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Interactive Performances
Now Playing: Creative Action’s Interactive Performance Residencies
May 20, 2019

Now Playing: Creative Action’s Interactive Performance Residencies

The interactive performances, which feature actor-teachers taking on creative and interesting characters who need help solving a problem, are at the core of what Creative Action does. In fact, when Creative Action began in 1997 (then known as Theatre Action Project), it offered only interactive performances and not the after school or community programs since launched and expanded. “The Courage to Stand,” created in 2000, is still one of the most popular performance residencies at Austin area schools.

Most people — youth and adults alike — have never experienced anything quite like these programs. The performances function like live-action role plays that unfold over the course of several hour-long “episodes.” Student participants sit on and are immersed in the sets; there is often little to no division between “stage” and “audience.” Students and the actor-teachers are typically “in role” in the world of the drama for the majority of the residency, participating in games, role play, and ongoing dialogue from the perspective of their characters. Both students and actor-teachers are also called upon to shift characters frequently as they examine a problem from different perspectives or in different locations or periods in time. A hallmark of this work is a focus on providing opportunities for participants to see a problem presented in a short scene, brainstorm solutions, and then try their solutions by starting the scene again and improvising a different way of addressing the problem. Augusto Boal, author of Theatre of the Oppressed, called this kind of work “rehearsal for the revolution.”

Creative Action may be one of the only organizations doing these kinds of performances in the United States, and it’s definitely the biggest. The model, called Theatre in Education in England, came out of Britain in the 60s and 70s and is based in similar concepts as the Theatre of the Oppressed movement, which was happening in Brazil at that same time.

Because the work is highly intensive, requiring many hours of training, and is based on working with a small group of participants at a time, the style isn’t necessarily cost-effective despite being highly successful.

“Students’ attitudes toward school have improved overall,” says a Brentwood Elementary teacher about the program’s success. “Students practice listening skills, problem-solving skills, displaying kindness, and tapping into their imaginations.”

Finding performers with the specific skill set needed to both perform and engage in authentic dialogue with young people is one of the most difficult parts of the work. Actor-teachers must be engaging performers and skillful teachers, but also have the empathy, compassion, and genuine interest in youth and their opinions in order for the performances to work.

“As an actor-teacher you get to do a little bit of everything – you teach, you act, you guide, you participate, you listen,” says says actor-teacher Rebecca Mauldin. “And when you’ve done a few residencies and get good at your show — that’s when it gets really fun because you can make it your own.”

The programs address concepts including consent (6-7th grades), helpful apologies and taking responsibility for an accident (Kinder), and activism (5th grade). They are designed to open up conversations on tough subjects and offer vocabulary for students to use when navigating problems such as solving conflicts, bullying or getting to know others who are different. Each program is age-appropriate. Depending on the grade level, students may learn the definition of “consent,” discover what it takes to be a “courageous bystander,” or sing along to a song that outlines the steps needed to calm down, name our feelings, and apologize after a disagreement.

“It satisfies two passions of mine: acting and activism,” says Indigo Rael, who is now a full-time Creative Action Site Coordinator, in addition to being an actor-teacher. “The energy that kids bring is so refreshing. When the news seems dark and terrible, sparking ideas for positive change feels like medicine.”

After spending four consecutive days performing in a classroom with students, actor-teachers have a front row seat to witness the student transformation the programs encourage.

“My favorite part of touring is when kids realize they can do things they didn’t know they could do,” says Rebecca. “I also love that ‘ah-ha’ moment when you see them truly understand someone else’s sadness, pain, or struggle which inspires them to be courageous allies.”

Past actor-teachers have gone on to enroll in graduate level social work programs, join acclaimed international improv troupes, move out to Los Angeles, kickstart stand-up comedy careers, create their own theater companies, attend clown school, be cast in films, or be hired onto full time positions with Creative Action. In fact, one quarter of the current full time staff at Creative Action started as actor-teachers with the organization.  

To learn more about our open actor-teacher positions, or to apply, visit our Jobs page. We look forward to meeting you.

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