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Turning The Wheel on The Experience of Youth

Turning The Wheel on The Experience of Youth

Wesley Adams • April 27, 2016 • Progression • 

Since 1989 Turning The Wheel (TTW) has been working to bring together diverse communities of people with movement exercises rooted in theater production and is developed by an overarching theme of inclusiveness. The Boulder-based nonprofit organization (NPO), founded by Alana Shaw, has touched tens of thousands of lives by developing plays and productions in schools all over the nation. Through the exercises used to inspire theatrical motivation they are also helping to break down the barriers of normative thinking, which begins in our youth.



The test of being a grade-school student is one that few people would want to go through twice. Coping with the awkwardness of growing into a constantly changing body while navigating an endlessly expanding psyche, in most cases, are just the start of the trial-by-fire that is what it means to be young. Many students also face the challenge of understanding the differences between each other via their gender, race, cultural background, and socio-economic status. In all, it is a recipe for feeling alienated and confused about one’s identity and community.

The truth, though, is that this myriad of differences between each of our student selves is what brought us all together at the outset of our school experiences. It’s a membership we each have been a part of since we embarked on our journeys of growing up. TTW is effectively doing their part to shed a welcoming light on the otherwise dimly lit path to earning that.


The organization is currently working with 16 schools in the Boulder area and four affiliated cities: Mizzoula, MT; Cedar Rapids, IA; Willmington, NC; and Los Angeles. Within these schools certified facilitators begin by piecing together productions to be held by not just one school and its students, but with the intention of bringing together two different schools from neighboring areas, wherever possible. What results is an opportunity for not only the participating students to flourish as individuals but for them to grow together within a community, pervading county lines and social norms. It’s a vision realized first by the charismatic and genuine TTW founder and executive director, Alana Shaw.

Founder of Turning the Wheel - Alana Shaw

The vibrant Alana Shaw, founder and executive director of Turning The Wheel.

Mother of seven and graduate of University of Colorado, Shaw has her MFA in dance and a lifetime of experience working with young people to go with it. As Shaw so affectionately puts it, “Raising seven kids is great practice for running a national NPO.”

With her expertise and the expertise of the TTW staff, which she refers to as, “so beautiful and committed”, there has been, and continues to be, major bonds left in their wake. Thanks to this dedicated group of people, students from a variety of socio-economic statuses and cultural backgrounds have been brought together to see one another as more than someone different. Bonds are being built between our youth, that wouldn’t have otherwise existed. Through these strides to bring diverse communities of people together, they are making a positive impact on our future.

If you’re wondering how someone, such as yourself, could get involved, rest assured there are many avenues for participating. Even if you don’t have the 80 hours needed to become a certified facilitator, there’s always a place that they could use your help. Their success as an organization has been largely possible thanks to the help of the volunteers and employees, many of whom are former TTW students, and who have not forgotten what it feels like to earn their membership of making it through adolescence. For Shaw, the presence of these volunteers becomes effective “even if they would just talk kindly with children.” By Shaw’s account though, those who work and volunteer with TTW see their own rewards. Be it a new bounce in one’s step after a light-hearted limbering of the limbs or the deep connections that grow between a person who’s earning their membership of existing as a young person and those of us who long since acquired it.

Photography courtesy of Turning The Wheel

TTW Website


Don’t miss the newest Turning The Wheel production, Stardust and Water, being held at The Rocky Mountain Theatre For Kids, April 29-May 1.


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  1. Always wonderful to see people come together, wether it be through one medium or several. Very much enjoyed this article.


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