After-School Theater Adventures

After-School Theater Adventures

When I was a student, the after-school theater program was a large part of my life. I spent many hours working on plays, musicals, and other showcases as part of my high school’s drama club. My school didn’t offer any in-school theater classes, so any involvement was extracurricular. It wasn’t always easy balancing my schoolwork demands with club responsibilities, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The drama club members were “my people,” they liked the offbeat things that I did and we had enormous amounts of fun together. I was a member of the stage crew- building and painting sets, hanging stage lights, setting up speakers and microphones, and moving set pieces during performances. The stage crew became a second family to me, a place where I felt like I could be myself. I was also good friends with many of the performers and musicians in the drama club. We were bonded by similar interests and shared experiences. A large part of who I am as a person comes from my experiences after school in my high school auditorium. The value of my after-school participation is difficult to measure, but easy for me to see.

Fast forward 10 years. I now work as a Program Manager at the CUNY Creative Arts Team (CAT), administering our “CASA” (Cultural After School Adventures) programs. Funded by the NY City Council through the Department of Cultural Affairs, CASA brings after-school arts programming to schools across the City. CAT is delivering CASA programs to 22 schools this year. It’s no easy feat working with that many schools in one program, but I find great satisfaction in making this program successful at CAT, especially from my own experiences participating in an after-school theater program.

casapic2

The work we do with our CASA students involves using theater in ways I didn’t even know were possible when I was in drama club. We work with students from 1st through 12th grades, inviting them to learn about theater, about one another, and about themselves. They learn theater games that teach them performance skills while also building a sense of community. They learn about improvisation and storytelling, and they create their own theater with their thoughts and ideas at the center. Program Director, Helen White, and Project Manager, Shamilia McBean, train and support the Actor-Teachers as they develop curriculum and work with their students. The young people have opportunities to learn, create, have fun, and express themselves in a program that is free for them and their school. Our CASA program is sometimes the only after-school program a school has, and sometimes we integrate ourselves into a school’s larger after-school structure by working with the school staff. No matter how different the needs of each school may be, we find a way to make amazing theater with their students.

casapic1

I was always drawn to the backstage roles, but I know that if I could have participated in a program like this, I would have been hooked, especially in elementary and middle school. I am motivated daily by my own memories and feelings of belonging as well as hearing from Actor-Teachers and school contacts about how much the students enjoy being a part of the CASA program. It is fulfilling to know that the work I do at CAT helps bring young people together in an after-school theater program, like the one that meant so much to me.

TessaTech

Tessa Pantuso
Program Manager
CAT CASA Programs

Applying Applied Theatre

Doe-eyed and fresh out of college, I realized I still had quite a bit of learning to do. I wanted to find a purpose for my art-making and knew I wouldn’t be able to do that without first understanding myself in relation to the world around me.

Brisa 2I grew up twenty minutes from the Mexican border, an area in South Texas called the Rio Grande Valley (RGV). I was raised by artists – my parents ran a dance company together that specialized in Mexican folkloric dance. I helped start a theatre company at the young age of 18, a company that is still growing, eight years later. I researched and applied for the M.A. in Applied Theatre at The City University of New York because I wanted to better understand how theatrical conventions might engage communities in dialogue. I was particularly interested in implementing this concept in my home community – an area that struggles with poverty, obesity, the cartels, immigration and “machismo,” among other issues. In graduate school, I recognized for the first time in my life that my perspective was not merely valuable, but necessary.

Since joining both the MA and Creative Arts Team, I have worked with young people from elementary to college students, social workers, educators, adults with developmental disabilities, and peacebuilders. I have presented at conferences on the local, national and international level – including a recent applied theatre workshop held in Dohuk, Iraq, addressing the importance of the analysis of personal histories and experiences prior to engaging in conversation with divided societies. CAT offered me a home in which to hone the facilitation skills essential to the work of applied drama.

Brisa 1I have since applied these skills within my South Texas community. Since my time in the MA Program and CAT, the theatre community in the RGV has created an original play with music, identifying what RGV culture is, and how it is influenced by living between two countries. We have partnered with farmers, nutritionists, economists and policy-makers to create a participatory event which used theatre to engage audiences in conversations around the current health climate in the RGV, and allowed audiences to reflect on their personal relationships to food and health. And in March of 2015, my New York colleagues and I will begin a project that uses originally devised performances to partner artists with communities impacted by the influx of Latin American and Mexican people onto United States soil.

In cultivating an understanding of my unique perspective as a woman of Mexican-decent, who now also identifies as an applied theatre practitioner, I have been able to use the skills fostered by the MA in Applied Theatre and Creative Arts Team to continue working with the community I know and love.

Brisa MunozBrisaAreliMunozHeadshot
Actor/Teacher

 

Play On

I am getting old, and my feet hurt.  This is a big problem because I like to run.  So I was very cranky the other day when I was taking off my Asics and putting on my swim cap.  As I hit the pool wall over and over again, the rhythm brought forth a sonnet I memorized as a child:

Since brass, nor stone, nor Earth, nor boundless sea
ShakespeareBut sad mortality o’ersways their power
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
Oh, how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wrackful siege of batt’ring days
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong but time decays?
O fearful meditation! Where, alack,
Shall time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty shall forbid?
O none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

Funny that Shakespeare inserted himself to drive home the fact of disintegration I was trying to work around. Maybe it’s because I just started working for Creative Arts Team this month, and my drama neurons are being reawakened. But why do I even have that poem in my memory banks in the first place?

My mom is a Shakespeare enthusiast, a cosmopolitan culture fiend, and generally a force to be reckoned with.  She carted all five of us to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a regular basis; she stuck Post-Its in French on kitchen table items (sucrier, pomme, saler); and she instituted an annual tradition of celebrating Shakespeare’s birthday.  On April 23, we would at the least memorize sonnets or soliloquies; at the most we’d produce full-on performances with one sibling playing her newest viola piece, another baking a cake, and another staging a skit using the dining room louvered doors as a “curtain” and the young ones as “actors.”  (As the smallest, I usually got to do the sound effects.)

Having art and culture at the center of my childhood gave me a broad life perspective. Making various kinds of art made me feel able to do things.  And living with art constantly proves to me the value of seemingly ephemeral things – poetry, music, drama; emotions, morals, spirit.  In the pool, my inner resources bubbled up to comfort me with beauty and resonance, and to ask: If 450-year-old Will can swim with you, is it really so tragic that you can’t run today? Are there other things you thought were not possible that in fact are?

My feet might forsake me but I still have Will – as an integral part of me.  My mother gave me a tremendous gift that feeds me no matter how much I earn, or how long my to-do list is, or what else is happening in my life.

I am thrilled to be part of a team that brings these questions and gifts to thousands of children and adults each year.  And I’m looking forward to stocking up on new resources this work will undoubtedly bring to me, too.

Chris TokarChris-Tokar
Director of
Resource Development

Editor’s note: We are very happy to welcome Chris to the team – her love for the Bard will come in handy during our annual NYC Student Shakespeare Festival!

The title of this post comes from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: “If music be the food of love, play on!”

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

Growing Up in CAT (Kat edition)

Youth Theatre era Kat

Youth Theatre era Kat

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

Kat as Actor/Teacher

Kat as Actor/Teacher

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

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

Kat as Associate Program Director

Kat as Associate Program Director

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

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

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

Katherine Chua Almirañez
Program Director
Adolescent Literacy Initiative

CTEA TAP’s 2nd Annual Success

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

CTEA TAP Cast and Crew

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

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

TAP 2013 Alumni

2013 CTEA TAP Alumni

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

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

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

Here’s to another successful year!

Jerron-Herman-CAP

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

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