Tag Archives: Youth Empowerment

Rising Youth Theatre

Rising Youth Theatre founders Xanthia Walker and Sarah Sullivan

After completing MFA degrees in theatre for youth at Arizona State University in Tempe, Xanthia Walker and Sarah Sullivan knew they wanted to start a theater company, so they looked around and considered the community need.

“We noticed that no one was doing full-time, community-engaged theater with youth,” recalls Walker. They’d found the need — “creating original plays with youth based on their true stories.” And so Rising Youth Theatre was born.

At this point, says Walker, it’s a “pilot project.” The task at hand is “developing our model for creating work.” They expect to do residency work all over the Phoenix metro area for a good six months or so, creating a youth theater production and building the reputation they’ll need to move forward.

Once they’ve laid this foundation, says Walker, they’ll seek additional funding and partnerships. Walker notes that they’re already working with several Valley agencies serving youth — including the Boys and Girls Clubs, Flight 33 in Guadalupe and Barrio Nuevo Phoenix.

They’ve already spent more than a month working with groups of youth at seven different sites in Phoenix, Tempe, Chandler and Guadalupe. “We’re probably working now with about 1oo to 150 middle school or high school age youth,” says Walker.

“A team of resident artists work with us to facilitate story gathering with students,” explains Walker. Their current project focuses on “what it means to be an Arizonan in 2012 from the perspective of a young person.”

Walker notes that the artists use various methods to help youth capture and share their thoughts about Arizona — including improvisation, story sharing, theater games and writing exercises. They then look for universal notes, comments and stories that elucidate common threads and themes.

Playwright José Zárate, who attends each of these workshops with youth, takes notes that get translated into outline form — material that he’ll eventually craft into a play performed by Rising Youth Theatre. Walker expects to hold auditions around the end of February, then move forward with rehearsals and developing the program.

Auditions, shares Walker, will be open to both youth involved in the residency phase of the play’s development and youth from the larger community. She expects the process of developing the play together as a cast to take about six weeks.

“The play will have a full production team and professional actors performing alongside participating youth,” says Walker. Actors Ricky Araiza, recently seen in Childsplay’s “The Sun Serpent,” and Elizabeth Pollen, who performed last season in Childsplay’s “The Tomato Plant Girl,” have already signed on to the project. Both are energetic, vibrant performers.

Rising Youth Theatre recently became the resident theater company of the Phoenix Center for the Arts, which is sponsoring their first production. It’ll be performed at the center the last weekend of April in 2012.

Rising Youth Theatre is offering six theater classes for youth which start in January of 2012 and cost just $60 each. There are two for first through third graders (“A Whole New World: Imagination and Adventures” and “Choose Your Own Adventure”) and four for fourth through sixth graders (“The Actor’s Tools: Body & Voice,” “Who Do You Think You Are?,” “Clowning Around,” and “What’s The Story?”).

To learn more about Rising Youth Theatre, the “Arizonan Project” or theater clases for youth, click here.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to read a “Stage Mom” review of an earlier work directed by Xanthia Walker which shares the stories of youth and families living with autism. Click here for information on other classes offered at Phoenix Center for the Arts.

Coming up: Making my holiday reading list

Photo courtesy of Xanthia Walker

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Seasons of change

Home Free, Cheyne - Sanctuary Art Center

With just a week before next Sunday’s CBS broadcast of the 2011 Tony Awards®, I’ve got a serious case of Tony fever. How kind of the Metropolitan Men’s Chorus to open Friday night’s benefit performance of “At the End of the Day…” with the song “Seasons of Love” from the Tony Award®-winning musical “Rent.” Also “Not While I’m Around” from “Sweeney Todd,” another Tony Award® winner, and two other selections.

I loved the fact that chorus members donned street clothes instead of traditional choir garb. Think red check flannel and Hawaiian print shirts. Khakis and flip-flops. And that they sang surrounded by set pieces resembling old aluminum siding spray painted with brightly-colored graffiti.

Open Heart, 2004, Gary - Sanctuary Art Center

“At the End of the Day…” — presented by QSpeak Theatre (of Phoenix Theatre) in collaboration with Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development in Phoenix — is “a play based on true stories and experiences of LGBTQ and homeless youth living in the Phoenix Valley.”

The play was “written in collaboration with program participants of START and GreenHouse Project programs at Tumbelweed Center for Youth Development, and youth participants at 1n10 and Y.E.P.” The one night benefit performance was directed by A. Beck, who describes it as the outgrowth of work with more than fifty youth during the course of nearly a year.

My daughter Lizabeth participated in several QSpeak projects (including “At the End of the Day…”) while attending high school at Arizona School for the Arts. Tomorrow afternoon, June 5, we’ll be seeing “Like Everyone Else” — developed by Xanthia Walker’s “Theatre for Social Change” class at ASA in partnership with Phoenix Theatre and the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center.” Both works feature snippets of stories meant to convey youth experiences in their own voices.

The 12-member cast did an exceptional job conveying the hopes and fears of LGBTQ youth struggling with homelessness and all that can entail — poverty, hunger, unwanted sexual encounters and more. Plus the issues that plague all teens and young adults, from self-identity to choice of values.

Choose, 2006, Ashley - Sanctuary Art Center

The work sheds light on complexities of societal supports for people experiencing homelessness. Bed shortages. Inadequate training for professionals. Budget cuts. And the tendency of too many to say they want to help the homeless without taking a single step to actually do so.

One message in particular stood out. These youth and young adults don’t want to be stereotyped or stigmatized. They’re people. Period. Yet portions of the dialogue revealed stereotypes some homeless youth hold against peers with mental health disorders, described in the work as “crazy,” “mental” or “psycho.”

Some aspects of life on the streets, including encounters with law enforcement, were deliberately excluded from the piece. The depiction of a youth who feels forced into prostitution by the need to pay rent was done with real artistry, but the sheer number of encounters “shadowed” through a piece of hanging cloth made this scene feel almost gratuitious to some in the audience.

At times, comments by cast and creative team during the post-show talk back were needed to elucidate points conveyed somewhat vaguely during the show. The fact that churches and temples, even those offering free food and clothing, feel unsafe to youth who grew up feeling judged by religious family and friends. And the aversion to accepting help that comes with strings attached. Think sermon first, meal later.

Coffee Shop, 2004, Scott - Sanctuary Art Center

If you missed the performance of “At the End of the Day…” but want to learn more about helping LGBTQ and/or homeless youth, click here to visit the Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development in Phoenix. And stay tuned for future “theater for social change” fare from Phoenix Theatre and its many community partners.

— Lynn

Note: Additional information on programs and policies related to homelessness is available from the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness.

Coming up: Valley stages featuring Tony Award®-winning works

All artwork from the Sanctuary Art Center in Seattle at www.sanctuaryartcenter.org

Art speaks louder than words

Though the official 2011 “No Name-Calling Week” has come and gone, every day should be a no name-calling day — so I’m pleased to share some artwork with an anti-bullying theme.

The works were created by Valley youth, many of whom know the ugliness of being bullied firsthand.

These artists include students from South Pointe High School in Phoenix and youth from YEP! House — a Phoenix center for LGBT youth and “allies” ages 14 to 24.

YEP! House is a program of “1 in 10” — a non-profit organization “dedicated to serving LGBTQ youth” through “empowering social and service programs.”

The art in this post was exhibited at SCC last week as part of their "Bullied" film event with the Anti-Defamation League

One of several posters displayed outside the Turquoise Room at SCC last week

If you enjoy the work, you can experience plenty more at an upcoming exhibit titled “Unknown: Artwork by Queer, Undocumented and Homeless Youth” — taking place February 4 and 11 at the “Release the Fear” studio in Phoenix. 

 — Lynn

Note: Photos taken by Lynn Trimble at the recent “Bullied” film event presented by the Anti-Defamation League and Scottsdale Community College during “No Name-Calling Week.”

Coming up: Tough choices, Valentine’s Day gifts for art lovers, Stage daughter musings on “This”