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Article posted: 9/4/2012 8:14 AM

OMNI drama program a powerful outlet for young voices


Samantha Gallagher sings in the choir at Stevenson High School, but she found her voice acting in an innovative theater troupe for teens dedicated to promoting healthy lifestyle choices.

This is the third year Gallagher will participate in REALITY Theatre, sponsored by OMNI Youth Services in Buffalo Grove, and she invites others to join her.

Auditions for the current season are from 4-7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 9, at OMNI Youth Services, 1111 W. Lake-Cook Road, Buffalo Grove.

The teen ensemble seeks high school boys and girls who are interested in learning more about acting and writing scripts, and are committed to promoting positive choices, healthy lifestyles and decision-making.

No acting experience is necessary, officials add, but each member must pledge to be drug-, alcohol- and tobacco-free and be eager to communicate this and other healthy lifestyle messages to peers.

Once the season begins, teens will work with Artistic Director Melissa Estes, a former theater director at Stevenson, to create dramatic scenes that speak directly to youth using positive peer-to-peer communication.

"It's teens presenting their stories through theater," says Janet Jesse, managing director.

Topics run the gamut of social relevancy: teasing and bullying; divorce; healthy friendships and dating; distracted driving; cigarettes, alcohol and drugs; Internet safety; body image; relationships and depression.

The theater troupe is in its 18th year, but what makes this year's troupe different is its directors.

Jesse formerly ran the Odyssey Fine Arts Program at Stevenson, Estes taught at Stevenson and Assistant Director Samantha Gassel is a 2012 theater graduate of Emerson College in Boston.

"It's a whole new team and a whole new vision," Jesse says.

Teens will work with these theater professionals to discover writing and improvisational exercises and acting in both rehearsals and performances.

"I'm still in REALITY because of the beautiful, raw, and wonderful people who have joined," says Bridget Whited, a junior at Buffalo Grove High School. "This theater group is a family. I can talk to them about anything and not be judged."

Jesse agrees that one of its lasting impacts is the collaboration between the teenage actors, who come from different backgrounds and high schools across the Northwest suburbs. The students step up to become positive role models and leaders.

"We're looking for kids who are interested in making themselves heard," Jesse said. "Yes, the theater they create is very, very powerful, but the actors themselves come away with a very rich experience."

The theater troupe is an extension of OMNI's mission, established in 1972, to provide a comprehensive youth service system that responds effectively to the needs of young people.

It provides counseling services, mentoring programs, substance abuse and treatment programs, as well as multicultural resource programs and Adventure Therapy Services.

For more information, visit omniyouth.org.

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