Children in Kansas City continue to die violently, experiment with drugs and alcohol, suffer from neglect and face other issues like homelessness and incarceration. In the first six months of 1998, 19 teen-agers were murdered in Kansas City. Sixty-two percent of high schools seniors drink alcohol at least once a month. Eighteen percent of eighth-graders reported using marijuana at least once a month. These incidents are not unique to Kansas City, but Kansas City does have a unique response in Martha Sandven Lock, founder and artistic director of Chameleon Theatre Company.
In September 1995, Martha began Chameleon Theatre Company as a project of the Community Children's Theatre. Martha envisioned Chameleon as a theater company that would help young people in the Kansas City metropolitan community deal with the severe problems and issues they face very day. In the three years since the founding of Chameleon, Martha has been a tireless driving force toward achieving that vision.
Chameleon Theatre Company provides programs for Kansas City's youth and families by originating and creating productions on social issues of concern to the community. Martha designed a creative process where children help to create plays, critique productions and generate ideas for new works. Since Martha began Chameleon in 1995, original main stage productions on violence prevention, drugs, teen pregnancy, self-esteem and truancy have served over 10,000 young people.
Martha, a talented playwright and director, is a role model, mentor and friend for the young people she works with. In 1997, Martha worked with a group of students from Southwest Academy in Kansas City, to write "Accept Nothing Less," a rap opera about urban youth overcoming the odds and reaching for success. One young lady in the group was such a poor student and missed so much school that the principal punished her by removing her from the project. Martha personally went to the principal and asked that the young woman be allowed to continue on the project. She felt that working on the project would make a difference in the girl's life.
It did. The girl is now a high school sophomore and an excellent student. Before she met and worked with Martha, her teachers all said she would drop out of school as soon as she could. Now she is planning on attending college. This is just one example of the hundreds of lives Martha has touched.
Even though Martha is supposed to be paid a stipend for her work with Chameleon, the organization has lacked the funds to pay her. But Martha, because she knows that what she is doing is good for the children, continues to work more than 60 hours a week serving the youth of Kansas City.