• Katie Jenaway

Getting to Know our New Program Director, Karin Potter-Simmons

Over the summer, The Unscripted Project hired our first full-time employee, our new Program Director, Karin Potter-Simmons (she/her). Our blog manager, Katie Jenaway (she/they), sat down with Karin to talk about what she is looking forward to in her new role as we begin our second year of programming at Unscripted.


Katie: How did you first find out about Unscripted?

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Karin: Let’s go back a little bit to make it all make sense. My daughters have always been very involved in dance and their dance studio, and it was amazing to see how music and dance and rhythm and just being a part of the arts was so freeing and such an opportunity for them to escape all of the madness. So, for me, I was like, man, I can’t dance. I don’t have rhythm. That’s not my lane, but I would love to be able to figure out how I can step into the arts and do my part to help students find a better space, to be and feel better.


So, I started doing research, and when I came across Unscripted, I was really fascinated by the intersection of improv and how it helps to develop life skills.


Katie: So, you were really inspired by looking at your daughters and seeing how being involved in the arts affected their emotional and social well-being.


Karin: Absolutely, and not even just them. The dance studio they belong to services a lot of underprivileged families and we faced the challenge of how the students could continue to dance in the pandemic.


I took a poll of the girls and asked them to pick their two favorite colors, and went to Lowe’s, grabbed a bunch of PVC pipes and a pipe cutter and designed all these ballet bars in the girls’ favorite colors, so they could keep dancing. It’s hard, you know, everyone transitioned back home because of COVID and for ballet and pointe, you can hold onto a chair or a counter, but you don’t have that dance atmosphere at home. So you know what, it'll only cost me a couple bucks but it’ll bring a bunch of smiles to all of the girls. My daughters helped me spray paint, and now the porch is kinda crazy looking but it was for a good cause. When I brought the bars to students’ homes, I saw how it touched everybody, and how powerful the arts could be.


My background is mostly in social work and education, and so Unscripted is like the mish mosh of everything that I love: supporting young people, affecting positive social change, all under the education umbrella.

Katie: Were you involved in the arts at all before your girls were involved in dance, or before the pandemic?


Karin: My girls have been in dance for about seven years now. A little bit before the pandemic, I decided that I wanted to take a more active role in the dance studio, so I became one of the board members. That gave me an opportunity to learn the nuts and bolts of it all and assist anywhere I could, whether it be fundraising or grant writing.

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We had to come up with proposals for different things, so it was cool to part of the behind the scenes work. That was my involvement with the arts for the most part, just behind the scenes and thinking, what can be my role in making sure this program is sustainable and eventually make it through the pandemic?


My background is mostly in social work and education, and so Unscripted is like the mish mosh of everything that I love: supporting young people, affecting positive social change, all under the education umbrella.


Katie: Was there anything else, in particular, that you saw in Unscripted that supports your goals and the change you want to see?


Oftentimes, students have services that are okay for that moment, but they’re not being equipped with the tools that they need to be successful, or solve problems, on their own. If you don’t have those skills, like adapting to uncertainty, then you kind of find yourself in this cycle of endless need.

Karin: Absolutely, it was the life skills piece. You know, you can have an arts program. The arts are absolutely important, but the life skills piece and understanding how important it is to prepare students and young people for the world is what did it for me, especially because of my social work background. Oftentimes, you run into these situations where students have services that are put in place that are okay for that moment, but they’re not being equipped with the tools that they need to be successful, or solve problems, on their own. If you don’t have those skills, like adapting to uncertainty, then you kind of find yourself in this cycle of endless need. What was amazing to me about Unscripted was that life skills piece and being able to help these students develop these skills at a young age, so that they will become parents at one point and have those skills and instill those skills in their kids and begin to end the cycle.


Katie: Has there been anything that has surprised you thus far in your role?



Karin: Improv, in itself, has surprised me, because I hadn’t had any experience in improv at all, but to see it all come together and have the life skills piece in the back of my head was just amazing to see. We had the teaching artists’ training a couple weeks ago, and I was able to do improv in person. Prior to that, I had done a class with ComedySportz on Zoom, but to be able to do it in person and feel each other’s energy in a space where you could create something out of nothing was so amazing. I was surprised by how much it touched me.


I was surprised by how much [improv] touched me.

Katie: Is there anything in your past experience that you feel has really prepared you best for this new role?


I did social work in schools. I helped to develop nonprofit organizations that are youth-focused, and then, I was in a school district role where I supported principals in strategic planning and comprehensive planning

Karin: I think a lot of my experiences have prepared me well for this role. I did social work in schools. I helped to develop nonprofit organizations that are youth-focused, and then, I was in a school district role where I supported principals in strategic planning and comprehensive planning and budgets and things like that. I’m excited to tap into all those resources that I have and do my part.


Having the trauma-informed piece is especially important with students now transitioning back into in person. There are a lot of obstacles that they face at home that sometimes you can escape when you’re at school, so when you’re at home 24/7, you can’t escape. So being able to recognize those cues and understand that a student’s irritation may be due to something as simple as the fact that they didn’t have breakfast is important.


Katie: Is there anything you’re most looking forward to in this new role? Do you have any personal goals?


Karin: I’m excited to just get in there. I’m excited to be able to see how the students react to improv in person and see if they had that same instant connection that I had. Just being able to take on a bigger leadership role and be involved firsthand and see how my support can help students.


Katie: What made you want to apply to the Program Director role?


Karin: To be a part of something new and to be able to say that I helped build this foundation. To say that I was a part of this team. It makes me want to fast-forward five years from now and say we did this. I love to be a part of new projects, where you can put your foot in and your blood, sweat, and tears can be recognized. Sometimes, when you get into older, or more developed nonprofits, things are set in their ways, but that isn’t the case when you have something that’s new and fresh. Meera and Philip are just amazing. To have this idea and see it through, especially during a pandemic, is wow, amazing. The passion and love that you have - I just want to be a part of that team.