Document Type

Campus-Only Access for Five (5) Years

Publication Date



This study focuses on the members of First Generation, a multiethnic and multinational theatre-based youth-leadership program spearheaded by the organization, The Performance Project, located in Springfield, Massachusetts. According to The Performance Project, First Gen uses theatre to create art that “engages the public in dialog about critical social and cultural issues” ( Throughout the study, I refer to First Generation as “First Gen” as it is commonly referred to as by its members and affiliates. Members include people between the ages of 15-22 who are largely people of color, including African American, Puerto Rican, Haitian, Nepali, and many African countries. There has been at least one group member who identifies as Caucasian since the group was founded in 2008. The Performance Project describes itself as an “inter-generational, inter-cultural mentoring community” ( It describes what it means to be “first generation” in the context of this program, to include, but not be limited to, the following:

  • The first to grow up in the United States
  • The first to graduate from high school
  • The first to go to college
  • The first to speak English as a first language
  • The first to be incarcerated
  • The first to NOT be incarcerated
  • The first to be drug-free
  • The first to be openly LGBTQ
  • The first to question your faith
  • The first to choose a different faith
  • The first to break the silence
  • The first to be an artist

The research examines the relationship between participating in First Generation and members’ self-efficacy, self-esteem and self-identity. I examined what it means to participants to be part of this group, while also asking them what they care about in general in order to gain context for the study and a better understanding of their lives. Other questions guiding my inquiry include: How do participants feel their involvement may impact them academically and in terms of goals? What is its impact on participants’ families and others in their communities? How do they perceive of how others identify them before and after their involvement? How does their participation shape their relationships with others, or does it?

Using a phenomenological approach, I conducted eight open-ended interviews—six with First Generation members, one with a previous intern, and one with the director of The Performance Project and First Generation. I observed First Gen workshops and other events, and reviewed videos and documents provided by the organization, as well as the website and Facebook pages. The theoretical framework to which I analyze the research findings begins with John Dewey’s pragmatist and constructivist views about education and his concepts about the arts. It follows with a review of other ideas and programs related to arts-based learning and concludes by looking at Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed.

During the course of this study, the youth expressed having gained self-confidence, language skills, a sense of voice, artistic skills, communication and collaboration skills, a better understanding of people of other ethnic groups and nationalities, and above all, a sense of community in a safe space. They also expressed frustrations regarding aspects of the program and events. My observations, review of program documents and website, and interviews with the two participants of the study who are not First Gen members offered further perspectives on the program and its impact on the youth. I recognize positive outcomes associated with participating in this program, while also acknowledging what I perceive to be some concerns. The study concludes by offering suggestions and raising questions as to how this program and other similar youth-leadership programs and/or school programs could be most beneficial to participants, particularly those that serve multicultural groups and/or groups perceived to be oppressed, as this program does.