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

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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