Poems, drums, songs, dancing, writing and acting.
Area youths are getting the opportunity to try out some new ways of expressing themselves as part of Unmask.Unearth, a collaborative project sponsored by the Lawrence Youth Ensemble.
After more than a month of preparation, about a dozen youths performed a play titled “Discovering the Wetlands” over the weekend, with more shows coming up on Friday and Saturday.
Tyler Johnson, 15, got hooked on the project right away.
“I showed up one day and I’ve been a part of it ever since,” said the soon-to-be Free State freshman, who worked on the set and acted in the play.
Johnson said his experience working on the project also pushed him into thinking about a career in writing, and he said he learned some important life lessons about dedication.
“Show up for rehearsal whenever possible and don’t just skip out ...,” he said.
Rachael Perry, co-director of the Lawrence Youth Ensemble, said the project, a free program that’s in its third year, offered students like Johnson a chance to act, write and direct. “A lot of kids don’t have that opportunity or haven’t done it before,” Perry said.
The art used in the play will join other wetlands-inspired works from other area artists on Friday at an exhibit at the Percolator, in the alley behind the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H.
In addition to the kids who performed, Perry teamed up with the youths at the Douglas County Juvenile Detention Center, who made the masks used in the play.
Laura Ramberg, art teacher at the juvenile center, organized speakers to talk to the youths about the wetlands and provide an introduction to theater.
“They were exposed to a lot of different things,” Ramberg said. “It’s important to find ways for them to find their voice and for them to use it.”
Dakota Collins, 12, who will enter Central Junior High School this fall, already knew she loved acting, but the experience helped teach her about the importance of the wetlands.
“I’ve learned that the wetlands are pretty special,” said Dakota, who talked about preserving unmarked graves and the wildlife on the land. “I’ve learned to just embrace the wetlands.”