Facts and straightforward messages are not enough to create positive change on a very difficult issue like dating violence. We have to reach into teens’ hearts and connect with them on an emotional level about why this issue matters and why they matter to it.
We found theater to be incredibly effective at reaching people’s hearts and at engaging youth in this issue. In collaboration with Creative Action, a local arts organization, we started an ensemble called The Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble. It is comprised of about 25 high school students from across Austin. Every year they write, produce, and rehearse an original theater piece relating to healthy relationships. They do about 15 performances each year, primarily at middle schools. And, the student audience doesn’t just watch—they get engaged. The Ensemble provides a discussion guide for teachers, and facilitates candid discussions with students at the end of each performance.
Over 2,500 middle school students saw last year’s piece, and the Ensemble has become well-known in the community. They’ve been profiled by our local PBS affiliate and received a host of other media coverage. As spokespeople, the youth in the Ensemble have done more than most adults to get this issue into the community and the media. Even though Start Strong has ended, the Ensemble remains an active and successful group.