IMAGES -- Theater for Young Hearts and Minds Teen Project


To address the high rate of pregnancy and sexually transmissible infections among Southern California's adolescents, Planned Parenthood of San Diego and Riverside Counties decided to involve teens in an effort to reach their peers.


Images: San Diego; serves Southern California, United States of America

Problem Overview:

Prevention of unwanted teenaged pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections

Helping youth avoid unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmissible infections is a challenge that faces communities around the world. Children having children is a problem with dire consequences for both the young people themselves and for society as a whole. Young people with children have sharply reduced education and employment opportunities and a poorer quality of life. Meeting their needs places a severe burden on both families and public resources. Moreover, sexually active teens are at great risk of contracting AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The United States has the highest rate of teen pregnancy of any industrialized nation...twice as high as England, France and Canada, and nine times as high as the Netherlands and Japan. More than one million teenage girls become pregnant each year in the U.S. -- 11% of all women aged 15-19 -- with over 40% of all females under 20 having at least one pregnancy. Over three fourths of teen pregnancies are unplanned, accounting for about one fourth of all accidental pregnancies each year. About 55% of teen pregnancies end in birth, 31% in abortion, and 14% in miscarriages. Of those teenage women who choose to become mothers, one out of four will have a second child within two years of their first.

Young people also have a high incidence of sexually transmissible infections. More than 25% of sexually active adolescents in the U.S.-- over three million teens -- acquire a sexually transmitted disease each year, threatening their ability to have children and increasing their risk of cancer and infection with the HIV/AIDS virus. In a single act of unprotected sex with an infected partner, a teenage woman has a 1% risk of acquiring HIV, a 30% risk of getting genital herpes, and a 50% chance of contracting gonorrhea. While the risk of acquiring HIV is lower than that for other sexually transmissible infections, AIDS is the sixth leading cause of death among 14 to 25 year-olds, and the leading cause of death among 25 to 44 year-olds, in the U.S. today.



To address the high rate of pregnancy and sexually transmissible infections among Southern California's adolescents, Planned Parenthood of San Diego and Riverside Counties decided to involve teens in an effort to reach their peers. They concluded that a lively and informative traveling theater would have a strong and positive influence.

"Youth...can be an instrumental force in promoting social change, yet they are largely ignored and stifled," says Cynthia Burdyshaw, one of the founders of IMAGES. Since 1981, IMAGES (formerly New Image Teen Theatre) has been presenting original performances created by and for adolescents and young adults. Each year, a cast of eight teenagers of varying ethnic, socio-economic, and academic background backgrounds, ages 16 to 19, are chosen to participate in the program. They dedicate most of their summer and free time to prepare for one or two performances throughout the 7 1/2 month season.

During their summer training program, the cast participates in a four-day retreat, which provides an opportunity for them to get to know each other and to feel comfortable working together on sensitive issues. They also receive more than 150 hours of health and theater training. They write the scenes in collaboration with a professional director, producer, production assistant, and community consultants. Each show includes 8 to 12 scenes, varying from 5 to 15 minutes that deliver important and accurate information on a wide range of sexuality issues. The scenes speak to teens in their own language through comedy, drama, music and dance. They deal with real-life situations and dilemmas that confront teens every day, such as peer pressure, date rape, sexual abuse, drugs and alcohol, birth control, abstinence, and HIV/AIDS. Each performance is followed by a question-and-answer session led by the well-prepared cast. In some cases, the cast may be available to provide peer-led discussion groups after a show.

"Contraceptive Congo" is one of the skits prepared for the 1995-96 season. Its emphasis is on dispelling myths and explaining the proper use of birth control, especially condoms. This playful comedy begins with Brandon and Maia, a couple in love, who show that they truly care about one another's well-being. Brandon tells Maia that he believes it's' now time to become more initmate..."You know, have sex." As Maia uncertainly begins to respond, to give in to his amorous advances, "Chris Condom" and "Francis Foam" jump out from behind, startling them as they call out "Stop!" "Wait!" "What are you doing?" "You're not ready!" After some chastizing and queries, their entourage of friends, representing four other birth control methods, introduce themselves. At last the need for protection has been made clear. Brandon and Maia become disillusioned. They thought it would be simple and natural for them to have intercourse. Frustrated by the enormity of their ignorance, they look at one another lovingly, appreciating what they already have in each other, and decide not to make love right now. They realize there is a lot they need to learn before they do.

Initial funding for this project was provided by the California State Office of Family Planning, and bookings during the first year were largely from churches and youth groups. At first, there was considerable resistance from public school principals to a theater group sponsored by Planned Parenthood. The problem was tackled by approaching parent-teacher associations with a video of a performance, and several PTAs responded with bookings. The impressive turn-outs and positive feedback encouraged many school principals to book performances for school-wide assemblies during the following year. By 1983, PTA support was so strong that the group was invited to perform for the California PTA state convention. Since then, the group has performed regularly at junior and senior high schools, PTAs, churches, Planned Parenthood events, and a wide variety of youth, community and professional organizations. Funding comes from donations to PPSDRC, income generated by shows, and small grants from local foundations.

Performances take place throughout Southern California from October through May, with limited availability during regular school hours. They vary in length from 30 minutes to two hours and are appropriate for ages 12 to 21. Parents and youth-serving professionals are also welcome. Organizations requesting performances may select a minimum of three scenes from the show synopses prepared each season. The minimum audience size is 50, and a performance space 18' wide by 18' deep by 12' high is required. Fees are affordable and vary according to date, location and needs. In some cases, they may be waived or reduced.

Auditions for IMAGES are held each May, and anyone between the ages of 16 and 19 living in the San Diego area is encourgaed to apply. No experience is necessary, and selection is based on talent, an understanding of and commitment to the objectives of the program, and the willingness to dedicate 11 months of hard work to it. All cast members under the age of 18 must have parental consent to participate.

IMAGES, a teen theater outreach group of Planned Parenthood of San Diego & Riverside Counties

Both the audience and the cast derive substantial benefits from the experience. Teen audiences are provided with vital information about their own sexuality and the comfort of knowing that their concerns and confusion are shared by others. They are shown by example how to develop and employ effective refusal skills and responsible decision-making in order to practice abstinence, handle difficult situations, and avoid unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmissible infections. As one cast member puts it: "A lot of what we talk about in the program, teens don't usually think about. They think they're things that don't happen to them -- 'Oh,no, that's only on TV.' But the fact of the matter is that they are everyday situations that people go through, especially our age." Cast members receive professional theater training, extensive health education, a creative outlet, an emotional support network, monthly stipends, and an opportunity to serve the community.

The IMAGES staff attributes the program's success to spirited and well-trained casts under the supervision of dedicated and well-trained directors who know how to work with teens. Teens selected for the program are made to understand that it is a serious commitment and that there are certain rules that must be followed. Parental involvement is encouraged from the outset. A manual on "How to Start a Teen Theater" is available from PPSDRC.


IMAGES performs 50 to 60 shows a year and reaches an audience of more than 10,000. While no formal evaluation has been conducted, feedback over the years has been very positive and suggests that the program is having an impact on attitudes if not behavior.


Some of IMAGES scenes have been recorded on video and several have received local television coverage. IMAGES has also received two local Emmy Awards for their video productions.

Planned Parenthood's IMAGES will be featured in a one-hour television documentary and home video, SENSIBLE SEX: Reducing Teen Risk, being produced by HORIZON International.

Submitted by:

HORIZON International

For information about auditions or to book a show, please contact the IMAGES Producer at (619) 881-4548.

 Contact Information:

Information Date: 1998-05-29
Information Source: Planned Parenthood of San Diego and Riverside Counties

Latest articles


Air Pollution



Endangered Species




Global Climate Change

Global Health


Natural Disaster Relief

News and Special Reports

Oceans, Coral Reefs



Public Health



Toxic Chemicals


Waste Management


Water and Sanitation

Yale Himalaya Initiative