What is “Speak Up!”?

“Speak Up!” is an arts education program created by Theatre 31, in which students from two “Sister Schools”, with differing socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, work in collaboration to create meaningful and relevant pieces of art that will be presented to their school communities.

Over the course of this 8-week program, students explore a wide variety of mediums of the performing and visual arts, and take part in fun games and inspiring projects based around each art form.  They are encouraged to “Speak Up” about issues that are concerning them, whether they be social, political, or personal.

Towards the end of the session, students select a medium of expression to explore more fully, and work in collaboration with students from their Sister School to create a pieces of mixed-media art.

Students complete and present their projects to their school communities during the final week of the program.

Theatre 31 is dedicated to enriching the lives of young people with relevant, high quality arts education.  Our “Speak Up!” program gives students the opportunity to express themselves artistically, gain a greater understanding of themselves and others, and work with students from outside of their own communities to create art that reflects some of the most important issues of their lives.

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Why “Speak Up!”?

Adolescence can be difficult.  Young people are becoming more aware of themselves and how they fit into this world.  There are huge physical, psychological, and emotional changes taking place, and this is a time in which young people need to feel supported and connected to their peers, and their world.  They need to be able to feel comfortable expressing themselves honestly in front of each other, without the fear of judgement, and see that others are going through many of the same things that they are.   This is also a time that is important to develop a deeper empathy for the issues and struggles that others may be experiencing.

Adolescence is a time in which divisions are made because of status, socio-economics, culture, and many other reasons.  “Speak Up!” is important for young people during this time of transition because it encourages them to take pride in who they are, and also respect others for who they are.  

With the Covid-19 pandemic, and students in a position where they are feeling a huge disconnection from one another, “Speak Up!” is even more necessary.  Anxiety and depression are on the rise.  Mental health issues abound with young people, and the need for Social Emotional Learning is now stronger than ever.  Students need a way of expressing their feelings, and a means of connecting with each other that they are not receiving in their schools or their day to day lives.

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How is “Speak Up!” the Solution?

“Speak Up!” puts students from two Sister Schools in the same classroom together, working in mediums of expression that are exciting and fun.  Students work with professional artist-educators with work experience ranging from Cirque du Soleil to Broadway. These professional artists have many years of experience working with young people in the arts and know the power that the arts have to help influence a young person’s life.  

Students are encouraged to share their voices and their vision through the medium of art that most speaks to them.  Through this exploration, they relay issues that are important to them, and connect them to their art pieces.  They collaborate with students from their Sister School to delve more deeply into these issues, and work together to create a piece of mixed-media art.  With this partnership, they create a greater sense of connectedness and become more empowered to make their voices heard and “Speak Up!” for what is meaningful and important to them.

There is a lack of Social Emotional Learning happening in our schools, especially during this time of the Covid-19 pandemic.  “Speak Up!” is a solution.  This program allows students to communicate with each other in an exciting way.  It gives them the opportunity to express what is going on inside of them through the arts.  It creates a forum for them to relate and connect to each other through their art pieces, and gives them the opportunity to express how they would like to instill positive change in their lives, their communities, and their world.

What has “Speak Up!” Accomplished?

Theatre 31 has run a successful pilot program of “Speak Up!”.  With it, we have seen the power of this program.  Students have bravely revealed their thoughts on issues that were important and sometimes very personal to them.  They explored these issues in many creative ways that they hadn’t before been given the opportunity to.  

The themes found within their art pieces have included the Covid-19 pandemic, violence, racism, and their own personal issues and struggles. They have expressed these themes in a wide variety of artistic mediums, and we have found in some cases that they have actually offered solutions to the problems they have presented as well.  

We have seen that when young people have the courage to share their voices, their stories, and their vision, through their art, that others also are encouraged to step out and share what is going on for them.  This program has helped students break through the fear of being judged in a negative way for revealing something personal or important to them, and has given them a feeling of great pride and accomplishment in doing so.  

We have seen students gain a greater connection to each other and also a greater empathy. It has been a truly magical thing to experience, especially as young people have been so profoundly affected by the disconnection that the Covid-19 pandemic has created.


Ellen Geer
Artistic Director, The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum

Linda Greenberg
Executive Director, Santa Monica Education Foundation

Florence Culpepper
Principal, Lincoln Middle School

Support “Speak Up!”

Theatre 31 is partnering with The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization, that has brought theatre and arts education to young people for 45 years, to bring the Speak Up program to young people in Los Angeles, and beyond! Your tax-deductible donation will bring this high quality arts education program to students in need.

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