Field Notes

Field Notes

As a new employee at CAT, I’ve been really fortunate to be able to watch and participate with our Actor-Teachers as they share and create interactive stories with young people in grades K-2 at the start of this year’s Astor Program. The Astor Program stems from a generous grant that allows the Early Learning Program to engage in a mentor-modeling in-school residency (alongside after-school professional development sessions) to six schools in Queens on how to use interactive drama practices in the classroom to foster higher order reading skills. One of my favorite moments to witness has been each and every class being so excited to see their respective actor-teacher walk in the room, even if they have only met him or her once before.

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CAT’s 2016-17 Early Learning Team

I am also constantly humbled and impressed by how thoughtful and intentional our team is. The care they put into reaching each student on both an academic and personal level is truly moving. I have no doubt that the young people’s ability to recall the stories (and, in turn, skills) they have been creating is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our team. I’ve had a great time participating with the young people as our actor-teachers create stories with them, and look forward to seeing the growth of the team, the young people, and their teachers throughout the year.

What I love most about this work, and this may be fairly selfish of me to say, are the people that I’ve met and worked with who are out there practicing it in the field. Because I primarily prefer to work in administrative roles, I am fortunate to have connected with a multitude of individuals who operate under the umbrella of applied theatre, which encompasses work of this nature. Borrowed from CUNY’s MA in Applied Theatre homepage, applied theatre “involves the use of theatre and drama in a wide variety of nontraditional contexts and venues, such as in teaching, the justice system, health care, the political arena, community development, museums, and social service agencies.” Overall, the practitioners and artists that I’ve worked with are some of the most conscientious humans I have ever met.

I found myself working in applied theatre a little over two years ago when I messaged my high school mentor in a panic a few months before graduating college with a degree in English and Secondary Education and a minor in Special Education. I expressed that I really missed being involved in theatre (I had taken a hiatus from stage managing for a few years) and that I found the education system to be failing the students of America and was unsure if I could be a part of it. She asked me if I had heard of the term applied theatre, which I had not, and on something of a whim I found myself applying to get my master’s degree in it in London. While there is no denying that I rushed into getting a degree in a field of work I had next to no experience in, I was fortunate to be met with open arms by my fellow MA students at Goldsmiths University of London.

Over the past two years I have worked in administrative roles where the populations being worked with are very vulnerable ones. The work that our actor-teachers and teaching artists do is not easy, and I cannot emphasize enough how hard they work to make sure that they are practicing the work as ethically as they can. I feel very privileged to witness and hear about their success stories in the field. From a personal standpoint, I also feel pushed to use some of the strategies I have learned from this work in exploring how I can be a more politically aware and active citizen. In today’s political climate, I have found it especially necessary to examine my own privileges and how I can use them in supporting movements that challenge the many inequalities marginalized groups in this country face. The people I have met who work in applied theatre have been integral in that process for me, and I am very grateful to them for their patience, skills, and support.

While a goal of the Early Learning Program is to enhance higher order reading skills, it is also to encourage young people to ask strong questions. What I like about applied theatre (and why it’s a field I want to remain working in) is that these two goals are not mutually exclusive here – they shape and inform each other. Our actor-teachers and teaching artists work with populations who will be the artists, activists, and policy-makers in the years to come, and it’s very humbling to play a small part in that.  kady-stockman-2-elp

Kady Stockman
Program Manager
Early Learning Program

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A Fond Farewell

CAT is certainly an innovative organization. The impact it has had on the field of education is profound. By incorporating its integration of participant-centered pedagogy while simultaneously meeting the direct needs of all the communities it serves, CAT has played a huge role in the ever changing dynamics of how education is facilitated in and out of the classroom.

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Lexy, Rachel and family at CAT’s 2014 Holiday Party

What most people don’t see is the impact that CAT has on the people that work here. People in the “outside world” don’t get to see the support CAT’s leadership provides to its employees around family and self-care. People don’t get to hear the conversations of passion, anger, exhilaration around the various social issues we are all affected by. People don’t get to see the deep emotional connection CAT staff invest when developing their workshops. People don’t get to see the comradery that develops amongst us all working at CAT, making it feel more like family than just colleagues.

DSCN5643-s6 years ago I walked through CAT’s doors as part of the first cohort of the MA in Applied Theatre. I was excited about the new opportunity to apply what I had always been practicing (theatre for social justice) but never had a name for. Several months later I was blessed with the opportunity to be hired as a part time Operations Assistant where the incomparable David Mitnowsky was my supervisor. His eccentric ways and incredible humor automatically gave me a sense of belonging; giving me the space to just be me and not feel like I had to adapt to some sort of corporate way of being. After some time, I was able to move my way up and became a Program Manager supervised by Rachel Castillo, who taught me that the idea that participant-centered pedagogy not only applied to educators, but was a crucial practice for administrators and supervisors. She inspired me on a regular basis, helping me formalize and actualize my beliefs that women can be compassionate friends, mothers, and co-workers but also be super hard core impactful supervisors.

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Lexy (left), Kat (right)

During my time as a Program Manager, I developed many deeply committed and intricate friendships; a first for me as an army brat who never had opportunities to invest in long term friendships. One of my most profound relationships developed with Katherine Chua Almirañez, who continues to see my strengths and passions and always worked towards pushing me to get out of my comfort zone. She always encourages me to achieve the things I secretly dreamt but never voiced simply out of fear of failure. From facilitating poetry workshops, to dancing on stage, to writing a play, Kat has given me opportunities to achieve what I thought was the unachievable.

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Early Learning & After School Literacy Team

I finish my tenure here at CAT as the Early Learning & After-School Projects Director, where I have been able to work closely with Helen Wheelock and Brisa Muñoz. These amazing women have been incredible cheerleaders for me during the past year and, even in the moments I was struggling the most, they were there with bright eyes and big smiles to remind me “You are amazing. You are worthy.” Their positive attitudes and way of seeing the world has continued to inspire me and adapt the way I approach being a supervisor and overall human being.

DSCN8570sWhile I name specific people above, what I have come to realize is that I have worked in some capacity with almost every single person at CAT. I can identify a specific conversation with each of them that has literally changed my life. Every person here has helped shaped my view around parenthood, race, class, education, gender, and everything else under the stars. I certainly would not be the person I am today without the contributions of every person that I have encountered while working at CAT. And while I may be moving on to other opportunities, I know that I will always be carrying CAT and the wonderful lessons I have learned here with me. Thank you CAT for everything you have provided me. I will never forget any of you.

With the deepest of love and respect,
Lexy

Lexy NisticoLexy-Nistico
Until yesterday: Projects Director,
CAT Early Learning & After School Programs
Now: Program Director, Manhattan Youth Community Center

At a company picnic with her daughter and CAT and CUNY staff

At a company picnic with her daughter and CAT and CUNY staff

Lexy and other CAT staffers have become serious runners over the past few years

Lexy and other CAT staffers have become dedicated runners over the past few years

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Halloween 2014 (Lexy is the Jack Skellington in the center)

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!

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

Applying Applied Theatre

Doe-eyed and fresh out of college, I realized I still had quite a bit of learning to do. I wanted to find a purpose for my art-making and knew I wouldn’t be able to do that without first understanding myself in relation to the world around me.

Brisa 2I grew up twenty minutes from the Mexican border, an area in South Texas called the Rio Grande Valley (RGV). I was raised by artists – my parents ran a dance company together that specialized in Mexican folkloric dance. I helped start a theatre company at the young age of 18, a company that is still growing, eight years later. I researched and applied for the M.A. in Applied Theatre at The City University of New York because I wanted to better understand how theatrical conventions might engage communities in dialogue. I was particularly interested in implementing this concept in my home community – an area that struggles with poverty, obesity, the cartels, immigration and “machismo,” among other issues. In graduate school, I recognized for the first time in my life that my perspective was not merely valuable, but necessary.

Since joining both the MA and Creative Arts Team, I have worked with young people from elementary to college students, social workers, educators, adults with developmental disabilities, and peacebuilders. I have presented at conferences on the local, national and international level – including a recent applied theatre workshop held in Dohuk, Iraq, addressing the importance of the analysis of personal histories and experiences prior to engaging in conversation with divided societies. CAT offered me a home in which to hone the facilitation skills essential to the work of applied drama.

Brisa 1I have since applied these skills within my South Texas community. Since my time in the MA Program and CAT, the theatre community in the RGV has created an original play with music, identifying what RGV culture is, and how it is influenced by living between two countries. We have partnered with farmers, nutritionists, economists and policy-makers to create a participatory event which used theatre to engage audiences in conversations around the current health climate in the RGV, and allowed audiences to reflect on their personal relationships to food and health. And in March of 2015, my New York colleagues and I will begin a project that uses originally devised performances to partner artists with communities impacted by the influx of Latin American and Mexican people onto United States soil.

In cultivating an understanding of my unique perspective as a woman of Mexican-decent, who now also identifies as an applied theatre practitioner, I have been able to use the skills fostered by the MA in Applied Theatre and Creative Arts Team to continue working with the community I know and love.

Brisa MunozBrisaAreliMunozHeadshot
Actor/Teacher

 

See You at the Show…

Coming from a musical theatre background, I’m quite used to what happens during production week of a show. Long days and nights at the theatre, bringing together all of the elements of the show that have been worked on in separate corners, seeing everyone in costume for the first time, and the excitement (and some nerves!) going from the dress rehearsal to the first performance. Though it’s always a jam-packed time, it’s also very exciting to see everything come together into a full-fledged production.

As the CAT Youth Theatre begins production week for IN TRUTH, the excitement is more palpable than ever, and the process is that much more exhilarating because the show is entirely original, created by the members of the company. The group – 37 young people from all over New York City – has been working together to create an original show examining a range of questions and themes about truth. IN TRUTH will begin performances on February 21st and I can’t wait to share this show with audiences.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with the CAT Youth Theatre for the past two and a half years, working alongside directors from the MA in Applied Theatre, Associate Program Director Kevin Ray, and Program Director Helen White, who founded the Youth Theatre 18 years ago. As Program Manager, I’m very proud that, 18 years later, the program is still free for the young people, and that there are no auditions – just a commitment to be an active participant of the CAT Youth Theatre community.  New members are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. The collaborative theatre process gives young people the opportunity to make new meanings from the material of their lives. Members engage in theatre games and exercises, improvisations and scene work, rehearsal, critical reflection, and group discussion. It inspires creativity, builds self-esteem and resiliency, broadens horizons, develops social awareness AND it’s free to the young people who participate. Together, the members create and present original, artistically sophisticated works on topics they consider relevant. It has been a tremendous experience for me to learn more about the world of devised theatre, see Youth Theatre members grow from year to year, and be a part of the consistent production of new work. If you’re interested in creating original theatre, or working with young people, or seeing some exciting new theatre, I’d highly recommend coming to see IN TRUTH.

 

IN TRUTH will be performed at the Baruch Performing Arts Center and the TriBeCa Performing Arts Centers. Public performances begin Friday, February 21st and run through Sunday, March 3rd.  In addition, we will present an afternoon program for school and community youth groups on Tuesday, March 4th. If you work with high school students and are interested in bringing a group to come see a show, please contact the Youth Theatre office at 212.652.2828 or Maureen.Donohue@cuny.edu. See you at the show!

Maureen DonohueMaureen-E-Donohue-(2)
Program Manager
CAT Youth Theatre

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CUNY Creative Arts Team • CAT Youth Theatre
IN TRUTH
Spring 2014 Original Production

About the show:

From childhood, we are told to tell the truth, believe certain truths, and be true to ourselves and to each other. But how do we know the truth? Whose truth dominates and how are we misled? IN TRUTH asks audiences to consider their own relationships with truth. Within our families or within our society, what are the stories we are told and those we choose to tell? Why are certain things harder for us to talk honestly about? Through a variety of lenses and themes, the CAT Youth Theatre examines these questions and more in an entertaining and provocative original production.

Performance Schedule:

Performances at Baruch Performing Arts Center:
55 Lexington Avenue at 25th Street, New York, NY 10010
    Friday, February 21st                          7:30pm
    Saturday, February 22nd                   2:30pm & 7:30pm
Sunday, February 23rd                       2:30pm

Performances at BMCC-Tribeca Performing Arts Center
199 Chambers Street, New York, NY 10007
Friday, February 28th                        7:30pm
Saturday, March 1st                            2:30pm & 7:30pm
Sunday, March 2nd                             2:30pm & 7:30pm
Tuesday, March 4th                           5:00pm*
*Youth Groups Only

Tickets: $15, $10 students and seniors, group discounts available.

Contact the CAT Youth Theatre for more information at
212-652-2828 or maureen.donohue@cuny.edu

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