Blog: Jenny Koppera and Erin McDonald

The stage can be a role model for youth struggling to find their voice. Jenny Koppera, a founding director of the CrossTown Theatre Troupe, together with Erin McDonald, director of the theatre, will be writing about the need for youth programming and dialogue in the community.

Post 3: Figuring out the In-Between

Our CTT philosophy grew directly from the belief that art – theatre in our case – could be an immensely useful tool for high school students to express their voice and perspectives – to their families and friends, schools, and communities. Our initial experiment from 2008-2009 was based on an artistic curricular progression that grew from students' personal narratives, into community-based performances, and finally into scripted pieces based on youth protagonists.
Our current program is based much more on our partnerships and collaborations. It is these partnerships that now allow us to grow and stretch what we are as a program.  In the fall of 2009, CTT was able to join with EMU's 21st Century Bright Futures after school programs. The focus of Bright Futures is to improve academic achievement, develop self-efficacy, and prepare elementary, middle, and high school students to transition to the next level of schooling.
Upon joining with the Bright Futures program, our CTT philosophy had to shift and grow for the collaboration to be fruitful. CTT became even more rooted in the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation's Youth Program Quality Assessment Model where programs develop from a safe environment where participants are emotionally and physically safe, to a supportive environment where encouragement and skill building are added in, to the interaction and engagement levels where youth participants lead, mentor, and make decisions on their own.
The partnership with Bright Futures also effected our program on the other levels as well. We had new Bright Futures site coordinators, new students and new CTT teaching teaching artists to connect and grow with at Ypsilanti High School, Willow Run High School, and Wayne Memorial High School.  With opportunity comes complexity, and CTT now finds itself balancing artistic, educational, and programatic goals with much more frequency and scope. 
When developing programming, it is important to periodically ask "is this working?" We are constantly asking ourselves – what could we have done better? How else could our youth be challenged and what are they getting out of this? Are we still meeting programatic and partnering goals? And how does one attempt to assess and evaluate something that seems so complex and ethereal? 
Recently, one of our founding CTT students spoke to us about his overall CTT experience; "CrossTown has been an eye-opening experience for me in many ways. Despite the acting side of CrossTown, the program has pulled me out of my comfort zone on many occasions and thrown me into situations where my talents can have a real effect for someone," he continued, "It may not have always been what I wanted to do, but with hindsight comes wisdom, and I realize now that every time I was pulled out of my comfort zone with CrossTown I gained exponentially more experience as a person than I did as an actor."
There are so many worthwhile projects and experiences youth can be a part of in this brief stage in their lives. How can we make sure we are aiding them to make this time count? How can function effectively impact this community? These are just some of the many questions we continue to ask and evaluate as we expand our program and make it more accessible to high school youth and our community.
CrossTown Theatre Troupe is still young and in its own in-between.  We realize we are very much reflective of the developing youth we work with – striving to grow, to understand our place and purpose, and to be heard within this community.