‘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

Applying Applied Theatre

Doe-eyed and fresh out of college, I realized I still had quite a bit of learning to do. I wanted to find a purpose for my art-making and knew I wouldn’t be able to do that without first understanding myself in relation to the world around me.

Brisa 2I grew up twenty minutes from the Mexican border, an area in South Texas called the Rio Grande Valley (RGV). I was raised by artists – my parents ran a dance company together that specialized in Mexican folkloric dance. I helped start a theatre company at the young age of 18, a company that is still growing, eight years later. I researched and applied for the M.A. in Applied Theatre at The City University of New York because I wanted to better understand how theatrical conventions might engage communities in dialogue. I was particularly interested in implementing this concept in my home community – an area that struggles with poverty, obesity, the cartels, immigration and “machismo,” among other issues. In graduate school, I recognized for the first time in my life that my perspective was not merely valuable, but necessary.

Since joining both the MA and Creative Arts Team, I have worked with young people from elementary to college students, social workers, educators, adults with developmental disabilities, and peacebuilders. I have presented at conferences on the local, national and international level – including a recent applied theatre workshop held in Dohuk, Iraq, addressing the importance of the analysis of personal histories and experiences prior to engaging in conversation with divided societies. CAT offered me a home in which to hone the facilitation skills essential to the work of applied drama.

Brisa 1I have since applied these skills within my South Texas community. Since my time in the MA Program and CAT, the theatre community in the RGV has created an original play with music, identifying what RGV culture is, and how it is influenced by living between two countries. We have partnered with farmers, nutritionists, economists and policy-makers to create a participatory event which used theatre to engage audiences in conversations around the current health climate in the RGV, and allowed audiences to reflect on their personal relationships to food and health. And in March of 2015, my New York colleagues and I will begin a project that uses originally devised performances to partner artists with communities impacted by the influx of Latin American and Mexican people onto United States soil.

In cultivating an understanding of my unique perspective as a woman of Mexican-decent, who now also identifies as an applied theatre practitioner, I have been able to use the skills fostered by the MA in Applied Theatre and Creative Arts Team to continue working with the community I know and love.

Brisa MunozBrisaAreliMunozHeadshot
Actor/Teacher

 

My First Steps at CAT

Nothing dries out my tongue, churns my stomach and makes my palms sweat as much as the prospect of starting a new chapter in my life. Heading towards the Creative Arts Team office, I was mortified at the thought of meeting anyone there. Now, I’m not a shy person; I consider myself to be pretty outgoing actually, but there’s something about a completely new environment that kicks me out of my comfort zone. Even with Google Maps on my phone to navigate my journey, I walked past the entrance at least five times before a city worker took pity on me and directed me to the right building. I could hear my heart beat furiously in my chest as the lobby clerk took my I.D. and sent me on my way to the 6th floor. A kind face greeted me as I exited the elevators, pointing me towards the meet-and-greet; whom I later found out was Nancy Clarke, Director of Finance & Administration.

You see, I wasn’t here for an interview; I was meeting my future coworkers and supervisors for the first time as an intern. My school, Queens College, is one of eight schools currently involved in the CUNY Service Corps, a program dedicated to contributing to communities throughout New York by working with a vast number of organizations, as well as providing work opportunities for college students. I wasn’t completely sure what to expect here at CAT, even with all the training and prep in order to accomplish every task handed to me. What worried me was much more simple: What if I make a bad impression? What if they decide I’m not cut out for the job? What if I mess up? These questions and more raced through my mind as impressive introductions were made about everyone involved in CAT, from administrators to actor-teachers, and directors of entire departments. I never felt as inexperienced as I did hearing all the accomplishments and job titles of everyone around me, making me realize I was the only intern there that day. My face must have been devoid of color as my supervisor, Lexy Nistico, called my name for my introduction. As I looked out onto all my coworkers giving me curious looks and polite smiles, I swallowed my fear and made my introduction, which was followed by applause. Afterwards, many came up to me curious about my position and my fears ebbed away with every new person I talked to.

CAT All Team Breakfast - and Natalie's first day at the office!

CAT All Team Breakfast – and Natalie’s first day at the office!

Looking back on that first day, it’s silly to think I was so scared. Everyone here has been the epitome of support and kindness; working together seamlessly on projects for the betterment of kids in the NYC area. Learning more about the specific projects such as Project CHANGE, and CAT’s Youth Theatre program (which I’m proud to say I am a part of!) gives me the initiative to push forward and work hard with such great people who are doing the same. I can’t wait to see the effect of CAT’s involvement with the schools of New York will do, and how it will impact our communities, starting with our students. I intend to use this entire year of service to see it through.

Natalie BernabeNatalie
CUNY Service Corps Member
(working with
CAT Youth Theatre,
Early Learning, and
After-School Programs)

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

CAT & CUNY Service Corps: the Partnership Continues

Congratulations to CUNY Service Corps. This is their second year providing work opportunities and experience for CUNY students, and CAT‘s second year of participating in the CUNY Service Corps participant training week launch. Last year we presented an original three-person production on 7 campuses, using 21 actors and 5 directors to inspire students at the beginning of their Service Corps training.

Mfoniso Udofia

Mfoniso Udofia

This year, we have been contracted to write an original one-act play to celebrate and inspire the participants at the end of their training, which will be held at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center at BMCC on Sept 5th; and our very own Mfoniso Udofia has been commissioned to write it.

The play, entitled Global. Service. Alliance., tells the story of an elite group of students tasked with bettering their community. This elite group overcomes personal and team-related obstacles to provide dynamic community service and remind us all that being a superhero is as simple as being truly human.

Mfoniso is a brilliant playwright and I have the honor of directing this production, so I was able to cast some brilliant actors to bring it to life: Priscilla Flores, Temesgen Tocruray, Eric Aviles, Eboni Witcher, Lynda Defuria and Anthony Roman.

"Global.Superhero.Alliance." rehearsal

Global.Superhero.Alliance. rehearsal. L-R: Priscilla Flores, Eboni Witcher, Lynda Defuria, Eric Aviles, Temesgen Tocruray

TPAC is a beautiful theatre holding nearly 1,000 people.  We will be presenting the production in the midst of the CSC culminating program, so while we are not sure of the exact time we will go on, it will definitely be between 10am and 12pm that morning.

CAT had five wonderful CUNY Service Corps students in our office last year, working on everything from marketing to adolescent literacy to HIV prevention, and we are excited to welcome this year’s group.  Congratulations to CUNY Service Corps on the completion of their successful first year and the beginning of their second! We aim to bring the CAT fire once again. Rooaarrrr!!!

Keith JohnstonKeith Johnston
Program Director
College and Adult Program

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