The Performing Arts
In The Possibility Project, we use the performing arts as the vehicle by which teenagers enact their positive development and lead change in their communities.
The performing arts provide a low-risk, metaphorical means for youth to examine and construct new ideas, new identities and new relationships. When this type of creativity occurs in a diverse environment aimed at community action, the impact on their positive development is even greater.
Think 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 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.
Both through the process and through achieving an original performance, participants learn skills that are invaluable. Each of the skills below is developed by youth while participating in The Possibility Project.
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.
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.
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. But this emotional intensity is not inherently negative. 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.
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.
There are few opportunities for youth to experience what it means to produce “excellence.” By creating shows that premiere in important venues and are 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” him- or herself. 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 him- or herself and others in the future.
A MODEL FOR CHANGE
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 necessary creative process of 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.