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

How Does This Work?  (A CAP Story)

Every Friday, Eboni Witcher, Eric Aviles, Priscilla Flores, and I run around a room of high school seniors yelling “How does this work?” We’re talking about the college admissions process, but we could also be talking about the College/Adult Program’s (CAP) process of engagement and learning.

CAP facilitates several contracts: Department of Corrections/Rikers Island (Skills for Life), STAR/ESI (Science, Technology and Research Early College High School/Expanded Success Initiative) 9th and 10th grade, At Home in College (College Access/Readiness), CTEA/TAP (High School of Construction Trades, Engineering and Architecture/Theater Arts Program), Homes for the Homeless (Supporting Success), Black Male Initiative (Supporting Success/Retention/Work Readiness)—which services practically every CUNY campus—and year round SVP (School Violence Prevention) Parent Workshops. What a mouthful. In each contract we are focused on the transition to and the complexity of adulthood. CAP cares about that spark, the “why”, behind higher education. We challenge other adults to critically think about their access and their spark. How does CAP work? It’s all in the drama.

CAT's CAP Team: L-R: Priscilla Flores (Senior A/T), Keith Johnston (Program Director), Jerron Herman (Administrative Assistant, A/T), Eric Aviles (A/T), Eboni Witcher (A/T)

CAT’s CAP Team: L-R: Priscilla Flores (Senior A/T), Keith Johnston (Program Director), Jerron Herman (Administrative Assistant, A/T), Eric Aviles (A/T), Eboni Witcher (A/T)

The other actor-teachers (A/T) and I search our population for lines and characterizations; they are our script. Take our contract with Rikers Island, for example: five facilities and hundreds of stories. When we first begin a residency we will portray an ex-con dealing with readjustment, but over time we’ll start to develop scenes based on what we’ve actually seen. Senior A/T Priscilla and I were facilitating a workshop at one of the juvenile detention centers and were deep in a conversation about “the Box,” a solitary confinement hold for inmate infractions. Instead of explaining the inner workings of it though, we had a few of the incarcerated students simulate “Box” life. The result was three distinct portrayals of inmate/correction officer relations. The students portrayed COs and themselves with such reality and truth. They even included a percussive beat, an understood signal, which all inmates know to mean “I’m restless.” The discussion afterward was deepened by these concrete scenarios. How does Rikers work? Co-intentionally.

Whether we service the Black Male Initiative programs throughout the CUNY campuses, or finalize a residency with STAR High School, CAP’s presence is set up to affect student and facilitator alike. When the CAP team devises a drama, we leave a bit of room for the unexpected; we learn just as much as they do. Our work is about helping to identify social and personal skills which contribute to strong academic success. Those soft skills can’t always be charted, so we prep and devise for those sparks of understanding. We know we’re effective when we ask the question—How does this work?

Jerron-Herman-CAP

Jerron Herman
Administrative Assistant
Actor-Teacher Swing
College/Adult Program

From the Front Lines of the Festival

I’ve been participating in the NYC Student Shakespeare Festival since 2004, and I look forward to this phenomenal program every year! My students feel the same way – they can’t wait until our school’s drama club is offered, so we can delve into Shakespeare’s plays and make them our own.

 

InfoTech 2014 NYCSSF Scene

Info Tech’s 2014 scene: Inner angels & demons get involved with a murderous plot, taken from a mixture of Julius Caesar, Macbeth & Othello.

Once our drama club is formed in January, we begin by engaging in theater activities – much of what I learned in the professional development days provided by CAT. Then we explore genres and themes that pique my students’ interests, ranging from murder mystery, teenage love, betrayal and parent-child relationships. My students are given opportunity to take ownership – from choosing the central question which will guide the Shakespearean piece, to adding their own interpretations of characters, to choosing costumes and stage directions. They also love having professional teaching artists from CAT come to our school and guide them in developing their theatrical skills and preparing them for the big showcase at an off-Broadway theater, the esteemed Lucille Lortel Theater.

InfoTech2013

Info Tech’s 2013 scene: A Zombie Hamlet!

Of course, my analysis of their experience doesn’t do it justice. Here are two of my students’ reviews:

“I have loved acting ever since I was about the age of 7. Shakespeare’s stories are incredible; my favorite play was Romeo and Juliet due to the fact that I can imagine it. Acting just makes me feel free, especially if it’s from an author like Shakespeare. The Shakespeare Festival made me open my eyes more to it. I like meeting new people and learning how to get better at acting, so I joined the Festival and will join again next year.” -Gustavo

“I keep doing the Shakespeare Festival because it’s fun. It allows me to meet new people. I can go up on stage, perform what I’ve worked so hard on and be proud of it. It also boosts my confidence.” -Demetri

Heather Conn (center) at an NYCSSF professional development workshop in 2008.

Heather Conn (center) at an NYCSSF professional development workshop in 2008.

Heather Conn
Teacher
Information Technology High School
NYC Student Shakespeare Festival Participant since 2004

Note from CAT: Heather Conn is not an employee of CAT, but an annual participant in our NYC Student Shakespeare Festival – we are grateful for her (and her students’) kind words here as well as her fabulous Festival participation!

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