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!”

Advertisements

It’s International Literacy Day!

Invitation-shel-silversteinKofi Annan wrote that “Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a… vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity… For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right…. Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.”

In honor of International Literacy Day, our team is recalling our favorite books from years past. Have a look at some of our favorites, and remember what books made an early impact on YOU!

Aabha-AdhiyaAabha, Development and Grants Manager
I don’t have a favorite book. Just childhood authors I read in the order of aging. Famous Five, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Agatha Christie, Perry Mason, Allister  Maclean, John Le Carre…argh, I am seeing a criminal pattern here!  

Chris, Director of Resource DevelopmentChris-Tokaar
Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander –The adventures of Taran and his companions gave me a wonderful world to live in, including enchanted harps and powerful swords, but also unlikely heroes who were willing to make sometimes painful sacrifices. 

David-MitnowskyDavid, Operations Manager
A Confederacy of Dunces
by John Kennedy Toole. I had never read a book whose main character fascinated and shocked me as much as Ignatius J. Reilly. The mishaps and adventures and sayings and beliefs of this man kept me captivated throughout this novel and I loved it.

Dianna-Garten-picDianna, Development Associate
My favorite book is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  It was one of the first books I read that, even though it was fiction, gave me new insight into the world while also raising so many questions. I have revisited it several times, and find that it still does that.  I find it truly timeless and potent.

Gwendolen-Hardwick-2Gwendolen, Artistic and Education Director
My favorite book of all time is The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.  The beauty of Morrison’s words that tell a painful, poignant story of growing up girl and Black is riveting and powerful!

Helen, Early Learning Program DirectorHWweb
I Married Adventure 
by Osa Johnson was probably the first “true travel” reading I did – 6th grade? 7th grade? It was in the house I was staying at in New Hampshire. It had a cool zebra patterned cloth binding! The author wrote about her worldwide adventures with her photographer husband. What wasn’t to love?

Joey-SchultzJoey, CAT Youth Theatre Associate Program Director
Strega Nona
by Tomie dePaola. I loved it because I love my Nana. Also, when my 1st grade teacher read it to us we got to eat spaghetti. I love pasta and I love to experience art through doing & interactive learning!

Katherine-Chua2Katherine, Adolescent Literacy Program Director
Charlotte’s Web
, by E. B. White (4th grade); Hook by Geary Gravel (7th Grade); Snow in August, by Pete Hamill (as an adult) – Because they all tickled and pushed my imagination. They are all delicious books.

Keith, College and Adult Program Director
Keith JohnstonMy favorite book as a child is the Five Chinese Brothers by Bishop and Wiese. It is a story about five identical quintuplets who lived with their mother. They all processed individual talents that saved the family from extinction. I first read it at 6 years old and cherished it until 6th grade. I did about four book reports on it during elementary school. I was a very shy child so I believe I identified with the theme of overcoming obstacles, recognizing your special gifts and using it to outwit the enemy anonymously to survive.  At 12 years old, I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley. This book changed my life by clarifying my confusion and frustration of being a black male in America in the early 70’s. It gave me a sense of identity, pride and understanding of where I sit in society and a lens to understand my father’s perspective. Between being a first generation Caribbean, the civil rights movement, the media and a bias education this book was necessary. For me it was the beginning of pouring out shame and living unapologetically in my skin. It was the perfect book to focus my adolescent stage and so I passed it on to my children’s JHS freshman reading list.

Lexy-NisticoLexy, Early Learning and After-School Projects Director
The book we love is Goodnight Goon: A Petrifying Parody, by Michael Rex. It’s a spin on Goodnight Moon.  It’s just crazy fun and weird, like [my daughter] Delilah.  Probably why she likes it so much, LOL!

Michael, MA in Applied Theatre, Assistant Director
Phantom Tollbooth
, by Norton Juster.  Love the adventure and the outrageous puns.

Nan, Development Associate
The Little Engine that Could
by Watty Piper, Illustrated by George and Doris Hauman, was my most memorable book as a child.  It is a story of true encouragement and determination, and the images of the Little Blue Engine struggling up the hill to bring fresh milk, green spinach, and red and white peppermint candies to the children on the other side of the mountain will always stay with me.

Nancy, Director of Finance and Administration
When I was in 5th grade, it was The Black Stallion by Walter Farley – because it kept my interest and filled my imagination.

Nassib, Finance ManagerNassib-Saad
I started studying English as a second language at the age 13. Ironically, my first story was The Frog Prince, by the Brothers Grimm, it was the only suitable story for my English level!

Nicole, Early Learning & After-School Program Assistant; MA in Applied Theatre Nicole-SeraStudent
My favorite was Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. I loved the imaginative and strange worlds created in this book. I memorized some of my favorite poems and would act them out for my friends. 

Rachel-CastilloRachel, Operations Director
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
, because I related to the story and it spoke to my roots in New York. For my son, we loved reading Where the Wild Things Are, which signaled a milestone for us because it was the first time HE started recalling story text.

Taahira, Health Educator
My favorite book was The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This book was my favorite because I loved the pictures and I was a greedy little one. Everything the caterpillar wanted to eat I wanted to have too after having this book read to me in Pre-K.

Tessa, Operations AssistantTessa-Pantuso
I am a child of the Harry Potter generation so that is my choice, Go Gryffindor! As to why- It was the first reading experience where I became completely engrossed in a world that existed strictly on paper. I am an avid reader today and that all began with Harry Potter. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the series: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

 

For me, as for several of us, it’s nearly impossible to choose – there were so many favorites over the years. Throughout a difficult childhood, books were my friends and my escape. I think, because of this, the most impactful ones for me were those that indulged the escapism, the otherness and the venture into different worlds. The Chronicles of Narnia were, of course, influential; I wrote Narnia-esque stories and looked for entry to another world in every cabinet that I encountered. Early on, I discovered the deeper, darker worlds created by the likes of Bradbury (I re-read Something Wicked This Way Comes nearly every year), King, Zelazny and Tolkien, and I still spend sleepless nights revisiting those (and other) magical realms. Programs like Reading Rainbow and movies like The Neverending Story fed that desire to climb right into stories, and, of course, the poetry of Dr. Seuss, Eugene Field, and Shel Silverstein have always tugged at my imagination, and my heart.

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child.
Listen to the DON’TS.
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS,
The IMPOSSIBLES, the WON’TS.
Listen to the NEVER HAVES,
Then listen close to me…
Anything can happen, child.
ANYTHING can be.  

– Shel Silverstein

Thank you for reading!

Krista FogleKrista-Fogle
Marketing & Program Coordinator

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

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

Looking Back, Looking Forward…

I recall quite distinctly when I got hooked on this thing called “Educational Theatre.”

In 1993, after a decade or so of being a stage manager, scenic artist, director and producer in Boston, I had come to New York to get a Master’s degree that would prepare me to teach high school drama — acting, set design, directing the annual musical, etc. You understand: a “traditional” theater job.

And then I took this class taught by Nancy Swortzell: “Drama in Education,” during which she led a session that left me wondering, “What on earth just happened?” and “How do I do that?

I remember it unfolding as follows:

Nancy set up the students in the class to enter into role — that is, not act, but take on the characteristics and sensibilities of highly skilled and respected artists of a large city. The time period was Egyptian-esuqe, and Nancy took on the role of the top Adviser to the city’s ruler.

As the king’s Adviser, she told us, she had been charged with bringing the finest artists of the realm to the palace. We were all now entered into a competition: create a piece of art – a blazoned shield or royal coat of arms, if you will – that celebrated the magnificence and benevolence of the king. The winners would get fabulous prizes and they and their families would live free and easy for the rest of their lives.

She then proceeded to outline in great detail the various deeds and achievements to be celebrated.

Through her words and actions, it became clear that the ruler led with an iron fist. Some of the “artists” did grumble amongst themselves about being the king’s “puppets” and having their “artistic spirit” being so constrained. But any hint of bowing out of the competition or possible resistance, including “subversive messaging” through the art work, was quickly quelled by the Adviser’s subtle, and not so subtle, threats to family and friends living outside the palace walls.

I recall working in small groups, poster board and magic markers in hand, earnestly creating these pieces of “art,” carefully crafting the message each symbol would send. As we worked, the Adviser would check in with each group, asking them to explain the reasoning and significance of their choices. As she moved amongst the artists, the Adviser offered suggestions and expressed approval or disapproval.  Finally, all the groups were asked to stand up and prepare to share the results of their work.

As we all awaited the “unveilings” and the Adviser’s decision on which pieces would be taken to the king, Nancy broke role and spoke as a narrator: “Time passed,” she said – and as she continued the narration, she walked to each piece of artwork and ripped it into small pieces.

It was a visceral shock hearing the paper tear. Seeing what I – what we had created be so heartlessly destroyed.

Nancy continued the narration, moving time forward to the present day. We were to stay in the same small groups, but now had a new role: that of esteemed archeologists who had uncovered intriguing artifacts at an ancient dig. Each group was given a collection of pieces – not our “original” artwork. Our job was to re-form the object, interpret the meaning of each symbol and make inferences as the nature of the culture that had produced it. We then presented our conclusions to our fellow archeologists.

As I sat there, listening in-role, nodding and muttering as my classmates in role, re-interpreted, or miss-interpreted, the works we, as “artists” had created, I was both amused and intrigued. Questions about history, personal legacies and the passage of time started running through my head.

As the final presentation concluded, Nancy offered the following reading to the group:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.

And on the pedestal these words appear —

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

(Ozymandias – Percy Bysshe Shelley)

There was a charged silence in the class as she finished. The words seemed to hang in the air.

We didn’t have to talk about the poem to “understand” it. Through the process of drama in education we had “lived” it, and our experience made that poem resonate for me in a way unlike any of the word-by-word dissections I had experienced in my undergraduate studies. I began to imagine what it might be like to be a teacher who could bring that kind of experience – that blending of the emotional and intellectual worlds of education and theatre – into the classroom on a daily basis.

In the two decades since my experience in Nancy’s class, I have moved from student to practitioner to program director. I’ve worked with thousands of teachers and students across the five boroughs, the country and the world exploring how the power of theatre can support social, emotional and intellectual growth.  Most recently I found myself in our nation’s capital attending the annual conference of the National Association of Education for Young Children, where our friends from  Wolf Trap (VA), were presenting the Key Note on their groundbreaking work, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Through the Arts.

While in D.C, I joined fellow educators and administrators from Brooklyn, Chatauqua, Climax, and Walton, New York to meet with members of Senator Gillibrand and Schumer’s offices in order to advocate for Strong Start for America’s Children Act. We were fortunate enough to grab a moment with Senator Schumer (coffee in hand) and talk early childhood education and bicycling in the City.

HW-with-Senator-Schumer Helen, on the far right, with Senator Schumer, center.

Afterward, walking through the Senate halls and past the extraordinary monuments throughout Washington, I had a quick flashback to “Ozymandias.”

20 years ago I was hooked by the power of educational theatre.

Clearly, I still am.

Helen WheelockHWweb
Program Director
Early Learning Program
UAEU Partnership
CUNY Creative Arts Team