Notes on CAT’s 43rd Anniversary

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Hello Friends,

It is Friday, October 27th, and I am sitting at my desk poised to write a newsletter in celebration of the Creative Arts Team’s 43rd anniversary on October 31st.

My challenge is how to relate, in an e-newsletter, the vibrancy of CAT’s programs and the passion of CAT’s innovative staff, educators, partners, and most of all, the reason we do this work – our amazing participants throughout the city.

In lieu of live streaming, I’ll take you on a walk around the office hallways and share with you what I see…

SCENE: CAT’s office windows at 31st and 6th look out on a beautiful autumn day in Herald Square. While most offices in the city are winding down for the week, the CAT offices are bustling with energy. It is an energizing time at CAT as we now are full swing into the school year.

Friday is our liveliest day in the office. It is a planning day for CAT staff and teaching artists who deliver programs in all five boroughs throughout the week.

Rehearsals of dramatic scenes and discussions of pedagogical strategies are taking place in corners, by the coffee pot, in offices, training rooms and hallways. I hear – and feel drawn to participate in – impassioned dialogue on strategies for social issue engagement. Along with the serious discussions there is laughter, song and sometimes puppetry.

On this particular Friday morning, the Cultural After School Adventure (CASA) team is working on their after-school storytelling programs for middle school students. We are now in our 10th year of delivering CASA programs, funded by NYC Council Members.

Next to the CASA office is the Early Learning Program (where the puppets live), the team is working at this moment with colleagues from CUNY’s Office of Research, Evaluation and Program Support (REPS). Together, they are in the third year of evaluating a teacher-mentoring project supported by the New York Community Trust.

In the meeting room next to my office, CAT’s Literacy Through Drama (LTD) team is in training for upcoming middle and high school sessions on topics such as gender equity, justice and friendship. Today, they are working on strategies for dual language classrooms. The LTD program, with support from the NYC Dept. of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), uses drama to examine the world and build skills in social and academic literacy.

The CAT Youth Theatre team is also in the office using Friday as a training and preparation day. BTW! Save the dates for this year’s Youth Theater performances on February 23-25 and March 2-4, with a special Youth Groups performance on Tuesday, February 27 at 5pm (contact Maureen to reserve group tickets)! The Junior Youth Theatre will share on December 6 at 6pm. There will be an Ensemble improv performance on Saturday, December 9 at 8pm (featuring Youth Theatre Alumni). Now in its 22 year, CAT Youth Theatre helps young people thrive– on stage and in life. Members create socially relevant, artistically sophisticated original plays.

This Friday morning, the College and Adult Program (CAP) team is off-site, leading a “Campus Sexual Assault” symposium at Brooklyn College, organized by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, to address root causes and challenge social norms. CAP uses interactive drama and skill–building strategies to capture a panoramic view of our society and zoom in on specific issues and behaviors that create challenges in our lives. The CAP team works with numerous organizations and initiatives, including (but definitely not limited to): CUNY Black Male Initiative (BMI); the Department of Corrections at Rikers Island; Homes for Homeless (H4H); middle and high schools throughout NYC; and created and runs the Theatre Arts Program (TAP) at CTEA High School in Queens.

Next to the training room is our marketing and communications office, which, as part of Arts and Culture month, has been sharing staff responses to the prompts, #BecauseofArtsEd and “Why CAT?” Responses include: “helping students express themselves and have agency;” “I Have a village and I have a purpose;” “I can do work I love and help people;” “Students are empowered”; and “Heal the World with Art!”

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It is auspiciously dramatic that 43 years ago on Halloween night in 1974, original company members sat around a kitchen table and conceptualized the founding of CAT. Lynda Zimmerman and the founding members envisioned a company dedicated to creating innovative and exciting theatre and education programs that engaged students and the public in learning through drama by addressing timely social and curricular issues. As we gear up for the next 43 years at CAT, we all look forward to seeing you at CAT events, sharing opportunities to participate and updating you on the work ahead.

Until next time,
Jeanne
Executive Director


UPCOMING IN NOVEMBER
  • November 3rd is the Early Bird registration Deadline for CAT’s NYC Student Shakespeare Festival (NYCSSF), a program for 2nd-12th grade students that provides a structured process of CTLE-credited teacher training, in-school residencies and a culminating festival at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. NYCSSF is supported in part by DCLA and NYSCA.
  • CAT’s Young Adult Literacy Technical Assistance program (YALTA) is organizing a cross-site trip to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum for Young Adult Literacy Program (YALP) staff and their students in mid-November. YALTA delivers professional development to YALP, a program of the Mayor’s Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO) and DYCD, for youth, ages 16-24, building skills to enroll in a Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC™) Preparation Program and eventually earn their HSE (High School Equivalency).
  • The MA in Applied Theatre Program is conducting a Racial Justice Weekend on Saturday and Sunday, November 4th & 5th, from 10:00am-6:00pm.
  • An MA in Applied Theatre Introductory Workshop will be held Saturday, November 14, 2:00-5:00pm. MA in Applied Theatre/CAT Studios, 101 West 31st Street, 6th Floor. For more information on MA events click: here
The Creative Arts Team (CAT) is one of the K-16 Initiatives under the Office of the Senior University Dean for Academic Affairs, at The City University of New York (CUNY).
Support for CAT FY18 Programs Provided By:
Anbinder Family Foundation • Birch Family Services • Broadway Artists Connection • Chinese-American Planning Council • The City University of New York • Community Service Society of New York • HistoryMiami Museum • Homes for the Homeless • Jewish Communal Fund • Jujamcyn Theatres • The Lucille Lortel Foundation • Morgan Stanley • New York City Council: Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and 51 Council Members; Additional allocations from Councilmembers Barron, Constantinides, Cornegy, Eugene, Gibson, King, Koslowitz, Lancman, Levine, Miller, Perkins, Rosenthal, Torres, Vallone, Van Bramer, Williams, Wills • NYS Assemblymembers Dendekker • NYC Department of Correction •  NYC Department of Cultural Affairs • NYC Department of Education • NYC Department of Youth & Community Development • NY Public Library • NYS Council on the Arts • New York Community Trust-Brooke Astor Fund for NYC Education • Penguin USA • RBC Wealth Management • Seoul National University of Education •
Participating Schools, and many generous individuals
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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

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

Behind the Drama

Behind the Drama

It’s 3:30 pm on a Monday when I walk into a classroom of 12 middle school students.  They don’t see me at first. I just stand and wait in the front of the classroom observing them walk around excitedly telling each other about their day.  One of them notices me and happily yells,“Lexy!”  Soon after, I hear a rippling effect of “Hi, Lexy,” “Yay, Lexy is here!” “Lexy, did you notice my new shirt?”  This is what I live for.

These students don’t really know what I do for their after-school literacy program. They know that I help them get snacks and take field trips; that’s probably why they love me so much!  But what I do is much more complicated.  In order to have a successful after-school program, there are a lot of components and people involved.  We have our program director, actor-teachers, funders, students, and then there is me, the Program Manager.

My job is mostly behind the scenes.  I track a broad range of data, including student’s state exam scores, report card grades, the amount of work submitted, the number of hours per week are students attend the program, and how many students overall are participating – all to ensure CAT is meeting our contract requirements for attendance and academic outcomes for literacy and to understand how the students and our program are progressing throughout the school year.

I take all of this data and make sure to disseminate it to the right people at the right time.  Whether helping actor-teachers incorporate assessment results into developing curriculum objectives or calling a student’s parent to talk about the child’s level of attendance,  I use all of this data to make sure that CAT’s after-school literacy program is running as efficiently and effectively as possible.  It’s very time consuming and detailed work, but I truly love it.   

The greatest part of my job is seeing the impact.  Whenever I visit our students and see them in action, they move me.  Their brilliance, creativity, and excitement for the work that they do gives me hope for this next generation.  And for selfish reasons, it helps me feel fulfilled in knowing that I did my part in helping provide a fun, engaging, after-school program where students are truly learning and growing.

Lexy NisticoLexy-Nistico
Program Manager
Middle Schools Literacy Initiative
Alumni, MA in Applied Theatre