Luke Goes Full Circle

“OMG I’m the lead of a Shakespeare play!”

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Luke, center, with his class from PS/IS 127 Aerospace Science Magnet School at the 2012 Festival

Hi, my name is Luke Domond and I am 20 years old. When I was 14 years old, in middle school, I starred in my very first play. Once my teacher, Ms. Nicolson, told us that we would be in a play at the end of the year for the Shakespeare Festival hosted by the Creative Art Team, I couldn’t control my excitement, so that day I ran home to let my family know about the good news. I always wanted to be a part of play and this was my opportunity to be in one. Not only was I able to finally be in one, I was the lead role! The play was “Much Ado About Nothing,” a comedy by William Shakespeare. The day finally came, after days of rehearsing, it was finally go time. Walking into the building where we was about to perform was terrifying. Seeing the stage, seeing all the seats that will soon be filled with people, it was just a rush. Once it was our turn to go on stage and perform all I could think of was, what if I forget my line or say the wrong thing, all these things was just clouding my head. So, I decide to close my eyes, take a deep breath, and just do what I was doing for the last few months, having fun. To my amazement, we were a hit, everyone loved our performance! We won the award for best comedy.

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Luke’s scene, “Love Can Make You Do Some Crazy Things”

Thinking this would be the last time I would ever hear about this program and this wonderful festival they host every year since, I would be going to high school the following year, I was devastated. I would never have another experience like that again. To my surprise, 6 years later I was giving the opportunity to intern for them through an internship program called CUNY Service Corps. This was my chance to finally get connected with the people who created this wonder festival and made my middle school experience the best experience I ever had. Interning for the Creative Art Team was a blast, I got to work with a lot of great people who taught me so much like Krista, Rachel, David and so many others. Then it finally happened, I got directly connected to the people behind the Shakespeare Festival! Not only did I get to meet the people who brought me so much happiness as a child, but got the chance to be a part of the magic and help out with the Festival this year!

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Luke, center, on Sixth Avenue, with CAT’s 2017-18 CUNY Service Corps crew, Service Corps alumni who are current CAT staffers, and three CAT administrators

Going from being in the Shakespeare Festival as a child to interning for the company as a young adult and being able to be a part of making this year’s festival as amazing for the kids this year as it was for me 6 years ago is really a blessing.

Lucille Lortel Theatre, here I come again! Can’t wait!

Luke-Domond

Luke Domond
CUNY Service Corps Member
Student, New York City College of Technology

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Field Notes

Field Notes

As a new employee at CAT, I’ve been really fortunate to be able to watch and participate with our Actor-Teachers as they share and create interactive stories with young people in grades K-2 at the start of this year’s Astor Program. The Astor Program stems from a generous grant that allows the Early Learning Program to engage in a mentor-modeling in-school residency (alongside after-school professional development sessions) to six schools in Queens on how to use interactive drama practices in the classroom to foster higher order reading skills. One of my favorite moments to witness has been each and every class being so excited to see their respective actor-teacher walk in the room, even if they have only met him or her once before.

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CAT’s 2016-17 Early Learning Team

I am also constantly humbled and impressed by how thoughtful and intentional our team is. The care they put into reaching each student on both an academic and personal level is truly moving. I have no doubt that the young people’s ability to recall the stories (and, in turn, skills) they have been creating is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our team. I’ve had a great time participating with the young people as our actor-teachers create stories with them, and look forward to seeing the growth of the team, the young people, and their teachers throughout the year.

What I love most about this work, and this may be fairly selfish of me to say, are the people that I’ve met and worked with who are out there practicing it in the field. Because I primarily prefer to work in administrative roles, I am fortunate to have connected with a multitude of individuals who operate under the umbrella of applied theatre, which encompasses work of this nature. Borrowed from CUNY’s MA in Applied Theatre homepage, applied theatre “involves the use of theatre and drama in a wide variety of nontraditional contexts and venues, such as in teaching, the justice system, health care, the political arena, community development, museums, and social service agencies.” Overall, the practitioners and artists that I’ve worked with are some of the most conscientious humans I have ever met.

I found myself working in applied theatre a little over two years ago when I messaged my high school mentor in a panic a few months before graduating college with a degree in English and Secondary Education and a minor in Special Education. I expressed that I really missed being involved in theatre (I had taken a hiatus from stage managing for a few years) and that I found the education system to be failing the students of America and was unsure if I could be a part of it. She asked me if I had heard of the term applied theatre, which I had not, and on something of a whim I found myself applying to get my master’s degree in it in London. While there is no denying that I rushed into getting a degree in a field of work I had next to no experience in, I was fortunate to be met with open arms by my fellow MA students at Goldsmiths University of London.

Over the past two years I have worked in administrative roles where the populations being worked with are very vulnerable ones. The work that our actor-teachers and teaching artists do is not easy, and I cannot emphasize enough how hard they work to make sure that they are practicing the work as ethically as they can. I feel very privileged to witness and hear about their success stories in the field. From a personal standpoint, I also feel pushed to use some of the strategies I have learned from this work in exploring how I can be a more politically aware and active citizen. In today’s political climate, I have found it especially necessary to examine my own privileges and how I can use them in supporting movements that challenge the many inequalities marginalized groups in this country face. The people I have met who work in applied theatre have been integral in that process for me, and I am very grateful to them for their patience, skills, and support.

While a goal of the Early Learning Program is to enhance higher order reading skills, it is also to encourage young people to ask strong questions. What I like about applied theatre (and why it’s a field I want to remain working in) is that these two goals are not mutually exclusive here – they shape and inform each other. Our actor-teachers and teaching artists work with populations who will be the artists, activists, and policy-makers in the years to come, and it’s very humbling to play a small part in that.  kady-stockman-2-elp

Kady Stockman
Program Manager
Early Learning Program

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)

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.

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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

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!

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