Unique Trajectories - Javonna Arriaga

Javonna Arriago
Javonna Arriago, photo by LaRae Lobdell

Welcome to the first installment of our Unique Trajectories series.  This ongoing series will introduce you to our alums who have taken the skills and techniques mastered while at the School of Drama and applied them to their chosen career paths in unique and unexpected ways.  These alums epitomize the entrepreneurial spirit of our graduates and highlight the versatility and strength that theatre training can offer.

If you would like to share the story of an alum that might be featured here, please let us know.

“My life will be devoted to making sure that we tell our stories, and that other people’s stories are told, in a way that can help change the future of the people who experience injustices,” wrote Javonna Arriaga, BA 2013, in a paper for Professor Zane Jones. Through her classes at UW School of Drama, Javonna came to realize that, somehow, she was meant to combine her passion for theatre with her history as a foster youth.

“There’s something powerful that comes from learning theatre – from art in general – and that is that your opinion, your voice, and your creativity do matter,” says Javonna. “I learned that through the School of Drama.”

When she looked around, what Javonna saw were organizations working to help foster youth get housing, or graduate high school, but no one teaching them the value of making a difference by working past their own issues. She knew there was a need for a new strategy. At the encouragement of College of Education Professor Gene Edgar, Javonna sent a Facebook message to a bunch of friends interested in affecting change through theatre. One night in her living room, a clearer view of what that could look like started to form. In 2010, Boundless Arts Performance Collective was founded with a mission to provide workshops and opportunities that help foster youth cultivate their voice through theatre. She applied her studies from beginning drama and directing classes, as well as Theatre for Youth with Charlotte Tiencken and Theatre for Social Change with Elizabeth Bonjean, to put together workshop curricula.

Since its founding, Boundless has held workshops in partnership with Treehouse and Neighborhood House, staged productions written and performed by foster youth, and established a class at UW called Foster Care and the Arts. This winter, Boundless is extending its reach through traveling workshops in Renton and Kent, as well as working towards opening up its programs to homeless youth and expanding its mission from serving foster youth to serving displaced youth.

“There’s something about growing up in foster care where, once you get older, you start to feel like the world owes you something. A lot of youth who do bad things don’t have a medium to teach them that they can change that situation,” explains Javonna. Boundless is a medium through which foster youth can move past a feeling that the world owes them something, to a feeling of their voice being heard out in the world.

Though she still acts as an advisor and bouncing wall for Boundless, Javonna recently handed over the reins of Executive Director to Zoe Barker-Aderem in order to focus on her new position as the Youth Development and Engagement Specialist at The Mockingbird Society. At Mockingbird, Javonna continues to help foster youth find their voice. She develops the curriculum for the Speak Up program and preps foster youth to speak to legislators, schools, corporations, and the community about their experiences. In addition to having learned how to teach youth to speak in front of an audience, it’s a job that requires Javonna to draw on another important lesson from her acting classes – how to remove barriers to work. “If you let too many things get in the way then you can’t get the work done,” she explains. “If it doesn’t get done, then what’s the point?”

For Javonna, it all comes back to that college paper and the conviction that we must tell our stories in order to right wrongs. “Theatre is inherently about something that’s deeper, that we all search for through art. When you teach foster youth that theatre is about the collective, you teach them that their pain is not just their pain. It’s the world’s pain,” explains Javonna. “By sharing their story, they’re helping the world learn how to make it better.”

Learn more about Boundless Arts Performance Collective on their website and mark your calendars for their annual benefit, Home is Where the Art Is, at Fremont Abbey on Thursday, March 27. Learn more about The Mockingbird Society here.

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