Youth Finding a Voice, Finding a Stage

Posted by Ms. Dawn Heinen, Sep 12, 2017

Xavier Harvey is a seasoned veteran of Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s youth productions (Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, Merchant of Venice, Titus Andronicus), and has been working with ASP as a supervisor and mentor for other youth and as Audience Service Manager. He has also served as the director and screenwriter for two ASP film projects.

For four years, Xavier participated in ASP’s creative youth development program, Shakespeare Inside & Out, which works with youth in the custody of the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services (DYS), on probation, or in transition back into society, through ensemble and performance-based Shakespeare and theater projects.

Xavier Harvey as Benedick in Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s production of “Much Ado About Nothing.”

How did you get into arts education, what got you interested?

So I started off as a DYS kid and so I’ve just recently a couple of years ago aged out. And just going through DYS, being locked up in all those units, I've learned where my missing factor was school and how I went about school. And there was never really anybody to tell me that there was a different route other than just doing the paperwork in front of you. And what I’ve noticed being an actor and being involved with Actors’ Shakespeare Project is the tools that art gives you is learning more to express yourself. So when you’re hit with a difficult angle at something and you don’t know how to go about it, you learn different ways to conquer those challenges and all those obstacles. And in my way and where I live and the people that I surround myself, I always think about if I was put in that position again, if I had an artist’s way of thinking then I would have taken these challenges different and made better choices in life.

As the years have gone on, I have developed myself enough to be an advocate in the world and the community for youth and development and how powerful it is when you add art into the case and how all of it goes into line.

What life lessons do you have because of your experience with arts education?

We all have our challenges. I’ve also noticed that the more you look into something, the more you can discover. Working in Boston Public Schools, there were a lot of kids that were in urban neighborhoods going through their problems. And their struggles at home carried in a lot at what they were doing at school. Talking to some of the teachers and finding out personally about some of these kids’ lives, it showed me who I used to be and when I got to apply the arts and my meaning of how I understand it to show them—like doing Shakespeare is very hard because the language is just ridiculous, it’s not actual English—so showing them how I break it down in my head to show them how they could break it down, it was amazing to see how as simple as that was, like, damn, well I can apply that to my life. Then out of nowhere, they’re opening up themselves about what they’re going through that nobody would have known before. Right then and there, they’re opening up to teachers who thought they were just knuckleheads the whole time, that they're willing to prove that they can do something more. Arts education does stuff like take shy kids and make them more active in groups. It changes group dynamics. It unlocks something inside of them to want to be a part of more. It changes teachers’ thinking of how they want to teach kids. Because going after the same lesson and you feel like it’s not going through to them, and now you get to see them be expressive and open up in this new way, it’s like, well, this is the way I should go. And it’s just like networking or a word-of-mouth, the more people that do it, that’s the way it spreads around to other schools.

How has arts education made an impact on your community?

A big one. So with me learning all this stuff, I’ve been able to come into my community and apply what I know to them. There are a lot of kids in my neighborhood that I talk to and I mentor throughout the day just to make sure they’re good. I do music videos around my whole city—for free. I use my grant from Mass Cultural Council—I’m an Amplify Grantee—and I go into the neighborhoods and I do all these kids’ music videos for free. I help them know what it feels like to promote themselves and to want to do better things than just to make a normality change. Because I’m working on myself and networking so many different organizations working with Actors’ Shakespeare Project, and going through so many trainings with DYS, I’m able to tell them that there’s a place that they can go to get this type of help or do learn how to do this. And it works out because at the moment, I’m still going through all those transitions. So it’s not like I’m saying, “I did all this.” It’s like, “I’m doing it, too, so you know, we can walk together.”

How can the arts positively impact your community, our country, or the world?

The most important thing is to have the youth way more involved in decision making, when it comes to community, national, and international, because the youth are our future; it doesn’t make sense to believe that we’re all going to live forever. Eventually at one point, you have to give it up to the next guy and the more you pick the next guy earlier and earlier, the more you’re building up your plan for solidified change.

Dawn Heinen is a member of Americans for the Arts.