Planned Parenthood’s teen volunteers take sex-ed to stage


Photo provided by Sienna Ellis

Clad in matching blue T-shirts, members of TACT smiled for a Zoom photo after filming several skits to send to groups without access to live Zoom performances. “Being virtual has been really cool because we got to perform for groups in other places we normally wouldn’t get to, like Austin and Utah,” Ellis said.

by Caroline Petrikas, Photo and Graphics Editor

Mics! Cameras! Action! On April 18, members of TACT, Planned Parenthood’s TeenAge Communication Theatre, logged onto Zoom, unmuted their mics, and prepared for their last performance of the school year. An educational skit focused on STDs, their Zoom performance aimed to fulfill TACT’s mission of entertaining and informing teens in foster care, homeless shelters, youth groups, and juvenile detention centers.

TACT is a troupe of teenage volunteers from across the DFW area who perform informational skits on a bi-monthly basis. Performances typically last from 45 to 90 minutes, tackle up to nine subjects and are split into three parts.

First, there is a brief scene with an unresolved problem. Next, the audience questions the actors while they remain in character. Finally, the actors leave character, introduce themselves to the audience, answer questions and provide factual information about the topics.

Their skits focus on topics schools do not traditionally cover, like stress management, prejudices, mental health, sexual health, relationships and drug and alcohol abuse. The skits take serious topics and introduce them in a humorous way, so the audience can both laugh and educate themselves. The audience selects which skits TACT performs ahead of time, but there are a few fan favorites.

“I always get assigned to do the skit about STIs,” junior Ava Stern said. “I think it’s a really funny and humorous skit, so it’s really fun to be able to talk about these important topics and be entertaining at the same time.”

Although the group skits focus on the lesser-known aspects of Planned Parenthood’s resources, senior Sienna Ellis estimates TACT might perform their teen pregnancy skit more frequently to tailor the education to new needs in Texas after the new abortion law SB8 came into effect on Sept. 1.

Because their performances were moved to Zoom due to COVID-19, TACT had to adjust their skits and information to make sense on this other platform, but they used the opportunity to reach new audiences. “We did have to rewrite some of the skits, but being virtual also let us perform for a group in Austin and Utah,” Ellis said.

Members of TACT educate not only their audiences, but also themselves.In the summer, they spend four hours a week learning from experts about teen problems and during the school year they rehearse their skits for three hours every week.

“Before I joined TACT, I was passionate about sexual health and women’s rights without any factual basis behind my opinions,” Lockhart said. “Now, thanks to TACT, I hope that I’ve become a wealth of knowledge for my peers on topics that most of us are scared to talk about – STDs, sexual health and consent, to name a few.”

TACT employs a variety of methods to provide their members with information.“One of the activities is called ‘TACT it out,’ where we sit in a circle and have a conversation about something controversial going on,” Ellis said. “So we talked a lot about Sha’Carri Richardson and the Olympics and the abortion bills. Getting to hear everyone’s opinions is really educational.”

TACT is different from other community service groups because it combines both theater and social justice work and creates a tight-knit group. “I care deeply about educating teens on issues that are probably relevant to their lives, and I also love acting and doing theater,” Ellis said. Getting to put these two interests together is a really meaningful and unique experience!”

For senior Eleanor Lockhart, TACT was a family experience. Encouraged by her mom and aunt, who both participated in the troupe in the ’80s, Lockhart joined the summer going into her junior year and it was a perfect fit. “Everyone in the troupe becomes really close – they’re like a second family to me, a family that I get to make an impact with,” Lockhart said.

TACT members like the audience interaction aspect because it gives meaning to their work. “My favorite part is when we get to engage with our audiences,” Lockhart said. “ When we’re asking questions to teens and they engage with us, share parts of their stories, it makes us feel like we’re doing something right.”