Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Reading at the Griffin School

We are pleased to announce a reading of our play (a work in progress) on Thursday, December 10th !  

Our currently untitled piece is a work devised by teens for teens about issues like bullying, cyber-safety, rumors and homophobia.  

If you are a high school student interested in becoming a part of Changing Lives, an adult curious about the work we're doing, or are a theatre aficionado in the Austin area, please feel free to drop by the Griffin School tomorrow evening to hear how it's going.  

The Griffin School is located at 41st and Red River, across from the Hancock shopping center.

The Reading will begin at 7pm with snacks and a short talkback to follow.  Come on down and meet our ensemble of awesome artist activists!!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Art Imitates Life

If you've been tuning into our blog, you know that we've been working as an ensemble for several months to create a play about issues that affect teens.  When it comes to interpersonal relationships, we've discovered that teens go to each other for guidance more often than they do adults.

This is one reason we take our mission of peer education so seriously.  Our ensemble members are not just performers.  Through the course of their artistic work, they do research about issues like bullying, sexual harassment and gender expectations.  Their lived experience becomes a rich context for their artistic work.  Who knows best about the realities of what it's like to be a teen?  Teens in the ensemble are our network of experts on this topic.

Last week we undertook revisions on our play in progress.  One storyline in our piece centers around the common practice of "sexting" among teens.  Sexting is defined as "the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photos electronically, primarily between cell phones."   

During the course of our research into sexting, we were trying to discover ways our character, Alyssa might respond after photos she sent to a boyfriend got posted online.  This led us to discover the sad but true story of Hope Witsell, a 15 year old Florida teen who committed suicide after semi-nude photos she sent to a boy she liked were circulated.

The number of parallels we saw between Hope's real story and the character of Alyssa in our play were jarring.  The pressure she faces to succeed, the pressures to be in a relationship, the brutal bullying that occurred after her photos went public and the hesitation to discuss the situation with parents are all themes these two stories have in common.  

As an ensemble, we were deeply saddened to hear of Hope's passing.  We send condolences to her family and friends.  We hope our work will inform young people about the consequences of these kinds of behaviors before it is too late.  

If you are a teen, here are some tips to consider before you hit SEND:
  • Don't assume anything you post or send is going to remain private
  • There is no changing your mind in cyberspace - anything you send or post will never truly go away
  • Don't give in to the pressure to do something that makes you uncomfortable, even in cyberspace
  • Consider the recipient's reaction: just because a message is meant to be fun doesn't mean the person who sent it will see it that way
  • Nothing is truly anonymous
If you are the parent of a teen, communicate with them about their use of technology:
  • Talk to your kids about what they are doing in cyberspace
  • Know who your kids are communicating with
  • Consider limitations on electronic communication
  • Be aware of what your teens are posting publicly
  • Set expectations
(The above info is from a sex tech survey created by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and

If you would like to read more about Hope Witsell or respond with a message for her friends and family, please see this article: 

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ensemble Marches Against Violence!

Here we are, proudly marching in the Youth On It event.  This local event includes a march, resource fair and performances by other Austin youth groups.We like to get involved in community events like this to meet other groups of young people who use their creativity and energy to work against violence.  

After the march, we did a short performance of some of our poetry.  We performed alongside other groups like the Cipher and the Public Offenders, who use hip hop and spoken word poetry to speak out against violence.



from left to right: Nygia, Courtney, Darryl, Cassandra & Remandra

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Collaborating with a Partner

One awesome thing about devising is that so many people get to contribute to the process of creating  a play.  Our ensemble mixes up the work process so that we all do activities as individuals,pairs, and one large group.  

Here we are working in one large group

We did a sequence of partnered activities recently that helped us develop tactics for our characters.  Exploring multiple tactics can really help us flesh out a scene.  It's more interesting to watch a character struggle to get what they want when they try to get it in different ways.  

We began this sequence by pairing up and doing some basic mirroring warm ups.

Then we explored tactics by using an exercise called complete the image.

Partners worked through the skeleton of our story, creating images from specific moments.

Sometimes, making a frozen image with your body can really clue you into aspects of a character or moment that you don't expect.

These discoveries become very helpful as we move into playwriting . . . 

Another discovery we've made is that sometimes 
sugar + teens + creative work = giggles

Jorge and Kristal trying to keep it together . . .

Juice Packs: 1   Ellie: 0

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Changing Lives @ the GirlsNow Conference!!

This weekend, several of our ensemble members did a presentation at the GirlsNow conference.  The event, sponsored by the Girls' Empowerment Network was held at the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders.  They offered lots of workshops for girls of all ages.  Theatre Action Project did workshops on Body Image, Cyber-Bullying and Dating Violence Prevention.

Our ensemble took charge of the Dating Violence Prevention workshop.  We used activities and  drama to get conversations started about relationships. We played games with the participants to get everybody open to working together and then we performed a scene about controlling relationships.

This piece, originally devised by students in our summer program was re-mounted by our school-year ensemble to generate dialogue about relationship abuse.

Can you spot the controlling behavior??

This scene centers around 2 couples - one in a healthy relationship and the other in an abusive one.  

Emotional and verbal abuse are at the core of this scene because we feel strongly that teens should be aware of forms of interpersonal violence beyond the physical.  Controlling your partner, manipulating them emotionally, threatening, and putting them down are all abusive behaviors.  

Anyone can become a victim of this kind of violence.  We want to help teens know that this is NOT OK!   

Sometimes, people can mistake jealousy for love  

But controlling what your partner does, wears or says is abusive!

Remember: abuse is NEVER the victim's fault!!

Thanks to the GirlsNow Conference for inviting us!!  We look forward to visiting again.

And now on a silly note, this is what happened when our folks got ahold of some hats that were lying around at the Ann Richards School . . . 

Did someone say fabulous?

Nygia is always ready for her close-up!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Still Writing. . . .

Since we last posted, the ensemble has been hard at work developing three storylines that will come together into one performance.  We have already created the skeletons of these stories -meaning we have chosen our characters, fleshed out their backstories and determined the major events that will happen in the play.  

Our current challenge?  Weaving all of that information together and creating moments of action and dialogue that embody that story onstage.  Telling such a complex story well takes specific playwriting skills.  One way we develop our skills as playwrights is to read other scripts and discuss them critically.  

Here, Leo and Southern read from a script as the rest of the ensemble watches.

Afterwards, we all discuss script elements like: objectives (what do these characters want?)  and tactics (how do they try to get what they want?)  After we uncover these things, we approach the scenes from another angle . . . 

One way to access different tactics and discover dialogue for our script is to improvise moments from our story.  Improvisation is the art of creating a scene on the spot, without a  predetermined script.  To maintain group ownership of the play, we all take turns playing multiple roles - even if we need to play across gender.

In this scene, Mike (played by Bonnie) tries to break up 
with his controlling girlfriend, Angela (played by Eliana).  

During this improvisation, Mike (played by Southern) approaches his friend Abraham (played by Jorge) to find out why Abraham has been avoiding him.

This ensemble works hard but we also have a LOT of fun!  Here are some pics of our latest goofy moments . . .  

Stephanie says, "I saw a raccoon THIS BIG!!!!"

At the end of every rehearsal, we do a check-out ritual.  During a recent check-out, we asked students, "If you were a cartoon character right now, which one would you be?"  Courtney chose this little dude, who lives on the wall of our rehearsal space at the Griffin School.  Our ensemble is still debating about what name we should give him . . . 

Courtney and her soul-mate

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Being Creative is Hard Work!

As we continue shaping our performance piece, we are faced with so many decisions.  Anybody who has ever tried to place a pizza order for a big group of people knows that finding consensus while keeping everyone happy can be very difficult. 
So how do we do it?!?!!?

We start by focusing our minds and our bodies with weird exercises like this one.

balanced body = balanced mind

We try our best to keep major creative decisions open to the group.  These decisions range from logistical questions like, "what should our logo look like?" to "what choices can we make about the characters in the play to explore a particular issue?"

Here, ensemble members vote on a font for our new and improved logo design.

When we're done making 'business decisions' for the group, it's time to move on and make decisions about the play we are working on.  Right now, we're focusing on building complex characters and uncovering their motivations: the reasoning behind their actions. 

Can you spot the "mean  girls"? 

Here, ensemble members (Bonnie, Vanessa & Eliana) improvise to flesh out some of our characters.   In this scene, 'Alyssa'  is involved in a bullying situation.  

Improv is a great way to create a performance without a script. We take turns playing different roles in short scenes.  Later, we grab elements like lines of dialogue or moments of action that work well and insert them into the written draft of our script.  Our new flipcams help us capture these scenes for later review.  Thanks for the cameras, SafePlace!!

Here, 'Alyssa' (this time played by Eliana) is comforted by her BFF 'Tasha' (played by Kayla.)  

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Want to know more about what we do?

Still up to our ears in the devising process!!  
Now that we've done some writing, we're taking a step back to flesh out our characters more thoroughly. We're building characters in lots of fun and collaborative ways.Here are a few of the techniques we use to develop material for our play.

Role on the Wall is an activity that helps us brainstorm a character's background, details about their relationships, messages they hear and even their likes and dislikes.  Ensemble members take turns contributing so the character that emerges really is everyone's creation.

Our character sketch - what a mess!

Image Work is a great way to generate ideas and capture emotions in an expressive way without using words.  And sometimes, if you hold a pose long enough while someone is taking your picture, you get the giggles. . . 

Hotseating is an activity that allows audience members to speak directly to characters and ask them questions about what's going on in the story.  For this activity ensemble members take turns playing characters while the rest of the group interview them. We're experimenting with this to develop the personalities of our characters.   It's a fun and active way of finding out every character's side of the story. 

Three ensemble members hotseating 
as "the mean girls" in one of our storylines

We'll post more info on our rehearsal process as we continue. . . 

Friday, October 23, 2009

Using Dialogue to Create Dialogue

Right now, our work together is all about creating the story for our play.  This play is intended to stimulate dialogue among  students and community members who see it.  We hope to address issues like: healthy dating behaviors, bullying, gender double standards, cyber-safety and discrimination. 

We spent time earlier this week sketching out ideas for characters, identifying key issues we want to address and finding plot points that could help us get there.  We brainstormed ideas and decided to focus in on 3 central story lines.

Last night, we turned our focus toward creating dialogue.  Students broke out into groups and each took responsibility for a different part of the piece.  Then, they began rough drafts for their scenes.  

Toward the end of the evening, we shared the dialogue we had created.

Conversations about creative choices can build skills in communication, teamwork and problem solving.  Look at us go!

Sometimes, working too hard makes us silly!

Or shy . . .

more to come!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What happens at our rehearsals?

Do we just get together and wear tacky outfits?


Those are just our students from Del Valle High School in their stylish outfits from tacky day.

Right now, we are smack in the middle of devising our original performance.
When we complete this process, we will have created a play that educates middle and high school students about issues that affect teens.  Some of you may be wondering, "What in the world is devising?!?!"

Devising is a form of theatre where the script originates not from a single playwright, but is developed through a collaborative process by a group of people.

During the rehearsal process, this looks a lot of different ways:



taking breaks to smile

and some writing

We'll keep you all posted as we continue the process!