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

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Celebrating 2015

To help us count down to the New Year, we asked our Team for highlights from 2015 – some of their answers are below…

We also ask that you keep us in mind for your tax-deductible year-end giving, help keep these amazing memories coming for years to come.


After-School FunGH

Suddenly, and quite by surprise, I was surrounded by a group of girls! I was sitting during an observation of one of our Serious Fun after-school workshops, observing a group of second grade girls put finishing touches on their paper puppets and puppet stage. I must admit I have a love of puppets – all kinds from paper bag puppets, sock puppets to the bigger than life Bread and Puppet Theatre ones. So, I asked the group if they could show me how to make my own puppet! They all rushed over to me with paper, crayons, scissors and glue and helped me make ‘Wendy’ my puppet!

Gwendolen Hardwick
Artistic & Education Director


The Power of Drama with our Youngest StudentsDorcas

“The teacher in my ICT (inclusion) class said he had never seen this one student so focused, because he has serious processing/speech delays, he never participates. But that was news to me – because every time I’m in the classroom, doing a storytelling, asking questions and including him, he’s one of the first kids with his hand up.”

Dorcas Davis
Actor-Teacher, Early Learning Program


The Power of Drama with ProfessionalsKJ

“I didn’t feel like I did my best during my session in the CUNY Black Male Initiative Conference, but I was swamped as I left the stage. It’s the power of this work, it was very evident that people were hungry to critically think, to broaden their perspective, and to understand what we do. It was pretty awesome to entertain young people who had so many questions and professors who really wanted to get more information about the work we do. I’m still boggled by it.”

Keith Johnston
Director, College/Adult Program


Working with ParentsParents

“The first of 27 Parent Workshops for year 2 of our Astor program (NYCT Brooke Astor Fund for NYC Education) took place at PS 212 in Jackson Heights, Queens, which is just the epitome of Queens. We had parents who spoke Urdu, Tibetan, Chinese, Spanish… every language we could think of. As the workshop exploring play and literacy concluded, two of the parents from Tibet came up to me and said: ‘Can I take a picture with you please? Can I can I please?’ The principal came up to me afterward and said, ‘They NEVER talk. They never say a word.’”

Helen Wheelock
Director, Early Learning Program


Shakespearean MagicSSF

The NYC Student Shakespeare Festival is a highlight for me every year. 2015 was our largest Festival yet, with well over 800 students and 30 teachers participating. The mix of public and private schools was profound for the students – with many from our struggling schools showing such pride in performing on the Lortel stage and that they did so well without fancy costumes. A private school 5th grader noticed as well, writing: “I’ve learned that not all schools have as many opportunities as mine has. This showed me to use my opportunities wisely.” Two of the themes that stood out this year were pulled right out of current cultural shifts – two high school groups explored gay marriage and two elementary school classes focused on the Black Lives Matter movement, all through Shakespeare. Amazing.

Krista Fogle
Communications & Marketing Manager
NYCSSF Administrator


Retention After-Schoolretention

“One of the highlights for our Adolescent Literacy Program, a middle school program using drama to strengthen literacy – the contract has been around for a few years, so we’ve been at it for a while – this year, we have the highest number of students in each of our after-school programs, the highest retention rate that we’ve had in the past 8 years or so. I think that speaks to the quality of work that we’re doing.”

Brisa Areli Muñoz
Associate Program Director, Literacy Through Drama


Best PracticesSVP

A recent highlight for me was observing my School Violence Prevention team transform their classroom – a huge classroom, with more than 30 kids – while implementing their day 3 session which had been kind of a challenge in many different ways. They were just impeccable. It was wonderful to see the students reaching out, totally and completely engaged in the narrative. It was just great.

Outside of the classroom, our workshop during the NYSED School Violence Prevention Conference in Albany went extremely well. There were no breakout groups, icebreakers or other interactive opportunities, so it was up to us to create that kind of community feeling. Afterward, everyone was interested in our work, everyone wanted to collaborate. They all wanted to know how they could “get the drama involved.”

Carmen Kelly
Program Director, Special Projects


Seasons of CHANGEPC

“This is a big year for Project CHANGE, our Healthy & Wellness/HIV Prevention Program. After 5 years of amazing peer education & intervention, this contract is coming to a close. During the summer, current and past CHANGE Agents and CAT staff came together for a reunion to celebrate all we’ve achieved and to plan the closing year. We held our World AIDS Day event on December 4th at Medgar Evers College and, over a few hours, had more than 100 participants, 25 of whom got tested! As our last big event, it was a ton of fun.”

Lynnette Freeman
Actor-Teacher, Project CHANGE


Momentous MilestonesLZ

This summer marked the 20th anniversary of our Youth Theatre program and, this fall, the conclusion of our 40th year. Lynda Zimmerman, our Founder and Executive Director, on what has made the Creative Arts Team thrive: “There has been this wonderful confluence of those three C’s: Creativity, Commitment, and Collaboration. The Creativity has been from folks like yourselves whether they were artists, arts administrators and educators, who continue to take ideas and run with them. The Commitment was finding folks like yourselves, with the mind of an educator, the strength of an administrator and the heart of an artist. And the Collaboration is being able to find those partners, be they programmatic or financial, who are willing to back your vision. I think those three things have been what’s propelled CAT, with the understanding that we always have that clarity in our vision of using that power of drama to help young people learn about themselves and the world around them.”

YTThe Youth Theatre held its first ever performance in the summer of 1995 at a ragged little black box theater, down along the east side of Washington Square Park. A wildly diverse group of fifty or so city kids, from throughout the five boroughs, came together to create a piece of theater they themselves would devise. Most had little to no experience in acting or performance. Even fewer knew each other beforehand. None would guess the impact those few weeks would have on their lives. I should know – I was one of them, barely sixteen at the time. That was twenty years ago.

The importance of what the Youth Theatre does, and what it can mean to a young person, is impossible to overestimate. You come to it at an age where figuring things out can consume your whole being: who you are, who you want to be, where you want to go. You come in on a Tuesday afternoon, and for a few hours you maybe untangle some of that mess, and you work on weaving it into something else. Probably you don’t have much of an idea what it is you’re making. What you do know is you’re making it yourself, with power and ability you maybe didn’t realize you even had, and that counts for more than you can ever know at the time.

None of that has changed in the two decades since those first performances. Now, as it was then, I don’t doubt for a second those city kids look forward to Tuesdays from four to six thirty all week long, just as I did. I’m sure in twenty years’ time they’ll look back on their days in the Youth Theatre, and, like me, know just how lucky they were to find it when they did.”

Adam Rivera
CAT Youth Theatre Alum


We wish you a happy and healthy New Year!

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