A Fond Farewell

CAT is certainly an innovative organization. The impact it has had on the field of education is profound. By incorporating its integration of participant-centered pedagogy while simultaneously meeting the direct needs of all the communities it serves, CAT has played a huge role in the ever changing dynamics of how education is facilitated in and out of the classroom.

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Lexy, Rachel and family at CAT’s 2014 Holiday Party

What most people don’t see is the impact that CAT has on the people that work here. People in the “outside world” don’t get to see the support CAT’s leadership provides to its employees around family and self-care. People don’t get to hear the conversations of passion, anger, exhilaration around the various social issues we are all affected by. People don’t get to see the deep emotional connection CAT staff invest when developing their workshops. People don’t get to see the comradery that develops amongst us all working at CAT, making it feel more like family than just colleagues.

DSCN5643-s6 years ago I walked through CAT’s doors as part of the first cohort of the MA in Applied Theatre. I was excited about the new opportunity to apply what I had always been practicing (theatre for social justice) but never had a name for. Several months later I was blessed with the opportunity to be hired as a part time Operations Assistant where the incomparable David Mitnowsky was my supervisor. His eccentric ways and incredible humor automatically gave me a sense of belonging; giving me the space to just be me and not feel like I had to adapt to some sort of corporate way of being. After some time, I was able to move my way up and became a Program Manager supervised by Rachel Castillo, who taught me that the idea that participant-centered pedagogy not only applied to educators, but was a crucial practice for administrators and supervisors. She inspired me on a regular basis, helping me formalize and actualize my beliefs that women can be compassionate friends, mothers, and co-workers but also be super hard core impactful supervisors.

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Lexy (left), Kat (right)

During my time as a Program Manager, I developed many deeply committed and intricate friendships; a first for me as an army brat who never had opportunities to invest in long term friendships. One of my most profound relationships developed with Katherine Chua Almirañez, who continues to see my strengths and passions and always worked towards pushing me to get out of my comfort zone. She always encourages me to achieve the things I secretly dreamt but never voiced simply out of fear of failure. From facilitating poetry workshops, to dancing on stage, to writing a play, Kat has given me opportunities to achieve what I thought was the unachievable.

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Early Learning & After School Literacy Team

I finish my tenure here at CAT as the Early Learning & After-School Projects Director, where I have been able to work closely with Helen Wheelock and Brisa Muñoz. These amazing women have been incredible cheerleaders for me during the past year and, even in the moments I was struggling the most, they were there with bright eyes and big smiles to remind me “You are amazing. You are worthy.” Their positive attitudes and way of seeing the world has continued to inspire me and adapt the way I approach being a supervisor and overall human being.

DSCN8570sWhile I name specific people above, what I have come to realize is that I have worked in some capacity with almost every single person at CAT. I can identify a specific conversation with each of them that has literally changed my life. Every person here has helped shaped my view around parenthood, race, class, education, gender, and everything else under the stars. I certainly would not be the person I am today without the contributions of every person that I have encountered while working at CAT. And while I may be moving on to other opportunities, I know that I will always be carrying CAT and the wonderful lessons I have learned here with me. Thank you CAT for everything you have provided me. I will never forget any of you.

With the deepest of love and respect,
Lexy

Lexy NisticoLexy-Nistico
Until yesterday: Projects Director,
CAT Early Learning & After School Programs
Now: Program Director, Manhattan Youth Community Center

At a company picnic with her daughter and CAT and CUNY staff

At a company picnic with her daughter and CAT and CUNY staff

Lexy and other CAT staffers have become serious runners over the past few years

Lexy and other CAT staffers have become dedicated runners over the past few years

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Halloween 2014 (Lexy is the Jack Skellington in the center)

Showing, Telling, and Interacting: Presenting Theatre-In-Education… Theatrically

Claro & Mfoniso at TIOS  Photographer: Sobha Kavanakudiyil

Claro & Mfoniso at TIOS
Photographer: Sobha Kavanakudiyil

Marrying content (the subject of inquiry) and form (the artistic discipline) remains a central value in my endeavors as a theatre/film artist, educator, and cultural worker. This value solidified for me as a graduate student in the M.A. in Applied Theatre Program at CUNY SPS, and special credit goes to my applied theatre mentors: Chris Vine and Helen White, who offered a deep and practical study of what marrying form and content may look and feel like in practice. Moreover, as I continue to move forward in my work, I often return to the following quote by theatre scholar Anthony Jackson: “theatre that aims to educate or influence can truly do so only if it values entertainment, the artistry and craftsmanship that are associated with resonant, powerful theatre, and the aesthetic qualities that – by definition – will appeal our senses”. This quote, found in Jackson’s book Theatre, Education and the Making of Meanings Art or Instrument?, reminds me to never lose sight of the theatre form when sharing and implementing the work. It reminds me that the effectiveness of any artistic experience, regardless of the end goal, is directly related to the integrity with which one approaches the artistic form. In other words, it reminds me to wholly embrace the “theatre” aspect of the term theatre-in-education.

Mfoniso Udofia

Mfoniso Udofia

This past March, my co-facilitator Mfoniso Udofia and I had the honor of representing CUNY-CAT at the AATE New York Theatre in Our Schools (TIOS) Conference 2015 hosted by New York University. We presented a session outlining the Bronx History through Theatre: Resistance and Renaissance (BHTRR) curriculum which we created under the direction and guidance of CUNY-CAT‘s Artistic & Education Director, Gwendolen Hardwick. I spearheaded the TIOS application a few months prior because I felt immensely proud of the work we did on the BHTRR curriculum; I wanted more people to experience the work. BHTRR continues to be particularly significant for me because it was built on a collective passion to creatively, and theatrically, bring local history and culture into high school classrooms. BHTRR was intended to not only support the learning goals of the 10th grade English classes we serve in the Bronx, but also to integrate content that is more reflective of the culture and history of the students we serve.

Claro & Mfoniso at TIOS  Photographer: Sobha Kavanakudiyil

Claro & Mfoniso at TIOS, Photographer: Sobha Kavanakudiyil

Our session at TIOS, “Cultural Relevance in the Classroom: Integrating Local History (Social Movements and Hip Hop) through Theatre in the Bronx,” offered attendees a practical investigation of key selections of our curriculum. In attendance were students, educators, and others members of the broader theatre-in-education community. Aligned with the concept of marrying form and content, Mfoniso and I facilitated and performed samples of our curriculum, which engaged our attendees in various capacities. We asked our attendees to not only assume the roles of observers and peers, but also, at times, as student participants. We felt it was important for our attendees to have a “lived-through” experience because it would be the most effective method of clearly explaining BHTRR.

Claro & Mfoniso at TIOS  Photographer: Sobha Kavanakudiyil

Claro & Mfoniso at TIOS
Photographer: Sobha Kavanakudiyil

We closed our session with a short, insightful Q&A with our attendees. An educator from NYU seemed quite appreciative of the commitment that Mfoniso and I brought to the work as both facilitators and as performers. Another attendee, a public school teacher, shared how she was able to identify a good number of learning standards in our work and seemed quite interested in seeing history and theatre used in that fashion. Perhaps even more compelling was something that happened a few weeks later, at the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable’s Face to Face Conference. A graduate student stopped me in the hall, introduced himself and said he’d attended my workshop at the TIOS conference. He said: “thank you for that work. I’ve never really seen anything like that. You all were really performing.” I was very thankful for such positive feedback. Hearing his words reminded me how marrying form and content became, and continues to be, a central value to my practice; his words also reminded of the power of theatre and its ability to leave a mark on the memory of audiences and participants. As I continue to reflect and refine my practice, these reminders help support my view that the aesthetics of theatre is directly related to its effectiveness as a learning tool. I therefore continue to strive to create the kind of theatre experience that doesn’t compromise the aesthetics of the theatre discipline. I strive to make the type of theatre that is wrestled with and crafted, and I strive to do so no matter what circumstances I am working with.

Claro de los Reyes

Claro de los Reyes
Actor/Teacher
High School Program

Editor’s note: CAT heard from one of the TIOS staffers that Claro & Mfoniso’s session reminded her of how powerful and effective it is to have a team of two teaching artists in the classroom, rather than one, which has been a long-standing CAT practice. Congratulations to the team for making an impact on conference attendees and organizers alike!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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‘Tis the Season to be… Forty!

Lynda in 1977, part of a CAT cast photo

Lynda, 1977, in a CAT cast photo

Forty years ago, I never imagined that my fledgling creative efforts would help seed an entire field, give birth to a Master’s degree program and become a leading force in the world of arts in education.

Back then, I was an NYU graduate student looking only as far ahead as the next semester. My perspective soon changed to a 5-year plan, and then a 10-year plan. It grew to a 30-year tenure at NYU, followed by our wonderful move to CUNY, where we are now celebrating our 10th Anniversary! I couldn’t envision a better “marriage” for CAT, joining forces with CUNY’s commitment to serve young people across campuses and neighborhoods throughout NYC.

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CAP team L-R: Priscilla Flores, Eboni Witcher, Keith Johnston, Eric Aviles, Jerron Herman

Yes—I will take a long breath to celebrate…but also to reflect on how CAT will go forward for the ‘next’ 40 years. During this holiday season, I’m asking for your support to build a strong base – not just for now, but to fund this wonderful organization as it grows and adapts to the challenges that arise beyond my tenure.

Why is it important to have CAT around for the next 40 years?

Picture a room full of East Harlem youth from local housing projects gathered at the community center with local police representatives. Who is asked to create a workshop to break through the tension and entrenched perceptions held by all the stakeholders in the room? Our CAP (College and Adult Program) team engaged both teens and officers in thinking and interacting about the issues. Not “my” issues or “your” issues, but human issues – things that affect all the players.

CAT-treeThis is just one example of how CAT uses drama to change lives. By turning the ‘what is’ into the ‘what can be.’ By helping young people be the best they can be by tapping their potential, and developing their academic skills and resiliency to negotiate challenges in classrooms, in careers, and in life.

Building an organization like CAT is not about me. I have nurtured the CAT “tree.” But it remains vibrant and alive because of the talented and visionary people – including the students and adults we serve – who have built a collective vision for success, and continue to look forward to what else can we be doing? Our “tree” thrives thanks to public and private sector partners who so generously support CAT with donations, contracts, advice, and advocacy. I hope to count on your ongoing support as we lay the groundwork for another 40 years of extraordinary achievement.

My thanks for your ongoing support of CAT’s past, present and future!

Happy Holidays,

Lynda Lynda

Lynda Zimmermanfacebook_logoSupport CAT button
Executive Director
CUNY Creative Arts Team

CAT & CUNY Service Corps: the Partnership Continues

Congratulations to CUNY Service Corps. This is their second year providing work opportunities and experience for CUNY students, and CAT‘s second year of participating in the CUNY Service Corps participant training week launch. Last year we presented an original three-person production on 7 campuses, using 21 actors and 5 directors to inspire students at the beginning of their Service Corps training.

Mfoniso Udofia

Mfoniso Udofia

This year, we have been contracted to write an original one-act play to celebrate and inspire the participants at the end of their training, which will be held at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center at BMCC on Sept 5th; and our very own Mfoniso Udofia has been commissioned to write it.

The play, entitled Global. Service. Alliance., tells the story of an elite group of students tasked with bettering their community. This elite group overcomes personal and team-related obstacles to provide dynamic community service and remind us all that being a superhero is as simple as being truly human.

Mfoniso is a brilliant playwright and I have the honor of directing this production, so I was able to cast some brilliant actors to bring it to life: Priscilla Flores, Temesgen Tocruray, Eric Aviles, Eboni Witcher, Lynda Defuria and Anthony Roman.

"Global.Superhero.Alliance." rehearsal

Global.Superhero.Alliance. rehearsal. L-R: Priscilla Flores, Eboni Witcher, Lynda Defuria, Eric Aviles, Temesgen Tocruray

TPAC is a beautiful theatre holding nearly 1,000 people.  We will be presenting the production in the midst of the CSC culminating program, so while we are not sure of the exact time we will go on, it will definitely be between 10am and 12pm that morning.

CAT had five wonderful CUNY Service Corps students in our office last year, working on everything from marketing to adolescent literacy to HIV prevention, and we are excited to welcome this year’s group.  Congratulations to CUNY Service Corps on the completion of their successful first year and the beginning of their second! We aim to bring the CAT fire once again. Rooaarrrr!!!

Keith JohnstonKeith Johnston
Program Director
College and Adult Program

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

24 countries in one room

CAT & the Department of State International Visitor Leadership Program: Promoting Social Change Through the Arts

CAT & the Department of State International Visitor Leadership Program: Promoting Social Change Through the Arts

After being lost on the Avenue of the Americas (6th Ave.) for more than 20 minutes, 27 international artists and activists with a commitment to using art for social justice, walked into the Creative Arts Team with bright smiles and shining spirits. Some of the countries represented were South Africa, Nigeria, Cameroon, Mexico, China, Korea, Jordan, Poland, Latvia, India, Pakistan, Dili Timor Leste and the Philippines. To say the least, there was a whole lot of culture and flavor in the room. To say more…there was an amazing amount of experience, creative talent and social consciousness in one room.

A tableau depicting "Unity" resulted in a 24-Country group hug

A tableau depicting “Unity” resulted in a 24-Country group hug

I am so grateful to participate with such a diverse group of artists and activists. I learned that even though we come from diverse cultures and cultural experiences, we were in solidarity to combat oppression in all its many forms by using art and creating relationships with people in the local and greater communities.

We wasted no time. The first question asked of us to stimulate dialogue was: “if there were one problem you could fix in the world, what would it be?”  One person I spoke with said, “To unify North and South Korea.” Others included: “sexual slavery,” “greed,” “the on going war between Pakistan and India,” and from several pairs: “education.”  My personal response was genocide. The common theme between these answers is that, where people are purposefully separated from one another, for whatever reasons, there is violence. Here we were, complete strangers from different cultural backgrounds having dialogue about are passions and why we feel it necessary to fix theses atrocities through art and activism. We were already solving theses problems of separation and war by connecting with one another while discovering our commonalities and sharing our different cultural experiences.

This all happened within the first 15 minutes of our 3-hour session together.

Lively discussions about early learning, adolescent literacy, teen sexual health, and social issues for young adults

Lively discussions about early learning, adolescent literacy, teen sexual health, and social issues for young adults

You are going to have to imagine what happened for the rest of those three hours because I am about to end this blog entry. What I will tell you is… it was an amazing experience to create relationships and explore social issues through the process of participatory drama activities. I am so blessed to gain and hear critical perspectives from the most diverse cultural group I have ever been a part of, and excited for my next opportunity to be part of another diverse group. I invite you to join us and represent your country and cultural roots. Bless up-8+

Andre DimapilisAndre DiMapilis
Actor/Teacher
Early Learning Program
Adolescent Literacy Program
Graduate, CUNY SPS M.A. in Applied Theatre