Find Your Voice Benefit: Twenty-Five Years of Emotional Literacy
Find Your Voice (FYV) hosted a benefit recently at Lincoln Center’s intimate Clark Studio Theater to raise money for their emotional literacy training programs for students. The FYV workshops use playwriting and acting tools to enable participants to better express themselves and listen to others, thus leading to what FYV terms emotional literacy.
In her introductory remarks to the evening’s program, founding director Gail Noppe-Brandon described FYV’s workshops as “both a philosophy and a practice” that she developed 25 years ago as assistant dean of arts and sciences at NYU. The process remains the same today as it did 25 years ago: show students a picture, have them free-write about what’s happening in the picture, turn the free writes into plays involving two characters and one conflict, and have the students act out each other’s plays.
Twenty-five of these workshop participants’ plays are featured in the anthology entitled “One Vision, Many Voices” and four of these works were performed by program alumni at the benefit. The first play, Intermission, depicted a lesbian couple’s divisive struggle over whether or not to come out to one of the women’s parents. After the performances, Celine Valensi, the author of the play, described FYV’s free-writing method as cathartic and therapeutic. At the time she wrote the play, Valensi said she “struggled with secret relationships,” and in writing a fictional play about another couple’s secret relationship she was unwittingly writing about and exploring her own. “I know [now] exactly who I’m writing about and I didn’t know then,” Valensi said.
Joe Lowy, assistant principal at the Museum School and Valensi’s former teacher, took a FYV workshop in the spring of 2003 in order to teach the course to his 7th-grade class. He described the program as a “trust-building activity where everyone develops a certain comfort with each other.” This supportive environment and the structure of the program emboldened participants to “bring to the table what they’re dealing with emotionally,” he said.
Testaments to the therapeutic benefits of the program were voiced by many of the FYV alumni attending the event. A video featured student alumni co-chairs Bobby Lopez, the Tony Award-winning composer and lyricist of the Book of Mormon, and Sarah Paulson, the Golden Globe-nominated actor from Studio 60, who spoke of the invaluable support and encouragement they received as students. Paulson, who was going through a rocky time at home when she was involved in the program, described FYV as providing the “kind of therapy you don’t know you’re having as you’re having it.”
Looking back on 25 years of FYV workshops, Noppe-Brandon said that “with the 20/20 hindsight that longevity and field-testing affords, I have come to understand why this seemingly simple exercise has unleashed the kinds of transformations it has: the photographic trigger serves as a kind of Rorschach inkblot, inviting articulation and exploration of whatever is pressing on the minds of those who encounter it.”#