A Fond Farewell

CAT is certainly an innovative organization. The impact it has had on the field of education is profound. By incorporating its integration of participant-centered pedagogy while simultaneously meeting the direct needs of all the communities it serves, CAT has played a huge role in the ever changing dynamics of how education is facilitated in and out of the classroom.

DSCN7121-s

Lexy, Rachel and family at CAT’s 2014 Holiday Party

What most people don’t see is the impact that CAT has on the people that work here. People in the “outside world” don’t get to see the support CAT’s leadership provides to its employees around family and self-care. People don’t get to hear the conversations of passion, anger, exhilaration around the various social issues we are all affected by. People don’t get to see the deep emotional connection CAT staff invest when developing their workshops. People don’t get to see the comradery that develops amongst us all working at CAT, making it feel more like family than just colleagues.

DSCN5643-s6 years ago I walked through CAT’s doors as part of the first cohort of the MA in Applied Theatre. I was excited about the new opportunity to apply what I had always been practicing (theatre for social justice) but never had a name for. Several months later I was blessed with the opportunity to be hired as a part time Operations Assistant where the incomparable David Mitnowsky was my supervisor. His eccentric ways and incredible humor automatically gave me a sense of belonging; giving me the space to just be me and not feel like I had to adapt to some sort of corporate way of being. After some time, I was able to move my way up and became a Program Manager supervised by Rachel Castillo, who taught me that the idea that participant-centered pedagogy not only applied to educators, but was a crucial practice for administrators and supervisors. She inspired me on a regular basis, helping me formalize and actualize my beliefs that women can be compassionate friends, mothers, and co-workers but also be super hard core impactful supervisors.

DSCN5591-s

Lexy (left), Kat (right)

During my time as a Program Manager, I developed many deeply committed and intricate friendships; a first for me as an army brat who never had opportunities to invest in long term friendships. One of my most profound relationships developed with Katherine Chua Almirañez, who continues to see my strengths and passions and always worked towards pushing me to get out of my comfort zone. She always encourages me to achieve the things I secretly dreamt but never voiced simply out of fear of failure. From facilitating poetry workshops, to dancing on stage, to writing a play, Kat has given me opportunities to achieve what I thought was the unachievable.

ELP-ALP-team

Early Learning & After School Literacy Team

I finish my tenure here at CAT as the Early Learning & After-School Projects Director, where I have been able to work closely with Helen Wheelock and Brisa Muñoz. These amazing women have been incredible cheerleaders for me during the past year and, even in the moments I was struggling the most, they were there with bright eyes and big smiles to remind me “You are amazing. You are worthy.” Their positive attitudes and way of seeing the world has continued to inspire me and adapt the way I approach being a supervisor and overall human being.

DSCN8570sWhile I name specific people above, what I have come to realize is that I have worked in some capacity with almost every single person at CAT. I can identify a specific conversation with each of them that has literally changed my life. Every person here has helped shaped my view around parenthood, race, class, education, gender, and everything else under the stars. I certainly would not be the person I am today without the contributions of every person that I have encountered while working at CAT. And while I may be moving on to other opportunities, I know that I will always be carrying CAT and the wonderful lessons I have learned here with me. Thank you CAT for everything you have provided me. I will never forget any of you.

With the deepest of love and respect,
Lexy

Lexy NisticoLexy-Nistico
Until yesterday: Projects Director,
CAT Early Learning & After School Programs
Now: Program Director, Manhattan Youth Community Center

At a company picnic with her daughter and CAT and CUNY staff

At a company picnic with her daughter and CAT and CUNY staff

Lexy and other CAT staffers have become serious runners over the past few years

Lexy and other CAT staffers have become dedicated runners over the past few years

CAT-2-s

Halloween 2014 (Lexy is the Jack Skellington in the center)

Advertisements

Discovering My Purpose and Passion… via CAT

Before the Parent Program, LCP was in the Early Learning Through the Arts Program (1994)

LCP in the Early Learning Through the Arts Program (1994)

It was 1992 when I received the invitation from the esteemed Creative Arts Team to become a full time Actor/Teacher. Little did I know how taking on this role would change my life. Like many actor/teachers at CAT, I was a theatre artist working towards that “big break” but needed to pay rent in the meantime. CAT opened up a new world for me, by showing me how drama can be used as an educational tool to explore social issues and enhance critical thinking. I became a sponge and wanted to learn everything I could about educational theatre. My purpose and passion for learning and teaching continued to grow as I watched the power of this work manifesting in classrooms all over the city and witnessed incredible “light bulb” moments and awareness from the young people involved.

CAT's Parent Program, with Keith Johnston (Director of the now-titled College & Adult Program)  on the left

CAT’s Parent Program, 2004

I had the privilege of working in many of the programs at CAT, while spending the majority of my time as the Director of the Parent Program. What I loved about CAT is that I never felt stagnant. CAT provided an environment that continued to push me out of my comfort zone. There was always space to grow and new opportunities to grasp. In addition to starting and building the Parent Program, I, along with other colleagues, participated in the Seeds of Peace program—working with groups in conflict—and I later became the Coexistence Director. I was also honored to be a part of a delegation to South Africa, using educational theatre to deal with issues around HIV and AIDS. These are just a few highlights that only scratch the surface of the boundless opportunities that I experienced with CAT.

Article about CAT's work in South Africa; The Natal Witness, 2000

Article about CAT’s work in South Africa; The Natal Witness, 2000

In 2005, after thirteen wonderful years at CAT, I decided to spread my wings and open a new chapter in my career. I transferred my skills into the corporate arena, and I am now at the top of my game, working as a corporate trainer. I attribute so much of my success to the richness of the training and experiences I received at CAT. Those years are simply unforgettable, as it was a time of accelerated learning and growth. However, what I remember and miss the most are the people. I had the privilege to work with some of the most talented, creative and passionate people ever. I am eternally grateful to everyone at CAT who generously shared their knowledge, talents and passion with me. I would love to list everyone, but I don’t want to miss anyone.

1998 CAT Staff Photo (LCP is circled)

1998 CAT Staff Photo (LCP is circled)

Linda & Lynda

Linda & Lynda

However I must acknowledge and thank Lynda Zimmerman, aka “Mama CAT,” for giving birth to this extraordinary organization.  An organization that continues to create a nurturing environment for artists to grow and be given a platform to impact change in the lives of many. Because of your vision, and because my skills are rooted in the strong foundation of CAT, my journey continues to expand. It is through the Creative Arts Team that I have discovered my purpose and passion to teach and have an impact on the lives of others. CAT will always have an indelible space in my heart.

Happy 40th Anniversary and may you continue to spread your wings for decades to come.  The world needs you!

LCP with Carmen Kelly (Director of CAT's Special Projects)

LCP with Carmen Kelly

Linda Carole Pierce
CAT Alumna, 1992-2005

The Unexpected Path

Yes that’s right. It’s been 10 years. I can’t even believe it. Ten years working at the CUNY/Creative Arts Team. I think six of those years as the Senior Actor-Teacher for the College and Adult Program. Who would have known? I surely didn’t. And not even during my senior year at Hunter College. See what’s funny about my story is that all of the life-changing paths I’ve come across seem to have come up unexpectedly. And then again, I also feel that these paths and turns have been divinely inspired by a much higher power than human circumstances.

P&K

Doing a scene with Keith Johnston, CAP Director

Theatre was never a field I’d ever imagined myself doing. I was actually going for Pre-Med under the Pre-Professional Programs at Hunter College. But, during my junior year at Hunter, I had to take Intro to Theatre as a pre-requisite. This wasn’t your typical Intro to Theatre class, the Professor for this course was extremely interactive and always encouraged her students to participate by reading out scenes to get a feel for how actors work; to see plays; do improvisational activities, and so on. I remember getting annoyed when she would push us to do activities that required us moving around or working with others. I was a big introvert back then, and still am a bit, in certain moments. I preferred to keep myself behind the scenes. Well, in one of those evening sessions, the professor wanted us to play with Shakespeare. I don’t remember which play we were doing, but I do remember her asking for volunteers, and once again the students were silent, either because they were scared to participate or just didn’t care. Our Professor looked rather sad and I couldn’t bear the awkwardness in the room, so I got up and did the scene with another student. After the mini-performance, I realized how much fun I actually had. And my Professor was so impressed with my work that she suggested I take a Basic Acting class, to which I responded that I was not interested in Acting. My motivational Professor insisted, saying that it would help continue to enhance my presentational skills. I took that Basic Acting class.

Ever heard someone say, “He got the Acting Bug”? Well, I thought that was fake—until I took my first class of basic

With Actor/Teacher partner, Temesgen

With Actor/Teacher partner, Temesgen

acting and noticed how my way of thinking and my expressiveness was evolving. Growing up, being in touch with your emotions was not something I learned as a sign of strength; instead, I saw it as weakness. I learned to walk around with a poker face, to hide my thoughts, and keep my guard up, in order to not get hurt. I considered this coping mechanism a sign of power. What I failed to realize was that I was actually getting sick. I was creating an unhealthy form of dealing with my family, personal, and school problems. Since I learned to keep myself guarded, closed, and emotionless, I developed an explosive personality that would burst out at the wrong time, and became voiceless when I needed my voice the most. In the end, I created a wall that seemed impenetrable. As the acting classes progressed, my wall and guard was coming down. I learned the importance of being in touch with your feelings, but also to have control of them and your body. I learned the power of taking effective risks, voicing your concerns, and being vulnerable when needed. I also listened when the theatre Professors at Hunter would tell me that I was a natural—why not pursue Theatre? I wondered if I could take such a leap from Pre-Med to Theatre. What would my grandmother say? How can I justify such a change? And then it hit me: THE ACTING BUG! That’s what I have! And not like the one you think that needs the spotlight all the time. I mean the acting bug that sees how acting—performance, theatre—can be a great tool for healing! It healed me! I’m a walking testimony to it! And so I changed my major to Theatre and Psychology (two fields I love, that happen to go hand in hand).

P-conflictBut my journey did not end there; on the contrary, my journey was just beginning. Now that I was studying Theatre, the world began opening doors and networks that helped me exceed in my craft in various ways. And one of those open doors and networks is the CUNY/Creative Arts Team. The first time I heard of CAT was straight from my undergraduate advisor’s mouth. At the time, I was unemployed, doing odd jobs here and there, but I always prayed to God that He could help me find a job that would allow me to grow, be flexible, be surrounded by other talented artists who I could work with and learn from, and help people using theatre. At first I asked my undergraduate advisor if the company did drama therapy, to which she clarified: “no, they are more like an education-based theatre company. They are hiring, I spoke with the Executive Director who is a good friend of mine. I can put the word out for you so they can schedule an interview with you.” I have to confess I was scared. There was a part of me that did not want to call CAT. But I also learned in Theatre the importance of taking risks, of taking advantage of opportunities when you see them, so I called CAT and spoke to Rachel Castillo, who was then the Operations Manager, now the Director of Operations and Administration. We spoke, had an interview a week later—which I remember being very warm and inviting with much laughter. And, to this day, Rachel is that way. Although I did not get hired for an acting role which is what I originally thought (good thing I brought my Acting resume and my Administrative Resume), I was hired as CAT’s new scheduling assistant. A position I envisioned as not only the key to helping me get into one of the programs as an Actor-Teacher, but also taught me valuable lessons and skills in the logistical and operational structures of the CUNY/Creative Arts Team. It may not have been drama therapy, but it is education, and if there is one thing I value greatly it is knowledge and knowing how to use that knowledge to help or guide others in life’s struggles.

P-handsOver the last ten years, I have worked and continue to work with this awesome company. I have grown so much and have had the pleasure to work with diverse programs (Elem/JHS-Afterschool, Special Projects, Early Learning, High School, and College & Adult Program). Each one has shaped my craft and character differently, making me a stronger and more versatile performing artist and educator. I see it every day when I’m out in the field, visiting a new site (whether school, shelter, or correctional facility), meeting a new face, working with different people… I see their engaged eyes, the connection the participants make with the characters my fellow Actor-Teachers and I portray, or the issues we’re presenting at any given moment. Each curriculum we have devised for the needs of the population… the audience gets it, they understand, they see their struggles in the lives of these characters. And then we freeze the scene at its most heightened moment to open the floor to them—allowing ideas to be shared in a safe space, where our participants can speak their minds about the issues they saw and their relation to their own world, and how we as a collective can come up with practical solutions to every day challenges. I hear the testimonies when I’m stopped by strangers who seem to know me, and feel the need to thank me because of the work I did with their group. I hear it when a student says: “I thought college wasn’t for me, until I saw what your character went through. I’m now in my second year at Hostos Community College,” or when a parent says: “Thank you, I wasn’t aware of how even my smallest actions can affect my child,” or, “I didn’t know bullying can also start at home.”

Yes, these ten years at the CUNY/Creative Arts Team have had their ups and downs, and yet contained great blessings. CAT is my second home, an unexpected home away from my immediate family. It is where I have realized the many potentials God has given me in crafting my career and affecting lives in such an impactful way. It is here where I have devised my motto in life—my purpose while I have breath on this earth—to Create, Inspire, and Motivate people through the power of Theatre!

Priscilla FloresPriscilla-Flores
Senior Actor-Teacher
College & Adult Program

Behind the Scenes

TessaTech

Tessa in the booth, 2013 CAT Youth Theatre show

I’m used to working behind the scenes. Long before I joined the Creative Arts Team (CAT), I was a member of my high school drama society’s stage crew. In the months leading up to our biannual productions I would help to build and paint the sets, hang lights, and test the sound equipment. During the productions I helped move set pieces, and then I worked as one of the Assistant Stage Managers eventually becoming the Stage Manager. In college, I focused my energy on lighting and sound. I could often be found operating a light or sound board, being the Assistant Lighting Designer, or being the Light or Sound Designer on a show. Eventually I decided to move away from technical theater and began pursuing my MA in Applied Theatre which is where I first became familiar with the Creative Arts Team.

With her supervisor, Rachel, Director of Operations & Administration

With her supervisor, Rachel, Director of Operations & Administration

Over the course of two years I became immersed in Applied Theatre and educational theater as a facilitator, actor, and scholar; which included having the opportunity to apprentice with the CAT Youth Theatre. I also had my thesis project partially advised by Helen Wheelock, Director of the Early Learning Program, because my group spent four days doing interactive, educational theatre in a 2nd grade classroom, and we felt there was no one better to help guide our project. In my second year of the MA, I began working part time at CAT as the administrative assistant for the Operations Department. Operations is pretty far away from the theatre. We live in a world of paperwork, data and scheduling. But as a lifelong backstage person, I know the immense importance and value of the behind-the-scenes work. Much of my work in Operations reminds me of my years working backstage, of being the less-visible aspect of the production, but playing a vital role nonetheless.

MA in Applied Theatre 2013 Graduation

MA in Applied Theatre 2014 Graduation

I graduated from the MA in Applied Theatre in the spring of 2014 and, in the fall, I was hired full time at CAT to continue my role in the Operations department and take on a project of my own, as Program Coordinator for the Cultural After-School Adventures (CASA). I’ve also come back to my technical theater roots working as the sound board operator for the CAT Youth Theatre’s 2014 show, In Truth, and the upcoming show, See-Saw, which starts this February.

I have found it incredibly fulfilling to support the life-changing work that CAT does every day with young people all over NYC. Ever since I was a teenager, I have wanted the theater that I make to matter, to have a positive impact on the world around me. I am proud to say that the work I do at CAT helps to facilitate theater that truly fulfills my goal of making a positive impact on the world. My time here at CAT has been, and continues to be, invaluable in all of the ways it enriches me as an Applied Theatre Artist. I have no doubt that I will continue to grow both professionally and personally at the Creative Arts Team, whether I’m working on or off “stage!”

Tessa PantusoTessa-Pantuso-s
Operations Assistant,
CASA Program Coordinator

‘Tis the Season to be… Forty!

Lynda in 1977, part of a CAT cast photo

Lynda, 1977, in a CAT cast photo

Forty years ago, I never imagined that my fledgling creative efforts would help seed an entire field, give birth to a Master’s degree program and become a leading force in the world of arts in education.

Back then, I was an NYU graduate student looking only as far ahead as the next semester. My perspective soon changed to a 5-year plan, and then a 10-year plan. It grew to a 30-year tenure at NYU, followed by our wonderful move to CUNY, where we are now celebrating our 10th Anniversary! I couldn’t envision a better “marriage” for CAT, joining forces with CUNY’s commitment to serve young people across campuses and neighborhoods throughout NYC.

CAP-team-2

CAP team L-R: Priscilla Flores, Eboni Witcher, Keith Johnston, Eric Aviles, Jerron Herman

Yes—I will take a long breath to celebrate…but also to reflect on how CAT will go forward for the ‘next’ 40 years. During this holiday season, I’m asking for your support to build a strong base – not just for now, but to fund this wonderful organization as it grows and adapts to the challenges that arise beyond my tenure.

Why is it important to have CAT around for the next 40 years?

Picture a room full of East Harlem youth from local housing projects gathered at the community center with local police representatives. Who is asked to create a workshop to break through the tension and entrenched perceptions held by all the stakeholders in the room? Our CAP (College and Adult Program) team engaged both teens and officers in thinking and interacting about the issues. Not “my” issues or “your” issues, but human issues – things that affect all the players.

CAT-treeThis is just one example of how CAT uses drama to change lives. By turning the ‘what is’ into the ‘what can be.’ By helping young people be the best they can be by tapping their potential, and developing their academic skills and resiliency to negotiate challenges in classrooms, in careers, and in life.

Building an organization like CAT is not about me. I have nurtured the CAT “tree.” But it remains vibrant and alive because of the talented and visionary people – including the students and adults we serve – who have built a collective vision for success, and continue to look forward to what else can we be doing? Our “tree” thrives thanks to public and private sector partners who so generously support CAT with donations, contracts, advice, and advocacy. I hope to count on your ongoing support as we lay the groundwork for another 40 years of extraordinary achievement.

My thanks for your ongoing support of CAT’s past, present and future!

Happy Holidays,

Lynda Lynda

Lynda Zimmermanfacebook_logoSupport CAT button
Executive Director
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

From Hampshire (College) With Love

“If you don’t go to Creative Arts Team, I’ll kill you.”

That’s what my professor told me after I announced that CAT was one of the five places I would be interviewing at for my spring semester field study. Coming from one of the warmest and most nurturing people I have ever known, I knew she meant it.

Sigal-with-studentsI am currently a junior at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA  (or a Division II student in Hampshire vocabulary), studying arts integration and specializing in theatre as a teaching tool. As a young person who struggled with the traditional educational system, I found myself through the arts. I am passionate about using the arts to teach and learn, experiencing first hand how the arts can change lives.

I stumbled upon Creative Arts Team while researching field study opportunities. I knew I wanted to be in New York City and have hands-on experience working with young people doing theatre. I reached out to many organizations and, by some amazing stroke of luck, found myself at CAT.

Here at CAT I mainly work with the Adolescent Literacy Program (ALP). I work five days a week. I am either in the office assisting on projects, or in Brooklyn with Actor Teacher Katherine Chua, supporting her and the students’ work in every way I possibly can. I don’t know if I have ever worked with a group of youth as open and welcoming as the ALP students are. The idea of joining a community halfway through the year was a bit intimidating, but it was a challenge that I was obviously more than thrilled to take on.  I received a few goodbye hugs at the end of the first day, and I left knowing that all I had to do was be the best self I could be, and that would be enough. The openness displayed by the young people powerfully attests to the positivity and beautiful mentorship of the actor teachers (Kat, Andre, and Brisa).

Sigal-with-students2If I have learned one thing from my two months at CAT and working with ADL, it’s that this work is HARD. During one of my conversations with Kat she told me, “Despite the long hours I work, I have never felt so rewarded.” This work is exhausting. It’s about being on your feet for many hours and opening up your heart. It’s about the process. And it’s about allowing these young people to realize and practice all of their amazing abilities.

Ultimately the work is all about giving. And I can’t thank Creative Arts Team and the ALP team enough for giving me this incredible opportunity to join them in doing their beautiful work.

SigalSigal Kadden
Student, Hampshire College

2014 Intern, CAT
Early Learning/Adolescent Literacy Program