For the young people that Maisha Azadi works with, empowerment begins with the phrase “lights, camera, action.” As founder and director of the Urban Actors Academy, Azadi has created an educational training model that allows aspiring actors from New York City public schools to produce their own socially responsible Web content. Most recently the Academy produced its second full-length Web series, “Life Unscripted,” an authentic look at inner-city teens’ issues.
The program benefits from Azadi’s nine years of experience within the arts community, including acting, general management, publicity and creative development. Azadi has collaborated with various organizations such as Sing for Hope, HAI, HBO, The NAACP and the National Black Theatre.
Rolling out went behind the scenes with Azadi to learn more about how she manages to keep the youth engaged, how she measures success, and her personal evolution.
One of the challenges of working with youngsters is retention and keeping them engaged when there are so many distractions in the world. How do you address this issue?
We use the end product of creating a video as an engagement tool. I’ve found that when you give someone the opportunity to speak and empower them to shape something, then there is a personal investment that comes out of that. Our kids need to have more of those types of experiences.
Not all of the young people you work with will go into the arts. So how do you measure the success of your program?
I measure success by the number of students who come back and tell me that this experience has offered them a different perspective on life. I see children growing in confidence. I had one student who was nominated for an Emmy Award for her work on another project. So success is seeing people happy and still going out on the ledge and believing in themselves.
How has doing this work helped you evolve as a person and professional?
I’ve grown from being around the students and developing my skills as a creator. I am able to pick up authentic dialogue and put that into the show. Before I looked at myself as just a stage actor. But after not getting as many jobs as I wanted to get, I created this avenue that has helped me evolve into a storyteller and producer.
Click here to check out “Life Unscripted” behind the scenes.