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ISBN: 9781935552017
Theater Review: The Possibility Project’s Know+How=
A Play That’s Not Wack
Otis Hampton

So you’re home from school on a Friday night and you want to do something other than sit on your a** and play video games or watch music videos. Why not go see a play? You’re probably thinking, “Plays are mad wack”—but I could say the same about MTV.

Plays aren’t really my thing either, but The Possibility Project’s Know+How= is different. Clever song lyrics and thought-provoking dialogue illuminates issues that face foster kids like violence, drug-addicted parents, sexual abuse, dropping out or staying in school, teenage drug dealing, and love relationships. Know+How= is very entertaining and serious at the same time. All the actors are teenagers, and all the stories are true.

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The play follows several storylines all connected by one narrator, a homeless high-school dropout. She says life has taught her the various subjects she would have studied in high school. For example, “Biochemistry, a combination of Biology and Chemistry—in other words, blood” introduces the story of a family that’s falling apart. “Economics” sets us up for a story about two homeless brothers who turn to drug dealing to afford food. The stories are all interspersed with each other, including the homeless narrator.

The Possibility Project is a performing arts project in New York and other cities dedicated to youth development and social change. It was created in 1994 as City at Peace to stand up against violence and other social problems that hurt young people. It spread to other cities in the U.S. and around the world. Just this past summer, City at Peace changed its name to The Possibility Project.

Plays Built From Real Life

This group has been putting on shows for years and they have a unique way of creating a play. The teens audition and are selected “on the basis of their willingness to work toward personal and social change.” The teens get together and tell stories from their lives. In workshops, the cast participates in various activities such as dancing, singing, and writing. They write lyrics based on the stories and work with a professional musical director and a choreographer to create the dance moves. Workshops are done on a daily basis for several weeks and kids are chosen to play certain roles. (Nobody ever plays him or herself in their own story.)

What impresses me is how creative everything is from the lighting and the music to the sound effects and dances and how talented the kid performers are. Know+How= is the third show the Project has done specifically about foster care. In the “Biochemistry” story, a dad who is a drug addict struggles to take care of his four kids, (two boys and two girls) on his own. The oldest daughter has to make sure that the others get to school when they’re supposed to. Then Children’s Protective Services informs the daughter that she and the other children will be taken away from their father. Worse, it turns out that the children will be separated.

The oldest daughter takes matters into her own hands. She tries to convince the father to abandon his addiction to drugs, but it doesn’t work, and the kids go to separate foster homes.

Like all the stories, this one is really depressing, and then things get a little better. The siblings show love and compassion to each other. They do not get back together with their father, but the siblings are reunited and work out their differences.

Artful Gunplay

Another story that interested me was the one the homeless narrator introduces as “Economics class.” Two brothers who are homeless are always hungry. They actually manage to make it funny as they keep repeating how much they’re in need of food.

As this story unfolds, the older brother comes home with some food for the both of them and the younger brother wants to know where he got it. Apparently, he got it selling drugs. Tensions rise. The older brother is approached by a gang member to be involved in a fight between his gang and a rival gang. The younger brother wants in on the fight. The older brother mentions that “it’s too dangerous,” but the younger brother insists that he can handle it. A battle ensues.

The way the gang fight unfolds through music and interpretive dance interwoven with a dramatic speech by the younger brother is really creative. At the end of this scene, there’s a loud gunshot, and the younger brother cradles his older brother. On an almost bare stage, with just lighting and sound effects and music and movement, the play creates strong feeling. You won’t see that in music videos—or anywhere except in live theater.

Toward the end of that story, the older brother turns away from his drug-dealing habits. And at the end of the homeless narrator’s section, she figures out that in order to succeed, she needs to love and trust people and she needs to graduate high school. She delivers her last monologue in a cap and gown. All the stories end on a note of hope, and the play ends with a big music-and-dance finale.

There was much more presented in this play that didn’t catch my interest as much as the scenes described above did. I wasn’t too excited about the themes of young couples in love. Nothing against the way these stories were portrayed, it’s just that I hear about love so much I’m sick of the stuff.

Fear Turns to Bravery

But overall, the acting was superb and the music was very clever. It took real guts for these talented boys and girls to come out on stage and show everyone in the audience the hardest parts of their lives. Some kids don’t like to speak about the things they’ve been through while in foster care. That fear turns to bravery when joining The Possibility Project.

If more kids these days would share their feelings like this, the world would be a much safer place for all kids to open up. Plays from The Possibility Project could influence a generation of kids to be less afraid to show their emotions or reveal their true feelings. I would agree 100% that anyone who was to see plays by The Possibility Project, especially teens, would learn about the things foster kids go through. I think that instead of teasing foster kids, kids with parents could gain an understanding of all the crap we take —in a way that entertains them and doesn’t preach at them.

To learn more about The Possibility Project, including upcoming shows and how to get involved, go to the-possibility-project.org.