Contributions by Kathryn Womelsduff, BSW
As community members, parents, family members, friends, and adults, the thought of our teens struggling with youth mental health can be overwhelming. We try to do everything we can to support them and help them through it. That’s why we’re excited to share about Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s teen theater company, Green Tea, and how it’s helping young people address youth mental health. Green Tea not only provides a space for teens to express themselves creatively, but it also serves as a support system for mental health struggles. Let’s explore how this unique program helps teens thrive.
Youth Mental Health Theater Background
In recent years teens and pre-teens have been facing a mental health crisis, which was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, the Surgeon General called attention to the teen mental health crisis and pointed out ways to combat it. Two of these ways are building relationships with trusted and supportive adults and forming bonds with peers. Green Tea, Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s youth theater company, strives to create a community where those two things happen organically. Youths build relationships with the director and their peers as they work together to create a show and tell a wonderfully magical story to their audience. The beautiful thing about theater is that it requires relationships to be successful. These young actors connect with their scene partners and learn to trust each other to help them tell the story, especially when things go wrong, as they often do in live theater. Through Green Tea, these relationships grow through each performance and extend beyond the confines of the stage. It gives the youths a place to belong and explore the motivations and emotions of their characters.
Theater Involvement & Mental Health
The most fantastic thing about theater involvement is that it can improve mental health without ever mentioning it. When a youth is cast in a role, they do not always agree with the choices that the character makes, and they do not have to. However, they must understand their motivations to tell their story. This teaches youth how to be empathic to others and themselves. Empathy creates connection and understanding, giving space for growth and understanding of emotions and those around you (The Zen Project, 2023). The end goal of Green Tea is to tell a story in front of an audience. Therefore, youth can engage, bring others into their story, and feel accomplished after the final bows are taken. This sense of accomplishment builds confidence and creates a positive shared experience with their cast members, positively affecting mental health (Mental Health & Well-Being, 2022).
Green Tea’s Unique Approach: Character & Community Building
Green Tea is a space for youth to explore characters, make choices and build relationships with others in a supportive environment. Young actors will have support and encouragement as they work with their director and peers to tell a story that will captivate and entertain public audiences. In addition, they will have the space to grow in self-confidence and their abilities to tell stories and, along the way, build solid relationships that will have lasting positive impacts.
Green Tea provides teens a supportive, creatively inspiring community. According to Kathryn Womelsduff, the Director of Green Tea, “our company is like a big family where everyone is accepted and encouraged to be themselves.” The program is open to any teen who wishes to participate, regardless of experience level or perceived talent. Teens who’ve had limited access to the arts before have found a passion for it and a confidence in their abilities. This creates a safe and inclusive environment where everyone is valued.
Connection & Community for Youth Mental Health
The Green Tea program connects with teens through Shakespeare’s plays. They are shown how the themes of the plays are relevant to their lives today, how they can connect with those themes and apply them to their own experiences. By performing and interpreting the plays, teens learn how to communicate more effectively and connect with others more empathetically, two essential skills for navigating the complexities of youth mental health. By connecting with these themes, they develop their voice and find a sense of empowerment and purpose.
Green Tea’s program focus helps develop better support systems for the teens involved. “Green Tea is an opportunity for teens to make connections and feel like they belong. When young people feel connected and like they belong, they are less likely to experience depression, suicide, and other mental health risks,” says Womelsduff. The theatre group is a supportive environment where teens can be their authentic selves and engage in activities that are meaningful to them. They see how mental health issues are common to many young people and that sharing their stories and experiences in a supportive community can be a transformative experience.
Stir Up Some Green Tea
Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s Green Tea program is an innovative and effective way for teens to navigate their mental health struggles. By giving them a supportive, inclusive environment to practice creative expression, improved communication, and mindfulness, the program impacts participants in significant ways. The ability to connect through shared experiences and stories teaches valuable tools that will benefit them throughout their lives. As parents and grandparents, we want nothing but the best for our teens and tweens, supporting Green Tea program is an excellent way to do that. Give your child the gift of self-expression and community support that fits perfectly with their struggles and needs. Let’s invest in our youth’s mental health with a program that can change their lives.