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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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.

 

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

Arriving at Full Circle

Books assembled by Natalie for Early Learning residencies

Books assembled by Natalie for Early Learning residencies

My year at CAT has been one of the most exiting rides of my life, where I gained knowledge, experience and fulfillment. Working at CAT has given me behind-the-scenes insight into After-School Programs and the administrative side of schools. While in the beginning of my year, when I was mostly involved with administrative duties, such as tracking students’ attendance, homework and progress, as well as other filing duties, I discovered that the behind-the-scenes work can be just as important as being in the classroom. Granted, it was a treat to see the work I did—creating templates for worksheets, book materials and puzzles—used in the classroom. I was able to see both sides of the same coin, but it was only near the end of my time at CAT that I was able to witness and experience first-hand what CAT sessions in the middle schools are really like.

Natalie, dressed for Halloween, with a puzzle she created for ALP students

Natalie, dressed for Halloween, with a puzzle she created for ALP students

When I first learned that I would return to my former middle school, I.S. 237, to observe CAT’s sessions via ALP (the Adolescent Literacy Program), I was ecstatic to say the least. Initially, I was only observing how the Actor-Teachers, Precious and Nicolette, facilitate their sessions—how, by utilizing games, activities and recreations, they integrate reading, listening, and critical thinking in the way a student encounters stories and social issues. Working alongside the Actor-Teachers revealed (to me) new and creative ways of teaching, by utilizing the arts to engage and motivate students to learn. The way that they facilitated their lessons made clear what they hope to achieve with the students. Not only was I able to participate in the sessions with them, I was able to put my own observations and understanding to the test by facilitating my own session with the students, with support from both Actor-Teachers.

I had grown used to the way that the students reacted to activities and, with the help of Precious and Nicolette, the session went off not only without a hitch, but became a very fun experience for the students… and me! Seeing the students’ faces come alive and watching how immersed they became in the discussions made my heart swell and I felt a sense of deep joy and fulfillment. I thought, this is what it means to be a facilitator, a teacher, an educator. NB-staffWhile I was only in the school for four short weeks, I feel like I have realized a passion for working with middle-school students. I am not only pleased to see CAT’s mission at work here in Queens, but I am grateful for the chance to have been a part of it.

Natalie BernabeNB
CUNY Service Corps Member
Assigned to CAT’s Early Learning
& Adolescent Literacy Programs

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

From Hampshire (College) With Love

“If you don’t go to Creative Arts Team, I’ll kill you.”

That’s what my professor told me after I announced that CAT was one of the five places I would be interviewing at for my spring semester field study. Coming from one of the warmest and most nurturing people I have ever known, I knew she meant it.

Sigal-with-studentsI am currently a junior at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA  (or a Division II student in Hampshire vocabulary), studying arts integration and specializing in theatre as a teaching tool. As a young person who struggled with the traditional educational system, I found myself through the arts. I am passionate about using the arts to teach and learn, experiencing first hand how the arts can change lives.

I stumbled upon Creative Arts Team while researching field study opportunities. I knew I wanted to be in New York City and have hands-on experience working with young people doing theatre. I reached out to many organizations and, by some amazing stroke of luck, found myself at CAT.

Here at CAT I mainly work with the Adolescent Literacy Program (ALP). I work five days a week. I am either in the office assisting on projects, or in Brooklyn with Actor Teacher Katherine Chua, supporting her and the students’ work in every way I possibly can. I don’t know if I have ever worked with a group of youth as open and welcoming as the ALP students are. The idea of joining a community halfway through the year was a bit intimidating, but it was a challenge that I was obviously more than thrilled to take on.  I received a few goodbye hugs at the end of the first day, and I left knowing that all I had to do was be the best self I could be, and that would be enough. The openness displayed by the young people powerfully attests to the positivity and beautiful mentorship of the actor teachers (Kat, Andre, and Brisa).

Sigal-with-students2If I have learned one thing from my two months at CAT and working with ADL, it’s that this work is HARD. During one of my conversations with Kat she told me, “Despite the long hours I work, I have never felt so rewarded.” This work is exhausting. It’s about being on your feet for many hours and opening up your heart. It’s about the process. And it’s about allowing these young people to realize and practice all of their amazing abilities.

Ultimately the work is all about giving. And I can’t thank Creative Arts Team and the ALP team enough for giving me this incredible opportunity to join them in doing their beautiful work.

SigalSigal Kadden
Student, Hampshire College

2014 Intern, CAT
Early Learning/Adolescent Literacy Program

CAT, CATT, KAT, ALP, ELP, ELA & “B”-yond

Acronym is the name of this game.

CAT = Creative Arts Team
CAT was the first acronym I was introduced to as I was plunged into the world of ‘Educational Theatre’ in October 2013. I am a CUNY Service Corps member, who was placed at CAT to learn from Actor Teachers and their commitment to public service. The CUNY Service Corps is an organization dedicated to giving undergraduates an opportunity to work at sites in NYC that are positively impacting the community.

A day at CAT: Rolling like dice into a room with grown adults acting like twelve-year-olds, never knowing what to expect or what would happen next. It was a perplexing experience. Suddenly, I felt like the adult in the room, which is ironic since I am the youngest. Being the newbie, I was convinced that I was being hoodwinked. After 45 minutes of making random sounds, creating tableaux and playing name games, I finally realized I was plopped into the middle of an Actor Teacher rehearsal session.

CAT is unlike any other NYC office environment. In the midst of a bitter NYC winter, the CAT office is filled with the warmest atmosphere. Everyone is friendly, energetic, and sarcastic; most importantly everyone loves their job and is passionate about their contribution to the community.

CATT = Community Action Theatre Troupe
KAT = Katherine, Actor Teacher
CATT’s pride leader Kat, alias Katherine Chua, welcomed me into the pride lands of educational theatre at the after-school program in Brooklyn. A cat learning how to swim is analogous to my first days at CATT.  Now, you call me a “catfish” because I finally understand how tongue twisters, name games, and playing detective is related to learning and education. Tongue twisters help students with their pronunciation and enunciation skills, name games help enhance their memory and improvisation helps them think on-the-fly, which is useful when taking a multiple choice exam.

Melissa-ALPMelissa (center) with ALP students

ALP = Adolescent Literacy Program
ELP = Early Learning Program
ELA = English Language Arts
ELL = English Language Learner
“B”KY = Brooklyn YMCAIS 347/IS 349
“B”ECA = Bronx Early College Academy
Like a tidal wave the acronyms started crashing in around me; it’s a good thing cats have nine lives. Gasping for air I began to see beyond the pride lands of BKY and its twin at BECA. ALP and ELP are the larger programs at CAT focused on engaging students throughout NYC in interactive drama strategies that help ELLs enhance their ELA skills.

Most importantly, beyond the acronyms, are all of the students who are breaking out of their shells and expressing themselves through theatre techniques, and the tireless Actor Teachers, who take on the CATT challenge with alacrity.

Melissa-Rambavan

Melissa Rambaran
CAT Adolescent Literacy Program Assistant
CUNY Service Corps Member
Queens College ’14