The Impact of Project CHANGE

In September 2015, I began working with the Creative Arts Team (Project CHANGE) and it has truly had a life-changing impact on me. At first I was not entirely sure about what the program would entail, but after doing research, I was eager to work with the other Agents to teach adolescences about sexual health. Project CHANGE is such an outstanding program that has a great impact on the lives of many, by using a more creative approach to educate and grasp the attention of adolescents in current issues pertaining to sexual health.

Over the course of the year, I noticed various changes which have improved my personal and academic skills. Project CHANGE has allowed me to better mold my time management skills. At first I wasn’t sure if I would be able to handle working at my full potential. Once I found a balance, where I was able to successfully plan and execute dates and events prior, I realized it was smooth sailing. I am now more efficient in balancing my academic and social life, while being able to successfully meet my responsibilities. Before working at Project CHANGE, I found it difficult at times to balance school, work, sports, and my social life; but now I am able to find a balance where I manage to complete various tasks that are required and not feel overwhelmed.

PC-Chloe

Chloe, circled, with Project CHANGE Agents and Staff

Project CHANGE is a family. I was welcomed with opened arms and included in all aspects. We have all grown together as a unit to make this project impactful. Each Agent supports one another and gives great reviews and advice on how we can all achieve our goals.  Project CHANGE has been a great support system, where everyone looks out for one another. We have supported each other in various plays, readings, and remarkable events. I did not know I would be entering into a caring, loving family that cares of the well being of each individual. When you are feeling overwhelmed or discouraged, you can confide in anyone there. Project CHANGE is a safe haven for the Agents.

While working with the Project CHANGE I am able to take the skills I have gained and use them even outside of Project CHANGE. One skill I have acquired is proper facilitation, which is beneficial when working with children. Outside of Project CHANGE I direct a drum corps, and the facilitation skills have allowed me to better teach my drum line. I noticed that I am better able to express various routines, and styles of playing, and that my students have a better grasp of what I explaining. Being at Project CHANGE allows me to not only be a better educator, but to place myself in the mindset of a student so I am able to give specific and clear instructions that everyone understands.

Not only has Project CHANGE educated me, it has encouraged me to educate my family and friends on their sexual health. I found myself being in school and stating statistics and important need-to-know tips on STDs, STIs and HIV/AIDS. I would then have my peers asking me questions and I was properly educated and able to answer. I’m able to derive the truth from a myth. Project CHANGE has given me knowledge that I believe all youths should be informed about, and it was a great pleasure to be able to share the knowledge.

Project CHANGE has allowed me to find a balance where I am able to complete various task without feeling overwhelmed. I am better at explaining various task and assignments. Project CHANGE has truly left an impact on my academic and social life that I will continue to carry with me. I am able to plan out a week or weeks of events in advance, and manage to balance classes, work, and everything else in between. As my Project Director Carmen Kelly would tell her agents, you have to find that balance. It isn’t easy and may be one of the most challenging aspect of college, but after being at Project CHANGE, it is a lot easier to find.

Chloe with CAT Executive Director, Lynda Zimmerman (left), and Project CHANGE Director, Carmen Kelly (right)

Chloe with CAT Executive Director, Lynda Zimmerman (left), and Project CHANGE Director, Carmen Kelly (right), at the CUNY Service Corps culminating event

Chloe Thomas-Bedeau
CUNY Service Corps Member
Assigned to CUNY/CAT: Project CHANGE

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

My First Steps at CAT

Nothing dries out my tongue, churns my stomach and makes my palms sweat as much as the prospect of starting a new chapter in my life. Heading towards the Creative Arts Team office, I was mortified at the thought of meeting anyone there. Now, I’m not a shy person; I consider myself to be pretty outgoing actually, but there’s something about a completely new environment that kicks me out of my comfort zone. Even with Google Maps on my phone to navigate my journey, I walked past the entrance at least five times before a city worker took pity on me and directed me to the right building. I could hear my heart beat furiously in my chest as the lobby clerk took my I.D. and sent me on my way to the 6th floor. A kind face greeted me as I exited the elevators, pointing me towards the meet-and-greet; whom I later found out was Nancy Clarke, Director of Finance & Administration.

You see, I wasn’t here for an interview; I was meeting my future coworkers and supervisors for the first time as an intern. My school, Queens College, is one of eight schools currently involved in the CUNY Service Corps, a program dedicated to contributing to communities throughout New York by working with a vast number of organizations, as well as providing work opportunities for college students. I wasn’t completely sure what to expect here at CAT, even with all the training and prep in order to accomplish every task handed to me. What worried me was much more simple: What if I make a bad impression? What if they decide I’m not cut out for the job? What if I mess up? These questions and more raced through my mind as impressive introductions were made about everyone involved in CAT, from administrators to actor-teachers, and directors of entire departments. I never felt as inexperienced as I did hearing all the accomplishments and job titles of everyone around me, making me realize I was the only intern there that day. My face must have been devoid of color as my supervisor, Lexy Nistico, called my name for my introduction. As I looked out onto all my coworkers giving me curious looks and polite smiles, I swallowed my fear and made my introduction, which was followed by applause. Afterwards, many came up to me curious about my position and my fears ebbed away with every new person I talked to.

CAT All Team Breakfast - and Natalie's first day at the office!

CAT All Team Breakfast – and Natalie’s first day at the office!

Looking back on that first day, it’s silly to think I was so scared. Everyone here has been the epitome of support and kindness; working together seamlessly on projects for the betterment of kids in the NYC area. Learning more about the specific projects such as Project CHANGE, and CAT’s Youth Theatre program (which I’m proud to say I am a part of!) gives me the initiative to push forward and work hard with such great people who are doing the same. I can’t wait to see the effect of CAT’s involvement with the schools of New York will do, and how it will impact our communities, starting with our students. I intend to use this entire year of service to see it through.

Natalie BernabeNatalie
CUNY Service Corps Member
(working with
CAT Youth Theatre,
Early Learning, and
After-School Programs)

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

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

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

Growing up in CAT

I’ve suffered a great deal of trials and tribulations in my life, especially from the end of Junior High through High School. I lost my mother in 2004. Her death had a tremendous impact on me for the years to follow, even to this day. I was fortunate enough to have been told of the Creative Arts Team (CAT) Youth Theatre, a free theatre program for Junior High and High School students from all over NYC. I joined in 2006. In this program, I (and many others like me) was given the opportunity to gain experience and strengthen my acting skills in an environment of peers, who proved to be an odd, yet magnificent bunch. Life long connections have been made. Invaluable lessons have been learned. Most of all, I have gained a great sense of self, belonging, and social awareness from years of that free membership.

I dropped out of High School when I was 17, for no other reason than my own ignorance and arrogance. The amazing thing is that although I knew in the back of my head I ought to attain a higher education and I was ruining my life, the Youth Theatre and its Director were never overbearing about my life choices. It was clear that the decision was frowned upon, yet they allowed me to learn that lesson intrinsically rather than force-feed it to me, like most others would.

In The Shadows, performed in NYC and Liverpool, for the 2008 Contacting The World Festival. (Joseph is on the upper right)

In The Shadows, performed in NYC and Liverpool, for the 2008 CTW Festival.

In 2008, I was selected to be a part of an ensemble made of members of the Youth Theatre, past and present, to devise yet another original show and tour it to the United Kingdom. Barely 18, I was given the opportunity to travel outside of the country and perform in Contacting The World, an international theatre festival comprised of youth theatre companies from all around the world!! It was one of the most remarkable experiences of my life and an adventure I’ll keep fresh in my memory forever. When I returned to the states I had a clear, unmovable direction: continue my education.

I enrolled in CUNY Prep to get my GED. I enjoyed all the benefits of a high school – even prom. I never considered myself to be outspoken, opinionated, charismatic, delightful or even adequate until the Youth Theatre became my extended family. At that prom, I was crowned King!

As I awaited the results of my GED scores, I faced a string of the toughest months of my life. My father grew terminally ill and passed. The Youth Theatre was there to keep me sane, grounded, active, expressive and alive as I was thrust into a position where I had to support myself. Of course I had the network of my family and friends to help me as well, but I honestly don’t think I could have survived were it not for that creative outlet.

I was accepted into Lehman College, where I took on the challenge of attaining my Bachelor’s Degree in Theatre and Education, the two influential factors in my life. All the while I was still an active member of the Youth Theatre, only consistent thing in my life. It wasn’t long before I was offered a position as the temporary Assistant Administrator of the Youth Theatre. Soon the temporary position became a permanent one, and I branched into other programs offered at CAT. Now I’m Assistant Administrator of the Youth Theatre and an Actor/Teacher for the Creative Arts Team, teaching fourth and fifth graders as well as high school students. I can honestly say that my time and commitment to the Youth Theatre has allowed me to realize the joy of education from a completely different perspective.

Although my active membership as a Youth Theatre participant expired a few years ago, I’m still very much invested in it. They say no one ever really leaves the Youth Theatre; they always stick around. It’s true. The Youth Theatre is an ever-growing, ever-pleasant community – a family.

Joseph GarelJoseph-garel
Assistant Administrator, Youth Theatre Program
Actor/Teacher
CAT Youth Theatre Alumnus