Volunteers – Bethany Carmellini and Stacey Jensen at “I Got Your Back” 2016.

In order for a non-profit to impact its community, it takes a village. Over the next year, we are going to feature our village of volunteers who shape Mirror Image Arts through their time, talent, and expertise.

Since 2014, Stacey Jensen has volunteered more than 550 hours through legal support, advocacy, and fundraising. Stacey meets with us quarterly to ensure that we are developing the policies and procedures that enable us to grow sustainably, and as a result in 2017 we created a comprehensive employee policy handbook. This major step for our start-up organization provided the infrastructure needed to hire 5 hourly staff, which in turn assisted us in reaching 1,014 young people (a 40% increase over FY16). This year, we began offering social-emotional learning programs in Juvenile Justice Centers. Stacey calmed the staff nerves as she assisted us with navigating the complexity of the justice system. Through her passion and attention to detail she ensured that our business, curriculum, artists, and the interest of our youth were all considered in contract negotiations with the department of justice.

A few additional highlights of her impact on Mirror Image Arts include:

Developing policies; Gift Acceptance, Sexual Harassment, Whistleblower, Conflict of Interest, Non-Disclosure/Non-Competition, Drug-Free Workplace, and Workers Compensation.
Assisting with silent auction logistics and volunteering on the day of our gala.
Fundraising of more than $2,000 through running in the Colfax Marathon and cultivating donors.

Stacey not only gives her time and talent to the organization but also takes the time to personally invest in our youth. She recently attended our bullying prevention program and shared with us, “Mirror Image Arts makes me feel connected to my community, and I am proud to work with them to create an impact in the place I have decided to call home. I believe in the mission of empowering people when they are young…before it is too late.”

Stacey is imperative to our success.


Dear Andrea and all the amazing contributors at Mirror Image Arts,

My name is Erin Mead and I am a mother of two boys, Dylan and Brady. I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you for everything you do each day to make this world a better place for mine and so many other children. Parenting is not an easy journey and doing it in a time that is so very frightening is even harder. It is so easy to be discouraged raising children when everything around us seems to scream hate, violence, and intolerance.  Then there are days when you see a little light. Your organization is one of those guiding lights. I am so very proud to be a witness to that. What you do is so incredibly important, significant, and courageous. You do not only enrich the lives of the people you come in contact with, but every single person that they come in contact with as well. What you do can not only improve the lives of the children and teachers today but tomorrow. It is a message that resonates not only in the present but the future as well. I know your journey is not one that is always easy. There are not always applause, awards, or thanks. There are circumstances that you witness that can make it discouraging. Sometimes you may feel as though your message is not being heard or appreciated, but know that you do make a difference. If one child hears they are not alone when they feel different, you are making a difference. If one child thinks about what you have taught them and sticks up for another child on the playground, you are making a difference. If one child feels a little safer in your presence, you are making a difference. If one child finds their voice, their courage, their worth, you are making a difference. I am just a mother if two little boys, 8 and 11. In a big world, I am insignificant, but because I have been blessed to know Andrea and see all that you do,  I have faith that this world is a better place because of Mirror Image. This world is a better place because you exist and you choose to do a little more every day to make it better. Thank you. Thank you for your work, your art, your tenacity, and your commitment.

Yours truly, 
Erin Mead


By Erin Jorgenson, Mirror Image Arts Founder

A few months ago Mirror Image Art’s fearless leader Andrea Rabold called me to tell me that MIA is 10 years old this year. The first thing I said when she told me that was “you and I have been friends for 10 years?!” After we hung up I starting thinking how strange it was that that was my first thought. I have been around the non profit world for as long as I can remember, an organization making it to the ten year mark is a big deal. An ARTS organization making it to the
ten year mark is a VERY BIG DEAL. I am prouder than I ever thought possible. Still. That wasn’t my first thought. Huh.

In retrospect, my friendship with Andrea was exactly the right response and not strange at all. In fact, in my mind, it is the whole point. Mirror Image Arts is about relationships. About reaching into someone’s life and changing it forever. Andrea did that for me, and I’m sure if you ask her, she would say I did the same. That is the magic of Mirror Image Arts. Every single day, their work reaches into the lives of kids and changes them. Forever.

Teaching kids that their voices matter enables them to use that voice to make a change, a choice that creates empowerment. Empowerment is contagious and once you feel it’s power, you want to spread it around. This is how the world changes, becomes more equal, kinder and stronger. This is progress, plain and simple. I am amazed at this organization and the people involved in it, all of you. The staff, the volunteers, the kids, the donors. Because of your dedication, your hearts and souls, there are 10 candles on MIA’s birthday cake. And that fills me with so much awe and gratitude that it is difficult to speak. Which, if you know me, is saying something. Give. Give to this organization. Know that your money is being used to reach into the life of someone who needs you, who needs to be seen, to be heard, to feel love. It’s even better than a new pair of shoes, which again, if you know me, is saying something. And its contagious too.

Much love,
Erin Jorgenson
Founder and forever champion

By Maya Osterman VanGrack

We are so proud that “Restorative Theatre” is now a part of Mirror Image Arts’ program offerings. The following story provides a sneak peak into the five years it has taken to build this program and the impact it has on the social-emotional well being of both staff and participants.

From My Journal, June 10th, 2014:

The sweat dripping down my arms is not an indication of the sweltering heat outside, it is the recurring bodily indication that I have made it here, another week. Although it has now been months the journey always feels foreign, unknown, precarious. I pass the Polk Correctional Institution, a reminder of what is next.  Following the windy path shaded by trees that whisper tales of the past as the breeze goes by, I am led to the stop sign at the end of the road. I take a right and then an immediate left, I travel up the path, “C.A. Dillon Youth Development Center” is proudly displayed at the entrance in a deserted kind of way. I pull into the same spot every week, put the car in park and take a deep breath. I leave everything in my car except my keys and my materials for the day.  I follow the electric gate up to the front door. Opening the phone box and dialing zero I read the same three signs everytime; the laundry list of articles not allowed inside the facility. I go through the familiar pattern of saying my name, asking for the Chaplain and repeating multiple times that I am here as a volunteer to teach Theatre. Each week I must repeat myself “Theatre…yes Theatre as in acting”. I wait ten minutes taking in the budding flowers that make the landscape quite serene from the outside.

The students constantly ask me to perform something. I push it off as long as I can. I do this because mainly the only work I had been doing as an actor is performing a one-woman show I wrote about sex trafficking in America…I’m not sure how that will go over with these young men). But they keep asking and so I give them a choice. I let them know the subject matter of my work and they all agree they wanted to see one of the monologues from the show. So, with that the group lines up a row of chairs facing me and I take center stage.  I finish and the young men excitedly call out different theatrical techniques they noticed and ask questions about the difference between theatre and film. The process of theatre, the power of live theatre, the ability to transform yourself into someone so different from yourself and the power to transport an audience to a totally different place and time. They then ask to see more from the play and I end up explaining a decent amount about the play and perform little bits of the other monologues. “So, what are you sitting with?” I ask.  Deep heartfelt questions about sex trafficking are asked by every young person. “Where does it happen the most? Why does it happen there a lot? How did you hear these stories? Are they really all true? Why don’t the girls just run away?” I ask the group back, “Why do you think they don’t run away?” they respond, “Maybe because it’s all they know, or they don’t have anywhere to go. Why don’t they go to the cops?”. Again, I ask back, “Why do you think they don’t go to the cops?”. “Because they probably don’t trust the cops or have been too brainwashed by their pimp that they are too scared”.

The reflection continues for a while until one young person, Reinz says he wants to try and perform a monologue. I choose a Theatre for the Oppressed activity called “Hot Seating” which uses a structure that allows for performance without memorization being required. Reinz jumps up and takes a seat, I ask him for the setting of this “monologue”. He responds prison, and steps into role as a character.  And with that the questions started. Are you a convict? Yes. What did you do? I trafficked girls. The boys asked good questions taking a lot from my play and the conversation we just had.

Then, in character, Reinz shared a story about “a friend who told him that he started pimping because he had no father figure.  He and his little brother rarely had clean clothes to wear or food to eat. His mom was a drug addict and as a young kid his friend would see all sorts of men come in and out of his house using his mom so she could get her next fix. He hated her for that and he thought that if she didn’t care about her body and was okay using it to get things that he could to.  So he would stand in front of the bedroom not letting these men in to see his mom until they paid him first. And just like that he started pimping out his mom, when he realized how easy it was he started pimping out other women. The loss of respect for his mom translated to all women.” Reinz’s story began as a character talking about a friend, but soon he started using the pronouns, me and I. It was the first time he had shared that part of his story.

It was from that moment on I knew this was this work I wanted to do.

I started a journal documenting my weekly class teaching theatre to incarcerated youth while living in North Carolina. I spent eight months at a residential facility there trying out different theatre activities and techniques until I built a program, “Restorative Theatre”. This program focuses on exploring choice, confidence, resilience, problem solving, collaboration, value, worthiness, community and trust through Theatre of the Oppressed, storytelling and devising original theatre. When I moved to Colorado, I was determined to continue this work. I have slowly and quietly continued this program in Golden, Colorado for the last four years on my own, in my spare time. There are so many stories that need to be told from voices that are desperate to be heard. I have now been at Lookout Mountain Youth Services in Golden, CO for four years. I have learned more about myself, theatre, humanity, compassion and empathy from the boys at Lookout than any other space I work in. It doesn’t matter how hard my week has been Wednesday nights from 6:00pm-8:30pm restore and rejuvenate me. I have the privilege of spending 12 weeks with a group of 8 to 10 young men devising an original piece of theatre based on a topic/theme they are interested in exploring. The last group wanted to explore the idea of being an outsider, their play The Misfits pushed us week after week to dig deep and share stories around pain, loneliness, judgement, self-preservation, and choice.

From My Journal, August 20 2018:

“I come from a place I wish I wasn’t born”

The opening line of the play is delivered by a participant named Enrique. I have known him for four years, he has been in every group I have run at Lookout. He has spent almost his entire teen years locked up.

Enrique and other Restorative Theatre participants rehearse for The Misfits

“I am the calm before the storm.”

I have watched him grow and change both physically and emotionally. He has recently been released and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified about his future. Terrified of his future because society has failed him. Enrique is smart, passionate, funny, creative, and kind. But those qualities can’t help him get a job because he cannot get an ID, and he has no references or past work experience.  He lives far away from anything he knows, no family close by. He tries to stay positive but I can tell it is getting to him.

“I look at myself and the journey I have been on.”

I am lucky enough to be a part of his state assigned transition team so I can stay in touch with him. I am asked if there is more theatre work for him to do now that he is out…currently there is not. So Enrique and I meet once a month and we are dreaming, planning of a reentry program for him and his fellow actors. At some point they all get out. All 144 young men who currently reside at Lookout Mountain will one day be released. And although these young men may seem complexly different than you or me at the end of the day we are all simply human just wanting to be heard and seen.


Enrique and me planning the reentry program            “This is how I feel when I can’t go to theatre group…” – Enrique

As of August of 2018, “Restorative Theatre” became an official program of Mirror Image Arts.  I cannot express my gratitude and excitement of this merger. “Restorative Theatre” will finally get the time and support it needs to flourish into the dream I have envisioned for so long.

By Chelsea Anderson, MY Denver Instructor, Denver Parks and Recreation

I spent most of my life in a very small town in Northern Wisconsin, and then a few years going to school in Madison, and one solid year exploring the city of LA. Last year I decided to make another move, hoping to find somewhere I could call home again. Moving into a new city is intimidating in many ways and The Lincoln Park/ La Alma community, where I found my first job working as a recreation instructor, is unlike anything I have ever encountered in my entire life.

Coming in, my supervisor told me that the neighborhood surrounding the recreation center had gone through a huge transition in the past few years when they had torn down many of the old houses in favor of new apartment buildings. This redevelopment pushed out a lot of families and the center stopped seeing as many kids walking through their doors. This, among other factors, was one of the main reasons why we were partnering with Mirror Image Arts, Speak Up, Speak Out! project. The hope was that the partnership would revitalize something that the community had lost and bring new vigor to empowering the youth and the community alike. I knew from the beginning that this was a project I wanted to be apart of. The partnership and the nature of MY Denver programming really pushed me to put myself out there and connect with kids in my program and community members in ways I never thought possible.

Initially, I was a little intimidated by the feeling of coming into the recreation center as an outsider. I would build up this idea of how people would react to me based on a fear of social disconnect rather than just going in for the “Hello.” Every time I pushed myself to talk to someone at the center or butted into a group of kids, I was genuinely surprised by the reaction. I was never met with a closed off attitude or unwillingness to at least understand who I was and where I was coming from. Who knew that if I had just extended my hand quicker, I would’ve integrated much faster into the community I would eventually call my home.

This wouldn’t have been clear to me and I also wouldn’t have known that I wasn’t alone in this sentiment if it hadn’t been for the community interviews and events we put on at the center with the help of our Speak Up, Speak Out! Youth Advisory Board. We heard from multiple people that there has been this feeling of social disconnect that is stemming from a change in built environment, transient neighbors, and “double hustlers” (folks working multiple jobs just to get by). The apartment buildings displaced families that had been there for years and brought in new people that didn’t know how to extend their hands to existing neighbors; leaving current residents unsure of how to extend their hand as well.

Being just south of downtown Denver and a center location to the light rail, many people coming through the neighborhood are very transient and therefore feel no concrete connection to the neighborhood. These people plus the parents and guardians of struggling families that are “double hustling”have no time to dedicate to their community and therefore push their families and neighbors to feel the same. When asked, many interviewees said that “community is togetherness, people who are willing to help one another, people who are willing to ask for help, to give help.” This is something that many community members around La Alma are no longer feeling. This is something that they want back. I know now that it starts with a simple “Hello”, but I also now know that it can’t stop there.

Currently, we are working to create a program through MY Denver that we can implement throughout the Parks and Recreation system based on our experiences at La Alma. From the very beginning, this project has grown with the needs of the community and I hope that is something that is never lost through it’s exploration into other communities throughout Denver. The outcomes of  Speak Up, Speak Out! will hopefully lead more communities through their own unique journeys as Mirror Image Arts and My Denver strive to enhance their sense of community through civic practice. Personally, I hope that I will leave the La Alma community with the inspiration to help their neighbors, no matter their walk of life.


A Performance Exploring Community, Change, and Coming of Age in the Lincoln Park/La Alma Neighborhood

Denver Parks and Recreation and Mirror Image Arts have teamed up to create a unique theatrical experience based on over 45 community interviews with the La Alma-Lincoln Park residents. “The Heart” resulted from the “Speak Up, Speak Out” project, a two year collaboration between the city’s MY Denver Card program and Mirror Image Arts that began by exploring the social determinants that affect Healthy Eating and Active Living.

“Denver Parks and Recreation strives to create healthy relationships within the communities. Speak Up, Speak Out has given the voice to the young adults in the La Alma community. Allowing them to become leaders and advocating for change within their communities. Their role has become vital in building those community relationships as they build leadership and life skills they can use as they become adults.”
-Tiffany Tungate, MY Denver

The effort launched on July 1, 2016 at La Alma Recreation Center in La Alma/Lincoln Park in Northwest Denver. Over the past 18 months MY Denver staff and Mirror Image Arts have worked with a Youth Advisory Board to develop and execute a plan to learn about the community through a listening party, coalition building, and interviews. In July, a team of artists from Mirror Image Arts along with MY Denver staff and youth from the La Alma-Lincoln Park neighborhood came together to explore the stories that exist within it, and to develop a script with local playwright, Larry Mitchell.

“Getting to know this neighborhood and the wealth of stories within it, working with these artists and youth in the neighborhood, and all of the discoveries that have come along throughout that process has forever changed the way I look at and think about neighborhoods, community, and even the collaborative effort of theatre, itself. I can’t wait to experience the final iteration of the project along with the people who inspired and contributed to the project. And, I can’t wait to see how that manifests itself as a lasting element within the community once the performances are over.”
– Larry Mitchell, Playwright

“The Heart, The Soul” will run Dec 7th-10th, 2017 @ La Alma Recreation Center, 1325 W 11th Ave, Denver, CO 80204

  • December 7th – 10:00 am and 1:00 pm
  • December 8th – 10:00 am and 7:00 pm
  • December 9th – 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm
  • December 10th – 2:00 pm

Tickets are FREE

Reserve your ticket at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-heart-the-soul-tickets-38609781897

About Denver Parks and Recreation

Denver Parks and Recreation (DPR) facilities are unrivaled in the Rocky Mountain West. The DPR system spans over a 149-year history, from the first park created in 1868 to nearly 20,000 acres of urban parks and mountain parkland today. A variety of amenities and activities are available within our 27 recreation centers, as well as outdoor programs and sports for all ages and abilities.  MY Denver Card gives all Denver children, ages 5 to 18, free access to all outdoor pools, recreation centers and cultural facilities.  For more information, visit www.denvergov.org/parksandrecreation, check us out on YouTube,

like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

About Mirror Image Arts

Mirror Image Arts uses theatre as language to inspire dialogue, encourage awareness and promote action in order to build a strong, compassionate and empowered community. Our work is a subset of applied theatre. Applied theatre occurs in non-traditional settings such as schools, libraries, recreation centers, etc. It is facilitated by professional actors/teaching artists and involves people working as a community to address an issue of social concern. Applied theatre does not merely create a public performance, it interacts with its audience through questions and discussion that focus on relevant issues in their lives.

This project is made possible due to generous funding by The Colorado Health Foundation and Imagine 2020.

Fulfillment, enrichment, empowerment. This sequence of words describes what it has meant for us to volunteer for Mirror Image Arts during the course of this past year. Ashley and I are the event chairs for the “I Got Your Back” annual fundraiser, and together we have volunteered over 180 hours.

Both Ashley and I are transplants to Colorado, but each of us equally has strived to make a positive impact in our community. To play a role in this organization that consistently works toward creating meaningful dialogue for our youth around life skills such as empathy, problem solving, critical thinking, and effective communication is truly fulfilling. Is there a better reward for your hard-work then knowing you supported a cause that will create real change in your community?

Each time we meet with fellow volunteers and the students and teachers impacted by Mirror Image Arts our lives are further enriched. When you volunteer for an organization like this one, you become a part of a large, very boisterous, family who challenge you to be more conscious of how your actions affect the community you live in.

Empowerment. This word has had more meaning to us over the past year. On days when we have felt as though we are unable to make a difference, a change, or that our voices are not heard in the chaos, we put more effort into the event (this could be the real source of why we have volunteered almost 200 hours!). We feel more empowered knowing that if we secure one more donation or one more source of entertainment, this event will raise enough funds to ensure that Mirror Image Arts will continue to provide Bullying Prevention and Arts Education programs at an affordable rate to low income communities.

Even though we work full-time and find ourselves exhausted at the end of the day, we continue to plan, organize, attend meetings, and reach out to the event committee, staff, donors and volunteers because our contribution is fulfilling, enriching, and empowering in our lives and those who benefit from Mirror Image Arts programming.

Join us on October 21st! Purchase Tickets Here.


Ali is center in the black t-shrit and sunglasses

How old are you?

What school do you attend?
East High School

What is your favorite subject in school?
I’m very passionate about science, not just hard chemistry or biology(though I do love them). But the science of learning about people, the mind, and society is what really has my heart. “Soft sciences” or the social sciences have always been my favorite.

What is your favorite activity outside of school?
Outside of school I’m always doing some sort of community event while trying to engage with and meet new people.

What is your favorite song?
Still Rock and Roll by Billy Joel

What is your favorite movie?
John Carpenter’s “The Thing”

What is your favorite book?
Set This House On Fire by Matt Ruff

Who is your role model and why?
I don’t consider myself to necessarily have role models but an old supervisor of mine, Eneri Rodriguez, is as inspirational and impacting as any role model can be. She has inspired me to be an individual in a world where people are scared to be. She has helped me to develop my views on the world and most importantly, she has inspired me to change the world. I hope one day to be as punk, inspirational, and just generally as cool as she is.

Where do you want to go college and why?
I’m really hoping to go to college in California. It is a rich state and the birthplace of ethnic studies, which is the major I hope to pursue. I want to experience the entire world, and I consider the large state of California as my running start.

What do you want to be in the future?
I firmly believe we are never done growing up. My only goal for my “grown” self is to say that I have done something to better a person, a community, perhaps a world. When I am grown up I want to dedicate myself towards a message of helping, no matter the size.

What do you like about being a part of Speak Up, Speak Out’s Youth Advisory Board?
SUSO has given me lots of opportunity to develop new skills in addition to exposure to new places and people. SUSO has been incredibly helpful in developing my level of critical thinking especially in relation to communities. I love the immense amount of learning I have gone through with Speak Up Speak Out.

Will being a part of this Youth Advisory Board help you as a person, if so how?
Perhaps what I do like about the Youth Advisory Board is how it has helped me as a person. The work we do promotes genuineness, connection, and community. These were not all things I valued as much until I became part of the Youth Advisory Board. These are also values essential to being, in my opinion, a good person.

By: Maya Osterman, Program Coordinator

I feel like this last month has been filled by me telling anyone and everyone who will listen that I am officially a full time Applied Theatre practitioner! I have had the honor of working with Mirror Image Arts for the past two years, and feel so lucky to call this organization my permanent home. My first month as the Mirror Image Arts Program Coordinator in true miARTS fashion has been jampacked. Since July, I have been in the field facilitating five “Finding Your Voice” 6-8 wk programs and four “Your Voice Matters” 90 minute programs, interviewing community members and devising a theatre experience for our Speak Up, Speak Out! project, and learning the in’s and out’s of the organization. I also just returned from my first American Alliance Theatre and Education (AATE) conference where Meghann and I presented on the value and process of evaluation. A common theme that kept coming up at this conference was “Why do you do this work?” so I thought I would take this opportunity to share my personal journey with Applied Theatre and why I do this work.

In the simplest form I do this work because it feeds my soul. With every experience, every moment, I get just as much out of it if not more than I put into it. It pushes me to think, feel, and be a deeper, more compassionate person to myself and others. It is exhausting and energizing, difficult and easy all at the same time. Even on days like today where I sit in a coffee shop pounding away at the keyboard all day, I have discovered something new about my work and how I view the world around me.

I was a “late bloomer” to theatre, only finding it at the end of my high school years. I grew up in a family of strong women who are huge advocates of Planned Parenthood. The local Planned Parenthood in Fort Myers Florida had a high school theatre troupe called The Source that performed plays on teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS awareness throughout local high schools. Not only did we go around and perform this play but we would have meetings at Planned Parenthood to make sure we were educated on the topics we were sharing with other students. I was in this troupe for a year and then for my last year of high school went to Idyllwild Arts Academy (a performing arts boarding school in California) to become a “serious actor”.  I decided to continue my theatre studies receiving my BFA at the University of Colorado – Boulder. However my real education was through the Interactive Theatre Project (ITP), an on-campus social justice theatre company I had the honor of being a part of all four years of college and was able to come back on as an Assistant Director for two more years after.

I will never forget my first encounter with ITP and the methodology of Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed. It was first year orientation and a few hundred of us piled into a large room. A group of actors performed a very disturbing play that ended with a drunk college girl going upstairs with a boy and inevitably being raped. The facilitators explained that we the audience now had the chance to ask the characters (the girl who had been raped, her best friend, the boy who had raped her, and his best friend) questions. For the next twenty minutes, the audience was in heated debate with each other and with the characters over the play they had just witnessed. I had never seen a group of strangers so activated and engaged, I was hooked. After the session I immediately went up to the facilitators and asked them how I could get involved. Trent and Rebecca became my greatest teachers, my awe inspiring mentors that opened up the world of Applied Theatre to me. There was no subject matter, no theme or idea we couldn’t and wouldn’t explore. What I so appreciated was the thought and care that went into exploring such triggering content for the actors and the audience. Theatre was a safe place that made space for the silenced, the marginalized.

Applied Theatre is an ephemeral experience with everlasting impact. Everyday is a brand new exploration that keeps you on your toes ready…hungry for more. It uplifts and highlights the importance of every voice and perspective. It pushes you out of your comfort zone and makes you think in a way you never knew you were capable of. There is no better feeling in the world as a facilitator of this work than when you see a light bulb go off in one of your participants whether that be because they have just discovered something new or have finally been validated in the way they feel. Applied Theatre is how I can be an ARTivist (artist and activist), miARTS is the space in which I get to be an Artivist everyday, and for that I am forever grateful.

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


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.