The Powerful Possibilities of Community
Volunteering at the Actors Theatre Workshop in NYC
Human beings are storytellers. We use language, behavior, and actions to tell stories about who we are, what we believe, and what it means to be human. Live theater taps into the human need for storytelling in a way that provides experience in community. It nourishes collective imagination and inspiration. The actors and the audience create and experience a special reality together during the performance.
For Thurman E Scott the theater is both a place and a philosophy. His extensive experience on stage and in film as actor, producer, and director, awakened an indefatigable drive to develop new, unique, creative approaches to artistic theater which moved beyond a temporary shared experience and into an active, meaningful role within the community at large. His goal – – to open up creative problem-solving and drive positive change in communities.
He started working with incarcerated prisoners in several NY State prisons, developing and teaching creative expression techniques. What he found was flourishing imagination and new perspectives for possibility opening amongst the participants. New ways of expression and conflict resolution.
In order to expand on that experience, he founded the Actor’s Theatre Workshop in NYC, a non-profit organization where he has developed new, original techniques for students to write and perform their own work, focusing the creative process and the principles of drama towards dialog, expression, and conflict resolution of key personal and community challenges.
The programs provide individuals the tools to fulfill their potential through studying his original theatre and education techniques, then utilize that potential to imagine and bring to life changes within themselves and the community.
One of the programs includes Builders of the New World – an award-winning program created especially for homeless children dealing with the tremendous instability of living in temporary housing facilities. Over 29,000 homeless children currently live in New York City. Each are dealing with the critical issues of instability, transience, and lack of basic services and needs. The program is free for the children.
They learn to create original theater with new material and during that process they learn coping mechanisms as well as techniques with which to develop creative action. It teaches them to express themselves in meaningful ways, improves their reading, writing, and presentation skills, and promotes participation in the Democratic process of debate and dialog, leading to measurable personal, academic and professional success. It also builds hope by teaching them to push into their imagination and write about their visions for the future, then consider how to bring them to life. It’s a multi-class program and students are fed a hearty meal with each session.
Another of the Theatre’s programs, developed by Thurman Scott, is Life Stories for Veterans – a writing and performance program for veterans of the US military which gives them the opportunity to tell their stories through the creative, dramatic process, and share them with members of the community. In evening and weekend classes, veterans of all ages study the Theatre’s original writing technique and then write stories about the power of their unique experiences and journey. As the participants share their work in final performance, the audience gains important insights and the veterans experience their place in society being upheld and supported.
I was at the Theatre early in January as part of a team of volunteers cleaning up and packing away all the end of year holiday decorations and props and getting the facility ready for the new year’s activities.
We were greeted by the volunteer staff who gave us a tour of the facility and shared lots of information about the Theatre and the unique processes. We also watched a video sharing many scenes of various events, activities, and workshops.
Walking around the facility, it was easy to be inspired through the student-created stories and art, as well as the various props, awards, and artwork. It was an inspiring creative space.
The Theatre also holds acting courses and creative expression exploration workshops for various levels. A sign declares, “The first steps to do anything in life are to liberate the limitless possibilities that exist in every human being.”
The workshops are designed to challenge participants to move into imagination and become open to new perspectives. With training, the participant’s intuition and imagination start working together, creating a focus on possibility (not limited by pre-existing bias or belief). Liberating potential and opening up possibility. People can then respond to challenges and issues imaginatively, emotionally, and inspirationally. They are no longer locked in the confines of the factual intellect, but instead have the full range of creative intellect, with new insights.
The Theatre often works with business groups as well. They recognize members of the business community are often paralyzed or held into existing situations thinking they must maintain the structure that currently exists – one which upholds the collective status quo. This is because there is fear of change and an inability to see viable new possibilities. It is often not a natural part of business day to day to look for, probe, and try new expressions. The Theatre programs help to unlock that thinking and explore new possibilities in a safe, communal environment that can then translate out into real-world change.
The organization has an extensive volunteer program – from helping at events and courses/programs to marketing, design, video editing, carpentry, lighting, etc. If you have any passions or interests around theatre, theatre production, teaching expression, etc. – – there is a volunteer opportunity available!
The Theatre also holds monthly open mic nights, often with topics related to current events. Live theater is a perfect place to share conflicting viewpoints because they are expressed between characters on a stage and the audience does not feel threatened by it. Yet this type of open dialog often inspires creative thinking and new perspectives. It allows empathy, understanding, and truth to emerge.
Thurman E Scott believes theater should belong to everyone. That it must test, probe, and struggle to find new expressions, new forms and new ideas that will inspire and uplift the consciousness of our society. Theater can be aspiration-focused. A way of being together that nourishes in each individual the resilience, the hope, the joy, the courage, the focus, and the determination that we each need in order to create the world in which we want to live – both on stage and off. I left the volunteer shift motivated and inspired by the possibilities the Theatre opens to the community!
To read more about the Actors Theatre Workshop and their award-winning program, to donate to support their vision, or to learn about volunteer activities, please visit: Home – The Actors Theatre Workshop
Thank you for joining me on my journey this week!