Creative Alternatives of
About CANY: The 39-year-old nonprofit provides drama therapy sessions for both adult- and youth-serving agencies, including shelters, residential facilities and alternative schools for adjudicated youth. For organizations interested in longer-term drama therapy, Creative Alternatives of New York (CANY) will also train staff members.
Her Job: Dean holds a degree from New York University’s department of music and performing arts professions. She interned for CANY as part of her studies, then joined the staff permanently.
Her job encompasses three areas of responsibilities: make sure the office runs smoothly (handling payroll, invoicing and vendor relationships), roll out CANY’s new marketing campaign, and conduct drama therapy programs (usually three days a week).
Best Part of the Job: “I just love the staff here. I love working in this office. It’s a family, committed to growth and honesty and movement. It’s a hot, passionate place to be.”
Worst Part of the Job: The nature of CANY’s clients usually means that Dean and other drama therapists are not involved with youths on a long-term basis. “I have a tendency to be overly sensitive,” Dean said. “I see these kids and wonder what happens to them. I come in for an hour, hour and a half; I don’t get to keep track of them day-to-day. You meet, you connect, then you say goodbye. For me, that can be hard.”
Memorable Moment: Dean recounted two. She and a group of teens with Asperger’s Disorder created a metaphorical community one day. “Each created a role to play in the community – from a student, to Zeus, to a wealthy benefactor. Each character contributed to the festival in a special way – from performing, to donating funds, to ensuring the safety of all. It was exciting, hilarious and, most of all, a deeply touching moment.”
The other happened at the CANY office. “One of my job duties is to complete payroll for each employee. I was trained briefly but was very nervous about completing this task by myself the first day. Our program manager, Heidi, was aware of how nervous I was. The morning of my first payroll day, she brought me a glittery princess crown to wear as I did the job – a Payroll Crown, which I wore (and continue to wear) with pride! It’s a great example of the supportive, familial, behind-the-scenes atmosphere at CANY.”
Intern to Boss: Awkward? “A little bit. Now I shoot people e-mails like, ‘This needs to be done,’ where I would never do that as an intern. Despite that feeling awkward for me, other people have been really supportive.”
Handling the Drama: The nature of the program prompts some youths to act out. “Emily Nash [the artistic director] is our guru on training staff to handle that. It’s about meeting the aggression. If a kid says, ‘I don’t want to be here!’ we say, ‘Really? You don’t? That’s a bummer. It stinks to do something you don’t want to.
“That’s a surprise for kids. They’re used to a punitive way. We give reverence to ‘not wanting to be somewhere’ being a real and valid feeling.”
Tense Situations: In the Asperger’s group, “they’ll get up and want to throw chairs at each other. Without a lot of experience, I get nervous for the kids and myself. But for all our groups I have a co-facilitator. And lots of the places we go to will have staff in the room with us.”