Higher Learning: STNYC’s Hunter College Talk and Tour

CUNY Service Corp student Michelle Tibois and Sound Thinking NYC Project Director Ah-Keisha McCants sat down via phone-chat to speak with ‘sound thinker’ Sharon A. about her thoughts on the Hunter College talk and tour experience. The special event took place on Monday, October 15th and was hosted by Hunter College’s Deputy Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Recruitment, Joseph Fantozzi Jr.

A number of our Sound Thinking cohort-members and CAT Youth Theatre members toured Hunter’s campus and experienced a curated information session on the nuts and bolts of applying to the prestigious yet affordable undergraduate program. The students learned about Hunter’s music and arts programs and more. Student Ambassadors and current college juniors, Becky and Brooke, shared the ins and outs of applying for scholarships, internships, and lunch plans. They shared advice on making friends on campus (hint, it’s really easy), the amazing music courses available (they’re super hands-on and include special music concerts) as well as the perks of Hunter’s state-of-the-art library (students not only can borrow books, but iPads and laptops!). All in all, it was a great night of higher learning!

Michelle, who is a current senior at John Jay College kicked off the conversation. Read the interview below:

Michelle: Hi Sharon. It’s nice to meet you over the phone. My name is Michelle Tibois, […] I am working alongside Ah-Keisha and Paola for Sound Thinking. I’m a CUNY Service Corps member. I just kind of want to interview you in regards to the Hunter College experience that you had, would you mind answering some questions for me, if you have time?

Sharon: Yeah, I have time.

M: Awesome! I wanna know about you Sharon. Tell me about you. Your grade, what you do?

S: Well, I’m Sharon. I’m 17, I’m a junior. I play instruments. I like soccer. There isn’t much to that after that.

M: What do you play? What instruments?

S: Guitar, piano, ukulele.

M: Oh my goodness, that’s amazing.

Ah-Keisha McCants: She plays all these instruments, wait say them again, Sharon!

S: Guitar, piano, ukulele and a little bit of the banjo.

M: Awesome, thank you. That’s great. What did you learn about Hunter College while you were there?

S: I learned that they were a liberal arts college and I didn’t know that it was a public college and that it was part of CUNY. I learned that they had programs for music and that the tuition was under 7 thousand dollars.

M: Where on the campus did you visit?

S: We visited all of the buildings, the north, west and east buildings. We were able to see the big auditorium that I think, seats about 2,000 people.

M: What did you think about the campus? what was your impression when you got there?

S: It’s big, I mean, it’s just 3 buildings but it’s big and each building has it’s own environment. I know that there’s like different types of people in each building and everyone’s there for something different.

M: Anything that you picked up on or saw on the campus, like the life of the students or even anything that was visually appealing or the setting around you?

S: All the buildings are connected by bridges so you can just go to one building by like crossing the bridges instead of going outside in the street and crossing the street to get to the other side.

M: I like that about their school, so what are your thoughts on their music program? Especially for someone as talented as you are! What do you think?

S: I think they have music education and they have classes for history of music, like rock n roll and things like that…

M: Did you learn anything about the college admissions process that surprised you?

S: Not really.

M: So you kind of knew what the process was like?

S: Yes, in my school we talk about it so much. We’ve been talking about it since middle school.

M: What are your thoughts about going to school in NY?

S: Well, I want to.

M: What is it about NYC? Is it the environment? Are the schools good, to you?

S: Yes and I love the city and I want to study in the city. But I feel like if I was able to get an opportunity to study outside of NY, I think I would take it.

M: What did you think about the student Ambassadors, Becky and Brooke?

S: I think they were nice, I can relate to them. They talked about things I think would be important to teenagers, like me. Maybe if the ambassadors were older they wouldn’t understand what I would be asking. Like when it comes to like a food plan or jibs or internships nearby.

M: What other programs did you learn about?

S: I know they have programs for Pre-Med and Pre-Law as well.

M: What do you think you want to major in while in college?

S: I know it’s gonna be in Music Technology, most likely sound engineering or audio engineering. But it would definitely be music related. Just not music education.

M: Why were you interested in visiting Hunter?

S: I’ve been to one other college in the city, visiting, but I wanted to see my options. I knew that if I looked online I would be able to find information but I wanted to actually see the school and see how the student life is.

M: Are there any other colleges or universities you’d like to visit? Has there been any on your mind?

S: NYU. I have to do more research.

AM- I have one … question, what advice would you give to other young people who are considering whether they should go to college or not?

S: I think college is always a good option, it’s not for everybody but you should always have some kind of education in college because it can always back you up no matter what you do. At least in any job that you choose it may be easier for you to find something than just having a high-school diploma. College education is important and it will actually take you places.

AM: Any other schools in NY you’d like to visit?

S: Maybe Julliard, but I don’t know about that one.

AM: Michelle, did you ever have a situation where you had to realize, let me just take a chance?

M: Oh yeah. 100 percent. When I first I got into to John Jay I wasn’t sure how I was going to pay for school because even though I had my parent’s financial support, they weren’t able to support me fully, with all my tuition. I remember senior year of high school, a company had offered this opportunity for us to create a creative portfolio and also a creative writing piece. I remember having all these creative people around me and I was feeling very discouraged but when I applied I got support from my teachers. They reminded me of the worst that could happen, but at least I would put my best foot forward and I got both scholarships. I got through two years of college without having to need support from my parents. Then the next two years, it worked out and because I took that chance and I didn’t let that discouragement be my reality, it actually propelled me forward. It’s all about putting your foot in the door and taking that step because you never know what’s behind it..

AM: That’s what Sound Thinking is all about, promoting positive risk-taking. Well, thank you so much Sharon.

M: Thank you!

S: Thank you for calling.

Thank you to Joseph Fantozzi and Hunter College student ambassadors, Becky and Brooke, for making our visit to Hunter a memorable one! We cannot wait for our next tour and talk!

 

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STNYC Tours: Hunter College

by Uma R.

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It was very surreal to walk into the doors of Hunter College. Growing up in the city, I always thought that I would be leaving home to go to college, saying goodbye to the concrete jungle. However, taking the tour gave me a weird perspective on what college life in New York City would be like. In the West building, where we started our tour of the over a century year old institution, there was not one corner of the floors that was not occupied by students either studying, working, or hanging out with friends. It was strange to think that this student body population of 23,000 leaks out into the city that I live in. College life to me has never been acquainted with New York or Manhattan, because I’ve never imagined one of the biggest cities in the world being used as a college town; seeing how huge the student body population is made me realize how many opportunities there are for college students in New York City.

Our tour guides took us through different parts of the West building. We got to walk through multiple floors of the huge library that the college houses, similar to the libraries that I’ve seen in other colleges outside of the city, but what was different about Hunter to me, were the huge bridges that connected its different buildings together. Via the bridges, you could see amazing views of the city as the sun set. As we crossed the bridge that went from the West building into the library, we could see the different buildings where Hunter classes were held. Even though the campus is extremely spread out, the college still felt like a community because the student life is literally connected by bridges.

Speaking more about the community, it genuinely felt like home because there were kids from all over the country studying in the halls. It was like a small version of New York City. The diversity was comforting, especially when we walked into the music department and saw that nothing about the variety of the student body changed. Walking through an older building to get to the practice rooms of the music department was really cool, because you could see kids walking in and out of the doors carrying their instruments, while in the actual practice rooms, we could see students collaborating and playing music together. It was inspiring and uplifting to see what it looks like first hand to study and create music in higher education.

All in all, I was very grateful to have been able to tour Hunter College, because it showed me an opportunity for college that I was reluctant to take at first. Staying in the city to study for some reason seems daunting, but seeing Hunter helped me to recognize the potential that studying in a city rich with the arts could hold in my college career.

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Notes on CAT’s 43rd Anniversary

2017-18-All-Staff-flat-w

Hello Friends,

It is Friday, October 27th, and I am sitting at my desk poised to write a newsletter in celebration of the Creative Arts Team’s 43rd anniversary on October 31st.

My challenge is how to relate, in an e-newsletter, the vibrancy of CAT’s programs and the passion of CAT’s innovative staff, educators, partners, and most of all, the reason we do this work – our amazing participants throughout the city.

In lieu of live streaming, I’ll take you on a walk around the office hallways and share with you what I see…

SCENE: CAT’s office windows at 31st and 6th look out on a beautiful autumn day in Herald Square. While most offices in the city are winding down for the week, the CAT offices are bustling with energy. It is an energizing time at CAT as we now are full swing into the school year.

Friday is our liveliest day in the office. It is a planning day for CAT staff and teaching artists who deliver programs in all five boroughs throughout the week.

Rehearsals of dramatic scenes and discussions of pedagogical strategies are taking place in corners, by the coffee pot, in offices, training rooms and hallways. I hear – and feel drawn to participate in – impassioned dialogue on strategies for social issue engagement. Along with the serious discussions there is laughter, song and sometimes puppetry.

On this particular Friday morning, the Cultural After School Adventure (CASA) team is working on their after-school storytelling programs for middle school students. We are now in our 10th year of delivering CASA programs, funded by NYC Council Members.

Next to the CASA office is the Early Learning Program (where the puppets live), the team is working at this moment with colleagues from CUNY’s Office of Research, Evaluation and Program Support (REPS). Together, they are in the third year of evaluating a teacher-mentoring project supported by the New York Community Trust.

In the meeting room next to my office, CAT’s Literacy Through Drama (LTD) team is in training for upcoming middle and high school sessions on topics such as gender equity, justice and friendship. Today, they are working on strategies for dual language classrooms. The LTD program, with support from the NYC Dept. of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), uses drama to examine the world and build skills in social and academic literacy.

The CAT Youth Theatre team is also in the office using Friday as a training and preparation day. BTW! Save the dates for this year’s Youth Theater performances on February 23-25 and March 2-4, with a special Youth Groups performance on Tuesday, February 27 at 5pm (contact Maureen to reserve group tickets)! The Junior Youth Theatre will share on December 6 at 6pm. There will be an Ensemble improv performance on Saturday, December 9 at 8pm (featuring Youth Theatre Alumni). Now in its 22 year, CAT Youth Theatre helps young people thrive– on stage and in life. Members create socially relevant, artistically sophisticated original plays.

This Friday morning, the College and Adult Program (CAP) team is off-site, leading a “Campus Sexual Assault” symposium at Brooklyn College, organized by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, to address root causes and challenge social norms. CAP uses interactive drama and skill–building strategies to capture a panoramic view of our society and zoom in on specific issues and behaviors that create challenges in our lives. The CAP team works with numerous organizations and initiatives, including (but definitely not limited to): CUNY Black Male Initiative (BMI); the Department of Corrections at Rikers Island; Homes for Homeless (H4H); middle and high schools throughout NYC; and created and runs the Theatre Arts Program (TAP) at CTEA High School in Queens.

Next to the training room is our marketing and communications office, which, as part of Arts and Culture month, has been sharing staff responses to the prompts, #BecauseofArtsEd and “Why CAT?” Responses include: “helping students express themselves and have agency;” “I Have a village and I have a purpose;” “I can do work I love and help people;” “Students are empowered”; and “Heal the World with Art!”

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It is auspiciously dramatic that 43 years ago on Halloween night in 1974, original company members sat around a kitchen table and conceptualized the founding of CAT. Lynda Zimmerman and the founding members envisioned a company dedicated to creating innovative and exciting theatre and education programs that engaged students and the public in learning through drama by addressing timely social and curricular issues. As we gear up for the next 43 years at CAT, we all look forward to seeing you at CAT events, sharing opportunities to participate and updating you on the work ahead.

Until next time,
Jeanne
Executive Director


UPCOMING IN NOVEMBER
  • November 3rd is the Early Bird registration Deadline for CAT’s NYC Student Shakespeare Festival (NYCSSF), a program for 2nd-12th grade students that provides a structured process of CTLE-credited teacher training, in-school residencies and a culminating festival at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. NYCSSF is supported in part by DCLA and NYSCA.
  • CAT’s Young Adult Literacy Technical Assistance program (YALTA) is organizing a cross-site trip to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum for Young Adult Literacy Program (YALP) staff and their students in mid-November. YALTA delivers professional development to YALP, a program of the Mayor’s Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO) and DYCD, for youth, ages 16-24, building skills to enroll in a Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC™) Preparation Program and eventually earn their HSE (High School Equivalency).
  • The MA in Applied Theatre Program is conducting a Racial Justice Weekend on Saturday and Sunday, November 4th & 5th, from 10:00am-6:00pm.
  • An MA in Applied Theatre Introductory Workshop will be held Saturday, November 14, 2:00-5:00pm. MA in Applied Theatre/CAT Studios, 101 West 31st Street, 6th Floor. For more information on MA events click: here
The Creative Arts Team (CAT) is one of the K-16 Initiatives under the Office of the Senior University Dean for Academic Affairs, at The City University of New York (CUNY).
Support for CAT FY18 Programs Provided By:
Anbinder Family Foundation • Birch Family Services • Broadway Artists Connection • Chinese-American Planning Council • The City University of New York • Community Service Society of New York • HistoryMiami Museum • Homes for the Homeless • Jewish Communal Fund • Jujamcyn Theatres • The Lucille Lortel Foundation • Morgan Stanley • New York City Council: Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and 51 Council Members; Additional allocations from Councilmembers Barron, Constantinides, Cornegy, Eugene, Gibson, King, Koslowitz, Lancman, Levine, Miller, Perkins, Rosenthal, Torres, Vallone, Van Bramer, Williams, Wills • NYS Assemblymembers Dendekker • NYC Department of Correction •  NYC Department of Cultural Affairs • NYC Department of Education • NYC Department of Youth & Community Development • NY Public Library • NYS Council on the Arts • New York Community Trust-Brooke Astor Fund for NYC Education • Penguin USA • RBC Wealth Management • Seoul National University of Education •
Participating Schools, and many generous individuals

Celebrating 2015

To help us count down to the New Year, we asked our Team for highlights from 2015 – some of their answers are below…

We also ask that you keep us in mind for your tax-deductible year-end giving, help keep these amazing memories coming for years to come.


After-School FunGH

Suddenly, and quite by surprise, I was surrounded by a group of girls! I was sitting during an observation of one of our Serious Fun after-school workshops, observing a group of second grade girls put finishing touches on their paper puppets and puppet stage. I must admit I have a love of puppets – all kinds from paper bag puppets, sock puppets to the bigger than life Bread and Puppet Theatre ones. So, I asked the group if they could show me how to make my own puppet! They all rushed over to me with paper, crayons, scissors and glue and helped me make ‘Wendy’ my puppet!

Gwendolen Hardwick
Artistic & Education Director


The Power of Drama with our Youngest StudentsDorcas

“The teacher in my ICT (inclusion) class said he had never seen this one student so focused, because he has serious processing/speech delays, he never participates. But that was news to me – because every time I’m in the classroom, doing a storytelling, asking questions and including him, he’s one of the first kids with his hand up.”

Dorcas Davis
Actor-Teacher, Early Learning Program


The Power of Drama with ProfessionalsKJ

“I didn’t feel like I did my best during my session in the CUNY Black Male Initiative Conference, but I was swamped as I left the stage. It’s the power of this work, it was very evident that people were hungry to critically think, to broaden their perspective, and to understand what we do. It was pretty awesome to entertain young people who had so many questions and professors who really wanted to get more information about the work we do. I’m still boggled by it.”

Keith Johnston
Director, College/Adult Program


Working with ParentsParents

“The first of 27 Parent Workshops for year 2 of our Astor program (NYCT Brooke Astor Fund for NYC Education) took place at PS 212 in Jackson Heights, Queens, which is just the epitome of Queens. We had parents who spoke Urdu, Tibetan, Chinese, Spanish… every language we could think of. As the workshop exploring play and literacy concluded, two of the parents from Tibet came up to me and said: ‘Can I take a picture with you please? Can I can I please?’ The principal came up to me afterward and said, ‘They NEVER talk. They never say a word.’”

Helen Wheelock
Director, Early Learning Program


Shakespearean MagicSSF

The NYC Student Shakespeare Festival is a highlight for me every year. 2015 was our largest Festival yet, with well over 800 students and 30 teachers participating. The mix of public and private schools was profound for the students – with many from our struggling schools showing such pride in performing on the Lortel stage and that they did so well without fancy costumes. A private school 5th grader noticed as well, writing: “I’ve learned that not all schools have as many opportunities as mine has. This showed me to use my opportunities wisely.” Two of the themes that stood out this year were pulled right out of current cultural shifts – two high school groups explored gay marriage and two elementary school classes focused on the Black Lives Matter movement, all through Shakespeare. Amazing.

Krista Fogle
Communications & Marketing Manager
NYCSSF Administrator


Retention After-Schoolretention

“One of the highlights for our Adolescent Literacy Program, a middle school program using drama to strengthen literacy – the contract has been around for a few years, so we’ve been at it for a while – this year, we have the highest number of students in each of our after-school programs, the highest retention rate that we’ve had in the past 8 years or so. I think that speaks to the quality of work that we’re doing.”

Brisa Areli Muñoz
Associate Program Director, Literacy Through Drama


Best PracticesSVP

A recent highlight for me was observing my School Violence Prevention team transform their classroom – a huge classroom, with more than 30 kids – while implementing their day 3 session which had been kind of a challenge in many different ways. They were just impeccable. It was wonderful to see the students reaching out, totally and completely engaged in the narrative. It was just great.

Outside of the classroom, our workshop during the NYSED School Violence Prevention Conference in Albany went extremely well. There were no breakout groups, icebreakers or other interactive opportunities, so it was up to us to create that kind of community feeling. Afterward, everyone was interested in our work, everyone wanted to collaborate. They all wanted to know how they could “get the drama involved.”

Carmen Kelly
Program Director, Special Projects


Seasons of CHANGEPC

“This is a big year for Project CHANGE, our Healthy & Wellness/HIV Prevention Program. After 5 years of amazing peer education & intervention, this contract is coming to a close. During the summer, current and past CHANGE Agents and CAT staff came together for a reunion to celebrate all we’ve achieved and to plan the closing year. We held our World AIDS Day event on December 4th at Medgar Evers College and, over a few hours, had more than 100 participants, 25 of whom got tested! As our last big event, it was a ton of fun.”

Lynnette Freeman
Actor-Teacher, Project CHANGE


Momentous MilestonesLZ

This summer marked the 20th anniversary of our Youth Theatre program and, this fall, the conclusion of our 40th year. Lynda Zimmerman, our Founder and Executive Director, on what has made the Creative Arts Team thrive: “There has been this wonderful confluence of those three C’s: Creativity, Commitment, and Collaboration. The Creativity has been from folks like yourselves whether they were artists, arts administrators and educators, who continue to take ideas and run with them. The Commitment was finding folks like yourselves, with the mind of an educator, the strength of an administrator and the heart of an artist. And the Collaboration is being able to find those partners, be they programmatic or financial, who are willing to back your vision. I think those three things have been what’s propelled CAT, with the understanding that we always have that clarity in our vision of using that power of drama to help young people learn about themselves and the world around them.”

YTThe Youth Theatre held its first ever performance in the summer of 1995 at a ragged little black box theater, down along the east side of Washington Square Park. A wildly diverse group of fifty or so city kids, from throughout the five boroughs, came together to create a piece of theater they themselves would devise. Most had little to no experience in acting or performance. Even fewer knew each other beforehand. None would guess the impact those few weeks would have on their lives. I should know – I was one of them, barely sixteen at the time. That was twenty years ago.

The importance of what the Youth Theatre does, and what it can mean to a young person, is impossible to overestimate. You come to it at an age where figuring things out can consume your whole being: who you are, who you want to be, where you want to go. You come in on a Tuesday afternoon, and for a few hours you maybe untangle some of that mess, and you work on weaving it into something else. Probably you don’t have much of an idea what it is you’re making. What you do know is you’re making it yourself, with power and ability you maybe didn’t realize you even had, and that counts for more than you can ever know at the time.

None of that has changed in the two decades since those first performances. Now, as it was then, I don’t doubt for a second those city kids look forward to Tuesdays from four to six thirty all week long, just as I did. I’m sure in twenty years’ time they’ll look back on their days in the Youth Theatre, and, like me, know just how lucky they were to find it when they did.”

Adam Rivera
CAT Youth Theatre Alum


We wish you a happy and healthy New Year!

Thank you for reading.

 

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

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

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