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This is Capitalism: Up Close, Inspired, Explained

Sep 29, 2022

 Like a lot of aspiring actors, Gabrielle Kurlander came to New York City at 18 with stars in her eyes and a dream of making it big. It turns out, there were stars in her future and she did make it big, though her dream got a rewrite along the way. She’s still active in theater but the best part she’s ever played is as President and CEO of The All Stars Project. The non-profit teaches young people from disadvantaged backgrounds how to use the power of performance to help them navigate new experiences, such as summer internships or interacting with a group of people they’re completely unfamiliar with. Gabrielle joins us on This Is Capitalism to talk about The All Stars Project, why she’s a big believer in non-government-funded programs, and the true meaning of philanthropy.


Listen in to learn about the partnership between corporations, donors, and teenagers working toward a path for growth.

Key Takeaways:

[:21] Patricia O’Connell introduces Gabrielle Kurlander, CEO of The All Stars Project, and welcomes her to This is Capitalism.

[1:23] The All Stars Project is a national non-profit for youth development, using a performance approach on stage and in life, to help young people growing up in places of poverty, go on and pursue their hopes and dreams, learn more about the world, and create a place for themselves in it.

[1:59] Performance gives you a way to create new versions of yourself. Young people who are growing up without a lot of opportunity, and without much experience of things outside of their neighborhoods need a tool or mechanism to build confidence and get over obstacles. Performance helps to do that.

[2:42] Gabrielle uses the example of applying for an internship. Use performance to practice how you meet the interviewer and behave in the interview. In performance, you can make mistakes. There’s no right or wrong. It helps free people up. In The All Stars Project, young people are directed in creating new performances to recreate their lives.

[3:28] The All Stars Project uses old-fashioned grassroots outreach to bring young people in. They walk through their neighborhoods, even the most violent neighborhoods, and talk to young people. They bring other young people to the neighborhood to create a performance there.

[3:57] Young people can join The All Stars Project, regardless of their grades or how they are doing. If they are looking to grow as leaders and experience new opportunities, they can come in and The All Stars Project will use performance to help them to grow.

[4:15] The All Stars Project specializes in upper teenagers, 16 to 21, and even into their early 20s. There are some opportunities for people after graduating from college. There are performance programs for kids in middle school and grade school.

[5:03] Gabrielle shares her experience growing up. Performance helped her be a successful and confident person. She moved to NYC to pursue acting when she was 18. She met The All Stars Project as a grassroots project with no funding and she became the founding CEO. Being a performer helped Gabrielle do new things.

[6:12] The All Stars Project is 100% privately-funded. Gabrielle had never asked people for $50K or $10K. She used her performance background to invite people to donate. The same performance skills help the youth. The All Stars Project is a partnership between caring, affluent adults and young people from underserved communities.

[7:02] It’s about doing. With performance, you can start right now. Performance gives you the freedom to act as you will. You can take everything that you are and also try some new things. Performance is a freeing mechanism.

[8:03] Gabrielle tells how she created her approach to potential donors. Being a CEO in her 20s was intimidating to her. Performance helped Gabrielle create a version of who she wanted to be as a CEO that was true to herself.

[8:54] The All Stars Project does the same thing for young people. It’s an important key to issues of diversity and belonging. Performance gives a person a version of themselves that they choose to be, a new creation of their own making.

[9:43] Performance enables, empowers, and encourages young people to write their own scripts. Young people growing up in a place of poverty get messages that work against their success. They are taught in their neighborhoods they have to be perfect to succeed. But perfection is the enemy of growth.

[10:46] Gabrielle shares a success story of a young woman raised in poverty and violence. The young woman came into the intern program at a partnering corporation. Gabrielle says the corporate professionals also receive performance training.

[11:41] Thousands of individuals donate to The All Stars Project. Philanthropy is exerting yourself on behalf of your fellow man. If you would like to be involved, start at and select an opportunity to volunteer. You can bring The All Stars Project into your corporation, You can become a development coach.

[12:56] The All Stars Project has offices in Dallas, Chicago, New York, and Newark, New Jersey, with virtual programs in more than 20 states. They have another program called Operation Conversation. Small groups of diverse individuals use performance in a series of exercises to connect with and learn about each other.

[14:16] Virtual programs have been amazingly effective. The All Stars Project is about relationships and connecting different kinds of people — wealthy people and people growing up in poverty, people of different ethnicities, preferences, ages, political beliefs, and ideologies. They build community with diverse people.

[14:52] They found that virtually they could create contexts where there was a lot of intimacy and new kinds of discoveries being made.

[15:19] The more people you want to reach, the more funding you need. The All Stars Project has big corporate partners, community college networks in Dallas, and police, in Operation Conversation Cops and Kids in New York City and Newark, New Jersey.

[19:55] The All Stars Project is looking to partner with bigger institutions to scale and impact in new ways.

[20:17] Gabrielle reflects on the career she has made and the stage career she dreamed of as a child. While working with The All Stars Project, she continues in theater and is about to start in her 40th production.

[21:01] Gabrielle talks about the benefits that have come through our capitalism in science and medicine. But in the poor areas of our country, we haven’t made as much progress as we need. Poverty is just not economic but also social.
[21:34] Dr. Raj Chetty at Harvard conducted research that found that people with lower incomes were more likely to improve their financial situation over time if they were connected to people with higher incomes. The All Stars Project creates those relationships to expand the opportunities and growth for everybody involved.

[22:46] A poor person needs to see the opportunity and then needs to be surrounded by people who support them in various ways so they can get on the path and pursue their dreams. Gabrielle also says we can all volunteer and we should volunteer about things we feel passionate about.

[23:50] Gabrielle’s last thoughts for listeners: We need to not only drive things through data, economics, success, and money, we need to look at people’s hearts and minds. Data and money can do a lot, but we need creativity, human relationships, and new opportunities for people. Find something you’re passionate about and go do it!

[24:41] Patricia thanks Gabrielle Kurlander for joining us today on This Is Capitalism.


Mentioned in This Episode:

This is Capitalism

Gabrielle Kurlander on LinkedIn

The All Stars Project

Operation Conversation

Antoine Joyce

Raj Chetty