AZ Homeless Teens Come Out of Shells With Drama Training

PHOENIX — A unique series of drama workshops is boosting the self-esteem of Arizona teenagers at a Phoenix homeless shelter. The iPlay curriculum, developed by Christopher Haines of the iTheatre Collaborative, has taught dozens of at-risk teens at the UMOM New Day Center about acting, improvisation and performance.

Haines says extra effort is required to bring the kids out of their shells.

"Working with any sort of teen group, you're going to run into those kind of issues of peer pressure and not wanting to look stupid in front of their friends and all that. But with this group, it was even more difficult for us to gain their trust."

The answer, Haines discovered, was increased individual attention, with one instructor-mentor for every four or five kids. The initial workshops were funded by a Piper Trust grant. Haines, who is artistic director of the iTheatre Collaborative, is now fund-raising for more workshops scheduled for November and next spring.

An Update on iPlay

iPlay is a drama workshop for at-risk youth that we at iTheatre have been developing for the past two years. Over this past season we conducted several more iPlay workshops at the UMOM New Day Center (a transitional shelter for homeless families). Those workshops, which concluded in April of this year, were sort of a ‘trial run’ of the iPlay program, its curriculum and our instructor/mentors. Over the summer we finalized the curriculum, and we plan sometime in the late Fall/early Winter to offer the iPlay workshop to other organizations, shelters and facilities that serve at-risk youth.

Last year we received almost $3000.00 in individual donations (from people like you reading an email like this) and a $5000.00 grant from the Welles Fargo Foundation that made this last year’s work on iPlay possible. Thank you from all of us and the teens at UMOM.

Currently we are searching for further corporate sponsorship of this program. And, of course, your support of iTheatre and our iPlay program in the form of a donation would be greatly appreciated. Already, we are planning the next phases of developing new workshops for the iPlay program. How about an ‘Acting for the Camera’ workshop for at-risk youth; where teens would learn about the techniques of film, television and commercial acting with each child getting a DVD of their ‘on-camera’ work from the class. Also in the works is a theater/writing workshop for the elderly that would then ‘pair up’ senior citizens with at-risk youth who would work together writing, creating and performing their own play.

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Melinda Gray, who works at the UMOM Center, says homeless kids have trust issues and are extremely reluctant to let friends and teachers know where they live. She says the iPlay program helps them to become more outgoing and to better express themselves.

"To be able to interact in a positive way but also to take more chances and, with this program, getting up and doing activities in front of their peers. Taking risks — good risks, actually, not bad ones."

Haines cites one of iPlay's successes, a 12-year old girl he describes as "awkwardly shy," who brought in a notebook filled with short stories she had written. She picked one of her stories to be used as the basis for an improvised scene.

"Performing wasn't maybe necessarily something she was interested in, but writing very much was. And so she saw the connection between her own writing and what theater could do for her writing."

Haines says he is refining the iPlay curriculum and plans to expand the workshops to other organizations that work with homeless, at-risk or disadvantaged youth.

Reprinted by permission from Public News Service-AZ