In 2012, I was hired as the new Director of FACES, Maimonides Medical Center’s teen health educational company in Borough Park, Brooklyn. I left Interfaith Medical Center after nearly 8 years for the opportunity to more fully integrate my clinical skills with pedagogy, artistic expression, and civic activism. Together with a diverse cast of teenagers, two drama therapy interns, and a small staff, we devised original performances relevant to their lives and those of our audiences.
Created by a social worker named Susan Montez over thirty years ago, FACES was turned over to me in need of modernization. Teens were performing scenes written in the 1980s, the presentation format was too passive for my taste, PR materials were outdated, and there was no website to speak of. Too few people knew that Zoe Saldana began her career as a FACES teenager.
If all this wasn’t enough, the community has been fracturing over the years; petty disagreements and miscommunications led to participants feeling ostracized and alienated from members who had since moved on.
Needless to say, I pounced on all of the above with fervor. I reconnected with FACES’ lapsed membership, facilitated teambuilding experiences, and created the program’s first website. My supervisor, Dr. Alan Hilfer, charged me with presenting a show to the Maimonides Child and Adolescent Outpatient Services summer camp program within my first month. I focused on finding ways to include the audience into our scenes, sometimes directly, and other times obliquely; I consistently asked the young performers, “How can we enrole the audience in this scene?” The technique not only garnered powerful responses and participation from the spectators, but it also aided the performers in finding organic ways to connect with the audience, aesthetically, vocally and visually. I also began mentoring the teens in rewriting old scenes and generating new plays to reflect their perspectives.
Meanwhile, during my first day on the job, the Grants Officer broke this news: FACES had lost its federal and state funding due to drastic Medicaid reforms. I was devastated. My staff, interns, and I soldiered on until the closure. My focus expanded to include devising ways to create a healthy, meaningful closure of the program. We invited members from the past 30 years to reunite, say goodbye to Susan, the space, and share memories. The finishing touch was creating a puzzle of the FACES logo. On our way out, we each took a piece to represent the dismantling, but also the missing pieces we each held always connecting us.
Despite the untimely demise of FACES, I am so grateful to have met and worked with the inspiring teens and decades of members. The experience also woke me up to the harsh realities of non-profit theatre organizations, especially within the medical arena, and our country’s growing trend towards undervaluing mental heath and community service.