Behind the Drama

Behind the Drama

It’s 3:30 pm on a Monday when I walk into a classroom of 12 middle school students.  They don’t see me at first. I just stand and wait in the front of the classroom observing them walk around excitedly telling each other about their day.  One of them notices me and happily yells,“Lexy!”  Soon after, I hear a rippling effect of “Hi, Lexy,” “Yay, Lexy is here!” “Lexy, did you notice my new shirt?”  This is what I live for.

These students don’t really know what I do for their after-school literacy program. They know that I help them get snacks and take field trips; that’s probably why they love me so much!  But what I do is much more complicated.  In order to have a successful after-school program, there are a lot of components and people involved.  We have our program director, actor-teachers, funders, students, and then there is me, the Program Manager.

My job is mostly behind the scenes.  I track a broad range of data, including student’s state exam scores, report card grades, the amount of work submitted, the number of hours per week are students attend the program, and how many students overall are participating – all to ensure CAT is meeting our contract requirements for attendance and academic outcomes for literacy and to understand how the students and our program are progressing throughout the school year.

I take all of this data and make sure to disseminate it to the right people at the right time.  Whether helping actor-teachers incorporate assessment results into developing curriculum objectives or calling a student’s parent to talk about the child’s level of attendance,  I use all of this data to make sure that CAT’s after-school literacy program is running as efficiently and effectively as possible.  It’s very time consuming and detailed work, but I truly love it.   

The greatest part of my job is seeing the impact.  Whenever I visit our students and see them in action, they move me.  Their brilliance, creativity, and excitement for the work that they do gives me hope for this next generation.  And for selfish reasons, it helps me feel fulfilled in knowing that I did my part in helping provide a fun, engaging, after-school program where students are truly learning and growing.

Lexy NisticoLexy-Nistico
Program Manager
Middle Schools Literacy Initiative
Alumni, MA in Applied Theatre

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Learning with CHERISH and Breaking Down the HIV Stigma

As an Actor-Teacher with the new educational outreach program, CHERISH (Changing Habits, Environments, & Relationships in Sexual Health), I was blown away by the Greater than AIDS: EMPOWERED video with Alicia Keys. It was not only informative, but was touching and authentic. Like Alicia, I have been working with young women to explore what it means to be empowered and how we can share our own stories in order to break stigmas and inform other young women about HIV/AIDS .  I hope that more women and men watch Alicia’s significant video and use it as a resource for critical conversations about HIV.

I was educated about HIV by our health educator, Briana McGhee, yet I was still surprised by the women’s stories in the EMPOWERED video. It’s one thing to know the facts and another to actually put faces to those facts. This video allowed me to see five beautiful women with hopes and fears just like myself. The truth is that HIV has many different faces. If we break the stigmas and stereotypes by informing ourselves and the people around us, we can “fight the silence”, like the women spoke about.

We have the power to make great change in our communities, including confronting the HIV epidemic here in the U.S. This Sunday, January 19, get your friends and family together at home or online at VH1.com for a #WeAreEMPOWERED watch party, featuring Alicia Keys in conversation with five HIV positive women. Let’s break down ignorance and stigma together. Visit http://greaterthan.org/campaign/empowered/ to learn more!

Marisa-Duchowny-SP-PC

Marisa Duchowny
Actor/Teacher
Project CHANGE, CHERISH

Beyond Entertainment…

Dianna-Garten-picI moved to New York City, a bright eyed 18 year old, entering one of NYU’s acting studios with a single intent: make it to Broadway.  Being an actress was all I had ever dreamed about or hoped for, and all I had ever thought I would be able to do.  I was bolstered by the idea that my talent had gotten me accepted to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts for acting (the crème de la crème), and convinced that, within a few short years, I would be accepting a Tony or Oscar for my breakthrough performance.

Not surprisingly, things didn’t pan out as I had always imagined.  The number of acting majors at NYU was overwhelming – a small glimpse into the professional audition scene – and the training was emotionally and spiritually brutal.  While I developed many extremely valuable professional skills (many of which I still use), I felt torn to shreds.  Surprised by my unexpected delight in academia, I decided to minor in Jewish History sophomore year.  The more “traditional” theatre work I did, the more I wanted theatre to do more than what was traditional.  A guest speaker, Danny Hoch, came to my acting studio and spoke of his work in prisons and of doing hip-hop theatre.  I felt the inkling for the first time that theatre might be able to do more.  He charged us to take our work out of just the stages of New York into the streets, schools, prisons, and even our hometowns.  As my education went on, I became increasingly eager to find a way for theatre to more than just entertain; I became fixated on political theatre from other countries and wondered at how work like this could be created for my generation.

Six months studying at Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa, changed everything.  I was given a crash course in Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, and performed for the first time in a play that I helped create from scratch.  During those six months, I saw what I had been longing for in New York: theatre as more than just entertainment.  With two of my classmates, I worked in a middle school for deaf students on the outskirts of the city, and saw how the students eagerly engaged with the theatre work.  I left Johannesburg certain of two things: one, I was on the right track, and two, I had so much more to learn.

After returning to New York and finishing my B.F.A. at NYU, I set out to find somewhere I could learn to do that which I’d glimpsed in South Africa.  I became familiar with the term “applied theatre,” and started to find a whole field of theatrical, community based and educational work I had never known existed.  Through a friend of a friend I stumbled on the Creative Arts Team, and the CUNY SPS MA in Applied Theatre program.   It seemed too good to be true, a program that was focused on academic and practical training for applied theatre right in my own back yard.

I was accepted to the MA in Applied Theatre program in 2012.  The MA program has been a phenomenal resource for me to learn the very rudimentary elements that exist across the field of applied theatre.  It has taken me from an amateur facilitator, just hoping to get it right, to a professional with intentional pedagogy and the skills to both plan and implement educational theatrical experiences.  It has widened my range of skills and challenged me to deeply consider how I approach the work and why I do it.

After just over a year in the MA program, I was hired at CAT to assist with development and reporting.  This has given me insight into the challenges of working in and maintaining this field that is so deeply fueled by passion, and yet not widely understood by funders and other artists.  The combination of my education in the MA program and working at CAT has provided me with vision and confidence to be a professional practitioner in applied theatre, and an advocate for the value of the work across many contexts.

With the support of the MA program and CAT I am more prepared than ever to embark on a career as an applied theatre practitioner.

Dianna Garten
MA in Applied Theatre, Class of 2014
CAT Development Assistant