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Thirteen local teens are ready to step into the spotlight, and they are hoping the community will support them by attending a one-night-only performance of “The Experiment,” at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27, at Rex Putnam High School.

by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Lauren, a Rex Putnam High School intern, and Oscar work on a scene from 'The Experiment,' presented by Youth Theatre for Change.The play is the result of a multi-agency partnership that includes the Clackamas County Arts Alliance, Youth Arts for Change, Youth Theatre for Change, and the Clackamas County Juvenile Department. Five of the students involved are teen mentors, who have ties to the RPHS drama department, and the remaining eight teens were referred to the program from the juvenile department. Not all of the eight at-risk youth will be in the play, but they all have been part of the process.

Their goal: to share ideas with resident playwright Debbie Lamedman, come up with a script that expresses their point of view, then, working as a team with director Kelley Marchant, produce a play for the community.

Marchant, the drama teacher at RPHS, said, “There is room for theater to be used in a therapeutic format. It is a form of self-expression that a lot of people never experienced before, and this program exposes these kids to that.”

The playwright came in and listened to the youth talk about their lives and feelings, and one theme emerged — that of “being trapped, of being pigeon-holed by others’ perception of them,” Marchant said.

by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Director Kelley Marchant, center, chats with Robbin, left, and Ethan, as they take a break from rehearsing The Experiment.Lamedman then came up with a script, and the 11 teens began rehearsing in earnest for their upcoming performance.

Positive teamwork

The teens met twice a week for several hours during this eight-week process, and “the focus has been on teamwork, getting to know themselves and getting to know the views of the world,” Marchant said.

When they first came in, the young people said they felt like no one listens to them or understands them, and throughout this process, “they feel for the first time that somebody listens,” she said.

Marchant said she and the teens hope that members of the community will attend the performance “because this is an example of teens doing something positive.”

Ethan, 16, one of the participants, said being involved with the play has made him a little happier, and he has enjoyed “meeting new people who aren’t judgmental.”

“We can be ourselves here, and it is fun to work with people our age,” Robbin, another participant, said.

Shelby, 15, is one of the RPHS interns. She said her job was to make the participants feel welcome, so they would open up more.

Elita, another intern, is a recent graduate of RPHS who has worked with the program before.

“Last year, at the end of the program, I felt really proud of the people who performed. I created bonds with the kids. What I like best is seeing them change through the program” she said.

People should come see the show “because it is a great way for kids to express themselves and they have put in a lot of effort,” Elita said.

Youth Theatre for Change

Two key people who have watched this process take place over the summer are Kim Menig, Youth Arts for Change project coordinator, and Marla Conser, a juvenile court counselor with the Clackamas County Juvenile Department.

The Clackamas County Arts Alliance is the umbrella organization for both Youth Arts for Change and Youth Theatre for Change. This is the second year that Marchant and RPHS have participated in the program, which was made possible by three grants, Menig said.

Marchant received a grant from the Clackamas Cultural Coalition, “specifically to enhance the program by integrating a professional playwright,” Menig said.

The arts alliance then was given two grants by the Meyer Memorial Trust and the Oregon Arts Commission, she said. The North Clackamas School District and Rex Putnam High School also are partners for the project.

A major part of Menig’s role will be surveying the young people and audience members “to demonstrate the value of the program and to get a good picture of the impact of the program on the youth participating,” she said.

“The purpose of the program is to help connect youth with the opportunities to have their voices heard and to get a positive experience creating something as part of a group. Then we share it with the community and have it valued by the community,” Menig said.

An advantage to partnering with the juvenile department is the chance to give the youth “the chance to participate in something meaningful and to be proud of what they are doing,” she said.

Because the program provides youth with a supportive environment, a new skill set, and an opportunity to share and communicate with others, Menig has “seen the growth of the participating youth. They are more cohesive as a team, and they have developed a sense of pride, which is a new experience for many of them.”

And, “everyone gains from this sort of thing — being a valued member of a team and developing a creative product that has their voices,” Menig said.

“I want to say how proud we are of these youth who are taking a positive risk and giving their energy and willingness to try something new. They are doing something unique and challenging, and they have gained something valuable for themselves and their communities. I appreciate their courage to get up there on stage and share their stories,” she said.

Juvenile department

Conser and one other court counselor are acting as liaisons between the county justice department and the program, problem solving and communicating with participants.

“I see tremendous value in connecting kids with positive activities exposing them to endeavors they have never had exposure to, in widening the lens,” Conser said.

She added that statistical research has revealed what youths need to succeed and those include activities outside of school and exposure to adults who are passionate about something.

She said: “We want to restore the community connection. We want them to be pro-active in their own community. We want them back in their own community with self-sustaining interests.”

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