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  • Writer's pictureArts Angle Vantage Journalist

In Portland neighborhood, youth lift voices through improv games, create their own play

By Brayden West | Arts Angle Vantage Reporter

Central High School, Class of 2024

Chaos seemed to engulf a small, brightly colored room at the Molly Leonard Portland Community Center. The youth called out imaginary objects.

Participants in the Redline Performing Arts workshop at Portland Community Center. Part of the citywide HeARTS Initiative. Photo by Brayden West.

“Purple ball!”

“Hot Toaster!”

“Beach ball!”

They laughed, scurried, and bumped into each other. The participants pretended to hold miscellaneous objects such as balls, animals, etc., and pass them to each other quickly. This improvisation exercise jump-started the session in a positive way.

Brandi LaShay, the leader of the exercise and a Redline Performing Arts youth theater instructor, organized this and many other sessions held twice a week over seven weeks in the spring. Nearly 12 participants came to each session to produce a play with and for youth.

During the session, it was hard not to be mesmerized by how the arts met youth where they were and built them up.

Brandi LaShay leads the Redline Performing Arts workshop at Portland Community Center. Photo by Brayden West.

LaShay said the sessions can provide an escape for participants.

“When commotion is happening and the kids are worried about outside issues,” she said, “they are reminded of their worth and encouraged to be present in the exercise or activity of the moment.”

The play they created, “The Bad Basket,” was about a school basketball game. This allowed participants to “express raw personal experiences” in the production of the script, LaShay said.

Nearly 43% of youth under the age of 18 in the Portland Louisville area experience poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This can mean the performing arts can be financially out of reach for many.

The HeARTS Initiative, which sets out to provide easy access to the healing benefits of art in Louisville Metro Parks and Recreation community centers and other organizations, collaborated with Redline Performing Arts to provide youth in this area with an affordable performing arts outlet. The initiative made the workshop free to any youth interested through city funding made available by the Fund for the Arts.

Participants in the Redline Performing Arts workshop at Portland Community Center. Photo by Brayden West.

“We serve underserved communities. We are a community action group first,” said Zachary Boone, Redline’s director of education.

The workshop marked an introduction to the performing arts for some of the students.

“This made some of the workshops awkward. They have to acclimate to a new environment,” LaShay said.

Nevertheless, she worked hard with them during the sessions and on the day of the performance. And parents were very thankful that the workshop broke kids out of their shells, according to LaShay.

“Redline just celebrated five years,” said Boone, “and every year, it just gets bigger and better.”

Brayden West, a senior at Central High School, participated in the spring 2023 Community Arts Reporting Lab at South Louisville Community Center. The workshop was part of the citywide HeARTS Initiative supported by the Fund for the Arts and Metro Louisville Parks and Recreation.


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