Stageworks' Youth Acting Ensemble Conflict/Resolution Anger Management Program

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Who It Helps: At-risk/ incarcerated youths already in Hillsborough County's juvenile justice system.

Where to Give: Your company's philanthropic foundation should contact Stage Works at 813-251-8984.

Stageworks, a 22-year-old Tampa nonprofit theater company, has an array of education-and-outreach endeavors, many of them overseen by its multiracial Rainbow Tribe ensemble. For more than a decade, the initiative has used theater to confront and work through social issues ranging from racism to drug addiction and beyond. The company takes its messages directly to groups that wouldn't ordinarily be thought of as the theatergoing public, specifically school kids and seniors, and provides substantial entertainment that teaches at the same time.

The Youth Acting Ensemble Conflict/Resolution Anger Management Program is one of Stageworks' newest, most specialized and largely unsung programs. Once a year, the YEA, which specializes in giving at-risk youth an artistic outlet, goes to one of Hillsborough County's juvenile detention centers, and employs improvisational acting techniques to school the kids (generally ages 14 to 18) in dealing with their anger in more productive ways.

By guiding incarcerated youngsters through various confrontational scenarios involving peers, parents and authority figures, the YEA hopes to show them healthy ways to deal with their frustrations that will spare them future return trips to the pokey.

Like all of Stageworks' community services, the YEA survives on a combination of local, state and federal grants and private and corporate arts foundations; like most of them, it was the brainchild of company founder and Producing Director Anna Brennen.

"We teach the kids anger management, but we do it by letting them create their own improvs to illustrate the positive and negative repercussions," she says. "We usually only do it once a year, because it's a long program — we tie them up twice a week for two-and-a-half hours for eight to 10 weeks."

Since the program's inception five years ago, Brennen has handed the YEA off to Stageworks supporters Dawn Truax and Nathan Burton.

"[The juvenile justice services] have been very receptive wherever we've been," says Truax. "We use some of the same anger management techniques that they do."

Getting educators into locked-down detention centers obviously involves more than its fair share of bureaucratic red tape, but Stageworks has found an enthusiastic supporter in Ira Van Vollenhoven, a social worker for the Public Schools of Hillsborough County's Youth Services department. A sort of unofficial arts director for Youth Services (which oversees Hillsborough's juvenile-justice facilities), Van Vollenhoven delegates the spending of a meager budget, and has championed the YEA programs, helping guide Stageworks through the convoluted process from the other side of the fence.

"It gives them a chance to express themselves," he says. "It lets them work together, lets them do things a little differently."

"He knows how to navigate the system, who to contact," says Truax, who, like Brennen, considers Van Vollenhoven's support a godsend. "If we had to track it all down, I wouldn't even know where to begin."

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