Mirror Image Arts is a theatre for young audiences, simply stated, we work for and with young people. Here, Sam Provenzano, an alumni artist of Mirror Image Arts, shares an international perspective.

I recently came back to the U.S. from two weeks in Cape Town, South Africa where I attended an international Theatre for Young Audiences festival. Over 50 pieces from around the world gathered to share their work with their international colleagues over the course of 12 days. I saw some of the most life-changing theatre I have ever seen, regardless of intended audience. But the fact that all of these pieces were specifically crafted for young audience members made them that much more important.

Some of the pieces brought to South Africa were highly political and complex. These works were profound because they were complicating issues and were inviting the young audience to enjoy, challenge, and investigate the complications. One piece, a collaboration between the UK, Finland, Norway, and Denmark, was called Pim and Theo. I could not get tickets to this production but everyone who saw it was blown away. In this piece, high school age audiences enter through an installation on fascism and civil liberties, eventually ending up in the space with the characters of already dead Pim Fortuyn and Theo Van Gogh, two real-life men who were both murdered for their outspoken political beliefs and actions. The show uses live-video streaming and positions the audience to answer how far they would go to protect someone else’s rights. Here is a trailer for the piece: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqnpfIH8oqA

http://www.pimandtheo.com/

My favorite piece by far was a South African George Orwell’s Animal Farm by a company called Shakexperience based in Johannesburg. This piece had six women performers who transformed into various animals and human through the use of simple props and costumes pieces with base costumes as guerilla-style fatigues. The transitions and storytelling were uniquely South African, as many audience members around me would burst into applause. laughter, or verbal response to what was happening on stage. What stuck with me about this production is that it did not shy away from either the humor or gruesome of reality.
Here is a video excerpt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZaM7gO3PZk

The only piece from the U.S. was called Seedfolk from Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis. This piece is a one woman show where the actor depicts multiple characters from the same neighborhood hoping to transform a rat-infested lot into something more. While this a beautiful piece, I could not help but ask myself where was the rest of the U.S. representation?

In the U.S., Theatre for Young Audiences is not given the same weight as “adult” theatre. I wonder if it has something to do with how we as a society view childhood. I attend the University of Texas at Austin and I am studying drama and theatre for youth and communities and I have a professor that continually challenges how we discuss young people. Societally, there is a default of adult. Adult being the ultimate thing one can be and young people are working to get to “Adult”. Meaning they’re not necessarily full human beings yet, but they will be at the age of 18-25. Childhood is a moment in time that is held precious, but perhaps by doing so, we ignore the complexities of a child as a human. The idea that they are already full human beings with complex thoughts and emotions worthy of complex art.

There were multiples times throughout my theatre watching in Cape Town where I thought, “No way would that be put on a U.S. stage.” During these moments though, I would look around at the young people fully engaged in whatever was happening. Because what was happening was beautiful, or dangerous, or important. As storytellers, the theatre-makers held the audience in high regard and respected their aptitude for complex stories.

My family and friends are asking what Cape Town was like. I keep giving the short answer that it was one of the most complicated places I have ever been, with extreme poverty right next to luxury living. Political unrest in the relatively recent shadow of apartheid. Unbelievable beauty at the base of one of the oldest mountains on Earth with fresh fog from the ocean covering parts of the city. Witnessing highly skilled actors delivering quality, critically engaged work for the young people of Cape Town spurs me on to continually strive to make theatre that honors young audiences as fully human.

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Over the past year Mirror Image Arts has experienced immense growth in our “Your Voice” series serving more than a 1,000 young people from July 2016-June 2017. This increase in programming, coupled with the addition of our two year civic practice project, “Speak Up, Speak Out!”, spurred the need for us to expand our staff in order to maintain the quality positive youth development and arts programming we are known for in the community.

We are excited to announce that Mirror Image Arts has created a new full-time staff position called the Program Coordinator, and we are even more thrilled to share that Maya Osterman will start in this new position July 1st. This role is crucial to the continued growth of our organization as Maya will spend ⅔ of her time in the field leading programs, and the rest assisting with the administration of programs, fundraising, and marketing.

Maya has grown with Mirror Image Arts over the last two years as a facilitator, a collaborator on program development, and as an event volunteer. Her unique ability to forge relationships with young people, her passion for facilitation and theatre, and her experience as a program administrator make her an exciting addition to our staff.

We look forward to introducing Maya to our donors and volunteers. The support from the community makes all of this work possible, and we look forward to seeing how Maya contributes to our organization as we work together to impact Colorado young people.

More About Maya:

Maya Osterman-Van Grack has been an Applied Theatre practitioner for the last eleven years. She received her BFA in Theatre Performance from the University of Colorado-Boulder. As a facilitator, actor, director, and writer she has worked with numerous theatre companies and universities utilizing and devising theatre as an instructive tool, equipping participants with knowledge, skills, and motivation to engage in real efforts to make personal and societal transformation. Maya is the Founder/Facilitator of Restorative Theatre – a theatre program for incarcerated youth that runs at Lookout Mountain Youth Services Center in Golden, CO. She also currently serves as the Director of Artistic Programs at Arizona State University’s STIR (Sex Trafficking Intervention and Research) program through the School of Social Work.

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Yahya is one of the exceptional young people we get to work with in our Speak Up, Speak Out! project. He serves on our Youth Advisory Board.

What is your name?
Yahya

How old are you?
18

What School do you attend?
Rise Up School

What is your favorite subject in school? 
Math and Science

What is your favorite activity outside of school?
Basketball and Boxing

What is your favorite song? 
Stand By Me by Ben E. King

What is your favorite movie?
The Perfect Match

What is your favorite book?
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Who is your role model? 
My older brother, cause he goes to college and that’s what I want to do.

Where do you want to go college? 
Long Beach California because they have lots of indoor and outdoor sports.

What do you want to be when you grow up? 
I have a couple, I want to be a sports agent, a forensic pathologist, a real estate agent cause that seems fun, and college basketball coach.

What do you like about being a part of Speak Up, Speak Out! Youth Advisory Board? 
I get to talk about what I want to change in the neighborhood and I get to hangout with people I don’t know.

How will being a part of this Youth Advisory Board help you as a person?
I believe being a part of YAB will help me be a better leader.

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By: Maya Osterman, Lead Facilitator 

With our current political climate, I find myself constantly questioning am I doing enough. I wonder if I am complacent. Why do I not feel anger like others? I am conflicted and saddened…nervous even. Am I doing everything I can including using my privilege to advocate and elevate the voices of the unheard?

Many days I feel like I am definitely not doing enough but on days when I lead Mirror Image Arts’ programs, I always leave grounded in the fact that we are doing real grassroots work. We are, creating space for young people to feel empowered in their own ability to use their voice and actions to make change in their lives and the lives of their community.

One of our newest endeavors has been working with the New America School in Aurora. The mission of The New America Schools is, to empower new immigrants, English language learners, and academically underserved students with the educational tools and support they need to maximize their potential, succeed and live the American dream.

More and more we find ourselves working with students who have immigrated to America with their families in search of a better life. The demographic of our New America program consists of a largely Latino/Latina population and recent Somali immigrants. Our Somali immigrant participants are all female and all wear hijabs. This past week’s program session, we started unpacking what bullying looks like in the their lives; whether it is something they have partaken in either as the person doing the bullying, the person being bullied, or the person witnessing the bullying (Bystander). I gave each group a few minutes to share their stories of bullying. I, then, asked them to pick one story to present to the rest of the class through a style of theatre called Image Theatre – participants create a still picture using their bodies/faces to tell a story.

All three images told a different story of what it is like to be a Muslim female who wears a hijab in America: the uncomfortable and angry person who tries to pull off her hijab, a more modern Muslim judging her for still wearing a hijab even after moving to America, and the push and pull from inside and outside perspectives around who a Muslim woman wearing a hijab should be. As we processed these images one of the girls expressed that this was the first time she had talked about her hijab and her fears now living in this country with anyone outside of her immediate friends and very close family. The other two girls expressed it was the same for them. I asked them what it was like to share these experiences with the group. They all said at first it was really scary but that they were relieved and happy to be able to share their feelings outside of their homes, they had not realized how much they wanted to talk about it with other people.

I turned to everyone else in the group and asked them what it was like to hear these stories, and then have to place themselves in these images with women wearing hijabs. The participants who had to play the characters in the story participating in the bullying behavior said it was really hard to have to play that role especially because they had to look into the eyes of the individual they were putting down. They all agreed that they did not fully understand what it meant to be a Muslim woman in America until doing this exercise…that they were surprised by how this activity made them feel.

We later moved into an activity where each participant wrote an I Am poem.  It is a self-reflective poem about who they are as a person: what personal accomplishments and character strengths they feel proud of, what their hopes and dreams are, and how they see themselves fitting into the world around them. The idea behind the poem is that we first need to feel confident and courageous in who we are before we are able to feel brave enough to stand up for ourselves or for someone else. They, then, divided into two smaller groups and had to transform their I Am poem into a We Are poem to emphasize the community they all want to be a part of. They were asked to repeat one line at the beginning and at the end of the poem. Their repeated lines were: 

We are Strong. We are Equal.

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By: Sabrina Bovay, Board Chair

2016 has been a year of change for me as I continued to volunteer for Mirror Image Arts. I joined the Board of Directors in late 2015 and just as I was getting accustomed to the group, I decided to take a sabbatical with my husband to go travel the world. I kept in touch with Meghann and Andrea on what was happening. And there was A LOT happening:

Personnel Changes – We hired a Program and Partnerships Director! Our second employee was approved; and we were super excited to welcome Meghann Henry to the new position. While there was a learning curve in taking on another employee and defining roles, so much of the groundwork had been done in advance by our Executive Director, Andrea, that the transition went smoothly.

 

Board Members, New and Old – No, I’m not referencing ages! Our board went through some shifts this year as well, as we welcomed new faces and said goodbye to members who played integral roles in getting MIA to where it is today. Jamey Rabold and Marc Stith were part of MIA since our reorganization in 2013, adding insight, expertise, and passion to our board. We can’t thank them enough for their contributions! The new faces that came on included Joe Hickman and Grace Spivak. They jumped right into the work, helping us identify more effective online relationship manager and accounting systems, working diligently on networking and evangelizing, and setting up a Finance Committee and internal infrastructure.

Programs, Programs, Programs – It has been quite a year for our programming department. Your Voice Matters, our bullying prevention programming continues to see results in the multiple schools it serves. I got to fully appreciate what our program does for young people by experiencing two different sessions and seeing the changes that occurred with the kids in each. I also got to walk like a duck and play really silly games during the program, which I enjoyed since I don’t get to do that very often!

I also participated in a workshop with Center For Performance and Civic Practice (CPCP). CPCP and MIA partnered to build our Speak Up, Speak Out! project in which we will work with the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Denver. Going to the workshop, was eye opening for me in many ways: 1) seeing the problems facing the neighborhood ‘in real life’ – like gangs, gentrification, and safety issues; 2) learning more about MIA’s Teaching Artists and their aspirations; and 3) really understanding what drives me to be a part of this organization and what I can learn from the work we are doing. I encourage all of you to reach out to me or anyone else involved in the organization to find out more about Speak Up, Speak Out!.

The business of running a non-profit business – It’s a lot of work! I’m not entirely sure how Andrea pulls it off, but she does it with grace, passion and efficiency! Being part of the leadership team has helped me learn the inner workings of what it takes to keep the lights on. And this year, we were excited to rent shared office space from Joining Vision and Action (JVA), so we actually accounted for a physical location to keep lights on for! Having a working environment at JVA has allowed us to connect with other non-profits as well as have a home base of operations for our employees and Teaching Artists. A big thanks to JVA for supporting us and our work!

I’m excited to see what 2017 brings to our organization! Our leadership team has big goals for the upcoming year, including the addition of a few more incredibly talented people to our board, another successful I Got Your Back! gala, extending our bullying prevention program, and the joy of seeing the outcomes from Speak Up Speak Out!.

As we go into the new year, I hope you get to enjoy the holidays with loved ones and friends!

Let our New Year’s resolution be this: we will be there for one another as fellow members of humanity, in the finest sense of the word. – Goran Persson

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By: Ally Fleckenstein, Teaching Artist

Andrea, Meghann and I met before my 3 month travel abroad. We discussed sharing anything that served as inspiration to me during my incredibly journey. They also challenged me to discover what I believe my aesthetic is as an artist. I loved their challenge because I have never thought about defining my creative aesthetic before.

After spending time in so many beautiful countries including Thailand and the Philippines, I’ve been inspired in so many ways…it didn’t take long for me to discover what my aesthetic is:

– When elements of nature are coexisting with unnatural elements organically and freely, it creates something very stimulating for me. For example: a vine growing on a building. But deeper than this, but that concept.

– I also find it pleasing when the colors are contrasting. They don’t have to be, but it takes my stimulation and joy even further.

I connect this aesthetic with my work and with my way of living…the constant need I have for our society and my personal relationships to coexist even if we aren’t naturally connected. Sometimes it takes a little bit of work and contrast to pull different people together but ultimately their relationship and connection will naturally bond even if it is contrasting. In fact, I find it more pleasurable to make the contrast and differences work rather than assuming cultures or individuals need to connect because they may appear the same. Like the vine growing on a building, the two can become necessities to each other. They have become dependent on one another. Was the building built to sustain living plant life? Was the vine put here to find a building to grow on? But they’ve allowed this to happen, and they’ve created unity within each other allowing them both to freely and successfully exist and sustain each other.

If we allow one another to be open minded to the beauty of coexisting we will allow empathy and therefore allow a more beautiful and sustainable lifestyle.

Much love my beautiful souls. See you soon! I have thoroughly enjoyed my travels AND also can’t wait to get back to my work with MIA!

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I have been a part of this organization for nine years. As I write this post, I find myself needing to take a moment to reflect on that number. Wow! The time has really flown, and there is still so much more opportunity to explore. It’s thrilling!

Through the years I have held a variety of different positions…everything from Actor to Cast Manager to Artistic Director and to my most recent role as Executive Director. I have witnessed so much potential and possibilities for our world by working with young people. They are incredibly inspirational and have so much to say around their given circumstances. I am honored to be a part of an organization doing this work. I am still humbled every time I see a program and bear witness to the growth young people experience within themselves when an environment is built where they feel safe to question, reflect, and explore. Most recently, I was introduced to a story of a young person named Lupita. I felt so inspired by her, I wanted to share her story with you.

After experiencing the 2nd session of our 6 wk program, “Finding Your Voice”, Lupita approached our lead facilitators, Maya and Allyx, and thanked them for creating a space where she finally felt like she belonged; a place where she had a voice. She shared with them that up until that day, she had felt invisible at her school…like a ghost. People mostly didn’t see her and definitely didn’t speak to her. She shared that if people did see her, it was only to make fun of her. The actions of other students made her feel as if she wasn’t enough and she had never known how to change that. She, then, shared that even though that was the way it had always been at her school for as long as she could remember, she was beginning to feel differently. The more she practiced speaking up and using her voice in the program, the stronger her voice was getting and the stronger she was feeling.

After the 3rd session, the facilitators checked back in with her. She said she was feeling even more confident and shared that she appreciated that day’s session the most…how it had explored empathy and how to practice it. She was excited because now she knew how to be empathetic for others and that she might be able to helps others be empathetic too.

I was able to drop by this school for the 4th session of the program and after it concluded, the school counselor stopped by so excited to share a story with me. It was a story about Lupita. The counselor prefaced the story by telling us that Lupita was a student that tried very hard to not speak up in class. She was usually withdrawn with such low confidence that even when she did say something, it was difficult to hear her. The counselor went on to tell us that just before the program that day, Lupita had seized a moment to expand on a lesson in literature class. She stood up and shared that she identified with the isolation and loneliness the character was experiencing in the book they were reading. She, then, told her story. By the end, students in the class were tearing up and apologizing for making her feel that way. She further shared that she had just learned about empathy, and she was challenging herself to practice it more in her life and hoped they would consider doing the same. Lupita came to the school counselor immediately after class to tell her what happened because she was so proud of herself and so happy to see what had happened with her classmates.

As I shared in the beginning of this post, I am humbled to be a part of this work with young people who deserve to be heard and to feel proud of who they are. Afterall, isn’t that the journey to realizing our greatest individual potential. But, I also realized that Lupita’s story is an opportunity for me to reflect on my own relationships and personal journey. Where have I not challenged myself in the same way to have empathy for others…those who trigger me…who I disagree with…some who I may even be fearful of? Thank you Lupita for showing me not only what’s possible for my organization’s work but the courage and potential I have in my own life. I am humbled and in awe. It is time, and I can now see the power in what’s available to us right now. Empathy is empowerment.

Will you join myself and Lupita? We need it now more than ever.

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This week we had an amazing 6th day of our “Finding You Voice” program. The complex and honest stories of the characters are the heart of this program, and are the key to getting our participants to engage. One of our activities, Forum Theatre, allows youth to step into the shoes of the characters in the play and act out a different choice that affects the final outcome for the character.

The Scene from the Play: Alex is booing Frankie during her performance in the talent show, and trying to get the youth participants in the audience to join him.  TJ, another character, is also sitting in the audience…he has become a bystander.

The Rehearsal for Reality: During the replay of the scene, one of our youth stepped in as TJ and began cheering each time Alex booed. Alex continued to boo, but was visibly surprised, and Frankie, the character performing in the talent show, felt encouraged to push through the song. Our facilitator stopped the action of the scene and asked, “Did that choice change the outcome the way you expected it too?”.  The students decided that while it was a strong, empathetic choice, it didn’t have the effect that they expected on the person doing the bullying. The character of Frankie then shared with them that it made a big difference to her. She shared that she felt more supported and appreciated that her friend was standing up for her. The facilitator asked, “Let’s see what happens if we replay this scene again, and see if the TJ character can make a another choice in this moment.”  This time, one student stood up to play TJ, and started clapping for Frankie as soon as Alex started booing. Then, a second student stood up and started clapping. The next thing we knew, the whole room was standing, clapping and cheering for Frankie. This action made it impossible for Frankie to hear the jeering from Alex, and Alex eventually gave up.

I have to admit, even as a developer of this program I would have never imagined having students use this tactic.  It was so powerful. In this moment they were practicing upstanding for someone. They were also experiencing the positive feelings that occur when a group of people come together to accomplish a goal, and they were ACTING!

It’s why theatre is our tool.  It connects us, empowers us, and reflects our world back to us. It allows us to ask ourselves, “If I was this person, and if I was in this situation, what would I do?”. Most importantly it provides a way to talk about our own lives through the experiences of the characters. These rehearsal moments allow us space to try bold, new choices that may or may not work. They might feel uncomfortable at first, but as we experiment and take risks we are shaped into the “character” we want to become, so that when it is time to stand up…
we can perform.

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As I transition into my new role as the Programs and Partnerships Director I am experiencing many “firsts” this fall; meeting our clients and partners; building our first two year residency program,”Speak Up, Speak Out!”, piloting a new 6 week follow up to our current bullying prevention program, and on-boarding our newest miARTIST.

Each of these “firsts” reminds me of why I am passionate about what we do at Mirror Image Arts. The work feels like a perfect fit. Each day I am able to utilize my experience administrating with my creative drive and desire to engage on a personal level with our community. But, I am realizing the greatest joy lies in listening and connecting with people. There is, of course, lots of talk about logistics of our program and the theories we use in our facilitation, but more importantly we also dive into what motivates us and how our experiences with bullying and empathy can assist us in connecting with youth. These moments, particularly when navigating this time of transition, remind me of the power of storytelling. It connects, refreshes, and heals. It allows me to use my past, and the wisdom of others to tackle this season of “firsts”.

Mirror Image Arts is excited to announce that with the assistance of the Colorado Health Foundation Grant, we are able to grow our staff team to include a full-time Programs and Partnerships Director. We are thrilled to share that we have hired Meghann Henry.

Meghann’s most recent work was with the Mizel Arts and Culture Center where she served as their Education Director. Before she and her husband moved to Denver, she was the Director of Education and Outreach at the nationally recognized Coterie Theatre and a Youth Services Librarian for the Kansas City Public Library. We are beyond excited to have Meghann’s vast talent and experience with us as part of our staff team now as we continue to grow our programs and services for the communities we serve. We are so thankful for everything she contributed to the organization in the past as both Board Chair and Program Advisor. Meghann will start full-time October 1, 2016.