Using theater to engage justice-involved children.
The Actors' Gang Youth Project (TAGYP) offers ensemble theater as a tool for behavioral transformation and rehabilitation and utilizes the documented power of the arts to reimagine ways to engage with and support children who are currently incarcerated. Workshops enable participants to recognize their value and responsibility within the group and in the community, to heal trauma, and to make new and different choices in their lives. The goal is to break the generational and cyclical issues associated with youth incarceration.
What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?
Support for Foster and Systems-Impacted Youth
In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?
County of Los Angeles
In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?
Expand existing project, program, or initiative
What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?
LA County has the largest juvenile justice system in the nation, with nearly 16,000 youth under the jurisdiction of the Probation Department. Justice-involved youth represent some of the most under-served and marginalized populations. Boys and girls of color (ages 13 through 18) are vastly over-represented within LA County’s juvenile justice system. A common thread among the system-engaged children TAGYP work with is early childhood abuse and trauma. As a result, many of them engage in impulsive, risk-taking behavior and substance abuse. In the beginning of the workshop, many TAGYP participants are skeptical and have had life experiences which have taught them not to trust people in authority or those that do not come from the same background. Communication in general and writing in particular are stress points.
Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.
For more than six years, TAGYP has provided direct arts services to Los Angeles County youth in the juvenile justice system. TAGYP offers ensemble theater as a tool for behavioral transformation and rehabilitation and utilizes the documented power of the arts to re-imagine ways to engage with and support children who are currently incarcerated. TAGYP collaborates with Arts for Healing and Justice Network (AHJN) and Los Angeles County Probation (LACP) for permission and clearance to deliver 10-13-week programs. TAGYP attempts to break the generational and cyclical issues associated with youth incarceration. Workshop participants are introduced to ensemble work, heightened play in four fundamental states of emotion (happy, sad, afraid, and angry), and to 14 archetypal characters of the Commedia dell’Arte. This ancient form of theater - which is the shared vocabulary of TAG - serves as a vehicle for safe exploration. Most of the Teaching Artists (TAs) are Prison Project Alumni. This common ground lays a foundation for trust and vulnerability necessary to explore and play. The TAs inform participants that they are partners in this work, they don't have all the answers, and they will "figure it together," as peers. TAs ask participants what they need to feel safe, to participate, to feel respect, and to have fun. The answers turn into the “agreement” and becomes the group's guide to which everyone will be held for the duration of the program.
Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.
The vision for TAGYP moving forward is to introduce a mentoring element to the current programming. Mentoring will take place at youth facilities and at TAG's Ivy Substation when possible and appropriate. TAGYP will provide 10-week sessions of alumni-led programming for participants. The weekly classes will be 75% alumni-led ensuring participants have access to mentors with lived experience. Alumni TA’s will facilitate classes, track attendance, and create observational reports for each class. Participants engage in this profound emotional exploration through agreements, mindful sharing, theatrical games and exercises, relaxation, writing, improvisation, and TAG Style work. By the end of each session, participants will develop emotional awareness and expression, communication skills, team building skills, and self-confidence which will assist in educational ambitions and/or obtaining employment.
What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?
During the workshops, mentors and mentees will have identified primary personal/educational/professional goals and developed a strategic plan. The goal is that the mentee will have accomplished at least one important goal by the end of a year. In addition, before and after surveys will be conducted to measure growth. Since writing can be a trigger, some surveys may be taken verbally by a non-mentor to encourage honest, unemotional responses.
Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?
Direct Impact: 50
Indirect Impact: 2,500