The Urban Theater Project is a partnership between the Virginia Stage Company and the Friends of the Virginia Beach Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. Through games, improvisation, and other exercises, our teaching artists try to help each student discover life lessons that will help them rediscover a sense of imagination and play and to become part of the larger community. At the root of the program is the idea that theatre can bring encouragement, purpose, and an artistic outlet to teenagers in trouble.
It’s the final event of the “Urban Theater Project.” This program, taught by VSC Resident Theater Artists Ryan Clemens and Christopher Lindsay, began in 2015 and continues through a partnership with Virginia Stage Company and the Virginia Beach 2nd District Court Service Unit. A group of 5 - 10 students have met in the theatre at Renaissance High School every Thursday evening for the last five weeks, participating in theatre “games” designed to offer an exploration of interpersonal communication, self-confidence, empathy, teamwork, and other ideas.
At this final meeting, a special “Showcase” has been put together, wherein the audience of friends, family members, and parole officers of the UTP students are invited to come on to the stage with the UTP team. There they engage in a sampling of the same theatre games taught in the program, learning from both the instructors and the students, engaging in the interactive lessons and positive collaboration that are the hallmarks of the program.
At one point, the participants follow the example of a student named Anthony, who models the kind of positive energy and awareness of self and others needed to make connections in a game called “Zip Zap Zop.” The group tries out this and a few other warm-ups before dividing into pairs for a “mirroring” exercise. Now Zachary, who you’ll remember from the last blog, is making eye contact and personal connection with one of the parole officers, explaining how they can find that playful synchronicity of the game. In another moment, the group is learning the fun game of “Yes, And” where another student named Trey helps demonstrate the principles of listening, affirmation and collaboration that allows a partnership to grow.
A quick break and it’s time for the second part of the event: The students offering their voice and their talents. Several of the students perform, delivering raps, poems, or demonstrating entertaining games they’ve learned in class.
A young man named Jeffrey takes his spot down center stage. He gives a poem he hopes will explain his feelings about having to ride in the creaky van every Thursday night to his mandatory participation in Urban Theatre Project:
Riding on the van is such a bust
But for probation it’s a must
If I miss enough I'll end up in cuffs
Sometimes it boils my blood and I wanna cuss
If it was up to me I would never ride as I think it sucks
it's worse than taking the school bus
The seat belts don't always squeak but I hate it when it does
… but when I get here it's not as bad as I thought it was
Does Jeffrey mean that, in the end, the bus ride wasn’t as bad as he’d thought? Or does he mean participation in Urban Theatre Project wasn’t as bad as he’d feared? The question is almost answered when, at the end of the program, the students present some final thoughts.
“It’s all Good Vibes,” Anthony says for his summary.
“Yeah, it was some laughs, good times,” adds Jeffrey.
Even if for only a few hours every week, the students have found a positive place free from judgment where they can support one another and themselves with the freedom to explore and be affirmed for their creativity.
Names have been changed to preserve the UTP students anonymity.