Empowering young people through professional theatre

Darius Villalobos speaks with Imagination Stage

One of the highlights of my role is being introduced to organizations that are actively engaging youth to empower and form them in creative ways. I recently talked to Joanne Seelig from Imagination Stage, based in Washington DC, that empowers young people to discover their voice and identity through performing arts education and professional theatre.

How did Imagination Stage get started?

Imagination Stage was founded as BAPA (Bethesda Academy of Performing Arts) in 1979 in response to the urgent need for arts education for young people. The company was renamed Imagination Stage in 2001 in anticipation of its move to its downtown Bethesda theatre arts center in 2003. Today, Imagination Stage is a holistic theatre arts organization for all children and youth. We serve our community through award-winning professional theatre, arts education, and transformative programming focused on social change.    

Is there any religious/faith overlap or collaborations in your work?

The work in our “Theatre for Change” programming often tackles social justice issues which also may be of importance to the faith-based community. For example, Catholic Charities and Catholic University of America are both important partners around the work we do with our Oyeme program which is focused on using the arts to lift up stories of refugee youth. Lutheran Immigrant Refugee Services is another important partner in that work.

How did the arts and theatre become the focus to engage youth?

We are a Theatre for Young Audiences which means our focus really is on youth. We respect and empower the voices of children of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds,
to help them succeed in today’s world with empathy, confidence, joy, and imagination! We pick plays that delve into topics that one faces in childhood. Our classes are a way for young people to develop their identity and voice. I often imagine the world we want to live in, conceptualizing the strengths needed for the remainder of the 21st century. We’ll need to prioritize collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking–and theater is a wonderful place to develop those skills. Being able to watch or take part in a performance, to feel for that character who may be different from you, or literally step inside someone else’s shoe–these are experiences that enhance our ability to understand someone else’s feelings.

How do youth take leadership roles in Imagination Stage? 

Our Theatre for Change work is really about lifting up the voices of young people at a time they are facing critical issues. Professional actors, teachers, and writers work with youth, encouraging them to share their stories and their challenges. These workshops can be extremely empowering, and then they can see their stories on stage. The youth have the power over their own narrative and in that way are leading a process of change through the arts. 

What are some of the issues that youth and community members are engaging in are highlighted through your works?

Our newest piece, 10 Seconds written by Miriam Gonzales and directed by LeeAnet Noble explores youth and police relationships in DC. In doing so it challenges the community to look at issues of systemic racism, community policing, and assumptions about one another we make on a daily basis. 


Learn more about Imagination Stage at imaginationstage.org.

Now Available to Book for Viewing: 10 Seconds by Miriam Gonzales, Directed by LeeAnet Noble

In a world where deeply rooted biases and misperceptions easily take hold, life can often feel unnerving — a journey that can change for better or worse in a blink of an eye depending on how we see each other.  In the play, 10 Seconds, we see through the eyes of Ray and Jimi, Washington, DC high school students who navigate their young adult worlds, and what it means to be young black men in the city.  Ray tells the story of a day — and “ten seconds” inside that day — that he and Jimi will never forget, sharing not only their perspectives, but also the views of the police they encounter.   Through audience engagement and interactive moments, the play provides opportunities for reflection and discussion. By “stopping time” the audience is asked to imagine what might happen if we made the effort to pause, listen to one another, question our assumptions, and consider the possibilities for change.

Run time: 45 minutes
Best for grades 8-12


This filmed play runs 45 minutes in length and can be followed up with a zoom discussion.  A community leader’s guide is also provided.  To book a viewing for your youth group: please contact Joanne Seelig Lamparter at [email protected]

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