The Possibility Project

The Possibility Project (TPP) mission is to empower teenagers to transform the negative forces in their lives into positive action. Using the performing arts and community action as vehicles, TPP’s teenagers learn to build relationships across differences, resolve conflicts without violence, take on their responsibility to others, and lead.

Through a combination of issue-oriented discussions, trainings in diversity, conflict resolution, leadership and community activism, instruction in the full range of performing arts, and the creation of scenes and writing, TPP youth participants write, produce, and perform an original musical based on their lives and their ideas for change. In addition, they design and lead community action projects on issues of concern to them in order to take their creative vision for change into the world.

TPP operates four programs for diverse groups of at-risk youth living in the dense urban areas of New York City. The first two programs are available to any youth ages 13 to 19 and meet either on Saturdays or two days a week after school. The third program is only open to youth formerly or currently in foster care between the ages of 15 and 20. The fourth program is exclusively for court-involved youth between the ages of 15 and 20.

  1. Location

    New York, NY

  2. Number of Full-Time Staff

    5

  3. Program Name

    Afterschool Program

  4. Program Type

    Theater

  5. Youth Served

    Youth of color ages 14-19

  6. Website

    http://the-possibility-project.org/

About the Program

Through its Afterschool Program, TPP brings together vastly diverse groups of teenagers who meet weekly for ten months to transform the negative forces in their lives and communities into positive action. Using the performing arts and community action as vehicles, TPP’s teenagers learn to build relationships across differences, resolve conflicts without violence, take on their responsibility to others, and lead.

“We say ‘no help, no fix, no save,’ and that means that we don’t do for our young people if they can do for themselves, and they can typically do a lot more than most people anticipate or are willing to expect from them.” -Paul Griffin, Founder & President

Content:

At TPP, the stage production creates an ideal backdrop for the learning of social and emotional skills. As youth are trained in technique for acting and singing, they are also developing self-awareness. Further, since the production is ultimately a collaboration among a cast of 50 youth, the young people learn to rely on each other, and, perhaps more importantly, they realize that others are relying on them.

Sequence:

TPP utilizes a spiral curriculum over the course of the 10 months. This means that youth may be exposed to ideas and concepts early in the program through structured activities and discussions, and these themes emerge in the later months as youth recognize them in the stories they share and the scenes they write. The program sequence requires that staff are more directive at the start of the program and, over time, transition the decision-making and control to the youth as they start to build their show.

  1. Production Team - Part of what eases the transition of staff from director to facilitator is the involvement of the Production Team, a group of six to 10 returning participants and two new cast members who develop and own the vision for the production. This team represents an intensive leadership training component of the program. They set goals, objectives, and policies, plan schedules, hire and fire the artists, solve problems, and communicate regularly with cast members and the Artistic Director.

  2. Recruitment and Auditions - One of the first tasks of the program year is the audition process. From the moment staff meet the youth during the auditions, they are seeking to learn more about their experiences, backgrounds, and stories. They listen and observe, aiming to understand the youth they are meeting and envisioning each youth as a powerful and productive young adult in the future. No one is chosen on the basis of talent alone.

  3. First and second rehearsals - After the cohort is selected and solidified, participants attend their first two rehearsals. Members of the production team each take personal responsibility for getting to know a small group of the cast members, ensuring that those individuals feel comfortable, safe, and supported. During the first week’s rehearsal, youth are introduced to the program and are asked to understand the gravity and challenge of what they’re being asked to do over the course of ten months.

  4. Stereotypes, Power, Isms - Once the cast feels comfortable with each other, the staff begins to introduce diversity and violence prevention workshops using Paul Kivel and Alan Creighton’s curriculum, Helping Teens Stop Violence. The trainings examine the use of power in relationships and the construction of “isms” in our culture. Combining interactive exercises with extensive discussion, these trainings provide a framework for participants to understand the value of diversity and analyze conflict in their own lives and communities.

  5. Technical Training - Over the next few weeks, the cast begins to learn some of the performing arts skills they’ll be building across the project year. They participate in acting, improvisation, dance, movement, voice, singing, and playwriting workshops at each rehearsal.

  6. Life Stories - The next big milestone happens in December or January, and is called “Life Stories.”

  7. Conflict Resolution - The cast then works on skills for conflict resolution. At this point, the cast has evolved into a tight-knit community. As they prepare to move into the next stage, show development, conflict is inevitable.

  8. Act of Service - Before getting deep into the show development, youth participate in an act of service. They may select something that relates to the issues they’ve selected for the show. Each youth goes out into their community and serves others. They might cleanup a park, serve food at a homeless shelter, or assist senior citizens. They document what they’ve done and then share them in rehearsal. They examine their actions and their feelings around it. The aim is to identify the limits and values of service and the differences between service and creating social change.

  9. Show Outline and Show Development - The Production Team holds a retreat during which they create an outline for the performance based on all of the writing the cast produced during rehearsals to date. Each participant is then assigned a role. Then, together with the production team, the cast writes their scenes, develops and explores the characters they’re representing, and conducts further research on the issues that the show will work to change. This process allows youth a way to further understand their personal stories and to transform their experiences into a creative message about change to the community.

  10. Premiere - For many of the youth, the performance is the first time they’ve been on stage in front of an audience. The feelings of accomplishment that youth have after the show are the result of witnessing themselves do something they didn’t think they could do.

  11. Community Action Projects - During the last two months, participants work in small groups to design and lead a community action project on a topic that interests them. The projects provide students with a sense of responsibility toward changing their communities and applying the skills they learned from the program to real-world contexts.

  12. Leadership Training - This training takes place throughout the entire program year beginning with the Production Teams. Five to six weeks before the start of the program year, the TPP Production Teams meet to learn how to become effective and influential leaders in the rehearsal room as well as within their own lives.

  13. Advanced Arts Training - TPP hires professional actors, singers, and dancers to work with the youth throughout the 10ten-month program. During that time, artists work extensively with youth both as a full ensemble and on an individual basis.

  14. Future Stories - Much like Life Stories undertaken in the beginning of the year, at the end of the year TPP staff want the cast to leave the program looking forward at what lies ahead. With the Future Stories activity, each participant is given no less than two, and no more than four, minutes to sit in a chair in front of their peers and share what they want for their futures, who they want to be, what relationships they hope to have, what they want to do for a living, and anything else that is important to them regarding their vision for their future. The activity’s goals are to reinforce in specific, personal terms that the future is theirs to create, and that they have the power to determine what their futures look like. Before they are able to enact anything, though, they have to envision what lies ahead.

  15. Last Rehearsal and Affirmation - In the final rehearsal, the focus is on bringing closure to the year by reflecting on accomplishments and looking ahead to what comes next. The first part of rehearsal may be used to finish up Future Stories or another leadership training exercise that focuses on the future, such as visioning or setting goals. In order to keep participants thinking about their future and their agency in creating that future, they are asked to write a letter to themselves that will be mailed to them a year from the last rehearsal. This letter should focus on what they want to accomplish in the next year, what they want to remember about the experiences in TPP, and what they want their future selves to know.

Finally, before the end of the program year, TPP staff hold a final cast circle. In this circle, cast members are encouraged to express what this experience has meant to them and what they have learned. This is also an opportunity for the artistic director to close out the year with final thoughts on the group and the year.

About the Staff

TPP staff must come in with expertise in directing and performance, as there is not time to teach these skills during the program. And, while some of the skills for understanding and working with youth can be taught or acquired over time, there are some qualities that TPP looks for in their staff. Such qualities include the ability to demonstrate empathy, passion for their work, and dedication to TPP mission.

Tips and Tools from Staff

Case Narrative

To read more about how TPP implements social and emotional learning, download their case narrative here.

Learn more about the best practices for social and emotional learning.

Download the guide