TeCo Theatrical Productions!

Teresa Coleman Wash, TeCo’s Executive Artistic Director

Kids Love Shakespeare recently received an exciting update from Teresa Coleman Wash, Executive Artistic Director for TeCo Theatrical Productions in Dallas, Texas. TeCo Theatrical Productions is an award-winning multicultural non-profit theatre company whose mission is to cultivate a diverse and vibrant arts community while creating opportunities for local and emerging artists through performance and education. Kids Love Shakespeare was happy to be a part of TeCo’s 2011 T-An-T apprenticeship program by customizing a version of Much Ado About Nothing for their group to  perform.

Ms. Wash’s update to Kid’s Love Shakespeare’s facebook page: “TeCo’s Much Ado About Nothing Cast in Dallas received a standing ovation each night on the show. The customized script made all the difference in the world. THANK YOU VERY MUCH!”

For more information on TeCo’s amazing T-An-T program, please enjoy the following article written by Kelly Litzenberger for neighborsgo.com.

TeCo Theatrical Productions helps Oak Cliff-area teens with T-An-T apprenticeship program

“Say it again! I’m in the back; I need to hear you,” Phyllis Wallace-Dunn bellows.

Much Ado Cast with their director, Phyllis Wallace-Dunn

The teenagers on stage at Bishop Arts Theater Center repeat their lines, with more volume this time.

Their ability and level of preparedness varies widely. Some of them are still holding scripts and stumbling over pronunciation; others have memorized all their lines and blocking.

Wallace-Dunn seems to recognize that the students of the Teenagers and Theater apprenticeship program — known as T-An-T — might need extra work to be polished enough to open their abridged version of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing in two weeks. As rehearsal wraps up, she calls out to ask who can come to an extra rehearsal the next day. Many students respond that they can.

This is the fourth year of the program run by Oak Cliff’s TeCo Theatrical Productions, and it has not been a typical one, said Teresa Coleman Wash, executive artistic director for the company. In previous years, it has received funding from the city of Dallas in January. This year, the funds didn’t come through until late March — just a handful of weeks before the culminating production — so rehearsals didn’t begin until then.

‘An opportunity to express themselves’

In addition to accepting teens from the Oak Cliff area who simply have an interest in theater, the T-An-T program is rehabilitative, giving opportunities to teens recruited through the Volunteer Center of North Texas truancy program and the Dallas County Juvenile Department.

Texas high school students with 10 or more unexcused absences must go to juvenile court and face fines and fees of $300 to $600, said Julie Thomas, CEO of the Volunteer Center of North Texas. But if they have three to nine unexcused absences, they can repair their records by doing 24 hours of community service within 30 days.

Wash said she visits the volunteer center every Tuesday to introduce herself to groups of teens (who must be accompanied by their parents) and tell them about the apprenticeship program.

“She seems to understand the truant students,” Thomas said of Wash. “She relates well to children and teenagers, and she seems to understand that they need an opportunity to express themselves.”

Typically, the T-An-T program meets from 5-7 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and runs for about four months, which brings the total number of hours to around 80.

Many youth who show up to work off truancies “are so engaged by the time their 24 hours are up that they decide to stay on to perform in the culminating production,” Wash said.

The arrangement with the Dallas County Juvenile Department is less formal, said Bill Edwards, the deputy director of probation services. The T-An-T program doesn’t fulfill any mandatory requirements for youth on probation; it’s simply on a list of community resources that a probation officer might suggest to a teen who seems to have an artistic streak in need of an outlet.

“It’s real positive to have an agency like Ms. Wash’s [that wants] to work with our kids because a lot of agencies don’t,” Edwards said.

‘Tremendous attitude adjustment’

In addition to acting, apprenticeship students learn design aspects such as lighting, costuming and sound. Students run the entire show during the production.

Wash has a number of success stories to share. A girl who participated in 2008 was cast in a play at Theatre Three in Uptown. Sixteen-year-old Clifford Cummings of DeSoto, a 2009 participant, was filmed for an MTV3 reality show (which was canceled before airing), and a few weeks ago, he performed in a country music video for a national artist.

A 2010 participant was on medication for anger management and stress anxiety and was “constantly at odds with his grandmother and his teachers” but was “a model student” when he came to the theater, Wash said.

“I see tremendous attitude adjustment,” she said. “I see tremendous progress with these kids.”

Wallace-Dunn, an Oak Cliff resident and former speech and drama teacher at area high schools, including Booker T. Washington, receives a “nominal salary” that covers the standard program days of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, she said. For extra days like the Friday rehearsal she scheduled, she’s on her own.

“I love working with students. I love working with teenagers. I just love working with drama. That’s my passion,” Wallace-Dunn said. “If it’s going to be done, I want it to be done right.”

Ebony Jones, 18, a senior at Samuell High School, came to the program last year to work off her truancies but came back this year on her own.

“[Wallace-Dunn] puts you to work,” she said. “She makes sure you have your lines read and remembered. She’s good. She’s very patient.”

Jones is cast this year in the role of the king, Leonato, and her mother, Lisa Daniels, is working as the assistant stage manager. Jones is also applying for financial aid to take nursing classes at El Centro College. She said she’s not sure how much acting she’ll do in the future, but she’s enjoyed learning to be more social and how to better express herself.

“The great thing about theater arts,” said Wash, “is that you can teach conflict resolution, decision-making processes and how to apply critical thinking skills, and all of that can be used in the classroom. I don’t know if our legislatures really get that, but we see it time and time again.”

Kelly Litzenberger is a neighborsgo design/content editor and can be reached at klitzenberger@neighborsgo.com or 214-977-8529.

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