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.

casapic2

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.

casapic1

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

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

My CUNY Service Corps Experience

This school year, being a CUNY Service Corps member has been a whirlwind. With everything we had to do, from the interview process to the monthly workshops we have to attend, it took a lot of commitment to fulfill my duties as a Service Corps Member. The best part of being a Service Corps member this year was being placed with the Creative Arts Team for my service site.

Nya (center) with Helen and Lexy

Nya (center) with Helen and Lexy

Working at CAT was good work experience for me. Even though I am in school to be a dental hygienist and the program I worked with at CAT is an after-school program teaching literacy through drama, I was able to learn a lot that I can take with me in my career as a hygienist. This was my first office job, so I learned a lot of skills that one should know if they’re going to be working in an office setting, such as, working with Excel, and filing (I did a lot of this!). I also learned how to send professional emails and that you should email everything, even if it’s small (wrote plenty of these too). I was also able to join in on a couple of sessions of one of CAT’s many programs, Project CHANGE. Those sessions were a good way for me to break out of my shyness a little bit, with exercises like Pantomime. Other than that, the staff at CAT made it really easy for me to feel like I’ve been working there forever. They’re all very silly and down-to-earth, with personalities through the roof that made me feel really comfortable and at home. I guess it comes with being “creative individuals” or just plain ol’ happy people (feel free to start singing R. Kelly’s Happy People anthem).

Nya-2I am very grateful for all that I have learned and the relationships that have formed while working here. My supervisor, Lexy, has taught me the most while I’ve been at CAT. My other supervisor, Helen, who is the biggest kid at the office (I mean it in the best way possible), has a larger-than-life personality and always keeps the energy in the room. I am certainly going to miss those two saying my full name every other minute. I will also miss Carmen, the Director of Project CHANGE and the reason why I had hoped to be placed with CAT, for being so nice while I’ve been here and welcoming me into Project CHANGE; my office buddy Nicole showing me tons of pictures of cats; and my fellow Service Corps member, Natalie, sharing the experience with me. And to the rest of the CAT staff members, it was nice getting to know you and working alongside all of you, and it was my pleasure to be of some help to you all. I am going to miss being a part of this organization (I am starting to get a little teary-eyed as I write this blog) but I will come back to visit very soon!

Nya Jackson
CUNY Service Corps Member
Placed with CAT’s Early Learning & Adolescent Literacy Programs

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

Follow CAT Youth Theatre on Facebook

Growing Up in CAT (Kat edition)

Youth Theatre era Kat

Youth Theatre era Kat

At 35 years old I have spent half of my life as a member of the CAT family. The beginnings of which started with my combat boots roaming the halls of CAT’s NYU corridors of an office in the East Village as a CAT Youth Theatre member. Three years later I found myself no longer a minor with a curiosity about the impact of CAT’s work beyond the walls of the Youth Theatre. With the unwavering guidance and enthusiasm of Helen White & Chris Vine as directors of the CAT Youth Theatre and mentors, I have had the privilege of working with over 20,000 young people, from the Bronx to Staten Island, as a teaching artist for CAT. For 11 years my feet traveled the veins of the City to work with young people, teachers, and administrators to share my passion for using theatre as a tool for social and academic learning.

Kat as Actor/Teacher

Kat as Actor/Teacher

It has been 4 years since I have regularly turned off a 5am alarm, to spend 2 hours commuting to the beautiful faces of the young people of New

York. I miss it terribly. However, I have continued my tenure at CAT as an Associate Program Director and now as a Program Director. Although my new role doesn’t have the daily immediate satisfaction of being in a classroom, it is an opportunity for me to work with other practitioners in building and expanding this work. It has been 15 years since my membership to the Youth Theatre and I still continue to draw upon the subtle and graceful intentionality of the Helen and Chris’s choices and actions in directing the Youth Theatre. Their teaching and training of other folks enveloped my learning for nearly 2 decades. Every aspect of my experience as a CAT Youth Theatre member

Kat as Associate Program Director

Kat as Associate Program Director

prepared me for my work as a teaching artist, activist, artist, friend, and human being. There is electricity in my spine that incites me to ask questions and to think critically*.

To add to a quote that has been traveling the depths of the internet that reads, “What if the cure for cancer is trapped inside the mind of someone who can’t afford an education?” Well, “what if theatre as a tool for learning is one of the keys to freeing that cure?”

*Critical thinking, in my case, was not a natural and instinctual action to take. I was raised to accept my circumstance, get by, and avoid eye-raising activity. Critical action is a privilege that individuals trying to survive on a daily basis do not have easy access to.

Katherine Chua Almirañez
Program Director
Adolescent Literacy Initiative

CTEA TAP’s 2nd Annual Success

CTEA-TAP1The High School for Construction, Trade, Engineering and Architecture (CTEA) in Ozone Park, Queens set the stage ablaze with their sophomore show, What Goes Up Must Come Down, on May 30, 2014. The show was a 45 minute piece entirely devised by the ensemble of fourteen high school students and directed by CAT’s own Keith Johnston. Brenda Glasse, the school’s College and Career Administrator is the Theater Arts Program (TAP) coordinator/advisor.

CTEA TAP Cast and Crew

2014 CTEA TAP Cast (with Brenda Glasse (CTEA) and Keith Johston (CAT) on the left)

The topics in What Goes Up spanned adolescence: love, body image, unhealthy substances, suicide, and a teen’s perspective on the world. The opening monologue, written by Allison, brilliantly foreshadowed the entire production as the ensemble brilliantly mimed all the parts of the whole. In the process, the audience of peers, school staff and family, got a glimpse of the teen “world,” “despair,” and “independence.” By the first humorous scene, the audience had already been chewing on some heavy themes. Over all, the play lived up to its title, bringing the audience to comedic heights while also sobering the room with introspective drama There were fifteen scenes in total, addressing everything from bulimia, alcoholism, mental illness and suicide to a commercial for “Zombie-Away” and a hilarious ‘be careful what you wish for’ scene; and, at the finale, the audience gave uproarious applause.

TAP 2013 Alumni

2013 CTEA TAP Alumni

The cast was a healthy mix of veterans from last year and this year’s newcomers, a host of freshman were also in tow and an even number of male and female students this year! At the curtain call, the support of several TAP alumni came on stage to applaud this year’s ensemble. Ms. Glasse then awarded each member with a What Goes Up t-shirt for a job well done. The evening was complimented with a large visual arts display presented in the lobby to accompany the show.

I was able to assist Keith with the show and, during the devising/rehearsal time, I saw these kids develop their voices and gain indestructible confidence. It was evident that the passion they displayed onstage will definitely transfer to whatever they do next. It reminded me how crucial these programs are to youth and community development.

CTEA TAP was created last year by Ms. Glasse and Mr. Johnston in and attempt to deepen the students’ artistic experience within their specialized program. For the past two years, HSCTEA has received arts programming support from the Matisse Foundation, under which the school has engaged CAT to facilitate the theatre component. (On a side note, at least one of last year’s TAP students is now a member of the CAT Youth Theatre!)

Here’s to another successful year!

Jerron-Herman-CAP

Jerron Herman
Administrative Assistant
Actor-Teacher Swing
College/Adult Program
CUNY Creative Arts Team

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