Since 1986, YouthAware at the New Conservatory Theatre Center (San Francisco, CA) has used theater as a platform to help schools and communities dialogue about issues that might otherwise be difficult to approach in a classroom setting. YouthAware plays have explored issues like HIV & /AIDS education, peer pressure, substance abuse, dating violence, homophobia, stereotypes, race, gender expectations, and school safety by using age-appropriate stories and characters that are developed to resonate closely with diverse Bay Area audiences.
Additionally, YouthAware has been developing Identity Matters, a theatre based residency program to help high school students explore identity in order to better understand and appreciate the experiences of one another. It is also a skill building and professional development opportunity for classroom teachers.
Here's an update from YouthAware Program Manager, Nicole Meñez:
Any current highlights for new projects, or projects just finished?
"I'm just wrapping up our touring play "Let's Get Galactic" which is about healthy choices for K through 3rd grade audiences. We've been on tour with this year's production to elementary schools in the SF Unified School District since mid-October.
'In Megan Cohen’s Let's Get Galactic, a friendly alien and a musical robot rocket your youngest students into a hilarious, intergalactic exploration of diversity, healthy choices, and basic facts about the immune system and HIV–prevention.'
Identity Matters (IM), our devised theater residency program which has been growing and
changing for the last couple of years, has come to a structure and curriculum we feel has the potential for longevity - not only through the training and practice of physically-centered, devised theatre pieces, but also in the way that we partner with our schools and teachers to add these tools to their teaching practices.
'The IM curriculum is designed to teach empathy, acceptance of diversity, and to foster cooperation and unity. Students will develop theatre and social skills while engaging with a wide range of material including articles, poetry, media, and hard data, along with the sharing of their classmates’ personal stories. By the end of the residency, each group will create one final piece to share with their classmates and facilitators.'"
Where is the program hoping to go in the future?
"I definitely want to cycle in some new plays into what we produce for our San Francisco student audiences. Particularly for the Middle and High Schoolers, keeping up with what they are exposed to and what they are talking about in relation to identity and wellness and updating the scripts is it's own undertaking each year and our current teen play is roughly 8 years old.
As IM continues to grow in controlled environments with schools and educators who are working with us to develop the curriculum, the hope is that we can move forward into new phases of the programming with the schools we've created relationships with. We also look forward to training more teaching artists for these residencies as we learn about and grow the curriculum."
What has been a challenge for the program this year?
"I think the most challenging thing for me this year was to direct shows within the program back to back along with managing the nitty gritty of booking schools and being in touch with daytime school teachers with plenty other things on their plates. There aren't enough hours in the day, but I make it work and try to keep a well-balanced personal/free-lance artist life at the end of the work day as well.
For Identity Matters, we ran into a lot more school schedule roadblocks during the residency than anticipated and had to consolidate some of the curriculum, but I think the students came away feeling like they still got a full experience out of this past residency."
What's next on YouthAware's adventure list?
We have another IM residency lined up for Leadership High School in Hayward, CA. The students will be using this residency as an opportunity to unpack issues of race in their communities with not just their classroom teacher and our teaching artist, but also with an IM apprentice who will be shadowing and training under our teaching artist.
I will also be directing YouthAware's "Real Talk!" at NCTC which is an original commission that teaches age appropriate HIV/AIDS curriculum to 4th/5th grade audiences through a lens of self-expression and media literacy. This play is available for morning performances at our theatre in mid-January.
'In Real Talk!, written by Megan Cohen, four engaging young characters explore the basics of healthy choices, conflict resolution, peer pressure, self-esteem, and age appropriate HIV & AIDS education through fast-paced scenes and songs.'"
You can read all of YouthAware's plays on their website.
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