Making teen leaders through theater

Written by SAFE

Nearly 1 in 11 female and 1 in 15 male high school students report having experienced physical dating violence in the last year. It’s a statistic the Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble (CLYTE) is working to change.

The group of teen artists and activists from the Austin area is using theater as a tool to help middle and high schoolers foster healthy relationships, celebrate diversity, and engage in important community issues.

The Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble is a unique collaboration between SAFE’s Expect Respect program and Creative Action, a local nonprofit that sparks and supports the academic, social and emotional development of young people.

CLYTE started in 2002 when Barri Rosenbluth of SAFE (then SafePlace) and Lynn Hoare of Creative Action (then Theatre Action Project) created a theater collaboration for young people to address issues like dating violence and unhealthy relationships. With City of Austin funds, they hired their first teen cohort to begin in summer 2003. Since then, Changing Lives has toured schools, conferences, and community events all across Austin and the surrounding areas to encourage teens to take a stand against dating violence, sexual harassment, and bullying – teens like Isaiah.

“The reason I kept coming back was the family feeling,” Isaiah said, “and the change in myself.”

As an eighth grader, Isaiah often got in trouble at school for being disruptive, a symptom of his dyslexia. But in CLYTE, he flourished! Isaiah felt free to be loving, positive, and generous. He credits the ensemble for helping him through one of the most challenging moments of his life: when his father was incarcerated.

Last year, Isaiah was awarded the Texas Council on Family Violence Young Hearts Matter Youth Activist of the Year Award. He plans on staying in Austin where he plans to become a teacher and continue the work of educating young people about respect and healthy relationships.

More about CLYTE

CLYTE plays are written and performed by the student ensemble, ensuring that the issues, the language and the approach meet the interests and needs of their student audiences. Their 2020 play, Showmance, follows best friends Esmé, Ramona, and Frankie as they stumble through jealous feelings in their relationships. The play explores how jealousy can become toxic and the ways we can have honest conversation to support ourselves and others.

Noah Martin is CLYTE’s Artistic Director and works for Creative Action. He and Meg Greene, Expect Respect’s Theatre Program Manager and CLYTE’s Managing Director, are key to the success of the program. They both believe in the transformative potential of their work. Noah says he remembers a time last spring when Meg set up a tour of SAFE’s Grove campus and had SAFE staff represent each of the departments so the students could hear about the various supports for survivors of violence. The students said they were impressed by how many survivors work at SAFE and many left with a renewed commitment to work in the social service sector.

Noah and Meg agree that this work goes so far beyond the theater — through the rehearsal process, the students really become entrenched in the prevention work. From there, they become leaders in our community.