Meet RESPECT Actor-Educator Aiden Poling

What is your favorite role that you play?
At the moment, I’m really enjoying getting to play TJ in CHOICES! I’ve just recently been added into rehearsals for that show. The subject matter can get a little heavy, but I love getting to explore the same character through several different situations. Since the format of that particular show is curated to the specific topics schools wish for us to cover, it means TJ’s journey constantly changes and can be unique every time we perform. As an actor, it keeps the material fresh and new so that I can make new discoveries about TJ every time!

What is the best part of performing RESPECT shows in front of large audiences?
The energy! In general, there is no greater feeling than performing for a huge crowd! But when it comes to RESPECT shows, 99% of those audiences are students. I think a lot of adults (especially those in education) would agree that sometimes it is difficult to maintain the attention of a big group of kids for long periods of time. So, when we perform and let the students come up and role play with us— and when we can tell those kids are really locked-in and engaging in the material—there is a major sense of success and pride in the work we do.

What is the best part of running small RESPECT workshops?
My favorite part of smaller workshops is that you have more of a chance to form connections with the students. In larger workshops, there are always the kids who are eager to participate and be in the spotlight, but the shyer ones tend to take a backseat. I definitely resonate with those quieter kids because that’s how I was at their age. Those kids tend to be a little more comfortable and vocal about their ideas in those smaller settings. And they get this moment of “Wow, I can make great contributions to this conversation, too!” because they feel like they have permission to be present and take up space. You find that the students really learn a lot about each other in those groups, as well.

What is something that you’ve learned by being part of RESPECT?
I was a theatre and acting teacher (both in public schools and private coaching) for about 4 years back in my home state of Louisiana. I stepped back from the education field right after the peak of COVID— and in my last year a lot of the teaching I was doing was either virtual or had many physical limitations. My partner and I moved to Omaha back in July, which is also when I joined the team at RESPECT, so this has been my first time back in schools since then. It has really opened my eyes about how absolutely necessary the work we do is. I knew in the back of my mind that COVID really did a number on the social and emotional development of these kids— on all of us, honestly— but now I am seeing it all first-hand. It is so rewarding to be part of that learning process for them through doing what I love—performing.