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.

 

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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

Growing Up In CAT: Parent Edition

The CAT family prepares to welcome the newest member...

The CAT family prepares to welcome Laz…

When I lay down at night with my almost-6-year-old son Lazarus, I read to him, making sure to infuse each story with life. I give each character a distinct voice and add physicality to each line of dialogue. Sometimes we infer what will happen next by looking at the pictures. When bullying emerges as a theme, we identify where it is happening and what the reasons behind it might be. Sometimes we imagine the back-stories and create possible alternative endings. And yes – you’d best believe – open-ended questions are posed throughout because, more often than not, my son comes up with better answers and possibilities that neither I nor the author could have ever imagined.

I thank my parents first and foremost for planting the seeds that inspire the interactive and liberatory learning that takes place with Lazarus. My parents grew up as children of the 50s and 60s in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, where children were rarely, if ever, asked what they thought or how they felt. Neither graduated college but both organically, instinctually, and brilliantly infused participant-centered strategies and practices into my education and social-emotional development. Note to academia, you have nothing on my mom and dad.

Lazarus participated in many office meetings...

Lazarus participated in many office meetings…

While my parents laid the roots for the learning that takes place with Lazarus, my 9 years working with The CUNY Creative Arts Team has helped me to grow into the best thinker, educator, and mother that I could possibly be. In spite of my behind-the-scenes role as Director of Operations, I have had countless opportunities to experience the brilliant work that takes place both within our office and out in the field.

Getting some CAT love at the company picnic

Getting some CAT love at the company picnic

I have watched little children light up when Program Directors and Teaching Artists have brought a book to life with the aid of a simple costume or prop. I have witnessed the shyest child in a classroom replace one of the Teaching Artist at the height of a dramatic scene, and masterfully encourage the remaining Teaching Artist (in role) to make more informed and healthier decisions. I have watched Teaching Artists develop workshops in which parents are sensitively encouraged to push the theme of Bullying inwards; to identify where they may have been bullied as a child or adult, and when they may have been the aggressor in their role as parent. I have been fortunate to be exposed to the Common Core standards when they first emerged and actively engaged in workshops and activities developed by CAT Program Directors that have helped me navigate Common Core in my own child’s education. I have watched young college students in our adolescent sexual health peer education program tackle some of the hardest, most provocative and important conversations both with their peers and adults.

I have witnessed all of this and have walked away with a tool-kit – or, rather, a grab bag – of strategies, techniques, materials and resources that I weave into my parenting each day. I couldn’t figure out a way to express my gratitude to each of the talented, bright, and loving individuals I am blessed to work with at the Creative Arts Team but hopefully this writing will serve as a small token of my appreciation.

 

Rachel & Laz

Rachel Castillo
Mother of Lazarus
Director of Operations

How Does This Work?  (A CAP Story)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerron-Herman-CAP

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