The other day Maya, our Program Manager, shared an experience she had with high schoolers during a program. She was facilitating an activity with them called “The Great Game of Power”. We use this activity to explore a particular group’s dynamics, perceptions, and experiences around power.

Her story had quite an impact on me. I share it with you. Her words…

 


Jessie placed three chairs laying on their backs in a triangle and took the fourth chair and stacked it on top. He finished by placing a water bottle on top of the fourth chair. As Jessie completed his image of power, I said to the group, “Tell a story of the chairs. And relate it to something in your own lives.”

A youth participant offered, “The person on top has all the water to themselves and won’t give any to other people”.

That interpretation of the image started the group talking about Africa and the lack of access to water there. We ended up talking about Cape Town where “rich white people had the water and no one else did”.

Kaddi, a participant who identifies as a person of color, was quick to respond back. “Why’s it always gotta be black and white? Why can’t people just be people. Ya, there are some white people I don’t like, but you’re white and I like you.”

The group shifted and a new form took place; the youth began to voice their frustrations with all the anger and hate in our nation these days. They freely shared the opinions about the polarization they see around them. Us vs Them. You vs Me. The dialogue continued on until one youth finally said, “What’s the point? We can’t change anything anyway.”

Silence.

It was such a good question…one that begged me to want to answer…for them…for myself. After a long pause, I admitted, “I don’t have all the answers. This class is supposed to make you think…to ask hard questions. You did.”

They stared back at me disappointed…like they needed me to have the solution that would solve the greatest question.

I finally said, “I definitely don’t have all the answers, but what we will be doing together is learning through theatre how to connect, how to share space for each other’s stories, and how to simply be human together.”


As I shared earlier, this story held deep impact for me. We are all human. We are all fighting to be heard. To feel valued. To know our purpose. So what isn’t working? In effort to be understood, we struggle with our own ability to understand. Others are using those misunderstandings to their advantage. To divide us.

For our youth that day, Maya’s last response finally seemed enough. Enough to drive them to action. To determine the truth about our current state for themselves. To want to do something about it. Now, it’s your turn. A few ways you can make a difference today:

  • Listen – Like when you ask someone how they’re doing…mean it.
  • Activate – Your bodies, your voices, your purpose. Don’t forget #1.
  • Invest – In Mirror Image Arts – theatre for connection and social-emotional wellbeing.

You can help us achieve our goal to raise $7,000 by December 31st. Here’s specifically how you can impact #3:

  • $60 Covers trauma informed care training for 3 actors to serve young people affected by trauma.
  • $100 Equips Program staff with the supplies to bring the joy of theatre and humanity to the classroom for one year.
  • $300 Supports social-emotional skill building for one young person growing up in a juvenile detention center.
  • $850 Funds an 11 wk program for 5th graders that promotes self-awareness, empathy, and embracing differences.

 

Andrea Rabold

Executive Director

 

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It’s the end of the year again – another 365 days around the sun – and I can’t help but celebrate! Why? Because every month this past year seemed to bring amazing new developments for Mirror Image Arts.

My main joy this past year has been the culture that Mirror Image Arts is cultivating not only as an organization but in the community. It makes my heart happy to be part of an organization that practices our values and mission.

Here is my short list of other things that made me proud to be a part of Mirror Image Arts:

1.) Adding Maya to the staff this year allowed us to have a Lead Facilitator for all the programs. A consistent Lead Facilitator led to better quality in our programming. However, the fact that we had MAYA join the team has led to so many more amazing things. Maya has supported our organization in countless ways, always giving, always coming up with new ideas, always, always, always on so many things. Thanks Maya for being the amazing team member that you are!

2.) The Speak Up, Speak Out project reached out to the community through the La Alma Rec Center. There were challenges from the beginning…the primary one being that we have never tackled anything like this before: developing a deep cross sector partnership with Denver Parks & Rec in order to have even greater impact. The culminating production was an amazing piece of community engaged theatre, and the relationships that were created through this project are what makes Mirror Image Arts the unique organization it is.

3.) The people that are part of the organization are AMAZING. This is what happens when everyone believes in the organization. Our Board, Staff, Volunteers, Artists, and Donors have supported the organization by going above and beyond enabling the tremendous growth we have experienced.

4.) Anderson Rabold. Granted, I had nothing to do with his creation or entry into the world – I am so excited that he has joined the Mirror Image Arts family (through Andrea and Jamey).

I feel like my list of things could go on and on, so join me at our next Brews & News, mention this post, and I’ll buy you a beer and tell you everything else. I’m not sure which one of us wins in that situation, but you’ll at least get a drink out of it!

Also, if you haven’t had a chance to ensure your impact this year…no worries, there is still time. We are raising $6000 by December 31st in order to impact 600 young people. We are over halfway there. Join us. Build Empathy. You won’t regret it. TO DONATEhttps://buildempathy.causevox.com/

All my best and Happy New Year!

Sabrina Bovay

Board Chair

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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: 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”.