A Reflection on the “Play” Jam Session and Documentary

by Nia Blankson

Two Fridays ago, I had the pleasure of receiving an invitation to an event that I could only dream about prior to participating in Sound Thinking NYC. Whilst in the middle of my vacation, an email appeared in my inbox stating I, along with 6 other members of the cohort were selected to preview an unreleased documentary by Dave Grohl, as well as perform in an in-studio jam session, all in Downtown Music Publishing Studios. My immediate reaction, of course, was to re-read the email a few more times to make sure I read correctly, but I instantly started panicking, as I realized I’d never actually played piano with other people before. The extent of my playing up to that point was playing extremely rehearsed classical pieces alone on a stage in front of an audience in a performance hall. Regardless of how daunting that seems, I was feeling more overwhelmed by the fact that I would have to play unrehearsed, among other people, and having to add onto what they were doing on the spot.

STNYC-Play-piano

Finally, the day arrived, and unaware of what really to expect, I headed down to CAT, then to Downtown Music Publishing Studios to meet the other 6 chosen. When we arrived, we met Max, who was going to be the bassist of the group, and we found out that he was seventeen, plays other instruments as well as the bass, and has had quite a bit of experience working in studios. After our friendly introductions, we were seated in studio to preview Dave Grohl’s short documentary, “Play.” The first part of the documentary featured Grohl talking about music, and interviewing kids who are a part of a music program where they learn how to play instruments in private lessons, as well as come together in a band to play through the same program. This was quite interesting to see, as the music schools I have attended, as well as most others I’ve heard about, have all been centered around teaching children how to be solo musicians, unless you’re playing in an orchestra, or an occasional duet with your teacher. It was quite inspiring to watch the kids working things out by themselves (of course under the tutelage of their instructor,) and get a glimpse into their lives in music, plus being able to relate to them in several ways as well.

The second part of the documentary included the 23 minute instrumental completely composed and played by Dave Grohl himself, in which he plays multiple instruments edited together to create a lengthy masterpiece. We all listened and watched in awe as Grohl’s instrumental took many twists and turns, almost experimenting in various genres, showcasing his multifaceted skill-set and expertise of every instrument. When the documentary and the giant, high quality speakers in the studio went quiet, everyone in the room followed suit, and you could almost hear a pin drop. It remained completely silent for a few seconds, everyone exchanging glances, before we all burst into applause.

STNYC-Play-guitar

If I’m being completely honest, strangely enough, my favorite part of the documentary was just before it showed the final cut of the instrumental piece, and there were scenes of Dave Grohl making mistakes, doing parts of his instrumental over and over again until he got it perfect. He would either mess up a part, or simply want to give it another go as he knew for a fact he could perform much better than what he just played. These scenes highlighted my personal favorite section that stood out as it showed me that no one is perfect, and a huge part of music is trial and error. Even a professional like Dave Grohl needed multiple takes in order to get his piece to a standard that was acceptable for him.

STNYC-Play-drums

After the documentary ended, we ate lunch, and got ready to play in the recording studio. I personally have never been in a setting like this, and I hadn’t a clue as to how things would work. For the most part, I played the piano, occasionally switching between the synthesizer and the keyboard, but I wasn’t as comfortable with them. However, as we came up with our first melody, and began to add on to each other, although I was extremely nervous, I was becoming more comfortable with playing, and was able to figure out what to play, and how to fit in what I was playing into what everyone else was doing. The whole experience was extremely fun, and it challenged me to think quickly and collaborate with others live, but I also found it extremely helpful when Keith Johnston (CAT Program Director) was giving us some advice as we were playing that enabled us to try new things and think outside of the box.

The fact that the guest bassist, Max, that was playing with us was a male was of no real importance to me. In fact, I was quite excited that we were going to be working with someone who was already experienced working in music studios, and we all got along with him from the start. Everyone had the same goal, as at the end of the day, were just 7 musicians working together creating songs from scratch.

From watching Dave Grohl’s documentary to actually playing in the recording studio, I feel there needs to be more of an emphasis on music education. This experience had a positive impact on me, and I feel that more people could easily benefit from music education as a part of the core curriculum. Not only did both the documentary and the experience itself give me a deeper understanding into the music world, but they both highlighted the importance of collaboration, trial and error, and trying new things. Having to work with others to spontaneously produce a song, making mistakes, and attempting new things were all very prevalent in our jam session, and these are attributes that should be given more attention when it comes to music education.

I was fortunate enough to be able to be a part of this experience first-hand, and my wish is that more students who are passionate about music have the opportunity to go through something even similar to this. Through watching the documentary, and being able to participate in a jam session in a recording studio, I was able to understand how important it is to sometimes just set everything aside, focus, and simply play.

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A Day at ‘Play’

by Annalise Jaffe

A few weeks ago, me and five other Sound Thinkers had the opportunity to go to Downtown Music Publishing, a legendary studio in Soho. Filled to the brim with equipment used to make groundbreaking records, we were asked to spend a few hours in this incredible setting to experiment with collaboration and improvisation.

STNYC-Play-group

How did we end up here? Dave Grohl, the highly talented musician and the lead in the Foo Fighters and former drummer for Nirvana, made a documentary about the process of learning to play an instruments as a young person. He wanted young musicians around the country to watch the documentary and then, inspired by the film, collaborate in making music.

As a singer songwriter, I often write songs alone in my room and rarely have a space where I am composing music with others. Jamming was difficult. I had to be attentive to other musicians, aware not to take up too much space. Everyone has their own genre that they play.  Collaborating with no set genre in mind let me practice a whole new style of singing. Through this experience I found new appreciation of getting out my comfort zone, abandoning my fear of making mistakes, and recognizing you kind of need to mess up, to find your sound.

STNYC-Play-vocals

 

Notes on CAT’s 43rd Anniversary

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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
After-School Theater Adventures

After-School Theater Adventures

When I was a student, the after-school theater program was a large part of my life. I spent many hours working on plays, musicals, and other showcases as part of my high school’s drama club. My school didn’t offer any in-school theater classes, so any involvement was extracurricular. It wasn’t always easy balancing my schoolwork demands with club responsibilities, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The drama club members were “my people,” they liked the offbeat things that I did and we had enormous amounts of fun together. I was a member of the stage crew- building and painting sets, hanging stage lights, setting up speakers and microphones, and moving set pieces during performances. The stage crew became a second family to me, a place where I felt like I could be myself. I was also good friends with many of the performers and musicians in the drama club. We were bonded by similar interests and shared experiences. A large part of who I am as a person comes from my experiences after school in my high school auditorium. The value of my after-school participation is difficult to measure, but easy for me to see.

Fast forward 10 years. I now work as a Program Manager at the CUNY Creative Arts Team (CAT), administering our “CASA” (Cultural After School Adventures) programs. Funded by the NY City Council through the Department of Cultural Affairs, CASA brings after-school arts programming to schools across the City. CAT is delivering CASA programs to 22 schools this year. It’s no easy feat working with that many schools in one program, but I find great satisfaction in making this program successful at CAT, especially from my own experiences participating in an after-school theater program.

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The work we do with our CASA students involves using theater in ways I didn’t even know were possible when I was in drama club. We work with students from 1st through 12th grades, inviting them to learn about theater, about one another, and about themselves. They learn theater games that teach them performance skills while also building a sense of community. They learn about improvisation and storytelling, and they create their own theater with their thoughts and ideas at the center. Program Director, Helen White, and Project Manager, Shamilia McBean, train and support the Actor-Teachers as they develop curriculum and work with their students. The young people have opportunities to learn, create, have fun, and express themselves in a program that is free for them and their school. Our CASA program is sometimes the only after-school program a school has, and sometimes we integrate ourselves into a school’s larger after-school structure by working with the school staff. No matter how different the needs of each school may be, we find a way to make amazing theater with their students.

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I was always drawn to the backstage roles, but I know that if I could have participated in a program like this, I would have been hooked, especially in elementary and middle school. I am motivated daily by my own memories and feelings of belonging as well as hearing from Actor-Teachers and school contacts about how much the students enjoy being a part of the CASA program. It is fulfilling to know that the work I do at CAT helps bring young people together in an after-school theater program, like the one that meant so much to me.

TessaTech

Tessa Pantuso
Program Manager
CAT CASA Programs

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.

 

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

Ready for Anything

When it comes to theatre, devising new work has always been the thing that has excited me most. Yet past attempts to create plays in professional theatre settings often ended with lackluster results. What was I doing wrong?!  It wasn’t until I became a Master’s student in the CUNY/SPS M.A. in Applied Theatre program, that I began to learn how to work from the ideas of participants – using their assets, skills, and interests to make original theatre. And now I feel like the luckiest guy in the world, because I get to do what I love, full-time, with the young people of the CAT Youth Theatre and Junior Youth Theatre.

Joey & Kevin at AATE 2014

Joey & Kevin at AATE 2014

Last fall, Kevin Ray (my collaborator in running the Junior Youth Theatre program) and I decided that we wanted to share some of the work we do with middle-school aged students in a conference setting.  Kevin and I had been working together for some time and had been striving to think about how to make theatre activities and devising prompts accessible to this age group. Through our work we had constantly been exploring the question: how can we, as practitioners, support middle school youth in sharing their ideas, navigating group dynamics, and using theatre to say something about the world? We thought that actively examining this question in a room of professionals would generate a rich dialogue in which Kevin and I could share some of our ideas, and hear from others about what approaches they use.

Face-to-Face-2

Face to Face, NYC 2014

Kevin and I designed a workshop during which attendees could wear two hats—one as a participant, engaging in some of the practical exercises that we do with the Junior Youth Theatre; the other as a reflective practitioner, considering how our approach may—or may not—speak to some of the challenges of working with this age group.  An emphasis was placed on collectively exploring different ways that facilitators can guide youth through the creative process so that all of us could learn and grow.

Face-to-Face-1

Face to Face, NYC 2014

Our session proposal was accepted by two different conferences. First stop was the 2014 NYC Arts-in-Education Roundtable Face-to-Face Conference held on the beautiful City College campus last April. The 32 NYC-based participants in our session jumped into our activities – and had a lot to say about them.  One participant expressed how she found the flow of our questioning useful in the way it gradually encouraged youth to think about the world in which we live. There was a general excitement in the room about how we, as educators, can begin to create potential opportunities for youth to delve more deeply into content.

Face-to-Face-3

Face to Face, NYC 2014

Exploring content in a meaningful way with middle-school youth is an area that I continue to circle back to in my practice—how can I really take their ideas seriously and “get underneath” them to begin to understand what they want to say? And once I do—how can this content be developed both intellectually and theatrically? Participants in the Face-to-Face session had a lot to offer on this topic. Several spoke about how we might expand images we had created in our practical session together through different approaches. Others stressed the value of metaphor as a way to get inside issues. One participant described how she uses writing prompts as a way to expand work.

In July, Kevin and I traveled to Denver, Colorado to present at the 2014 American Alliance of Theatre and Education (AATE) Conference, a much larger conference than Face-to-Face, featuring educators, professionals, and practitioners from all across the country. Our session for nearly 30 AATE participants was similar, but further developed using the discoveries made at Face-to-Face – and the post-session conversation was strikingly different. Rather than the sharp focus on developing content that occurred at the previous conference, this discussion moved quickly towards the political implications that may emerge as a result of exploring content.

AATE-session

AATE Denver 2014

Several participants in the room questioned whether the way we gave youth freedom to address real-world topics could actually create a political divide amongst them. One young woman brought up the issue of gay marriage, and how when her youth brought it up, a huge debate ensued. As a result she averted the issue and made the choice to not pursue it in the rehearsal room. She explained that she couldn’t have angry parents calling and chiding her for teaching “hot topics” to the youth. Her response was not what I had been expecting. My surprise continued when others in the room went on to express similar concerns. One young man offered that he would have opened up such a dialogue with youth, but would only include issues they face in school; another said that youth this age are only expressing what they hear at home from their parents—so we have to be really careful in dealing with what comes up.

The young people from the Junior Youth Theatre wanted to make a scene about gay marriage in a recent show. And while nearly all of our youth expressed being pro-gay marriage, when creating the scene they felt it important to include a perspective that wasn’t in favor of the issue. At CAT we encourage youth to explore different perspectives; we aim to create theatre that is not message-driven or preachy, but rather seeks to open up a dialogue about issues and the world we live in. When talking about this at AATE, a participant in the room mentioned how lucky I am to live in NYC where “everyone is so liberal”. The conversation that was taking place continued to catch me off-guard—how could one session yield such different responses?

In reflecting upon the session, I realized that while I may be able to lead similar sessions with different groups, what emerges in the room will inevitably be dissimilar. While I went in to the AATE session understanding this in theory, the reality of it emerging in practice reminds me that I always need to be “on my game” and continue to sharpen my listening skills. For not only will there be different responses from various groups, but within these responses there will almost always be difference of opinion. If I had thought more consciously about this in advance of AATE, I could have put my surprise aside, been more present and asked questions to interrogate what the participants were bringing up.

I understand it’s not a question of whether anyone is right or wrong when it comes to multiple perspectives. Rather, it’s about how I can facilitate a dialogue between participants where all of them can offer their opinion, listen to others, and think critically. In such a process, all—including myself as a facilitator—have the potential to learn and grow.

JYT

Winter 2014 Junior Youth Theatre dress Rehearsal

My experience during the conferences—and my work with the young people of the Junior Youth Theatre, who have radically different opinions—affirms that I can’t make assumptions about how this work will land or what will emerge. I have to be ready for anything. And while this thought can be kind of scary, it’s also what makes this work so exciting to me—that it is living and breathing, and thus always changing.

Joey-Schultz

Joey Schultz
Associate Program Director
CAT Youth Theatre

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