Local Nonprofit Using Theatre to Consider Forms of Violence in Teen Relationships

10:00am | It's a simple mission statement: Trade & Row is a 501c3 nonprofit corporation that uses art as a starting point to generate dialog, facilitate and document conversations, and raise awareness of young people's interpretations of important issues in their lives.

The question is how exactly to implement this mission. But stop by Birdcage Coffee House this Saturday afternoon and you'll see an answer, as Trade & Row presents the inaugural performance of Vignettes, three short works by CSU Long Beach playwrights on the topic of teen relationships, produced with the overall purpose of "initiat[ing] discussion about behaviors in relationships that lead to violence and intimidation." Admission to the show is free.

"Many people […] when they think about teen relationships, they may think about 'puppy love' and that type of thing," says Karin Pleasant, co-founder and executive director of Trade & Row. "But young people are dealing with really serious, scary issues, and we need to take these relationships seriously and really help to guide them to learn the best way to relate to one another and to express their emotions in a healthy way."

Founded in late 2007 with the idea of using different forms of art to create community events that would serve as discussions of social issues, before too long Trade & Row narrowed its focus to teen topics.

"After that first year we decided to branch out a little bit and focus more on young people," Pleasant says, "just because we wanted to see with people who just finished high school and were about to enter into adulthood what their views were, how they were formulating ideas about social issues. It was in the second year that all the programming started to focus on teens." 

With a stated vision of "strengthen[ing] inter-generational relationships and enabl[ing] young people to feel empowered to speak up and act out," Trade & Row met with a group of CSULB playwrights, then went to the WomenShelter of Long Beach to talk with survivors of violent relationships.

"It was mainly that meeting and getting a first-hand account of things that happened, that young women in particular experienced, that helped fuel the stories that the writers came up with," Pleasant recounts. 

Some of the playwrights are also directors, they recruited actors -- mostly from CSULB -- to perform the three pieces.

Pleasant says the central idea of Vignettes is that the violence is not just the physical, and that it is essential to learn to break the cycle. "It starts with so many other little things -- verbal abuse, emotional abuse, control issues -- that build up to this other dimension of violence," she says. "And it's not just always a male abusing a female; it can happen in the opposite direction, and it can happen in same-sex relationships. No one is immune to it."

Part of the Vignettes program is for the performances to be followed by an open discussion with a licensed social worker.

"If someone in the audience sees themselves [amongst the characters], we want to let them know that there's help out there for them," says Pleasant. "And we have different resources available for them to gain access to."

Vignettes will be performed at Birdcage Coffee House (224 W. 4th St., Long Beach, 90802) on Saturday, March 24, beginning at 3:30 p.m. For more information on Trade & Row and Vignettes (including other upcoming performances), visit Trade & Row's website.

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