Last semester, he received a text message from his mother bearing good news. She sent a photo of the IRS letter granting his organization impACT on Stage 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.
Its mission is to promote social change through the use of live theater. Team members partner with high school students to give “in-your-face performances” in set and improvised skits about standing up to bullying, sexual assault and substance abuse.
Members of impACT collaborate with school administrators to select skits that are most relevant to the types of conflicts happening on their campuses. Students then write, direct and perform a collection of eight different scenarios at the schools. A curriculum tied to the Common Core Standards is provided to facilitate post-performance discussions.
“This started off as a pipe dream of mine, and now it’s grown into a celebrated organization” Gardenswartz says. “It is based in San Diego right now, but it is our goal to start to expand into more cities in the coming years.”
The impACT organization aims to establish a culture of compassion by raising awareness that everyone has been a bystander or, whether intentionally or not, a bully and that most people have been the recipient of some type of bullying.
Ultimately, the project seeks to turn bystanders into “upstanders.”
For Gardenswartz, the impACT message hits home. He says, “As a gay student, I have been the victim of bullying. I have been a bully and a bystander.“
He grew up in a supportive family environment. He says that his parents put him in dance classes. The recitals at the end were his favorite part.
Gardenswartz developed a love of theater at an early age. He has performed at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, the San Diego Repertory Theatre, Moonlight Stage Productions and went on a brief national tour when he was 12.
He has an imdB listing with two film credits to his name. But theater is his passion. He says that he was never thrilled auditioning for film roles with 500 other young actors who looked like him.
All of his interests, both academic and extracurricular, can be summed up in one word: storytelling.
Whether it’s performing in live theater, working with journalism and the media or being politically active, everything he does involves communicating some sort of story to an audience.
Performing in theater productions has never felt like work, he says. At the beginning of the school year, he was involved in Penn’s all-male comedy troupe Mask and Wig. And he played the role of Peter Patrone in Penn Theatre Arts’ production of “The Heidi Chronicles.” It was a for-credit program.
“My studying was learning my lines,” he says. “That was super fun.”
Gardenswartz is a Bassini Writing Apprentice working with political blogger and journalist Dick Polman, writer-in-residence and full-time faculty member of Penn’s Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing.
Gardenswartz, who is studying communication and public service, has served as managing editor of The Spectrum, a publication of Penn’s Government and Politics Association, and been a member of the interview staff for the Penn Political Review.
He successfully petitioned Penn’s College of Arts & Sciences to take a challenging seven-credit course load this semester that includes a graduate level nonprofit management course.
During spring break Gardenswartz travelled home for impACT’s first performance as a newly minted nonprofit, “The Beyond Bullying Experience” play, performed in conjunction with Interactions for Peace, a Chula Vista, California-based nonprofit.
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