Incarcerated Youth participating in Life Stories
"Re-enacting my life made me see that my way of life led to nowhere – like to jail, shot, crippled, or dead."
Life stories participant

Incarcerated and At-Risk Youth

Some of the young people we reach through our Life Stories program have experienced the murder of a parent, been victims of violence and neglect, or were incarcerated before they were old enough to drive.

These youths don’t get many glimpses into a positive future for themselves. The Theatre Lab’s Life Stories program helps them to visualize, through drama, who they might become. Using art as a lens through which to evaluate past decisions and future choices, Life Stories trains young people to develop an original film or play based on significant memories, occurrences, and people in their lives.

The opportunity to creatively re-envision one’s past is a powerful agent of change, often transforming a young person’s self-perception from troubled victim to competent artist. “Watching the movie [we produced] made me see I have potential. I have a talent that I want to pursue. I didn’t know I had that.”

More than 1,000 young people have shared their stories through original films and performances since The Theatre Lab introduced this program in 2001.

Life Stories® at Potomac Job Corps Center

The Theatre Lab has worked with Potomac Job Corps Center, a GED and vocational training center in Southwest D.C., since 2003. We currently implement two Life Stories programs on site each year, for an annual residency of 14 weeks.

Every year we give 30 to 40 recently adjudicated and/or hard-to-place youth residing at the center opportunities to view their lives through a creative lens.


“You get to look at your life…at life period. You get to play with it and turn it around. It helps you analyze yourself, move forward, get out of this situation in which Life Stories found you and create a new life story for yourself.”

- Quique Aviles, Life Stories Instructor

Life Stories with Paso Nuevo

The Theatre Lab has an ongoing partnership with GALA Hispanic Theatre's Paso Nuevo youth program, a unique after-school performance workshop for Latino and recently arrived immigrant youth ages 15-20. Each year The Theatre Lab provides an extended Life Stories film project with Paso Nuevo, serving 25 participants.

Projects to date include a dramatic work featuring black and Latino perceptions of home, community, identity, and race through bilingual poetry and performance, a film exploring gang culture among Hispanics, and a film exploring the stories of hybrid Americans.

“It was great. I feel like it brought us closer together in terms of creativity, dreams, and what we really want to accomplish in life.”

- Participant, Paso Nuevo

Life Stories at New Beginnings

New Beginnings (formerly Oak Hill) is the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services' most secure correctional facility for juvenile offenders. Since 2008, The Theatre Lab has provided a year-round residency at New Beginnings to serve approximately 100 of DC’s most troubled and violent male youth offenders annually through Life Stories. Instructors work on-site with the young men to activate their creative voices and help them produce short films which have explored themes including absentee fathers, the grip of gang culture, the dream of graduating from college and the desire to heal broken relationships. Through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Theatre Lab has added a renowned musician to the Life Stories artistic staff who will teach drumming skills to the inmates, help them tell stories through music, and work with them to develop soundtracks for their films.


“I think you guys surely broke the ice with them, and that was probably one of the most challenging barriers. I know it was for us. Every time we get a new kid in, there’s a barrier and we have to build trust and rapport. So, out of all the groups that have graced our presence here at this unit, I think yours was probably one of the most effective ones. Maybe it motivated someone down the line to get into film and acting.”

- Officer Brown, Oak Hill Correctional Facility

Life Stories at Phoenix House

Phoenix House Counseling Center, located in Arlington, Virginia, is a facility that offers inpatient and outpatient treatment and prevention services for adolescent boys and girls in addiction recovery. The Theatre Lab began offering a Life Stories project at this facility in partnership with The West Side Story Project, an educational program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. In 2012 The Theatre Lab served 40 adolescent girls and boys in a series of 8 two-hour workshops that used the themes of West Side Story as a jumping off point for creating original dramatic work about juvenile justice reform, police community relations, gang culture and more. The Theatre Lab is now in residence at Phoenix House, offering Life Stories to more than 80 young people annually.


“Our partnership with Theatre Lab has given us a creative inlet to connect with some of our hardest to reach clients. It gets them sharing about dilemmas and fears that they might not open up to a counselor about for weeks, and leaves them feeling empowered rather than vulnerable.”

- Patrick DeLeon, Program Director, Phoenix House Recovery Lodges

Life Stories at DC Public Schools

The Theatre Lab is partnering with the DC Commission on the Arts, City Fund, and The Kennedy Center to bring the nationally recognized Life Stories program to the Columbia Heights Educational Campus and other public and charter schools in high-need areas. The program works to promote language skills, collaboration, and self-esteem as students develop original dramatic works from their real-life experiences. At the end of each session, students perform their show for fellow students and parents. The students explore unique challenges that they may not typically discuss in school—including the immigrant experience in America— gaining confidence and developing a stronger sense of community through sharing their stories. New partnerships in 2017 include The SEED School and Friendship Collegiate Academy Public Charter School.