HOPE! Drama Troupe

Hope logoWhether you are religious or not, the holidays are a great time for family, friends, and feeling loved. But unfortunately that’s not true for everyone, even the youngest amongst us. There are children right here in Central Iowa who deal with abuse and violence, even under the guise of love and care. It’s a confusing time to be growing up, and identifying those troublesome situations is hard when you’re actually involved. The HOPE Drama Troupe is bringing a bit more light to a dark world, and a bit more understanding to all.

Early Hope

Des Moines Young Artists’ Theatre (DMYAT) has been around for more than a decade, but their Artistic Director David VanCleave was a member of the original HOPE Troupe in its previous incarnation. “The troupe itself started in 1993 by the Child Abuse Prevention Council. After the floods in central Iowa, there was an increase in abuse cases and, to my understanding, extra grant funding that kicked the troupe off.”

David VanCleave“I first joined HOPE the summer before my 8th grade year. That would have been May 2002. My friend Amber Wines told me that it was a great acting opportunity to play a role with more substance and there were free bagels. Clearly it worked. I joined the group because I was a greedy actor and I loved bagels. But it became the most important part of my teenage years.” 

“Throughout my 5 years, I only missed ONE tour (my senior year, I was devastated, but if memory serves correctly, it was the same day as school matinee for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at the Playhouse). I spent the NEXT five years coming back every summer to chaperone / teach / observe / eat bagels at the annual retreat. As far as why I kept returning... I saw firsthand that it saved lives. Over the years, multiple students came up to me after performances and said "You told my story." or "How did you know?"

Renewing Hope

Jenna DarseeJenna Darsee is one of the adult coordinators of this newest incarnation of the HOPE Troupe, after having worked with VanCleave as a member of the original group back when she was in junior high. “I would consider my role a facilitator and a perhaps a stage manager of sorts. We begin each season of HOPE, and this year was no different, with a summer retreat. At this retreat students were lead in team building activities, informed on the types of child abuse, were met with case studies,  and were visited by speakers to make the case studies personal. Students also had a portion of time to write during this retreat, the neat thing about this script is that the students write the script themselves.”

“We then began meeting in the fall to continue researching and writing, our team (David, Nate Jorgensen, and I) then met one evening to compile students writings and pull segments we thought were impactful or  that would make an impression, as well as move the story along. Once our story was birthed, we now have been rehearsing. This is a unique group as it was the first year since the original 1992 troupe that all cast members were new to hope, as hope continues to evolve I foresee us being able to step back more into a facilitator role as these amazing students pave their own path to success.”

Discovering Hope

Alayna WilberThe new group had auditions this past summer, and one of those chosen to be part of the DMYAT incarnation was Alayna Wilber. “My motivation to be part of HOPE came from wanting to understand more about child abuse. I have friends who have gone through various types of abuse, and I knew very little about the subject, so I thought this would be a good way to learn more and feel what it’s like to be in the shoes of someone who has to go through something so terrible.”

Fellow member Anastasia Deace has been very involved with many previous DMYAT productions, and is another recruit would wanted to be part of the rebuilding of the program. “The thing that I love about HOPE troupe is that it’s such an inclusive process. Not only are the actors acting, but they’re also the writers, and the contributors to how the whole show works. Our amazing directors (David, Nate, and Jenna) are so great at encouraging and pushing us to be the best we can be. Not only is this troupe about helping others understand abuse, but it has also taught us a lot about how to handle it. Something that I wasn’t aware of when I started with this troupe is how hard the stories of abuse would be to hear. Sure, I figured that it would be difficult, abuse is difficult, but the things that people have gone through sincerely break my heart, and as much as we listen to the stories, you never get comfortable with it. However, it really helps me, personally, due to the fact that I have discovered a fire to fight these things.” 

Anastasia DeaceSome have wondered who the actual target audience is for the HOPE Troupe shows. I put that question to Deace, who is eager to reach anyone who might relate to the issue. “I think that the presentation can be for all age groups, however, please remember that it’s harsh, but then again, abuse is harsh. I think it can be for anyone and everyone, whether you are affected, know someone who’s affected, or you just want to learn more, you are more than welcome to see it! Something that I would love to share is that we will always have someone there that the audience can talk to. If anyone suspects that they’re abused, or thinks that someone is abused, they should feel more than free to come talk to us afterwards. Also, I know that the cast will always stay after the shows to have a Q and A, that way, you can ask us about what we’ve learned, and how our experience has been.”

Ultimately, it’s a rewarding experience, and hopefully (pun intended) lives will be affected by the HOPE Troupe. “I feel like HOPE is such a monumental thing that needs to be recognized more,” says Wilber. “It’s such an amazing experience that I hope I can share with more and more students. It really opens up the opportunity for students to understand more about the subject. One thing David has brought up several times in this process is that there’s a possibility that someone who’s being abused, and maybe just doesn’t know it, sitting in the audience of one of our shows finally figuring out that someone in their life is abusing them and that they need to reach out and get help. And to me, that is so astounding. That a group of kids I work with every week could have just changed somebody’s life. And it’s the best feeling in the world.”

Theatre can be a life-changing experience. The holiday season can be the same way. Both of them combined, with the addition of brave and dedicated people, are what can bring light into the darkness, bring fire to the fight, and above all bring HOPE where there previously was none. And we should all have hope.

This season’s HOPE Drama Troupe will be giving their first public presentation FREE on January 22, at the Franklin Jr. High Building (which also now houses the DMYAT organization). Donations are encouraged to help support the project, and you can find out how to bring the HOPE program to local schools and other organizations at that performance, or by visiting the DMYAT website.

HOPE! is administered by Des Moines Young Artists' Theatre with assistance from the Restoring HOPE Committee. Each year, HOPE! Drama Troupe members use an original script to educate area youth about child abuse and the impact it has on children and families. Their 25-minute performance defines the types of abuse, demonstrates the consequences of abuse and identifies how to get help. The troupe tackles tough issues that are difficult for youth to talk about and portrays ways to discuss problems and get help.

David VanCleave Anastasia Deace Jenna Darsee Des Moines Young Artsts’ Theatre Alayna Wilber