Teen theater members from Ashland High School Sarah Marston, left, and Jane Excell, right, play adult mentors discussing how to deal with a teen who had sex, played by Amerlia Farber, center, during a training session for members of Rose Circle Mentoring Network.

Role-playing tests communication skills

ASHLAND — Improvisation was the name of the game this week as teens showed adults how to best keep the conversation flowing between generations.

A trio of Ashland High School girls from the Planned Parenthood Teen Theater group guided about 20 aspiring or current members of the Rose Circle Mentoring Network through a series of interactive exercises for more than an hour Tuesday evening at Ashland's Hidden Springs Wellness Center. The girls and adults used role playing to test their communication skills — even when the topic turns touchy.

"We're training men and women who want to be mentors to youths and matching them with the various volunteer opportunities that are increasingly present in our community," said Leslie Lanes, Rose Circle's executive director.

Amelia Farber, 16, Jane Excell, 16, and Sarah Marston, 17, played the roles of a teen (Farber) telling two mentors (Excell and Marston) about her date with a boy. When Farber relayed she'd had an unprotected sexual encounter, Excell's shocked reaction was typical of many adults.

"You had sex?" yelped a bug-eyed Excell.

Anxiety over Farber's actions and well-being caused Excell to fire a barrage of questions and commands that led to tension between the two mentors — and caused the teen to shut down completely.

The "adult's" reactions were understandable, but perhaps not the best way to help handle the complicated situation, all agreed.

The real adults then took turns portraying each of the three roles, exploring ways to keep the lines of communication open and help Farber's character.

It was a very challenging exercise, said Maggie Sullivan, Planned Parenthood's education program coordinator.

"The skits involve participants in very dynamic ways," said Sullivan. "If you're mentoring, what you can or can't do are touchy issues. How far can you go without overstepping your bounds?"

The girls opted to perform a sexual encounter skit Tuesday night, but it was just one piece from a repertoire that covers topics such as teen bullying, body image, and tolerance, said Kyndra Laughery, Teen Theater director.

A presence in the Rogue Valley for the past 20 years, the Teen Theater includes about 19 students from several area high schools. They meet on Tuesdays to work on skits that they perform at middle schools, high schools and anywhere else they can provide teen insights, she said.

In high schools, the group sometimes performs a skit about "refusal skills," designed to help kids who are feeling unwelcome pressure to have sex, said Laughery.

"We explored ways for them to say 'I want to wait. I'm not ready,' " Laughery said.

Skits at middle schools tend to revolve around bullying or social stigma. Laughery uses characters from the Harry Potter books to help the kids define examples of bullies, bystanders and victims, she said.

Sullivan said mentors provide important relationships in young lives, and the lessons gleaned from the Teen Theater skits can teach adults how to help kids make good choices, she said.

"Youth can make good and reasonable decisions when adults communicate clearly and respectfully," she said.

Lanes, the leader of the mentoring group, first saw the teens perform in January at the Southern Oregon Mentoring Conference organized by the Jackson County Commission on Children and Family.

The group was doing a skit about a girl, her mother and the school principal. The girl had been caught with friends who were drinking. Although she was not drinking herself, neither her mother nor the principal believed her, and the drama unfolded.

As she watched audience members get involved in playing each of the parts, Lanes realized the improvisational exercise would be perfect for her mentoring group.

"It's always helpful to hear from the youth," Lanes said, "to get a first-hand view from them as to what works with their relationships with the adults in their life."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail

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