Investing in Individuals at The Actors Theatre Workshop

By Thurman E. Scott

In this period of great change in our country we reflect on the processes and programs, classes and productions we’ve presented at The Actors Theatre Workshop during our 25 years of service to the community, because this supports us to have a clear vision of the future. This expression to you is my attempt to examine not only some of the creative efforts we’ve made as an award-winning non-profit organization, but also to give light to some of the big ideas that we’ve shared together as a nation within our collective consciousness.

We’ve just witnessed an epic campaign and election where the masses struggled with the different visions that were put forth by the candidates – – and at the center of this great effort was the word ‘change’. I’d like to share with you our concept and practice of change at the Actors Theatre Workshop. For the last 25 years our mission has been to write and produce new works that examine the social issues of the day, teach creative process to people from all walks of life, and bring hope to individuals and children who experience hopelessness as their everyday norm.

We teach creative techniques to people from all walks of life

At ATW we teach adults and children from all walks of life our original techniques to develop the imagination, to articulate and embrace their intention in life, and to take tangible steps to enhance their lives. We teach creative techniques in our Builders of the New World program, in which children living in temporary housing learn to make educational choices today to support their dreams to contribute to the community tomorrow; in our Life Stories Program in which senior citizens share their wisdom and experiences with both young and old; in The Young People’s Creative Workshop, where teens from all socio-economic backgrounds come together and learn to bring forth their creative power so that they can be successful, contributing members of our shared community; in our Ten Session Intensive, in which business professionals and people from all walks of life who wish to develop creatively study our original creative techniques; and in our Master Class, in which professional actors and actresses develop their craft and deepen their commitment as artists.

Creativity is the Great Equalizer

As a person who has spent many years teaching and developing individuals, I often say that creativity is the great equalizer. For example, when we sit and listen to an individual play a great musical composition or listen as he recites a great expression of poetry or prose, we don’t stop to say “did you know that he comes from a less fortunate background?” We just listen to the power, beauty and passion this expression stimulates in our souls. As we leave the collective assembly we feel inspired by this great demonstration of individual skill and power. We know that this person was not born into the elite class, but along the way someone cared to invest in him so that his great creative gifts could be developed.

So we see that creativity is the great equalizer. This is why we of The Actors Theatre Workshop have committed ourselves to teaching all individuals – – rich and poor, old and young, black, white and brown, Jew and Gentile, man and woman – – to develop their creativity because then we will all go a long way down the path towards change and helping the dream come true.

We know for example that when a child living in temporary housing looks out their window sometimes their dreams are limited. But if you can work with that child and teach her how to open and develop the imagination, this will inspire her to feel curious about life, to dream and to have hope. At ATW we’ve worked with homeless children in our award-winning Builders of the New World theatre and education program for the last 20 years. We often use words such as ‘inspiration, ‘hope’, ‘excitement’, ‘curiosity’ and ‘faith’ when talking about how we support homeless children to travel on a path towards a successful and productive life. But it is important to understand the tangible process we teach to help them create a productive, contributing life – – what are the doable steps, and how do we give the children specific tools they can use to serve them on their journey of life?

Our Process of Creating Change

Our first step in all of our programs is to teach our students, both the adults and the children, to develop their imaginations which makes them feel power and inspires them to have curiosity. The imagination is like a muscle. The more you exercise it the stronger it becomes. We teach the difference between imagination and something that seems like imagination, which is memory. Memory is recalling images, pictures and situations you’ve actually experienced in the past. You strengthen the imagination by creating a situation where you are literally forced to imagine new images and ideas that you have never experienced before. In order to do that you must place the child or the individual in a place where they have never been and can only imagine. For example, this is our first day as we land in our rocket ship on the planet Pluto. What do we see? What is the specificity of the colors, textures and shapes? Not just green, but a deep green with reddish, purplish streaks flowing through the rocks, midnight black with red jetted white and deep orange indentations running through it. Clean plaster-white sand with an undertone of deep blue streaks. It’s the specificity of the description of each thing we see that enflames and activates the imagination.

When they are able to have freedom within their imaginative expressions, we then teach our students that they must have an intention in life. If you know where you are going, you will start to understand what’s needed. For example, we ask the children in our Builders of the New World Program “what are the educational choices you must make today to accomplish your intention, not only for today but for tomorrow? You can’t wait to make the decision because tomorrow is when you will have to execute your intention.” With this clarity the children learn that their emotions and minds will work in concert with their vision. When it’s not clear in our minds as to who we are and where we’re going our priorities become misplaced. This applies to everything we do and everyone we know, whether we are experienced or inexperienced, professional or unprofessional, adult or child.

If a child’s dream is actively alive and he knows where he is going and what he wants to be, that child will be well armed for his journey of life. But if his intention is not clear he can be sidetracked as he’s walking to school by someone saying “Would you like to buy this good stuff? Look at this wad of money I’m making. Why you wasting your time when you could be working with me to service the hood? This stuff’ll blow your mind and leave you floating like a feather.” But if that young child has a dream and a disciplined intention, this will act as a powerful tool to keep him from going off course and protect him from being ensnared by that criminal.

So, you see that it’s important we start by teaching the children that anything is possible when they develop their imaginations and have an intention in life. Once we’ve established this foundation I take the next tangible step in our Builders of the New World program and lead the children in a process in which they create colorful, imaginative images and pictures and write monologues that they will present to an invited audience. I ask them to “have the curiosity to look beyond today, and dream of where you want to be ten and twenty years from today. What do you want the institutions of the future to look like? What will your role in the future be?” With the curiosity and hope that comes from answering these questions the children look beyond their present situation and see the possibility of the new horizon that is coming towards them. With their newly enkindled curiosity which inspires an aggressive spirit of action, excitement, hope and new possibilities, they create pictures, images and situations and write about the solutions to the great issues challenging our society.

You can forevermore change a homeless child’s life if you can teach the child that something new and original can come forth from their soul. At the conclusion of every Builders of the New World semester the children present their creations to an invited audience of parents, friends, and business and government leaders. When we adults in the audience witness the children’s creations, their new ideas or concepts, we say (usually with tears running down our cheeks) “ooh” and “ahhh” and “wonderful” and “yes” and “beautiful” and “Keep going – – your creation lifts my spirit! I need you to lead me!” We shake and reach out to embrace one another and express our joy and excitement.

Visit our website at so you can see for yourself a demonstration of the children’s powerful work and its profound impact upon the audience in our Graduation Video from the Builders of the New World Session in 2004. You’ll see the children pick up the gauntlet, and with their open imaginations and belief in themselves create insightful and original images to answer the challenging questions of our time. Our Graduation Video features Peter Rodriguez, the 13- year old president of Criminal Peace and Mentor Centers, a new company that provides job training and community support and has brought an end to terrorism. And Ashley Rivera, who as the first woman president makes sure that all of our citizens have jobs so they can support and feed their families.

When the children see the adults at ATW from many different cultural and racial backgrounds responding with such acceptance and being moved by their creations, the children stop and think with great wonderment and excitement “these adults, this group of people are touched by me. There must be something inside of me that can touch someone. I have something to contribute. I have something the world responds to. I can be seen!” These children who have been made to feel powerless and that they were throw-aways now remind us of the exciting beauty, uniqueness and power that is the essence of all humans. Then the tears, sorrows and loneliness of homelessness all disappear because the raging human spirit is enkindled and the humiliation, fear and being forgotten are all washed away. At that point we have struck a tremendous blow against powerlessness. That is the core of what we teach the children in the Builders of the New World and how we change their lives.

The powerful results of our work

In the non-profit world we always use the term “measured results”. We plant something today hoping for its continued growth tomorrow and into the future. In our video Proven Results at The Actors Theatre Workshop, graduates of our Young People’s Creative Workshop return to ATW ten years after they completed the program to testify to its powerful impact on their lives, not only as children but as young adults. Listen to Sulma Arzu, who was a shy 12 year old, share her story as a senior in college of how “…through all of my interviews, through school, and through the jobs I’m holding now, it’s The Actors Theatre Workshop and leaders like you who’ve helped mold me and helped me to be the person that I am and the person that I plan to be in the future.” Hear and see for yourself Sulma and her other classmates tell the inspiring stories of how their work at ATW has changed their lives for the better and contributed to the attainment of their hopes and dreams.

Investing in individuals

At ATW adults and children from all walks of life learn our original techniques to develop the imagination, to articulate and embrace their intention in life, and to take tangible steps to enhance their lives. Our students are touched by something that allows them to feel inspired, which creates hope. Hope and inspiration enkindle a fire inside and give them a voracious curiosity. Curiosity blazes in their hearts and stimulates passion. As we feel this sense of power, whether we are adults or children, the world becomes alive and our outlook on everything we encounter changes. This is what William Shakespeare meant when he said “all the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players” in the wooden O – – the world.” So this is what we do. We know that creativity is the great equalizer – – so we invest in individuals by teaching them to develop their creativity and helping them to develop the gifts they were given at birth.

You are a part of this vision and this tangible accomplishment

Come to our theatre and become an activated part of our organization. Study creative process and learn the tangible steps to develop your imagination. Volunteer and bring your leadership and involvement so that we can continue our children’s programs. And as we approach the celebration of our 25th anniversary in 2015, make a financial contribution so that we can expand our work in the community. Share that activism in your life. Be a leader and contribute to the Actors Theatre Workshop.

Hope, dreams and curiosity begin with tangible actions we can take. All human beings can develop and be nurtured to achieve wondrous possibilities. Everyone has an imagination. And everyone should be supported to feel their creative specialness and uniqueness – – not only the elite, but all individuals of every age, class, and creed, because all individuals live on this earth and walk amidst the mystery, abundance and miracle of creation. We can all engage this miracle planet and universe and embrace the possibility and the probability that we will be the generation to bring forth a new perspective and a new vision. We will be the generation to renew old things into a new possibility of hope. We will be the generation that will restore our faith in each other and our country and create.

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