The ACT TWO Performing Arts Program

ACT TWO is a Performing Arts Program for formerly incarcerated youth.

Funded by the California Arts Council's Re-Entry Through the Arts grant, and led by the master teaching artists of Agency Arts and the UCLA Visual and Performing Arts Education (VAPAE) program, ACT TWO is a platform for young people of our community who have been impacted by the juvenile justice system to use the performing arts - theater, dance, poetry, music, and more - to tell their own original stories onstage.  

Agency Arts and the UCLA Visual and Performing Arts Education (VAPAE) Program were so honored to receive the 2017 Re-Entry through the Arts grant for the California Arts Council to start this program with Aviva Family and Children's Services.  Aviva's residential treatment facility was a placement for young people transitioning out of incarceration and back into community life, and we had a great time running our signature Performing Arts programming with those extraordinary young artists every week throughout the Fall of 2017. However, Aviva's residential facility is closing at the end of this month!  This is due in large part to the passing of AB 403, which is an indicator of a policy shift towards decarceration - a good thing! - but a challenging curveball nonetheless.

When we first heard this news, we thought it might be a setback for the ACT TWO Program.. until we realized perhaps it could actually be a set-up for something greater: to expand the scope of our program and reach out to formerly incarcerated and system-impacted youth throughout the Los Angeles metro area.

So: We are partnering with organizations throughout Los Angeles to make sure that this opportunity is available to youth who have always dreamt of being on stage, youth who have a story to tell, youth who already self-identify as performers, dancers, actors, singers, movers, and/or storytellers, and youth who have the potential to blossom as performers if given the space, opportunity, and resources to do so.  

LA incarcerates for youth than any other jail system in the world.  There is also a movement of community organizers and policy makers working to decarcerate these youth - to get LA's young people out of the punitive system of camps, detention centers, and juvenile halls, and back into the community where they belong.  We believe that a continuum of arts programing, from incarceration through re-entry, can offer tremendous support to our youth as they transition back into community life.  Youth who receive arts programming on the inside also need post-release programming in order for a wraparound system of support to be in place during crucial moments of intervention in the recidivism cycle.

We know that the arts are proven to change lives, reduce recidivism, support social-emotional wellbeing, and create a sense of belonging, purpose, and empowerment for young people.  We also know that culture change drives policy change, and that the stories of the young people most impacted by incarceration, detention, probation, and juvenile justice are the ones that deserve to be heard, seen, amplified, and lifted up. By using performing arts as a tool for self-expression as well as a tool for advocacy, we can all participate in envisioning and actualizing real transformation of those systems, in order to create safety, wellness, opportunity, thriving, and power in our communities.

So, we're going to make a show!  From January through March we’re going to spend two days a week using all our performing arts tools to make a performance that tells the stories that need to be told, from the voices of young people most impacted by the systems that we want to dismantle and change. The show will be performed right here at UCLA in March of 2018, and then - hopefully - will go on to be performed at advocacy events throughout the community.

We know how important it is for funds that go towards arts programs for formerly incarcerated folks to end up directly in the hands of the people most impacted by the criminal justice system.  Making art is hard work!  Offering stipends to our youth program participants not only provides a direct source of support and intervention in the cycle of recidivism, it also validates artmaking as a legitimate and viable form of labor. In a state where the creative economy comprises a large part of our economic growth, framing the arts as a vocation worthy of compensation is a form of workforce development for the arts sector - it communicates to the youth that their time, energies, and talents are valuable and worthy of compensation.

Because offering cash incentives can sometimes raise the likelihood of recidivism, offering different gift cards for every workshop can also help support our youth in their ability to make thoughtful budget and spending decisions - some gift cards will go towards apparel and houseware (Target, Ross, etc) some towards groceries (Ralphs, Trader Joes,) and some towards healthy/ diversionary forms of recreation (movie theatres, etc) - demonstrating to the youth that we are invested in their holistic personhood, as well as who they are as artists in the program.  

This holiday season, we're asking you to support the chance for a system-impacted young person in Los Angeles to participate in the ACT TWO program.  Your gift of $25 gives one of these extraordinary young artists the opportunity to learn the performing arts skills they need to tell their stories and bring their voices to the Hollywood stage.  Your gift of $375 supports the entire ACT TWO cast in participating in a workshop all together... and your gift of $750 supports a full week of paid programming for the entire cast!  Donate in someone else's name and we'll give you a certificate to give to that person at the holidays, letting them know that your holiday gift to them is the support of a young person's empowering and transformative artistic experience.

We believe in the movement to end mass incarceration, especially through programs that center the voices and experiences of those most impacted by the Prison Industrial Complex, that offer creative interventions at every facet of the cycle of recidivism, and that contribute to the financial and economic wherewithal of our formerly incarcerated community members.  Thank you for investing in the ACT TWO Performing Arts Program for formerly incarcerated youth... and stay tuned for our original devised performance, coming March 2018 to the UCLA stage!

Want to know more? 

Follow us on Instagram at @agency.arts and on facebook at

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Laurel Butler 
Los Angeles, CA
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