Possibility Project volunteers support the work we do in a variety of essential ways. From ushering at performances to lending a hand in rehearsals to helping out in the office, there are opportunities for every skill-set and schedule.
Caitlin Wood, Winter 2011
In November and December 2011, Caitlin, an Australian actor and theatre educator, volunteered countless hours to work on the many administrative aspects of the 2011 Foster Care production, “A Place for the Night.” During her final week with us, we asked her to write about her experience working on the show, and being a part of the TPP team.
TPP: Why are you drawn to the work we do at TPP?
CW: I studied Performing Arts in Melbourne, Australia and after graduating I volunteered with a not-for-profit organisation founded in Melbourne called ‘The Oaktree Foundation.’ After being chosen as an Ambassador for their 2008 ‘Make Poverty History’ Roadtrip, I helped create and run in-school interactive modules around the issues facing poverty-stricken countries like East Timor. Oaktree was where I realised just how impactful theatre and education as a combination could be. In 2010, I taught Drama to kids aged 5-18 in a developmental Drama Academy called Helen O’Grady’s. I always wanted to use my theatre training to promote positive change, I just didn’t know how yet and of course I’m still learning. In 2011, I auditioned for Brainstorm Productions which toured around Australia to both Primary and Secondary schools performing shows based on the themes of Bullying, Cyber-safety, Resilience, Body Image and Drug use. Soon after, I headed to New York to participate in a SITI Company workshop and was lucky enough to find The Possibility Project. I am currently working on a way to stay here forever!
TPP: What kind of work have you been doing with TPP?
CW: I have been lucky enough to work in many areas with TPP. From ticketing, to being in rehearsals, to any amount of jobs or projects that make the load lighter on the amazing team. I have been helping out on the current Foster Care show; ‘A Place for the Night’ and helping get all the ticketing ready so that we have a full house each night! It’s great because I get a chance to use my creativity, organizational and admin skills on a daily basis.
TPP: What is different or unique about TPP that makes it worthwhile for you?
CW: TPP is beyond unique. It is a safe house for not only creativity and change but also a home to everyone involved in the Project, which means that the moment you walk in that door you are greeted with many smiles and hellos and what a better way to start the day! The staff and teens are not just an organization but a family, they are able to harness their energy and passion to create impactful change every day. Even if it’s not on stage, it’s happening in the rehearsal room, office, the streets.
TPP: What impact do you aim to make through you work with TPP?
CW: The impact has definitely been on me. The moment I met with Kelly, the Program Manager Extraordinaire I knew this place would be somewhere I could learn a lot from. The Project’s mission was one that was close to my heart and I felt the program they had created was so important to have in our world. I just hope to leave with many new friends and to take this impact and use it in my own endeavors.
TPP: What is it like for you to engage with and observe the teenagers in TPP?
CW: Refreshing and exciting. All the teenagers involved in the project are incredibly welcoming, talented and intelligent. As a random stranger, here for only a short amount of time, I understood that my presence was fleeting and didn’t expect the openness and friendship that followed. I have worked in many jobs both in the theatre and outside, but TPP is different. These guys are truly ‘the’ next policy- and change-makers on the ground.
TPP: What do you expect you’ll “take away” with you after working here?
CW: A new found understanding of the words “theatre” and “education” and their values. I hope to harness and hold onto the inspiration TPP has given me and use it when I get back home, hopefully in a way that is needed in my own community.
TPP: Anything else you’d like to tell us about your experience?
CW: If you have a chance to volunteer, volunteer. If you have a chance to see one the amazing shows, go. See a show. Not only will it change your perspective on what it means to be a teen growing up today, but it will inspire and challenge you in your own life in a positive and dramatic way.
Matt Maher, VOLUNTEER SINCE 2009
In April 2012, Matt will begin working on his tenth TPP production as an acting coach. Having performed in film and theatre for several years, he brings a unique (and often hilarious) perspective to the creative work we do in rehearsals and on stage. Below is an excerpt from a 2010 interview with Matt:
TPP: What drew you to the work we do at TPP?
MM: I came to to The Possibility Project originally because I wanted to do volunteer work that would let me apply my experience as an actor in a way that was socially meaningful; I wanted to “give back,” basically, and I thought the idea of using the process of putting on a play to bring teenagers together toward making change in their lives, and the lives of others, was really brilliant. There’s a lot of wonderful communal energy that gets created when you put on a show, and TPP had devised a way to direct that energy towards social change—so I was intrigued.
But after a year and half of working with these guys, my reasons for staying on have changed. I don’t know what I was expecting exactly, but I quickly discovered that the teenagers and staff of TPP are making some of the most thought-provoking, complicated, and emotionally moving theater in New York today. They’re really wrestling with the Big Questions: What kind of world do we live in? Where do I fit in? What kind of person do I want to be? Is a better world possible? If so, how do we bring it about? And what’s more, they’re using their own lives—their own struggles—to ask these questions. That takes a level of sensitivity and guts that few artists have, and even fewer act on. Especially since there are no simple answers to these questions.
TPP: As a professional artist, what is it like to work with the youth in TPP programs?
MM: While I do my best to pass on what I know to help them stage the show, I feel like I learn a lot more than I teach. If there’s a problem with a scene, or a character that needs more development, the teens come up with better solutions—more interesting insights into the minds of who they’re playing—than I ever could. What I try to do during rehearsals is just ask them “What do you think should happen?” and listen to what they say; nine times out of ten, the scene automatically becomes deeper, funnier, more heartbreaking—or all three at once.
TPP: Is there cross-over between the work you do as a volunteer with TPP and the work you do professionally?
MM: My reasons for working on these shows go beyond what the youth and staff teach me as an actor. These teens are there for each other in a serious way: if there’s a conflict, it gets addressed head-on; if someone is hurting, someone else is right there to take care of them. They’re able to be open and vulnerable with each other, which I’m realizing is what gives them the strength to demand more and more from each other, and from the audience. This work is not easy, but the biggest challenge for me is finding it in myself to rise to the occasion, as they do, and meet them on their level. The cast and staff aren’t just teaching me how to be better artist, but a better grown-up—a better human being, really. And for that I’m very, very grateful.
Aaron Kliner, VOLUNTEER SINCE 2007
TPP’s 2011 production, “Ready, Set… Show!” marked Aaron’s seventh production with The Possibility Project. His work with us does not garner him awards or fame, but he has worked tirelessly to further our impact on the youth we serve, and help us build shows that will express what they want to say about the world. We asked him about his experience working with our program…
TPP: What drove you to volunteer with an organization like TPP?
AK: I moved to New York after finishing a 3 year MFA actor training conservatory and since I had little interest engaging in the “business” of acting, I was looking for another outlet. As a teenager, I grew up in local theaters in West Virginia, and was so positively affected by the great sense of community and energy they created, that I wanted to re-focus my skills in that sort of environment.
TPP: How did you first come into contact with TPP?
AK: I stumbled upon The Possibility Project in the Spring of 2006 by accident. At that time, a partner in my firm was a member of TPP’s Board of Directors, and he sent me an email about an upcoming production. Needless to say, I was intrigued; however, when I actually saw the performance, I was totally blown away by the immense power, impact and, ultimately, the inspiration created by that group of teenagers… I was stunned, and hooked from that moment on. When I witnessed what the teenagers and staff of TPP were doing with their work and mission, it was obvious to me that they had found a way to significantly raise the stakes.
TPP: What do you actually do with TPP, and what do you like about it?
AK: I’ve now had the great fortune to work on several shows with TPP as an acting coach, and each experience is truly a gift. What I love about TPP is that it harnesses that communal performance-based energy, but then turns it outward to create social change. They give an entire population of young people a voice to explore, validate and author their lives. It’s simply amazing to watch these guys identify serious issues they face, then help each other muster the strength to safely confront them, and finally share them with us, the public. It’s a daring, courageous, complicated, and very real type of theater. There’s nowhere to hide with these guys; in fact, they teach you how to live honestly. Which is why I’ll keep coming back to work with them: there’s still so much to learn!
Raymond Colon, volunteer since 2006
By day, Raymond Colon is works in the Children’s Production department at HarperCollins Publishers. In his spare time, he serves as one of Possibility Project’s most devoted volunteers. Over the past several years, he has endeared himself to our staff and teenagers, and has truly become a critical member of our team. We asked Ray a few questions about his involvement with our program…
TPP: What role do you play in The Possibility Project?
RC: I began as an usher in 2006, and now I help out as one of the Assistant Stage Managers for each production. I’m also a FAP (Friendly Adult Presence) in one Saturday rehearsal per month.
TPP: Why did you decide to become involved with The Possibility Project?
RC: The organization’s mission resonated with me and anything I could do to help was fine by me. Additionally, at the time, I didn’t have much theater involvement and this seemed a perfect opportunity to be involved again.
TPP: Why do you continue to use your talents with Possibility Project now?
RC: I enjoy working with the staff and actors to help create the next show. I’m always excited to see the transformation from the raw to the complete (sometimes over days) and see how much the entire process affects, in a positive way, all those involved.
TPP: What is different or unique about The Possibility Project that makes it worthwhile for you?
RC: What I love about The Possibility Project is the rawness of it all. The fact that the actors come from such varied backgrounds and life experiences – and many times having no theater experience at all. It’s a great challenge for everyone involved to create something original, exciting, and meaningful time after time, yet it happens.
TPP: What impact do you aim to make with the teenagers you work with in Possibility Project?
RC: In my particular niche in the process, I hope to provide the teens something consistent and reassuring. I want to be able to focus them to their show so that they perform the best show of their life. It means creating an environment conducive to getting those emotions and energy on stage.
TPP: What is the biggest challenge you face in working with teenagers in The Possibility Project?
RC: Remembering that they are indeed teenagers. Given the nature of the themes and subjects that Possibility Project tackles, it’s easy to forget that despite the level of maturity the teens have in dealing with the subject matter, they are still young people still growing up and dealing with high school and the like. Realizing that, it’s amazing what they end up achieving at the end of the process.
TPP: What is your favorite part of working with teenagers in The Possibility Project?
RC: Their energy and spirit. It’s reassuring and refreshing to see the next generation with so much passion, creativity, and thought that it keeps me optimistic for the future. It reminds to stay young at heart and to take the little challenges in life in stride and to confront the large ones with honesty and heart.
TPP: Given your abundance of talents, why do you choose to use them to create change? Where does that motivation come from?
RC: Because a stagnant world will never improve. I believe in some far-off future that we will indeed be amongst the stars and meeting other civilizations in peace, but to create that future, we need to start here in our neighborhood. We need to start small and plant those seeds here and now so that they may grow into forces of right and change. When you are witness to the state of the world today, one must charge ahead in belief that it will change and that the change can only start within yourself.