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!”

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Growing Up In CAT: Parent Edition

The CAT family prepares to welcome the newest member...

The CAT family prepares to welcome Laz…

When I lay down at night with my almost-6-year-old son Lazarus, I read to him, making sure to infuse each story with life. I give each character a distinct voice and add physicality to each line of dialogue. Sometimes we infer what will happen next by looking at the pictures. When bullying emerges as a theme, we identify where it is happening and what the reasons behind it might be. Sometimes we imagine the back-stories and create possible alternative endings. And yes – you’d best believe – open-ended questions are posed throughout because, more often than not, my son comes up with better answers and possibilities that neither I nor the author could have ever imagined.

I thank my parents first and foremost for planting the seeds that inspire the interactive and liberatory learning that takes place with Lazarus. My parents grew up as children of the 50s and 60s in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, where children were rarely, if ever, asked what they thought or how they felt. Neither graduated college but both organically, instinctually, and brilliantly infused participant-centered strategies and practices into my education and social-emotional development. Note to academia, you have nothing on my mom and dad.

Lazarus participated in many office meetings...

Lazarus participated in many office meetings…

While my parents laid the roots for the learning that takes place with Lazarus, my 9 years working with The CUNY Creative Arts Team has helped me to grow into the best thinker, educator, and mother that I could possibly be. In spite of my behind-the-scenes role as Director of Operations, I have had countless opportunities to experience the brilliant work that takes place both within our office and out in the field.

Getting some CAT love at the company picnic

Getting some CAT love at the company picnic

I have watched little children light up when Program Directors and Teaching Artists have brought a book to life with the aid of a simple costume or prop. I have witnessed the shyest child in a classroom replace one of the Teaching Artist at the height of a dramatic scene, and masterfully encourage the remaining Teaching Artist (in role) to make more informed and healthier decisions. I have watched Teaching Artists develop workshops in which parents are sensitively encouraged to push the theme of Bullying inwards; to identify where they may have been bullied as a child or adult, and when they may have been the aggressor in their role as parent. I have been fortunate to be exposed to the Common Core standards when they first emerged and actively engaged in workshops and activities developed by CAT Program Directors that have helped me navigate Common Core in my own child’s education. I have watched young college students in our adolescent sexual health peer education program tackle some of the hardest, most provocative and important conversations both with their peers and adults.

I have witnessed all of this and have walked away with a tool-kit – or, rather, a grab bag – of strategies, techniques, materials and resources that I weave into my parenting each day. I couldn’t figure out a way to express my gratitude to each of the talented, bright, and loving individuals I am blessed to work with at the Creative Arts Team but hopefully this writing will serve as a small token of my appreciation.

 

Rachel & Laz

Rachel Castillo
Mother of Lazarus
Director of Operations

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