A group of teens laughing and eating Oreos quickly transformed into a team of young adults rehearsing artistic pieces about weighty topics like abuse, family and self-acceptance at an Authoring Action meeting earlier this month.
Kyrah Henderson, 14, has been involved with Authoring Action for about a year. She was writing a piece about freedom of speech. Henderson said that the group calls their pieces “engagements,” not “performances.”
“Performing is about you,” Henderson said. “Engaging is about moving you towards change.”
Authoring Action is a literary and performance art organization for teens that meets on West Sixth Street downtown. Co-Founder and Executive Director Lynn Rhoades said that a variety of teens come through the program, many of whom live in at-risk situations.
Rhoades teamed up with Nathan Ross Freeman to found the organization in 2002 after being involved in a city-wide youth violence prevention initiative.
“I realized that kids’ voices were not being heard – no one was asking the kids what we should do,” Rhoades said.
Freeman is a playwright who has been involved in the arts throughout his life.
“I saw a need to create an atmosphere where teens can fortify their voices,” Artistic Director Freeman said. “Our teens need to learn to face adult-run organizations to affect change.”
Authoring Action is one of four organizations that moved into The Winston-Salem Center for Education and the Arts in September. The building is the first permanent home for the organization, and provides a new office, meeting and workshop space. First Baptist Church owned the space and was going to demolish the building and turn it into a parking lot before selling it to the Winston-Salem Center for Education and the Arts.
At the rehearsal, the teens were preparing for their engagement at Taste of the South today. Freeman said that it is the group’s biggest fundraiser of the year.
Henderson said that she is a dancer and a writer, but said that the movement pieces she does for Authoring Action are not “dance-like.”
“It’s not about pretty jumps and turns,” Henderson said. “It’s about creating the words with your body.”
Freeman said that all pieces are original and created by the teens. Authoring Action brings in collaborating artists, not teachers, to work with the group. These artists include professional choreographers, visual artists and videographers.
Freeman estimates that about 390 students have gone through the program.
Willie Holmes has worked with the program for six years. He was 17 when he began Authoring Action as a student, and is now the Assistant Artistic Director.
“I’ve seen a lot of youth come and go over the years,” Holmes said. “This group we have now cares a lot more about things going on around the world – they’re more globally conscious.”
Olivia Phillips, 16, has been a student with Authoring Action for three years.
“I’m much more accepting of myself than I was when I first got here,” Phillips said. “The community needs to hear the voices of teens.”
The seven teens who were at the meeting Nov. 17 are a part of the year-round program. Teens are invited to the year-round program after completing the five-week summer program. Some of their past engagements include the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2011, the National At Risk Educators’ Network Conference, and the Winston-Salem Women’s Fund. Rhoades said that Authoring Action has about 12 engagements per year.
“[Authoring Action] provides these kids an opportunity to tell their stories, and process their pain,” Rhoades said. “But they also realize that their story is not over.”