Speaking quietly at first, three young women at the Brownwood Halfway House became increasingly animated as they described their experience at the Lyric Theatre’s recent production of “Oliver! The Musical.”
    The three 18-year-olds had virtually no experience with plays or live theater, and they were delighted at the performance and the talent level of the Lyric production.
    The Brownwood Halfway House, located near the Ron Jackson Juvenile Correctional Facility, is operated by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. The program provides counseling and specialized treatment programs, and teaches the girls independent living skills.
    The Brownwood House is a temporary home to up to 10 medium and low-risk girls between the ages of 15 and 19 who are transitioning out of Ron Jackson and back to their home communities.
     The Texas Juvenile Justice Department describes the home as one of eight “community-based medium restriction programs” operated by the agency.
    For the past several productions, the Lyric Theatre has donated tickets to allow residents of the halfway house to experience the plays, accompanied by Brownwood Halfway House staff.
    Jarome Finley, superintendent of the Brownwood House, asked that the three girls who were interviewed be referred to only by their initials and their faces not shown in photographs for confidentiality.
    The girls said they sang along with the musical numbers and still sing some of the songs they said are “stuck in our heads.”
    R.S., from the coastal area, said she wants to see more plays.
    “I was surprised because there was a lot of talent over there,” R.S. said. “I was surprised at how talented they were. It was cool to see young people with so much talent.
    “I thought plays were supposed to be boring. I liked it a lot. It was funny, too.”     C.S., from a small town in Central Texas, agreed: “There was a lot of talent,” she said. In her hometown, people wouldn’t be as interested in the theatre as they are here, she said.
    C.S. said she wouldn’t be able to perform in a play because she has stage fright.
    R. S-A., from the Valley, said she’d be too nervous to perform. She wants her family members to go see a play, preferably a comedy. “I know they would enjoy it,” she said.
    Other girls in the Brownwood House have seen productions of “South Pacific” and “Christmas Belles.”
    Eric Evans, managing director of the Lyric Theatre, said one of the goals of the Lyric Performing Arts Company has been to inspire performing arts in the community.
    “One of the things we try to do regularly is provide tickets to non-profit organizations, and then we also provide tickets to kids from the half-way house,” Evans said.
    “This gives them an opportunity to experience theater in a community environment.”
    Evans said he’s been able to meet some of the girls who’ve attended Lyric productions. “We don’t talk about where they’re coming from and stuff like that,” Evans said. “We just talk about life in general.”
    The Brownwood Halfway House opened in October 2013. The girls in the program attend Premier High School and the Brownwood school district, and in May 2014, the program had its first youth graduate with a high school diploma.
    The girls are required to complete 60 hours of community service before being released.
    Many of the girls have had jobs, and a girl who worked at a Sonic restaurant went back to her home community recently with $6,600 saved up.
    Finley said the Brownwood House gives the girls “a function of normalcy, safety and security … it helps them get their lives back on track.”