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At the heart of any art or performance activity is the talent of the young people involved. Your group's talents should support the goal of the performance, product, or show. Depending on the type of performance planned, your group may need musicians, dancers, set builders, sculptors, actors, stagehands, watercolorists, costume designers, makeup artists, or poets. Your group members should also agree on a central message—for example, that they want to fight drug abuse, reduce hate crimes, or discourage violence. An adult may suggest an idea, but it is the young group members' commitment and talent that will communicate the message to the community.

As with any crime prevention project, the best way to ensure your group's success is by planning well. The three steps listed below can help you get started.

Step 1: Identify Your Audience and Message

Your group needs to decide whom it will reach and what it will say. Is the target audience young people? Adults? Or maybe a group of mixed ages? Identifying the age group of the audience will help you decide how to present your message. A modern dance performance presented to young children, for example, may need to be narrated and have more frequent intermissions than one performed for adults.

At the same time, consider what subject or message your group wants to emphasize. Do you want to present one general idea such as "Stop the Violence"? Or do you want to relay specific information to the audience, such as how to prevent date rape? If you want to present only one theme, you could sponsor an exhibit of different paintings on that theme at your school or community center. Focusing on art dealing with one subject may make a stronger statement than including dozens of paintings on dozens of different crime prevention themes. If you decide to concentrate on a more complex issue such as date rape or substance abuse, consider doing a play or skit.

Step 2: Identify Your Needs and Available Resources

After you decide on the audience and message, you'll have to determine what you'll need for your activity. Will you need costumes, performance or exhibit space, rehearsal space, materials for props, music, a performance program, a way to publicize the event?

Some of these items may be donated by schools, churches, universities, or businesses. Use your school's public address system or school newspaper to ask for donations. You may also be able to obtain discounts or sponsorship from local businesses. Let them know that donations may result in excellent publicity. A local printing shop may be willing to give you a discount on printing if you agree to provide free advertising in your program.

Although your arts and performances program is an activity led and performed by youth, you'll probably need assistance from one or more adults. Recruit at least one adult to be your sponsor or adviser. Community members with experience in the arts—drama teachers, parents, neighbors, local community theater actors—may donate special talent or agree to act as advisers, coaches, or directors. It's important to make a thorough list of your project's needs right away and to keep adding to it as new needs arise.

Examples of Programs That Work

  • Bells of Love, a children's musical group in Syracuse, NY, promotes public awareness of the problem of missing children by performing at the U.S. Department of Justice's National Missing Children's Day ceremony (held each year in Washington, DC). The group also allows other performers and speakers across the Nation to use its music, all of which deals with missing children.

  • The African Heritage Dancers and Drummers teen program in Washington, DC, includes 2- to 3-hour dance and drum classes 5 days a week. In addition to supporting African cultural research, the program provides mentors who teach lifeskills, advise on pregnancy prevention, promote school attendance, and support preparation for equivalency diplomas. In exchange for performing, participating youth receive stipends and earn community service hours needed for high school graduation.

  • The Children's Aid Society Chorus, a professional, performance-based choral group in New York, NY, is open to urban youth from all racial/ethnic and economic backgrounds. Participants must pass an audition, maintain a B average in school, and pay an admission fee (more than half of participating youth receive full or partial scholarships). The group provides musical training programs, performs 30 public concerts each year, and offers academic tutoring, high school entrance and social work counseling, family life classes, transportation services, and a summer minicamp.

  • The Administrative Office of the Courts/Juvenile Services in Kenton County, KY, engages youth in role-play and improvisational theater during 10-week classes taught by professional actors. Each class ends with a final production. After completing a 10-week class, youth may enroll in training classes that prepare them to become junior facilitators or technical production staff, creative writing classes that focus on script development, or visual arts classes that focus on set design.

  • City at Peace, a program in Washington, DC, uses the performing arts to involve young people in conflict resolution training and help them address problems in their lives. The organization's 1998 documentary film, City at Peace, demonstrates the potential impact of the arts by following 60 youth for 1 year as they create an original musical based on their own lives. When the year begins, the youth believe they have nothing in common. By working together, however, they develop bonds based on their shared creation.

Step 3: Develop a Schedule

A third major task is developing a realistic schedule for your presentation or display. In creating a schedule, consider such things as whether you're presenting a published work or bringing a brand new play or song to the stage. A new work may take longer to produce but may be worth the wait. Likewise, if your artists don't paint well under pressure, leave plenty of time in your schedule to allow them to work effectively.

You'll also need to:

Bullet Find out when space is available.

Bullet Assess how long it will take to make costumes.

Bullet Determine how long it will take to construct and paint sets and collect or make
    props.

Thinking about and planning for these factors will help you develop an overall timeline and allow you to be ready for your performance or display.

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Youth In Action Bulletin December 1999   black   Number 11