The Impact of Project CHANGE

In September 2015, I began working with the Creative Arts Team (Project CHANGE) and it has truly had a life-changing impact on me. At first I was not entirely sure about what the program would entail, but after doing research, I was eager to work with the other Agents to teach adolescences about sexual health. Project CHANGE is such an outstanding program that has a great impact on the lives of many, by using a more creative approach to educate and grasp the attention of adolescents in current issues pertaining to sexual health.

Over the course of the year, I noticed various changes which have improved my personal and academic skills. Project CHANGE has allowed me to better mold my time management skills. At first I wasn’t sure if I would be able to handle working at my full potential. Once I found a balance, where I was able to successfully plan and execute dates and events prior, I realized it was smooth sailing. I am now more efficient in balancing my academic and social life, while being able to successfully meet my responsibilities. Before working at Project CHANGE, I found it difficult at times to balance school, work, sports, and my social life; but now I am able to find a balance where I manage to complete various tasks that are required and not feel overwhelmed.

PC-Chloe

Chloe, circled, with Project CHANGE Agents and Staff

Project CHANGE is a family. I was welcomed with opened arms and included in all aspects. We have all grown together as a unit to make this project impactful. Each Agent supports one another and gives great reviews and advice on how we can all achieve our goals.  Project CHANGE has been a great support system, where everyone looks out for one another. We have supported each other in various plays, readings, and remarkable events. I did not know I would be entering into a caring, loving family that cares of the well being of each individual. When you are feeling overwhelmed or discouraged, you can confide in anyone there. Project CHANGE is a safe haven for the Agents.

While working with the Project CHANGE I am able to take the skills I have gained and use them even outside of Project CHANGE. One skill I have acquired is proper facilitation, which is beneficial when working with children. Outside of Project CHANGE I direct a drum corps, and the facilitation skills have allowed me to better teach my drum line. I noticed that I am better able to express various routines, and styles of playing, and that my students have a better grasp of what I explaining. Being at Project CHANGE allows me to not only be a better educator, but to place myself in the mindset of a student so I am able to give specific and clear instructions that everyone understands.

Not only has Project CHANGE educated me, it has encouraged me to educate my family and friends on their sexual health. I found myself being in school and stating statistics and important need-to-know tips on STDs, STIs and HIV/AIDS. I would then have my peers asking me questions and I was properly educated and able to answer. I’m able to derive the truth from a myth. Project CHANGE has given me knowledge that I believe all youths should be informed about, and it was a great pleasure to be able to share the knowledge.

Project CHANGE has allowed me to find a balance where I am able to complete various task without feeling overwhelmed. I am better at explaining various task and assignments. Project CHANGE has truly left an impact on my academic and social life that I will continue to carry with me. I am able to plan out a week or weeks of events in advance, and manage to balance classes, work, and everything else in between. As my Project Director Carmen Kelly would tell her agents, you have to find that balance. It isn’t easy and may be one of the most challenging aspect of college, but after being at Project CHANGE, it is a lot easier to find.

Chloe with CAT Executive Director, Lynda Zimmerman (left), and Project CHANGE Director, Carmen Kelly (right)

Chloe with CAT Executive Director, Lynda Zimmerman (left), and Project CHANGE Director, Carmen Kelly (right), at the CUNY Service Corps culminating event

Chloe Thomas-Bedeau
CUNY Service Corps Member
Assigned to CUNY/CAT: Project CHANGE

Showing, Telling, and Interacting: Presenting Theatre-In-Education… Theatrically

Claro & Mfoniso at TIOS  Photographer: Sobha Kavanakudiyil

Claro & Mfoniso at TIOS
Photographer: Sobha Kavanakudiyil

Marrying content (the subject of inquiry) and form (the artistic discipline) remains a central value in my endeavors as a theatre/film artist, educator, and cultural worker. This value solidified for me as a graduate student in the M.A. in Applied Theatre Program at CUNY SPS, and special credit goes to my applied theatre mentors: Chris Vine and Helen White, who offered a deep and practical study of what marrying form and content may look and feel like in practice. Moreover, as I continue to move forward in my work, I often return to the following quote by theatre scholar Anthony Jackson: “theatre that aims to educate or influence can truly do so only if it values entertainment, the artistry and craftsmanship that are associated with resonant, powerful theatre, and the aesthetic qualities that – by definition – will appeal our senses”. This quote, found in Jackson’s book Theatre, Education and the Making of Meanings Art or Instrument?, reminds me to never lose sight of the theatre form when sharing and implementing the work. It reminds me that the effectiveness of any artistic experience, regardless of the end goal, is directly related to the integrity with which one approaches the artistic form. In other words, it reminds me to wholly embrace the “theatre” aspect of the term theatre-in-education.

Mfoniso Udofia

Mfoniso Udofia

This past March, my co-facilitator Mfoniso Udofia and I had the honor of representing CUNY-CAT at the AATE New York Theatre in Our Schools (TIOS) Conference 2015 hosted by New York University. We presented a session outlining the Bronx History through Theatre: Resistance and Renaissance (BHTRR) curriculum which we created under the direction and guidance of CUNY-CAT‘s Artistic & Education Director, Gwendolen Hardwick. I spearheaded the TIOS application a few months prior because I felt immensely proud of the work we did on the BHTRR curriculum; I wanted more people to experience the work. BHTRR continues to be particularly significant for me because it was built on a collective passion to creatively, and theatrically, bring local history and culture into high school classrooms. BHTRR was intended to not only support the learning goals of the 10th grade English classes we serve in the Bronx, but also to integrate content that is more reflective of the culture and history of the students we serve.

Claro & Mfoniso at TIOS  Photographer: Sobha Kavanakudiyil

Claro & Mfoniso at TIOS, Photographer: Sobha Kavanakudiyil

Our session at TIOS, “Cultural Relevance in the Classroom: Integrating Local History (Social Movements and Hip Hop) through Theatre in the Bronx,” offered attendees a practical investigation of key selections of our curriculum. In attendance were students, educators, and others members of the broader theatre-in-education community. Aligned with the concept of marrying form and content, Mfoniso and I facilitated and performed samples of our curriculum, which engaged our attendees in various capacities. We asked our attendees to not only assume the roles of observers and peers, but also, at times, as student participants. We felt it was important for our attendees to have a “lived-through” experience because it would be the most effective method of clearly explaining BHTRR.

Claro & Mfoniso at TIOS  Photographer: Sobha Kavanakudiyil

Claro & Mfoniso at TIOS
Photographer: Sobha Kavanakudiyil

We closed our session with a short, insightful Q&A with our attendees. An educator from NYU seemed quite appreciative of the commitment that Mfoniso and I brought to the work as both facilitators and as performers. Another attendee, a public school teacher, shared how she was able to identify a good number of learning standards in our work and seemed quite interested in seeing history and theatre used in that fashion. Perhaps even more compelling was something that happened a few weeks later, at the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable’s Face to Face Conference. A graduate student stopped me in the hall, introduced himself and said he’d attended my workshop at the TIOS conference. He said: “thank you for that work. I’ve never really seen anything like that. You all were really performing.” I was very thankful for such positive feedback. Hearing his words reminded me how marrying form and content became, and continues to be, a central value to my practice; his words also reminded of the power of theatre and its ability to leave a mark on the memory of audiences and participants. As I continue to reflect and refine my practice, these reminders help support my view that the aesthetics of theatre is directly related to its effectiveness as a learning tool. I therefore continue to strive to create the kind of theatre experience that doesn’t compromise the aesthetics of the theatre discipline. I strive to make the type of theatre that is wrestled with and crafted, and I strive to do so no matter what circumstances I am working with.

Claro de los Reyes

Claro de los Reyes
Actor/Teacher
High School Program

Editor’s note: CAT heard from one of the TIOS staffers that Claro & Mfoniso’s session reminded her of how powerful and effective it is to have a team of two teaching artists in the classroom, rather than one, which has been a long-standing CAT practice. Congratulations to the team for making an impact on conference attendees and organizers alike!

Discovering My Purpose and Passion… via CAT

Before the Parent Program, LCP was in the Early Learning Through the Arts Program (1994)

LCP in the Early Learning Through the Arts Program (1994)

It was 1992 when I received the invitation from the esteemed Creative Arts Team to become a full time Actor/Teacher. Little did I know how taking on this role would change my life. Like many actor/teachers at CAT, I was a theatre artist working towards that “big break” but needed to pay rent in the meantime. CAT opened up a new world for me, by showing me how drama can be used as an educational tool to explore social issues and enhance critical thinking. I became a sponge and wanted to learn everything I could about educational theatre. My purpose and passion for learning and teaching continued to grow as I watched the power of this work manifesting in classrooms all over the city and witnessed incredible “light bulb” moments and awareness from the young people involved.

CAT's Parent Program, with Keith Johnston (Director of the now-titled College & Adult Program)  on the left

CAT’s Parent Program, 2004

I had the privilege of working in many of the programs at CAT, while spending the majority of my time as the Director of the Parent Program. What I loved about CAT is that I never felt stagnant. CAT provided an environment that continued to push me out of my comfort zone. There was always space to grow and new opportunities to grasp. In addition to starting and building the Parent Program, I, along with other colleagues, participated in the Seeds of Peace program—working with groups in conflict—and I later became the Coexistence Director. I was also honored to be a part of a delegation to South Africa, using educational theatre to deal with issues around HIV and AIDS. These are just a few highlights that only scratch the surface of the boundless opportunities that I experienced with CAT.

Article about CAT's work in South Africa; The Natal Witness, 2000

Article about CAT’s work in South Africa; The Natal Witness, 2000

In 2005, after thirteen wonderful years at CAT, I decided to spread my wings and open a new chapter in my career. I transferred my skills into the corporate arena, and I am now at the top of my game, working as a corporate trainer. I attribute so much of my success to the richness of the training and experiences I received at CAT. Those years are simply unforgettable, as it was a time of accelerated learning and growth. However, what I remember and miss the most are the people. I had the privilege to work with some of the most talented, creative and passionate people ever. I am eternally grateful to everyone at CAT who generously shared their knowledge, talents and passion with me. I would love to list everyone, but I don’t want to miss anyone.

1998 CAT Staff Photo (LCP is circled)

1998 CAT Staff Photo (LCP is circled)

Linda & Lynda

Linda & Lynda

However I must acknowledge and thank Lynda Zimmerman, aka “Mama CAT,” for giving birth to this extraordinary organization.  An organization that continues to create a nurturing environment for artists to grow and be given a platform to impact change in the lives of many. Because of your vision, and because my skills are rooted in the strong foundation of CAT, my journey continues to expand. It is through the Creative Arts Team that I have discovered my purpose and passion to teach and have an impact on the lives of others. CAT will always have an indelible space in my heart.

Happy 40th Anniversary and may you continue to spread your wings for decades to come.  The world needs you!

LCP with Carmen Kelly (Director of CAT's Special Projects)

LCP with Carmen Kelly

Linda Carole Pierce
CAT Alumna, 1992-2005

Arriving at Full Circle

Books assembled by Natalie for Early Learning residencies

Books assembled by Natalie for Early Learning residencies

My year at CAT has been one of the most exiting rides of my life, where I gained knowledge, experience and fulfillment. Working at CAT has given me behind-the-scenes insight into After-School Programs and the administrative side of schools. While in the beginning of my year, when I was mostly involved with administrative duties, such as tracking students’ attendance, homework and progress, as well as other filing duties, I discovered that the behind-the-scenes work can be just as important as being in the classroom. Granted, it was a treat to see the work I did—creating templates for worksheets, book materials and puzzles—used in the classroom. I was able to see both sides of the same coin, but it was only near the end of my time at CAT that I was able to witness and experience first-hand what CAT sessions in the middle schools are really like.

Natalie, dressed for Halloween, with a puzzle she created for ALP students

Natalie, dressed for Halloween, with a puzzle she created for ALP students

When I first learned that I would return to my former middle school, I.S. 237, to observe CAT’s sessions via ALP (the Adolescent Literacy Program), I was ecstatic to say the least. Initially, I was only observing how the Actor-Teachers, Precious and Nicolette, facilitate their sessions—how, by utilizing games, activities and recreations, they integrate reading, listening, and critical thinking in the way a student encounters stories and social issues. Working alongside the Actor-Teachers revealed (to me) new and creative ways of teaching, by utilizing the arts to engage and motivate students to learn. The way that they facilitated their lessons made clear what they hope to achieve with the students. Not only was I able to participate in the sessions with them, I was able to put my own observations and understanding to the test by facilitating my own session with the students, with support from both Actor-Teachers.

I had grown used to the way that the students reacted to activities and, with the help of Precious and Nicolette, the session went off not only without a hitch, but became a very fun experience for the students… and me! Seeing the students’ faces come alive and watching how immersed they became in the discussions made my heart swell and I felt a sense of deep joy and fulfillment. I thought, this is what it means to be a facilitator, a teacher, an educator. NB-staffWhile I was only in the school for four short weeks, I feel like I have realized a passion for working with middle-school students. I am not only pleased to see CAT’s mission at work here in Queens, but I am grateful for the chance to have been a part of it.

Natalie BernabeNB
CUNY Service Corps Member
Assigned to CAT’s Early Learning
& Adolescent Literacy Programs

My CUNY Service Corps Experience

This school year, being a CUNY Service Corps member has been a whirlwind. With everything we had to do, from the interview process to the monthly workshops we have to attend, it took a lot of commitment to fulfill my duties as a Service Corps Member. The best part of being a Service Corps member this year was being placed with the Creative Arts Team for my service site.

Nya (center) with Helen and Lexy

Nya (center) with Helen and Lexy

Working at CAT was good work experience for me. Even though I am in school to be a dental hygienist and the program I worked with at CAT is an after-school program teaching literacy through drama, I was able to learn a lot that I can take with me in my career as a hygienist. This was my first office job, so I learned a lot of skills that one should know if they’re going to be working in an office setting, such as, working with Excel, and filing (I did a lot of this!). I also learned how to send professional emails and that you should email everything, even if it’s small (wrote plenty of these too). I was also able to join in on a couple of sessions of one of CAT’s many programs, Project CHANGE. Those sessions were a good way for me to break out of my shyness a little bit, with exercises like Pantomime. Other than that, the staff at CAT made it really easy for me to feel like I’ve been working there forever. They’re all very silly and down-to-earth, with personalities through the roof that made me feel really comfortable and at home. I guess it comes with being “creative individuals” or just plain ol’ happy people (feel free to start singing R. Kelly’s Happy People anthem).

Nya-2I am very grateful for all that I have learned and the relationships that have formed while working here. My supervisor, Lexy, has taught me the most while I’ve been at CAT. My other supervisor, Helen, who is the biggest kid at the office (I mean it in the best way possible), has a larger-than-life personality and always keeps the energy in the room. I am certainly going to miss those two saying my full name every other minute. I will also miss Carmen, the Director of Project CHANGE and the reason why I had hoped to be placed with CAT, for being so nice while I’ve been here and welcoming me into Project CHANGE; my office buddy Nicole showing me tons of pictures of cats; and my fellow Service Corps member, Natalie, sharing the experience with me. And to the rest of the CAT staff members, it was nice getting to know you and working alongside all of you, and it was my pleasure to be of some help to you all. I am going to miss being a part of this organization (I am starting to get a little teary-eyed as I write this blog) but I will come back to visit very soon!

Nya Jackson
CUNY Service Corps Member
Placed with CAT’s Early Learning & Adolescent Literacy Programs

The Unexpected Path

Yes that’s right. It’s been 10 years. I can’t even believe it. Ten years working at the CUNY/Creative Arts Team. I think six of those years as the Senior Actor-Teacher for the College and Adult Program. Who would have known? I surely didn’t. And not even during my senior year at Hunter College. See what’s funny about my story is that all of the life-changing paths I’ve come across seem to have come up unexpectedly. And then again, I also feel that these paths and turns have been divinely inspired by a much higher power than human circumstances.

P&K

Doing a scene with Keith Johnston, CAP Director

Theatre was never a field I’d ever imagined myself doing. I was actually going for Pre-Med under the Pre-Professional Programs at Hunter College. But, during my junior year at Hunter, I had to take Intro to Theatre as a pre-requisite. This wasn’t your typical Intro to Theatre class, the Professor for this course was extremely interactive and always encouraged her students to participate by reading out scenes to get a feel for how actors work; to see plays; do improvisational activities, and so on. I remember getting annoyed when she would push us to do activities that required us moving around or working with others. I was a big introvert back then, and still am a bit, in certain moments. I preferred to keep myself behind the scenes. Well, in one of those evening sessions, the professor wanted us to play with Shakespeare. I don’t remember which play we were doing, but I do remember her asking for volunteers, and once again the students were silent, either because they were scared to participate or just didn’t care. Our Professor looked rather sad and I couldn’t bear the awkwardness in the room, so I got up and did the scene with another student. After the mini-performance, I realized how much fun I actually had. And my Professor was so impressed with my work that she suggested I take a Basic Acting class, to which I responded that I was not interested in Acting. My motivational Professor insisted, saying that it would help continue to enhance my presentational skills. I took that Basic Acting class.

Ever heard someone say, “He got the Acting Bug”? Well, I thought that was fake—until I took my first class of basic

With Actor/Teacher partner, Temesgen

With Actor/Teacher partner, Temesgen

acting and noticed how my way of thinking and my expressiveness was evolving. Growing up, being in touch with your emotions was not something I learned as a sign of strength; instead, I saw it as weakness. I learned to walk around with a poker face, to hide my thoughts, and keep my guard up, in order to not get hurt. I considered this coping mechanism a sign of power. What I failed to realize was that I was actually getting sick. I was creating an unhealthy form of dealing with my family, personal, and school problems. Since I learned to keep myself guarded, closed, and emotionless, I developed an explosive personality that would burst out at the wrong time, and became voiceless when I needed my voice the most. In the end, I created a wall that seemed impenetrable. As the acting classes progressed, my wall and guard was coming down. I learned the importance of being in touch with your feelings, but also to have control of them and your body. I learned the power of taking effective risks, voicing your concerns, and being vulnerable when needed. I also listened when the theatre Professors at Hunter would tell me that I was a natural—why not pursue Theatre? I wondered if I could take such a leap from Pre-Med to Theatre. What would my grandmother say? How can I justify such a change? And then it hit me: THE ACTING BUG! That’s what I have! And not like the one you think that needs the spotlight all the time. I mean the acting bug that sees how acting—performance, theatre—can be a great tool for healing! It healed me! I’m a walking testimony to it! And so I changed my major to Theatre and Psychology (two fields I love, that happen to go hand in hand).

P-conflictBut my journey did not end there; on the contrary, my journey was just beginning. Now that I was studying Theatre, the world began opening doors and networks that helped me exceed in my craft in various ways. And one of those open doors and networks is the CUNY/Creative Arts Team. The first time I heard of CAT was straight from my undergraduate advisor’s mouth. At the time, I was unemployed, doing odd jobs here and there, but I always prayed to God that He could help me find a job that would allow me to grow, be flexible, be surrounded by other talented artists who I could work with and learn from, and help people using theatre. At first I asked my undergraduate advisor if the company did drama therapy, to which she clarified: “no, they are more like an education-based theatre company. They are hiring, I spoke with the Executive Director who is a good friend of mine. I can put the word out for you so they can schedule an interview with you.” I have to confess I was scared. There was a part of me that did not want to call CAT. But I also learned in Theatre the importance of taking risks, of taking advantage of opportunities when you see them, so I called CAT and spoke to Rachel Castillo, who was then the Operations Manager, now the Director of Operations and Administration. We spoke, had an interview a week later—which I remember being very warm and inviting with much laughter. And, to this day, Rachel is that way. Although I did not get hired for an acting role which is what I originally thought (good thing I brought my Acting resume and my Administrative Resume), I was hired as CAT’s new scheduling assistant. A position I envisioned as not only the key to helping me get into one of the programs as an Actor-Teacher, but also taught me valuable lessons and skills in the logistical and operational structures of the CUNY/Creative Arts Team. It may not have been drama therapy, but it is education, and if there is one thing I value greatly it is knowledge and knowing how to use that knowledge to help or guide others in life’s struggles.

P-handsOver the last ten years, I have worked and continue to work with this awesome company. I have grown so much and have had the pleasure to work with diverse programs (Elem/JHS-Afterschool, Special Projects, Early Learning, High School, and College & Adult Program). Each one has shaped my craft and character differently, making me a stronger and more versatile performing artist and educator. I see it every day when I’m out in the field, visiting a new site (whether school, shelter, or correctional facility), meeting a new face, working with different people… I see their engaged eyes, the connection the participants make with the characters my fellow Actor-Teachers and I portray, or the issues we’re presenting at any given moment. Each curriculum we have devised for the needs of the population… the audience gets it, they understand, they see their struggles in the lives of these characters. And then we freeze the scene at its most heightened moment to open the floor to them—allowing ideas to be shared in a safe space, where our participants can speak their minds about the issues they saw and their relation to their own world, and how we as a collective can come up with practical solutions to every day challenges. I hear the testimonies when I’m stopped by strangers who seem to know me, and feel the need to thank me because of the work I did with their group. I hear it when a student says: “I thought college wasn’t for me, until I saw what your character went through. I’m now in my second year at Hostos Community College,” or when a parent says: “Thank you, I wasn’t aware of how even my smallest actions can affect my child,” or, “I didn’t know bullying can also start at home.”

Yes, these ten years at the CUNY/Creative Arts Team have had their ups and downs, and yet contained great blessings. CAT is my second home, an unexpected home away from my immediate family. It is where I have realized the many potentials God has given me in crafting my career and affecting lives in such an impactful way. It is here where I have devised my motto in life—my purpose while I have breath on this earth—to Create, Inspire, and Motivate people through the power of Theatre!

Priscilla FloresPriscilla-Flores
Senior Actor-Teacher
College & Adult Program

Behind the Scenes

TessaTech

Tessa in the booth, 2013 CAT Youth Theatre show

I’m used to working behind the scenes. Long before I joined the Creative Arts Team (CAT), I was a member of my high school drama society’s stage crew. In the months leading up to our biannual productions I would help to build and paint the sets, hang lights, and test the sound equipment. During the productions I helped move set pieces, and then I worked as one of the Assistant Stage Managers eventually becoming the Stage Manager. In college, I focused my energy on lighting and sound. I could often be found operating a light or sound board, being the Assistant Lighting Designer, or being the Light or Sound Designer on a show. Eventually I decided to move away from technical theater and began pursuing my MA in Applied Theatre which is where I first became familiar with the Creative Arts Team.

With her supervisor, Rachel, Director of Operations & Administration

With her supervisor, Rachel, Director of Operations & Administration

Over the course of two years I became immersed in Applied Theatre and educational theater as a facilitator, actor, and scholar; which included having the opportunity to apprentice with the CAT Youth Theatre. I also had my thesis project partially advised by Helen Wheelock, Director of the Early Learning Program, because my group spent four days doing interactive, educational theatre in a 2nd grade classroom, and we felt there was no one better to help guide our project. In my second year of the MA, I began working part time at CAT as the administrative assistant for the Operations Department. Operations is pretty far away from the theatre. We live in a world of paperwork, data and scheduling. But as a lifelong backstage person, I know the immense importance and value of the behind-the-scenes work. Much of my work in Operations reminds me of my years working backstage, of being the less-visible aspect of the production, but playing a vital role nonetheless.

MA in Applied Theatre 2013 Graduation

MA in Applied Theatre 2014 Graduation

I graduated from the MA in Applied Theatre in the spring of 2014 and, in the fall, I was hired full time at CAT to continue my role in the Operations department and take on a project of my own, as Program Coordinator for the Cultural After-School Adventures (CASA). I’ve also come back to my technical theater roots working as the sound board operator for the CAT Youth Theatre’s 2014 show, In Truth, and the upcoming show, See-Saw, which starts this February.

I have found it incredibly fulfilling to support the life-changing work that CAT does every day with young people all over NYC. Ever since I was a teenager, I have wanted the theater that I make to matter, to have a positive impact on the world around me. I am proud to say that the work I do at CAT helps to facilitate theater that truly fulfills my goal of making a positive impact on the world. My time here at CAT has been, and continues to be, invaluable in all of the ways it enriches me as an Applied Theatre Artist. I have no doubt that I will continue to grow both professionally and personally at the Creative Arts Team, whether I’m working on or off “stage!”

Tessa PantusoTessa-Pantuso-s
Operations Assistant,
CASA Program Coordinator