The Possibility Project brings together vastly diverse groups of teenagers who meet 6-7 hours weekly for nine months. They engage in a social/emotional learning (SEL) experience focused on social justice that uses the performing arts to examine and address the personal and social forces that shape their lives and identities. Through the creative process, they work together to write and perform an original musical from the stories of their lives and their ideas for change, creating a theatrical road map for change. They then design and execute community action projects that make an impact on issues that are important to them.
We believe that every young person, regardless of their ability or background, should have the opportunity to live a safe, peaceful and productive life, be a responsible and productive citizen, and become a leader in their lives and communities. We believe that the key to realizing this opportunity is youth gaining – in the critical developmental years of adolescence – the time, space, and support that they need to understand the personal and social forces that shape their lives, to envision what they want their future to be, and to begin taking action to realize that vision.
It is the community that our youth build – the relationships they build with one another – that is the vehicle for our program’s impact. It is the culture of this community that creates the effects of the program. To build that community, our program uses all of the performing arts, the latest in social change trainings, and a set of distinct programs features.
T he Possibility Project (TPP) has many features and philosophies that guide our work and that we have distilled over many years of learning in partnership with our teenagers. These philosophies interweave into a complex culture that is our program; a program that produces positive youth activity that is impactful and compelling and that youth love to be a part of. These ideas and their implementation have been developed over the years through a constant, open dialogue with our teenagers, which is in and of itself is a unique part of our culture. The distinct program features identified here have grown out of these discussions. They have been tried out by our youth and artists and retained because they work. And, because our program is continuously assessed by our youth and adults, we expect that more innovative program features will be developed in the future.
EMPOWERMENT – NO HELP, NO FIX, NO SAVE
We believe that reducing the risks young people face and building the assets they need to be safe, peaceful and productive in the future are absolutely essential. The Possibility Project empowers youth themselves to reduce the risks in their lives and build the assets they need by partnering with them to achieve their vision both on stage and off. Through our creative process, our teenagers learn to take responsibility for, as well as act on, the changes they need to make, developing a sense of agency and becoming agents for change in their lives and in their families and communities.
SAFE TEENAGERS, NOT JUST SAFE SPACE
The Possibility Project works not only to create a safe place for youth to grow and learn, but also create safe youth by giving them the skills and experiences that foster their development “outside the program.” This is one of the lasting net effects of our empowerment approach.
Possibility Project teenagers are given decision-making power – writing their scripts, performing shows, designing and executing community action projects, participating on the Production Teams, which oversees each program, leading program activities – and gain the value of practicing real-life leadership. Their decisions are respected and their perspectives valued in every aspect of our program.
We believe that young people “know who they are.” We have learned this from them. And what really troubles them most is their concern about who they will become as adults. Many of their conflicts derive from this concern of growing up in what they perceive as a corrupt adult world and having to sacrifice their cherished ideals of peace, integrity and justice. Thus, we address these concerns openly and honestly in the creative process.
We believes that every young person is “doing the best they can with what they know.” Our focus, therefore, is on understanding, facilitating, teaching, and clarifying rather than on our youth’s character or behavior. We believe that once our youth know, really know, what they want both now and for the future, they will pursue it in the best possible way and with more enthusiasm and confidence than is possible using any other approach. Our role is to listen carefully as they discover that vision and then partner with them to achieve it.
NO ONE IS CHOSEN ON THE BASIS OF TALENT
Most performing arts programs look for talent. We don’t because our goal is not to create stars. Our goal is to empower our youth to create a better world – and every youth deserves the chance to do that, regardless of their artistic talent. The majority of the young people in our programs have never been on stage before.
DIVERSITY IS A STRATEGY
In The Possibility Project, diversity is not just a goal and a value, but also a strategy. We have made it a strategic priority for many reasons…
One, in order to solve our most pressing social problems, we will need leaders who can understand the inter-relationship of communities and the issues they need to address. Two, the best way for any teenager to learn is from other teenagers and the best way for any teenager to learn about alternative choices or ways of living is to be around teenagers who come from different backgrounds. Three, for anyone to succeed in a global environment for the future, they must learn to build relationships with people from backgrounds different from their own. Four, we cannot have peace or justice or freedom until every community is involved and gains the benefits of those ideals.
COMMUNITY ACTION – NOT JUST ME
At The Possibility Project we have learned that the central question for teenagers is not one of identity (who am I?), but rather of identity “in the world” (who will I be when I am “out there” in the adult world?). Our teenagers know who they are – what they most often do not know, and are conflicted by, is who they are becoming and will become.Looking out at the world, asking this question, and seeing injustice, corruption, poverty and other negative forces, young people can become confused, frustrated or downright cynical about the future and their place in it. By engaging in community action, Possibility Project youth learn that they can make an impact on the world around them and work to change the injustices they see, that growing up and into the person they want to be is possible, and that the transition to young adulthood can be positive and productive, not only for themselves but for the world around them because of them.
PROGRAM DURATION AND DEPTH – CHANGE TAKES TIME
Youth participants average 300 hours per year in a Possibility Project. Production Team members average an additional 150 hours. Our program is long-term, intense and demanding because teenagers need time and space to grow and create change, as well as to learn how to lead.
THE VALUE OF THE PERFORMING ARTS
T hink of it this way: the concerns of the actor preparing a role parallel the concerns of a teenager preparing for an adult life. Just as a role emerges from an actor, so too, an adult emerges from a teenager.
But The Possibility Project is not just a process. The creation and production of original works of musical theater are also important accomplishments that provide an accessible means for understanding the end-value of creative process and the skills for completing a project. These productions also provide a forum for addressing community issues, where teenagers take the raw materials of their lives and conflicts and transform them into performances, providing a road map for change for themselves and their audiences.
Through all their performing arts training and production, participants learn skills that are invaluable.
Not only do participants learn the technical skills of voice for the stage, but also the metaphorical concept of voice in speaking out against injustice, corruption or disrespect and speaking up for their beliefs and their vision of a better world. By writing and then performing their own shows, participants develop a voice, in writing and in performing, and learn how to be heard and understood.
The teenage years are abundant in physical changes. These changes can produce negative results if they are left to chance. Through the intense physical activities of acting, dancing and singing, participants grow their sense of control and awareness of their bodies that makes these changes productive.
Called “ensemble” in the theater, collaboration is an essential ingredient for any group performing art. Participants must necessarily learn to work together. Not just be with each other, but to actually get something done. They must be responsible, reliable and accountable to one another if they are to succeed. Along the way, they learn how to build working relationships – and given the diversity in The Possibility Project, working relationships with individuals very different from themselves – that are aimed at accomplishment.
Whether it is rehearsing scenes or dances or music, participants learn the importance, and gain the experience, of persistent training and specificity of focus. Participants learn techniques and then the consistent practice that leads to excellence.
The performing arts treat creativity as a “muscle”. That is, everyone has some capacity to create and the key to developing one’s creativity is exercising it. Participants learn all of the elements of creativity – imagination, narration, concentration, revision – by producing shows that are real, tangible and very hard work.
Standing in front of an audience and communicating a message can be a frightening experience for anyone. Participants learn the skills for preparing, executing and evaluating public performances, strengthening their ability to speak before any audience.
For most youth, the adolescent years are an emotional time no matter what the circumstances. Increased responsibility coupled with the vulnerability of inexperience makes for a daily roller-coaster ride of emotions. This ride often plays out in destructive forms. The emotional pitch inherent in acting can transform this potential negativity into positive ends. Acting doesn’t just play with this emotional pitch; it demands it. While demanding it, it also teaches an ever-increasing control over the outcomes of emotional response in order to create a clear form of expression. The skills of acting show the way to this mastery, allowing a safe environment in which participants can explore their emotional range and gain competency in understanding, expressing and harnessing their emotions.
Theater is, in many ways, telling stories of conflict. Utilizing narrative construction to understand conflict in the stories they are telling, participants learn how to “change the story” by trying out different possible resolutions to conflicts. This is not done in a limited workshop setting, but through in-depth analysis of root causes and the experimentation of different strategies for achieving resolutions. In the construction of their shows, which are based on their real-life experiences, participants deepen this exploration and make decisions about what can really work to resolve the conflicts they face.
The ability to create without a “script.” Participants learn how to create from their own ideas without anyone providing them with the words or the actions. The ability to improvise onstage directly translates to the ability to adapt offstage, an essential skill for teenagers whose lives and beings are changing so much. For a teenager looking at adulthood, life resembles an improvisation – no script, no playwright, and you have to do something. Yet, there is uncertainty about what to do and how to do it. For anyone, but most especially for teenagers, learning to improvise well is learning to cope with life and its uncertainty.
There are few opportunities for youth to experience what it means to produce “excellence.” By creating shows that premiere in important venues and are seen and heard by parents, friends and leaders, participants learn how to strive for excellence and to achieve it. In The Possibility Project, excellence, like creativity, is a capacity that everyone has, and it is practiced as a skill to be learned rather than an elusive, exclusive innate quality.
The skills learned through the artistic experiences of The Possibility Project allow participants to “own” their lives and experiences. Through the discipline, self-awareness, liberation, and pressure of acting, dancing, singing, and improvisation, a young person learns to “own” themselves. Through the thrill and learning of collaboration and unity, he or she begins to “own” his or her relationships. Through The Possibility Project, he or she learns to overcome conflicts and prevent them for themselves and others in the future.
A MODEL FOR CHANGE – CREATING THE FUTURE
For many youth, change is much-desired and at the same time feels out of reach. It can be confusing, uncertain and insecure. After participating in the Possibility Project creative process, and upon reflection, participants are able to make the connection from their experience of creating a show to the process by which anything can be transformed, whether it be friendships, family relationships, community conflicts, or their own path for living. They recognize, most importantly, that it is a process, usually a long-term process that requires the same skills and perspectives and patience that a show requires.
Understanding this creative process can be a key to unlocking a participant’s frustration with the important creative process that we call change. They learn that they can take the same approach to their lives and their communities, apply themselves “like it’s a show,” achieve the same level of impact on the “audience,” and gain the same increase in self-confidence that they get from “the performance.” In other words, they recognize that the concept of “creating something from nothing but ourselves” mirrors the process of real change in their lives, relationships, and communities. Most importantly in the end, they discover that real change is possible.