AlterTheater's Arts Learning Project for Native Youth
The Arts Learning Project is an artist-led education program specifically designed for Native youth. Begun during the pandemic to provide arts education programming to those most at-risk of contracting COVID, AlterTheater’s workshops are team taught by professional Native artists and Indigenous education experts. We are being asked to expand our programming to include in-person acting classes, more virtual workshops, and to serve more Native communities.
Can you help us serve more Native youth?
Checks can be made out to AlterTheater and mailed to:
PO Box 150659
San Rafael, CA 94915
How we know this works:
In August 2020, AlterTheater led our first weeklong pilot workshop for tribal youth called Crafting Story with Your Voice, and it was a hit! In partnership with Lucentree and Tall Tree Indigenous Education Consulting, playwright Vickie Ramirez (Tuscarora) led a class teaching 15 Native American students how to write a monologue. The workshop culminated with professional Native actors joining the workshop. The professional actors had been about to start rehearsals for AlterTheater’s production of Vickie’s play Pure Native when the pandemic shut everything down. On hold until things reopen, our Pure Native actors joined the workshop on the final day to perform the students’ monologues live.
At the beginning of the week we asked the students to come up with characters and to think about their characters' lives: what do they want, who do they want to be, what scares them the most—and by the end of the week they shared so much of their own experiences and lives through the lives of the characters they had built. From a detective duck looking for a murderer to a girl who tested positive for COVID quarantining from her family; from a jock with dreams of becoming a dancer to a Native woman fighting for suffrage in the 1920s—the stories they shared gave us a wonderful taste of the humor, interests, and worries of Native kids today.
Throughout the week we heard feedback about how meaningful the program is: helping kids learn how to speak their own truths, share space with adult artists with similar experiences, and dream about their futures through theater.
Teresa Melendez of Tall Tree Indigenous Education Consulting and our tribal liaison, said of this week, “I know that success for college students depends on resiliency, and self-advocacy. And the ability to speak for themselves. A lot of our kids don’t know how to speak for themselves. There’s so much power in being able to write and then speak your experience, and speak about their passions. How can we step up and empower our kids in ways that the public school system can’t?"
Melendez and Jeanette Harrison, AlterTheater Artistic Director, reflected on common themes among the students’ work: "The three oldest girls, 14-15 year olds, are all writing about invisibility, and ways in which invisibility is harmful. They are already, at their young ages, picking up on what we as adults are only just learning to vocalize.”
Many of the students expressed immediate interest in ongoing theater classes. During the pandemic, we've held virtual workshops on comedy, social justice theater, screenwriting, and playwriting. The students keep asking for more, and more tribes are participating. Can you help us rise to this challenge? We are excited to use our skills to meet our community’s needs. Buoyed by the success of our workshops--including our first in-person sleep away camp for Native youth, held on a college campus--we are providing more workshops to more youth than ever before. And, we are now partnering with two tribal schools to hold virtual programming within their in-person school day. Our curriculum is centered on the needs and interests of Native communities we are working with. Our professional artists are deeply inspired by the creativity and humor and insight of the youth in our workshops, and parents report that their kids are raving about the relationships being built among Native youth and professional working Native artists. We eventually want to have a full spectrum of classes that include drop-in improv classes, stand-up comedy, comic book and episodic writing, dialogue and scene study, and more—all taught by Indigenous artists. Additionally, our virtual programs throughout the year will feed an in-person sleep away camp on a college campus. Our hope is that each student will get to visit and live in the dorms of at least four different colleges by participating in our program.
We're partway there!
In July 2021, we held our first in-person programming, bringing students from the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe and 5 other tribes together on the campus of University of Nevada, Reno for a 5-day sleep away acting camp, incorporating college prep, youth leadership, and Native health and wellness. Students and instructors stayed in a campus dorm, following COVID safety protocols, and the week culminated with performances of a devised piece of ensemble theater (focused on visual storyboarding and improv), four monologues written by students, and one scene by a professional Native playwright, all performed by the students.
Help us meet this community need!
We're already part of the way there.
We held our first-ever in-person summer programming, and we continue to add new communities and new virtual workshops to meet the needs of the communities we work with. We're about to launch a new workshop, Storytelling in the Digital Space.
Your gift will help the next generation of Native youth develop the craft and confidence to tell their stories. And their stories are ones the world needs to hear.