Innovative Youth Theater Ensemble Offers Inaugural Show at Youth in Arts

On August 2 at 7pm, a remarkable group of students from throughout the Bay Area will present an original short multimedia play in downtown San Rafael. The Youth in Arts Performance Company brings together students of all abilities to create original work focused around issues they feel passionate about. Teens collaborating on the project include students from the Marin County Office of Education special education program and from various Bay Area schools, including Tamalpais High School’s Conservatory Theatre Ensemble (CTE).


The project is part of Youth in Arts Intensive Arts Mentorship (I AM) program, which provides intermediate and advanced arts opportunities for Bay Area teens. Executive Director Miko Lee states, “For many years Youth in Arts has been home to `Til Dawn, our award winning teen a cappella troupe. Now we are building a new theater ensemble, and we are thrilled to announce their first ever production in our downtown studio space.”


The decision to create the Youth in Arts Performance Company with teens of all abilities grew out of Youth in Arts “Arts Unite Us” program, which brings together special education and general education or “mainstream” students in school for shared arts experiences. Youth in Arts has provided tailored arts programs for special education students since 1981 and created “Arts Unite Us” in 2008 to expand on this work.


“We want to challenge assumptions about what individuals of differing abilities can accomplish in the arts,” said Youth in Arts Program Director Nydia Gonzalez. “Our goal is to create a unique and meaningful arts learning opportunity for all the kids participating.”


Youth in Arts Performance Company members are participating in an intensive, two-week program this July to write, design and perform an original new play under the leadership of Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Melissa Briggs.  Youth in Arts Performance Company members hail from CTE at Tamalpais, as well as Terra Linda, San Rafael and Lowell High Schools, Julia Morgan School for Girls and the Cypress School.


The theatrical collaboration process the Youth in Arts Performance Company utilizes was piloted through “Arts Unite Us” by Youth in Arts and Briggs, initially with students at Tamalpais High School in 2011-12.  Briggs worked with Marin County Office of Education teacher Michael Lovejoy’s special education class and Ben Cleaveland’s Conservatory Theater Ensemble students.


Lovejoy stated, “We took two of the most atypical programs in the county, and mashed them together, and it was extraordinary.” The program expanded this past school year to include sessions at Redwood and Terra Linda High Schools, with the summer Performance Company program added this July.


An important goal of all the collaborative process is to build connections between youth who might otherwise not interact on a day-to-day basis. Mentor Artist Briggs noticed during her first residency at Tamalpais that special education students were usually ignored by other students on campus. As the collaborative rehearsal process went on, the teens began to develop friendships with each other. By the end of the project, students would frequently engage in conversations about the production and were recognized for their work, even by peers not involved in the project.


Seats for the Youth in Arts Performance Company’s summer performance on August 2 at 7 pm are available by reservation only. Call Youth in Arts at 415-457-4878 ext 16 or email yia@youthinarts.org.


“Arts Unite Us” was created by Youth in Arts in 2008 with seed funds from the Special Hope Foundation. The Performance Company summer project has been supported in part by the Green Foundation, the Lester Foundation and the Marin Community Foundation.


Youth in Arts is the leading arts education nonprofit in the North Bay, offering students experiences and instruction in the visual and performing arts, and enriching the community with cultural events. Programs include Artists in Schools instruction in visual, performing and new media arts; VSA (Vision Strength Accessibility) programs for special needs students; Arts Unite Us bringing together students of differing abilities; Youth in Arts Presents theatrical presentations and school assemblies; and Intensive Arts Mentorship (I AM) programs for teens, including `Til Dawn and the Youth in Arts Performance Company.


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