Play On

I am getting old, and my feet hurt.  This is a big problem because I like to run.  So I was very cranky the other day when I was taking off my Asics and putting on my swim cap.  As I hit the pool wall over and over again, the rhythm brought forth a sonnet I memorized as a child:

Since brass, nor stone, nor Earth, nor boundless sea
ShakespeareBut sad mortality o’ersways their power
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
Oh, how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wrackful siege of batt’ring days
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong but time decays?
O fearful meditation! Where, alack,
Shall time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty shall forbid?
O none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

Funny that Shakespeare inserted himself to drive home the fact of disintegration I was trying to work around. Maybe it’s because I just started working for Creative Arts Team this month, and my drama neurons are being reawakened. But why do I even have that poem in my memory banks in the first place?

My mom is a Shakespeare enthusiast, a cosmopolitan culture fiend, and generally a force to be reckoned with.  She carted all five of us to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a regular basis; she stuck Post-Its in French on kitchen table items (sucrier, pomme, saler); and she instituted an annual tradition of celebrating Shakespeare’s birthday.  On April 23, we would at the least memorize sonnets or soliloquies; at the most we’d produce full-on performances with one sibling playing her newest viola piece, another baking a cake, and another staging a skit using the dining room louvered doors as a “curtain” and the young ones as “actors.”  (As the smallest, I usually got to do the sound effects.)

Having art and culture at the center of my childhood gave me a broad life perspective. Making various kinds of art made me feel able to do things.  And living with art constantly proves to me the value of seemingly ephemeral things – poetry, music, drama; emotions, morals, spirit.  In the pool, my inner resources bubbled up to comfort me with beauty and resonance, and to ask: If 450-year-old Will can swim with you, is it really so tragic that you can’t run today? Are there other things you thought were not possible that in fact are?

My feet might forsake me but I still have Will – as an integral part of me.  My mother gave me a tremendous gift that feeds me no matter how much I earn, or how long my to-do list is, or what else is happening in my life.

I am thrilled to be part of a team that brings these questions and gifts to thousands of children and adults each year.  And I’m looking forward to stocking up on new resources this work will undoubtedly bring to me, too.

Chris TokarChris-Tokar
Director of
Resource Development

Editor’s note: We are very happy to welcome Chris to the team – her love for the Bard will come in handy during our annual NYC Student Shakespeare Festival!

The title of this post comes from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: “If music be the food of love, play on!”

It’s International Literacy Day!

Invitation-shel-silversteinKofi Annan wrote that “Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a… vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity… For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right…. Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.”

In honor of International Literacy Day, our team is recalling our favorite books from years past. Have a look at some of our favorites, and remember what books made an early impact on YOU!

Aabha-AdhiyaAabha, Development and Grants Manager
I don’t have a favorite book. Just childhood authors I read in the order of aging. Famous Five, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Agatha Christie, Perry Mason, Allister  Maclean, John Le Carre…argh, I am seeing a criminal pattern here!  

Chris, Director of Resource DevelopmentChris-Tokaar
Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander –The adventures of Taran and his companions gave me a wonderful world to live in, including enchanted harps and powerful swords, but also unlikely heroes who were willing to make sometimes painful sacrifices. 

David-MitnowskyDavid, Operations Manager
A Confederacy of Dunces
by John Kennedy Toole. I had never read a book whose main character fascinated and shocked me as much as Ignatius J. Reilly. The mishaps and adventures and sayings and beliefs of this man kept me captivated throughout this novel and I loved it.

Dianna-Garten-picDianna, Development Associate
My favorite book is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  It was one of the first books I read that, even though it was fiction, gave me new insight into the world while also raising so many questions. I have revisited it several times, and find that it still does that.  I find it truly timeless and potent.

Gwendolen-Hardwick-2Gwendolen, Artistic and Education Director
My favorite book of all time is The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.  The beauty of Morrison’s words that tell a painful, poignant story of growing up girl and Black is riveting and powerful!

Helen, Early Learning Program DirectorHWweb
I Married Adventure 
by Osa Johnson was probably the first “true travel” reading I did – 6th grade? 7th grade? It was in the house I was staying at in New Hampshire. It had a cool zebra patterned cloth binding! The author wrote about her worldwide adventures with her photographer husband. What wasn’t to love?

Joey-SchultzJoey, CAT Youth Theatre Associate Program Director
Strega Nona
by Tomie dePaola. I loved it because I love my Nana. Also, when my 1st grade teacher read it to us we got to eat spaghetti. I love pasta and I love to experience art through doing & interactive learning!

Katherine-Chua2Katherine, Adolescent Literacy Program Director
Charlotte’s Web
, by E. B. White (4th grade); Hook by Geary Gravel (7th Grade); Snow in August, by Pete Hamill (as an adult) – Because they all tickled and pushed my imagination. They are all delicious books.

Keith, College and Adult Program Director
Keith JohnstonMy favorite book as a child is the Five Chinese Brothers by Bishop and Wiese. It is a story about five identical quintuplets who lived with their mother. They all processed individual talents that saved the family from extinction. I first read it at 6 years old and cherished it until 6th grade. I did about four book reports on it during elementary school. I was a very shy child so I believe I identified with the theme of overcoming obstacles, recognizing your special gifts and using it to outwit the enemy anonymously to survive.  At 12 years old, I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley. This book changed my life by clarifying my confusion and frustration of being a black male in America in the early 70’s. It gave me a sense of identity, pride and understanding of where I sit in society and a lens to understand my father’s perspective. Between being a first generation Caribbean, the civil rights movement, the media and a bias education this book was necessary. For me it was the beginning of pouring out shame and living unapologetically in my skin. It was the perfect book to focus my adolescent stage and so I passed it on to my children’s JHS freshman reading list.

Lexy-NisticoLexy, Early Learning and After-School Projects Director
The book we love is Goodnight Goon: A Petrifying Parody, by Michael Rex. It’s a spin on Goodnight Moon.  It’s just crazy fun and weird, like [my daughter] Delilah.  Probably why she likes it so much, LOL!

Michael, MA in Applied Theatre, Assistant Director
Phantom Tollbooth
, by Norton Juster.  Love the adventure and the outrageous puns.

Nan, Development Associate
The Little Engine that Could
by Watty Piper, Illustrated by George and Doris Hauman, was my most memorable book as a child.  It is a story of true encouragement and determination, and the images of the Little Blue Engine struggling up the hill to bring fresh milk, green spinach, and red and white peppermint candies to the children on the other side of the mountain will always stay with me.

Nancy, Director of Finance and Administration
When I was in 5th grade, it was The Black Stallion by Walter Farley – because it kept my interest and filled my imagination.

Nassib, Finance ManagerNassib-Saad
I started studying English as a second language at the age 13. Ironically, my first story was The Frog Prince, by the Brothers Grimm, it was the only suitable story for my English level!

Nicole, Early Learning & After-School Program Assistant; MA in Applied Theatre Nicole-SeraStudent
My favorite was Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. I loved the imaginative and strange worlds created in this book. I memorized some of my favorite poems and would act them out for my friends. 

Rachel-CastilloRachel, Operations Director
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
, because I related to the story and it spoke to my roots in New York. For my son, we loved reading Where the Wild Things Are, which signaled a milestone for us because it was the first time HE started recalling story text.

Taahira, Health Educator
My favorite book was The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This book was my favorite because I loved the pictures and I was a greedy little one. Everything the caterpillar wanted to eat I wanted to have too after having this book read to me in Pre-K.

Tessa, Operations AssistantTessa-Pantuso
I am a child of the Harry Potter generation so that is my choice, Go Gryffindor! As to why- It was the first reading experience where I became completely engrossed in a world that existed strictly on paper. I am an avid reader today and that all began with Harry Potter. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the series: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

 

For me, as for several of us, it’s nearly impossible to choose – there were so many favorites over the years. Throughout a difficult childhood, books were my friends and my escape. I think, because of this, the most impactful ones for me were those that indulged the escapism, the otherness and the venture into different worlds. The Chronicles of Narnia were, of course, influential; I wrote Narnia-esque stories and looked for entry to another world in every cabinet that I encountered. Early on, I discovered the deeper, darker worlds created by the likes of Bradbury (I re-read Something Wicked This Way Comes nearly every year), King, Zelazny and Tolkien, and I still spend sleepless nights revisiting those (and other) magical realms. Programs like Reading Rainbow and movies like The Neverending Story fed that desire to climb right into stories, and, of course, the poetry of Dr. Seuss, Eugene Field, and Shel Silverstein have always tugged at my imagination, and my heart.

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child.
Listen to the DON’TS.
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS,
The IMPOSSIBLES, the WON’TS.
Listen to the NEVER HAVES,
Then listen close to me…
Anything can happen, child.
ANYTHING can be.  

- Shel Silverstein

Thank you for reading!

Krista FogleKrista-Fogle
Marketing & Program Coordinator

CAT & CUNY Service Corps: the Partnership Continues

Congratulations to CUNY Service Corps. This is their second year providing work opportunities and experience for CUNY students, and CAT‘s second year of participating in the CUNY Service Corps participant training week launch. Last year we presented an original three-person production on 7 campuses, using 21 actors and 5 directors to inspire students at the beginning of their Service Corps training.

Mfoniso Udofia

Mfoniso Udofia

This year, we have been contracted to write an original one-act play to celebrate and inspire the participants at the end of their training, which will be held at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center at BMCC on Sept 5th; and our very own Mfoniso Udofia has been commissioned to write it.

The play, entitled Global. Service. Alliance., tells the story of an elite group of students tasked with bettering their community. This elite group overcomes personal and team-related obstacles to provide dynamic community service and remind us all that being a superhero is as simple as being truly human.

Mfoniso is a brilliant playwright and I have the honor of directing this production, so I was able to cast some brilliant actors to bring it to life: Priscilla Flores, Temesgen Tocruray, Eric Aviles, Eboni Witcher, Lynda Defuria and Anthony Roman.

"Global.Superhero.Alliance." rehearsal

Global.Superhero.Alliance. rehearsal. L-R: Priscilla Flores, Eboni Witcher, Lynda Defuria, Eric Aviles, Temesgen Tocruray

TPAC is a beautiful theatre holding nearly 1,000 people.  We will be presenting the production in the midst of the CSC culminating program, so while we are not sure of the exact time we will go on, it will definitely be between 10am and 12pm that morning.

CAT had five wonderful CUNY Service Corps students in our office last year, working on everything from marketing to adolescent literacy to HIV prevention, and we are excited to welcome this year’s group.  Congratulations to CUNY Service Corps on the completion of their successful first year and the beginning of their second! We aim to bring the CAT fire once again. Rooaarrrr!!!

Keith JohnstonKeith Johnston
Program Director
College and Adult Program

Growing Up in CAT (Kat edition)

Youth Theatre era Kat

Youth Theatre era Kat

At 35 years old I have spent half of my life as a member of the CAT family. The beginnings of which started with my combat boots roaming the halls of CAT’s NYU corridors of an office in the East Village as a CAT Youth Theatre member. Three years later I found myself no longer a minor with a curiosity about the impact of CAT’s work beyond the walls of the Youth Theatre. With the unwavering guidance and enthusiasm of Helen White & Chris Vine as directors of the CAT Youth Theatre and mentors, I have had the privilege of working with over 20,000 young people, from the Bronx to Staten Island, as a teaching artist for CAT. For 11 years my feet traveled the veins of the City to work with young people, teachers, and administrators to share my passion for using theatre as a tool for social and academic learning.

Kat as Actor/Teacher

Kat as Actor/Teacher

It has been 4 years since I have regularly turned off a 5am alarm, to spend 2 hours commuting to the beautiful faces of the young people of New

York. I miss it terribly. However, I have continued my tenure at CAT as an Associate Program Director and now as a Program Director. Although my new role doesn’t have the daily immediate satisfaction of being in a classroom, it is an opportunity for me to work with other practitioners in building and expanding this work. It has been 15 years since my membership to the Youth Theatre and I still continue to draw upon the subtle and graceful intentionality of the Helen and Chris’s choices and actions in directing the Youth Theatre. Their teaching and training of other folks enveloped my learning for nearly 2 decades. Every aspect of my experience as a CAT Youth Theatre member

Kat as Associate Program Director

Kat as Associate Program Director

prepared me for my work as a teaching artist, activist, artist, friend, and human being. There is electricity in my spine that incites me to ask questions and to think critically*.

To add to a quote that has been traveling the depths of the internet that reads, “What if the cure for cancer is trapped inside the mind of someone who can’t afford an education?” Well, “what if theatre as a tool for learning is one of the keys to freeing that cure?”

*Critical thinking, in my case, was not a natural and instinctual action to take. I was raised to accept my circumstance, get by, and avoid eye-raising activity. Critical action is a privilege that individuals trying to survive on a daily basis do not have easy access to.

Katherine Chua Almirañez
Program Director
Adolescent Literacy Initiative

CTEA TAP’s 2nd Annual Success

CTEA-TAP1The High School for Construction, Trade, Engineering and Architecture (CTEA) in Ozone Park, Queens set the stage ablaze with their sophomore show, What Goes Up Must Come Down, on May 30, 2014. The show was a 45 minute piece entirely devised by the ensemble of fourteen high school students and directed by CAT’s own Keith Johnston. Brenda Glasse, the school’s College and Career Administrator is the Theater Arts Program (TAP) coordinator/advisor.

CTEA TAP Cast and Crew

2014 CTEA TAP Cast (with Brenda Glasse (CTEA) and Keith Johston (CAT) on the left)

The topics in What Goes Up spanned adolescence: love, body image, unhealthy substances, suicide, and a teen’s perspective on the world. The opening monologue, written by Allison, brilliantly foreshadowed the entire production as the ensemble brilliantly mimed all the parts of the whole. In the process, the audience of peers, school staff and family, got a glimpse of the teen “world,” “despair,” and “independence.” By the first humorous scene, the audience had already been chewing on some heavy themes. Over all, the play lived up to its title, bringing the audience to comedic heights while also sobering the room with introspective drama There were fifteen scenes in total, addressing everything from bulimia, alcoholism, mental illness and suicide to a commercial for “Zombie-Away” and a hilarious ‘be careful what you wish for’ scene; and, at the finale, the audience gave uproarious applause.

TAP 2013 Alumni

2013 CTEA TAP Alumni

The cast was a healthy mix of veterans from last year and this year’s newcomers, a host of freshman were also in tow and an even number of male and female students this year! At the curtain call, the support of several TAP alumni came on stage to applaud this year’s ensemble. Ms. Glasse then awarded each member with a What Goes Up t-shirt for a job well done. The evening was complimented with a large visual arts display presented in the lobby to accompany the show.

I was able to assist Keith with the show and, during the devising/rehearsal time, I saw these kids develop their voices and gain indestructible confidence. It was evident that the passion they displayed onstage will definitely transfer to whatever they do next. It reminded me how crucial these programs are to youth and community development.

CTEA TAP was created last year by Ms. Glasse and Mr. Johnston in and attempt to deepen the students’ artistic experience within their specialized program. For the past two years, HSCTEA has received arts programming support from the Matisse Foundation, under which the school has engaged CAT to facilitate the theatre component. (On a side note, at least one of last year’s TAP students is now a member of the CAT Youth Theatre!)

Here’s to another successful year!

Jerron-Herman-CAP

Jerron Herman
Administrative Assistant
Actor-Teacher Swing
College/Adult Program
CUNY Creative Arts Team

24 countries in one room

CAT & the Department of State International Visitor Leadership Program: Promoting Social Change Through the Arts

CAT & the Department of State International Visitor Leadership Program: Promoting Social Change Through the Arts

After being lost on the Avenue of the Americas (6th Ave.) for more than 20 minutes, 27 international artists and activists with a commitment to using art for social justice, walked into the Creative Arts Team with bright smiles and shining spirits. Some of the countries represented were South Africa, Nigeria, Cameroon, Mexico, China, Korea, Jordan, Poland, Latvia, India, Pakistan, Dili Timor Leste and the Philippines. To say the least, there was a whole lot of culture and flavor in the room. To say more…there was an amazing amount of experience, creative talent and social consciousness in one room.

A tableau depicting "Unity" resulted in a 24-Country group hug

A tableau depicting “Unity” resulted in a 24-Country group hug

I am so grateful to participate with such a diverse group of artists and activists. I learned that even though we come from diverse cultures and cultural experiences, we were in solidarity to combat oppression in all its many forms by using art and creating relationships with people in the local and greater communities.

We wasted no time. The first question asked of us to stimulate dialogue was: “if there were one problem you could fix in the world, what would it be?”  One person I spoke with said, “To unify North and South Korea.” Others included: “sexual slavery,” “greed,” “the on going war between Pakistan and India,” and from several pairs: “education.”  My personal response was genocide. The common theme between these answers is that, where people are purposefully separated from one another, for whatever reasons, there is violence. Here we were, complete strangers from different cultural backgrounds having dialogue about are passions and why we feel it necessary to fix theses atrocities through art and activism. We were already solving theses problems of separation and war by connecting with one another while discovering our commonalities and sharing our different cultural experiences.

This all happened within the first 15 minutes of our 3-hour session together.

Lively discussions about early learning, adolescent literacy, teen sexual health, and social issues for young adults

Lively discussions about early learning, adolescent literacy, teen sexual health, and social issues for young adults

You are going to have to imagine what happened for the rest of those three hours because I am about to end this blog entry. What I will tell you is… it was an amazing experience to create relationships and explore social issues through the process of participatory drama activities. I am so blessed to gain and hear critical perspectives from the most diverse cultural group I have ever been a part of, and excited for my next opportunity to be part of another diverse group. I invite you to join us and represent your country and cultural roots. Bless up-8+

Andre DimapilisAndre DiMapilis
Actor/Teacher
Early Learning Program
Adolescent Literacy Program
Graduate, CUNY SPS M.A. in Applied Theatre

Gratitude and Immersive Learning in Briarwood, Queens.

kmf221:

Sharing a post by CAT Youth Theatre & MA in Applied Theatre alum, Michael Gargan Curtin, who has been working as an actor/teacher with CAT on and off for years – this time, as an elf. :-)

Originally posted on Culture Faerie:

ThankYouCard.BryarwoodShamilia McBean and I closed out our 12-week drama residency with first and second graders in Briarwood, Queens the Friday before last. The residency confirmed for me the effectiveness of using drama as a means of learning. Sham and I were there as Teaching Artists for the Creative Arts Team to support literacy using drama and role-play. Many times throughout the residency, the students, in role, were motivated by the story (which they drive forward) to use their reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills, as well as provide important critique.

For the final session, we were joined by parents and siblings of the students to celebrate and to bring the story in the drama to a close. By now the students were well accustomed to stepping into their alternate personas as Fix-it Elves and traveling to the Land of Letters, and they were happy to show off their imaginary outfits…

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