the best part of the whole experience, along with the opportunity to work with Mouser and Green Miller.

They added that they are the future and adults should listen to what youth are saying, to find out what impact the young people’s generation will have on other generations.

Hear the change

What: Clackamas County Arts Alliance’s Youth Theatre for Change program presents an original play, directed by Kirk Mouser and written by Jenni Green Miller, based on the thoughts and ideas of the teen participants. Audience members also will be invited to ask questions after the show.

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10

Where: Osterman Theatre in the Niemeyer Center at Clackamas Community College, 19600 Molalla Ave., Oregon City.

Tickets: $5 at the door.

Details: The program is made possible by the contributions of many partners and funders, including: the Oregon Arts Commission, Autzen Foundation, Juan Young Trust, Hoover Family Foundation, Charlotte Martin Foundation, Clackamas County, Clackamas Community College and Theatre Department, and Clackamas Repertory Theatre.

More: Kirk Mouser is the executive artistic director of Stumptown Stages. For the organization, Mouser oversees all the creative decision-making, including casting, picking and choosing a season’s plays and working with the design team.

Jenni Green Miller is a playwright, performance artist and professional speaker living in the Pacific Northwest. She is a 2012 recipient of a Regional Arts and Culture Council Individual Artists Grant for her play, “An Island.”