Hippodrome Improvisational Teen Theatre
Author, Kate Reid’s, explanation “acting is not being emotional, but being able to express emotion,” is an example of one of the foundational principles of the Hippodrome Improvisational Teen Theatre (HITT) project of Gainesville, FL. Housed within North Florida’s only professional regional theater, the Hippodrome State Theater, the HITT project team believes that if one can teach a teenager to constructively express emotion concerning major life issues, that teenager will experience an enhanced life. When the HITT project started in 1984, the major goal was to give at-risk youth a chance to gain exposure to alternative ways to view major life issues. HITT also sought to serve the community’s youth as a creative outlet for their own expression.
Sociologically based, HITT was founded on the belief that through the act of creating, youth can experience an “enlargement of the human condition, a self-balancing and increased self-understanding.” Through workshops, performances and service learning outreach, HITT promotes self-expression, conflict mediation and team cooperation. The HITT participants create dramatic scenes that explore such life issues as self-esteem, alcohol and substance abuse, teen pregnancy, violence, delinquency and HIV/AIDS. The participants then conduct discussions along with the theater specialists about the issues explored. At the end of the session, participants go on tour as peer educators. The youth then teach acting techniques to other students, perform skits concerning major life issues and conduct a round-table discussion based on the issues presented. A psychologist tours with the HITT team to participate in the discussion part of the sessions. He or she is able to provide referrals as a result of information disclosed during the discussions.
Having served over 30,000 teens, HITT works with many students from alternative programs who are highly at-risk. The HITT project team, along with English teachers, select students to participate. The students receive classroom credit for participating in HITT. As a result of being a part of HITT, a student can also expect “to gain self-esteem, establish positive influences, have opportunities to deliver strong messages, experience goal setting and planning, become empowered to make better decisions and live better lives.” Florida Learn and Serve has supported the HITT project for nearly ten years. Joe Follman, Director of Florida Learn & Serve, notes that HITT is very empowering for students; “It has them practice behaviors they need to learn through teaching their peers – it is true service learning.” Having been recognized as one of the best prevention and intervention programs for teens in the nation, the HITT project has performed and participated in several conferences at local, regional and national levels. The HITT project team has also created manuals for setting up improvisational teen theater and helped others to set up their own projects. For more information, please contact the Educational Director at (352)373-5968.