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One-night-only event allows Clackamas County youth to shine

All 11 teens who took part in this summer’s Youth Theatre for Change program will get to tell their stories to an audience for one night only.

Photo Credit: PHOTO BY: DICK TRTEK - Co-director Kirk Mouser, far right, constructs the set for IMHO, with help from, from left, Madie, Tessa, Omar, Emily and Roy.At 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 21, the Clackamas County teens will perform “IMHO” in Rex Putnam High School’s Black Box Theater. IMHO stands for In My Humble Opinion, and the script came about through a collaboration with Debbie Lamedman, a professional playwright.

Photo Credit: PHOTO BY: DICK TRTEK - Tessa and Madie carry a set piece as the cast of IMHO get ready for rehearsal.  The teens met twice a week for several hours during the Youth Theatre for Change eight-week program, and in the early days worked with Lamedman.

“She did a series of writing exercises and used that content. She drew heavily on the youths’ own words, and the script is so close to what the youth wanted to say,” said Kim Menig, Youth Arts for Change coordinator for Clackamas County Arts Alliance, the agency that oversees Youth Theatre for Change.

The overall theme of the show is “what drives trust, what the youth care about, and what they believe in,” Menig said.

Through exposure to theater arts, the teens were given the opportunity to “build relationships with new people and make a positive difference in the community by sharing their stories,” Menig said.

The young people worked with theater professionals, listened to guest speakers and were told about possible internships in the field. Menig said that the purpose of the program was to “create opportunities for youth to learn new skills and benefit the community through what they share in performance.”

Menig added, “It’s been amazing for me to get to witness the talent and creativity of these youth. One young man spent an hour writing something that has become a part of the performance. It was powerful for everyone to see how focused he was.”

Who should come and see the show?

“People who care about the real voices of youth in the community. Our audience surveys from last year showed that people loved seeing the youth shine, loved hearing what they had to say and seeing them blossom,” Menig said.

Mentors

Kelley Marchant, drama director at Rex Putnam High School, and Kirk Mouser, a professional actor and artistic director and founder of Stumptown Stages, based in downtown Portland, co-directed “IMHO.”

Marchant has been a part of Youth Theatre for Change for three years and Mouser has been involved for four years, since the program began.

This year’s students really “bought into the program from the very beginning. From the first day, they were excited to be here. It has been invigorating; it’s been fun,” Marchant said.

Working with this group of young people allows her to interact with Clackamas County youth in a different way from her everyday teaching assignment, she said.

Marchant added, “These students have valid points to make, and they are wise beyond their years. Their voices need to be heard, and we need to listen.”

For Mouser, the best thing about the Youth Theatre for Change program is how the young people work together to accomplish a common goal.

“There is something about the theater community. These kids are walking away from this program with a whole level of confidence,” he said.

“Through positive social interactions and working with authority figures guiding them creatively, these kids can tell their story in a safe environment, and they can find out who they really are,” Mouser said.

Looking forward

Last week, four of the young people took a few minutes off from set construction to discuss how they feel about being part of a theatrical production. Because of the nature of the Youth Theater for Change program, only their first names will be used.

David is one of the few participants who plans to become an actor, and has appeared in a musical production of “Guys and Dolls.”

It has been challenging for him, meeting so many different people, but he is looking forward to the production and seeing what the audience likes about it.

He urges people to come and see the show, “to understand how we’re just like everyone else.”

Emily was surprised that something she dreaded turned out to be something she looked forward to.

The program has kept her busy this summer, and she has especially liked “getting to relate to people.”

The biggest challenge for her has been “trying to keep everyone on as equal a partnership as possible.”

For Madie, the best part also has been “the social interactions with other kids,” and she has appreciated that “no one really judges us.”

Roy agrees with that, adding, “I’ve met a lot of new people and have enjoyed making new relationships. I learned that you are never alone; that there is always someone just like you.”

He noted, “Having your own words in the play makes you feel like you can strive to be better. People should come and watch this, because I don’t think a lot of people understand what younger people are dealing with, and they need to stop and listen.”

Partnerships

Menig said she is grateful to all the partners who have made this year’s program run so smoothly.

“Youth Theatre for Change is a partnership among the Clackamas County Arts Alliance (part of the larger Youth Arts for Change program), Rex Putnam High School, the Clackamas County Juvenile Department and North Clackamas School District,” she said.

Funders for Youth Theatre for Change include Clackamas County, Oregon Arts Commission, Meyer Memorial Trust, Juan Young Trust and the Autzen Foundation.

The main goals of Youth Theatre for Change are teaching students team-building and improvisation techniques and providing a supportive environment where youth voices can be heard.

The final performance will give the young people the chance to showcase their new-found skills.

Other goals include connecting Clackamas County teens with their community and exposing them to positive possibilities of creative expression.

See the show

What: Youth Theatre for Change presents “IMHO”

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 21

Where: Black Box Theater at Rex Putnam High School, 4950 S.E. Roethe Road

Cost: $5; seating is limited.

More: Visit clackamasartsalliance.org for information and to purchase tickets.

Contact Kim Menig, Youth Arts for Change project coordinator, at 503-709-1286 or email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .



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