Member spotlight: Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble (Austin, TX)
Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble is part of Creative Action in Austin, TX. Here's an update from their artistic director, Noah Martin:
About Changing Lives: Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble is one of Creative Action's three teen art programs and has been in partnership with Expect Respect, a program of SAFE Alliance for 16 years. The theatre we create and work our students do as artist/activists in Changing Lives aims to foster healthy relationships, celebrate diversity, and engage in important community issues. Our cast is comprised of 24 teens from high schools around Austin. They come together in the fall to learn devising techniques and write an original play. In the Spring, they break up into two casts and tour the show to middle schools, as well as 2-3 public performances open to the community.
About Noah and future leadership: I have been the artistic director of Changing Lives for 3 years. I wear many hats as the director, set designer, sound designer, and ultimately the playwright that has to put the students' words and ideas to paper. As a white, straight, cisgender man, I realize there are limitations in how I can relate the stories of our diverse ensemble. In the future I hope to bring in more guest artists and possibly a playwright or dramaturg who can bring new ideas, perspective, and aesthetic to our work. We have so many talented playwrights in Austin and I would love to have one of them onboard to help shape our students stories into something wildly new and different.
2018 official show description: In Changing Lives’ newest play, "Just Ask", Miley is just starting high school and everything is new. When she needs extra English tutoring, her teacher introduces her to Zach. Zach is older, a talented poet, and – as it turns out – interested in Miley. When the two go on a date, they both have to decide how to act on their feelings. Just Ask explores how to respectfully let someone know you like them, while checking in about safe physical boundaries.
About the show: This year's show is all about consent! In creating this play the ensemble had to consider what consent might look, sound, and feel like for a middle school audience. After exploring characters and themes, the cast did further research by generating questions and interviewing some middle school students. They landed on these questions that guided our show:
What do you value in relationships?
What were you taught about what you're "supposed to do" in a relationship?
How do you let someone know you like them?
Prior to each show, our students go out into the audience and collect answers to these same questions. The responses are then shared before the performance starts.
Changing Lives isn't exclusively a queer ensemble. However, we strive to represent diverse identities and relationships on stage no matter what the content or theme. The show is written with fictional characters and storylines that are a compilation of the identities, stories, and struggles of our student ensemble. In addition to the ideas around consent in the date, this show also explored boundaries and consent within Miley's friendship with her sister, Jasmine, and best friend, Chance.
Hopes and dreams: There are a lot of limitations to our show since we perform in middle schools and only get 40-50 min time slots. Our play has to be less than 35 mins in length in order to have a talk back. There is only so much tech you can fit in the back of my prius and set up in a middle school cafeteria. I would love to devise another show with our students that could live outside of our touring limitations. Our youth have SO MUCH to say and so much has to be left out with the limitations we have in our current structure.
Up next: Our next big adventure is touring to fabulous Waco! Our ensemble is meeting another youth theatre ensemble based out of the Planned Parenthood in Dallas. We are excited to see what they have to share and the dialogue that will occur in this awesome youth driven exchange.
See Changing Lives perform at the Dougherty Arts Center in Austin, TX on May 2nd and 3rd!
Learn more about Changing Lives (and meet the ensemble!)
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