The EN-ACTE Program
EN-ACTE is an interactive theatre program written and performed by youth between the ages of 13 and 20. Its goal is to reduce the risks associated with early, unprotected sexual activity by bringing adolescent sexuality out into the open and exposing teens to facts and information which will assist their making judgments and choices which will not compromise their physical and emotional health and future well-being. The reality is that experimenting with being sexual in the context of forming more intimate relationships is a normal learning process during adolescence. The "nearly 48.4% of all students [who] have had sexual intercourse..." which you cite in your program description grows to approximately 70% of all males and females by the time they reach the age of 18. How many teenagers have someone to whom they can turn for advice and honest, constructive communication when they become sexually active? Unfortunately, this is the very time when many parents and other adults react with anger and moral condemnation, cutting off all communication.
Our performance, called "Out of the Shadows," is a series of scenarios that portray common dilemmas and choice points which youth face as they begin to date or spend time together without adult supervision. Examples of topics covered include: the importance of open partner communication in deciding to have sex for the first time, the sharing of responsibility for using protection to prevent unwanted pregnancy or HIV/AIDS and other STDs, and the effects of alcohol or drug use on the ability to make sound, safe judgments about one's own or another person's behavior. To date, EN-ACTE has performed the play in over 57 sites, reaching approximately 4,700 youth and providers.
As mentioned earlier, a core group of 12 peer actor/educators representative of the adolescent target population create and perform the show. Our racially diverse group is equally diverse in age and experience, including a 13 year-old boy living in a housing project with a single mother, a 15 year-old boy who became a parent on his 14th birthday, several slightly older boys who are abstinent, and a 19 year-old who is struggling with the realization that he is gay. The female group members range from a 19 year-old college student who exudes personal empowerment when explaining her decision to remain a virgin, to a 17 year-old high-school student who became sexually active when she was 13 years old.
They combine the knowledge gained from a concentrated period of training in a range of topics related to sexual health and decision-making with their own life experiences and awareness of informational gaps and needs among their peers to create an improvisational theatre piece which is then presented to young audiences in schools and other community settings. The program is not a static entity but an on-going process of continuous development, growth, and refinement as the peer actor/educators grow in knowledge and competence and respond to the direct and indirect feedback solicited from its audiences.
The 35-minute performance raises a number of issues and questions relative to making safe sexual choices and forming intimate relationships that are discussed following the performance by having a peer educator facilitate interaction between the audience and the fictional characters in each scene. Who better to identify and discuss the needs, situations, dilemmas and choices that today's adolescents face as they begin to experiment with sexual feelings, intimate relationships and sexual activity than other young people who are trying to find answers to the same problems and issues? In addition to dispelling myths and clarifying information, the facilitated discussion period allows audience members the opportunity to safely discuss these topics without fear of personal disclosure or embarrassment.
We are also in the process of designing and implementing an evaluation plan which will systematically assess the outcomes and impact of the EN-ACTE Program by comparing adolescents who have attended a performance of "Out of the Shadows " with a second, comparable group that has not.
Based upon the successful results of an extended community-based pilot intervention which EN-ACTE implemented in cooperation with the DeKalb County Housing Authority, we plan to conduct a series of interactive health education workshops in collaboration with an existing community center organization that has expressed an interest in working with us. The EN-ACTE team of young people will serve as mentors throughout the workshop series and subsequent performances. A core group of youth in that community will be selected to develop and perform their own theatre piece for their peer group, parents and other adults. In addition to providing them with basic training in improvisation and theatre techniques, we will offer educational workshops that cover topics relevant to adolescent sexuality, the development of intimate relationships which are emotionally and physically healthy, and the prevention of HIV/AIDS and other negative consequences of early or multiple sexual relationships. The youth who participate in the training and educational sessions will become experts relative to their peers, enabling them to become agents of change in their subsequent discussions and interactions with their peers. In addition, the play will serve to inform and motivate the adult stakeholders and gatekeepers to advocate for realistic responses to the informational and emotional needs of their youth.
To date, EN-ACTE has received primary funding from the Georgia Department of Human Resources, Public Health Division, and United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta's AIDS Partnership Fund. We also have received smaller monetary contributions from several individuals along with DuPont, the LUBO Fund, and the Links, Inc.
EN-ACTE has been able to establish a relationship with Mayor Bill Campbell through the efforts of Phil MacDonald, his Special Assistant, who is familiar with our program and recognizes its relevance for the future of Atlanta's youth population. We anticipate that during 2000, our third season, our relationship with the mayor's office will be strengthened as we expand our community linkages and develop new partners within Metropolitan Atlanta.
J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
1620 Eye Street, NW, Washington, DC 20006
Telephone (202) 293-7330, FAX (202) 293-2352