Allison Finder tells us how she went from a theatre hater to a theatre maker
There's an Urban Outfitters "on the corner," just outside the Northwestern University campus in Evanston, IL. It's a place that has a huge summer sidewalk sale, dramatically accused two of my college roommates of shoplifting, and once employed Allison Finder. It also happens to be a part of the thread that led Allison to Bluelaces. The Chicago native and Astoria, Queens resident took time out of her busy workday as a Prevention Educator/Counselor at Hallways, a non-profit organization that provides social-emotional wellness programming for adolescents, to chat about her role as Head Adventure Guide for Bluelaces’s upcoming production, “Out There!”
Anna: You studied theatre in undergrad, but how did you find your way to drama therapy?
Allison: I decided to pursue drama therapy while I was in undergrad [at the University of Arizona]. I had become really disillusioned with the theatre world. Basically everything I loved about theatre I sort of lost in studying it. I’d done some sort of drama therapy in high school; I was part of this Playback Theatre troupe [audience members tell stories from their lives and watch them acted out on the spot], which is a technique in drama therapy. It really got to the root of everything I loved about theatre, so I decided to go to grad school and started preparing to do that. I started studying psychology and actually created my own minor: a thematic minor in Creative Arts Therapy. I decided that I would apply to grad school in my year after college... NYU was my dream school.
Anna: When you started at NYU, did you have a specific focus within drama therapy in mind?
Allison: I thought it was basically like Playback Theater. I wasn’t aware that that was only one technique and that drama therapy is a much larger ideology. Right now, in my job, I consider myself to be a drama therapist, even though my practice doesn’t necessarily look like it did when I was in grad school. [Drama therapy] more informs how I interact with clients, how I work with people on a group basis. I learned that drama therapy was more multifaceted than I thought it was. There was a good percentage of people who I went to school with who were like, “I thought I was making this up, and then I Googled a bunch of terms and it turned out it was a real thing— it’s an actual profession! You can do this for a living?!”
Anna: I’m familiar with the feeling! Tell us what led you to Bluelaces.
Allison: I stumbled across the posting on the Drama Therapy NYU listerve. I had just graduated; I was looking for work. Actually, a friend of mine sent me the posting and said it looked perfect for me and that I had to apply, and I was like “I already have an interview with them next week!”
When I decided to do drama therapy and not theatre, I cut out the actor side of me. I sort of rejected it because I didn’t enjoy my theatre experience. Everything I hated about theatre— the political-ness and bureaucratic stuff— I saw that wasn’t present in Bluelaces, since it’s really theatre that’s in service of others. It is creating art for the sake of creating art, for the service of others experiencing it in whatever way they’re comfortable. I think theatre should be accessible for everyone and that everyone should have a space in which to experience it. Also, you all came from Northwestern and my mom is from Evanston. I worked at the Urban Outfitters on the corner! [Laughs] Spent a lot of time there.
Anna: Oh, I'm very familiar; glad it could bring us together. So, what’s your role in “Out There!”?
Allison: It’s definitely the coolest job title I’ve ever had. Putting [Head Adventure Guide] on my LinkedIn was really awesome. To me, it’s been so great because, even though I have the role of Head Adventure Guide, it is such a collaboration and team effort; I don’t feel a sense of hierarchy. Everyone has something to contribute. Being an Adventure Guide gives me the opportunity to interact with theatre in a way that’s restorative to me. The Adventure Guides, to me, help the audience experience the show in the way that they want to experience it. I’m really just there as a gentle guide, as opposed to imposing anything on anybody. I’m a guide that’ll follow the impulses of the audience members so it’s a different show every time. And I’m sure with the audience members I’ll learn new things about the show that I haven’t seen before— which is really cool.
Anna: You totally will— and it is! Why do you think an Adventure Guide so important?
Allison: When they do productions of Broadway shows for people who are not neurotypical, the show doesn’t change much at all— the audiences changes. There are different expectations for the audience members, but there are still expectations for the audience members. With Bluelaces, it’s not about the show— it’s about the audience... This type of show is individual and tailored to every audience member. I think it’s important to have Adventure Guides to have a safe space and to create the type of experience that the audience wants to have. It’s kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure, but you have someone there with you... It’s like [they're] your partner, your team member. Having an experience with someone else is always more fun and enjoyable.
Anna: What have been the most rewarding— or surprising— parts of the process?
Allison: The coolest thing about the process is where we’re at now, where everything is coming to life. We’re seeing elements that were so small in rehearsal and are now a big part of the show; an idea that we’ve talked about, now we’re seeing it realized. When the designers came in to do their presentations, it was mind blowing. I’ve never done a true devised theatre piece before. It’s like, “Oh my gosh, there was no script. We had a title and a setting.” To see how far its come... It’s crazy! We all made something together, and everybody has their own bits in the show. For other people to come and get it— to say “Oh, Comet [the space dog] looks like this [or that]!”— it’s been surprising and astonishing and so cool... Comet used to be just a rubber ball with some ropes and scarfs attached to it!
Who should come to see “Out There!”?
I think everyone should come to see “Out There!” It's so genuinely fun. I’ve been in the process since the beginning and I never get sick of it. Every time we run the show, there's genuine joy every second… Space is so cool. It’s not for kids, it's not for adults; I think it's really something for everyone. The cast respects their characters. They’re not caricatures of anything or anybody— they’re on a journey through outer space.
Out There! runs Saturdays and Sundays May 21 through May 29 at University Settlement on NYC's Lower East Side. Visit www.bluelacestc.com/outthere for more information on the show and how to request tickets. Learn more about Hallways at www.hallways.org.