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

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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