Monday, November 24, 2014

Yuki and the Elephant

Yuki and the Elephant
Kim Ceccotti
As a new graduate student and a beginner in the field of TYA, I was a little reluctant to be a part of Yuki and the Elephant, but I couldn't be happier with the choice I made. Before Yuki, I had never seen—let alone been a part of—a piece of theatre for young audiences. I was not quite sure what to expect. As an actor, I’ve mostly been in adult dramas, and as a teacher, I have taught upper middle and high school students. This was a far cry from my comfort zone, but I took a leap of faith with a group of my fellow graduate classmates who quickly became my friends. I felt so privileged to be invited into this Yuki family. The show was written in 2013 and was performed at Family Arts Day in Spring 2014, so this would be the second cast and round of performances; wanting to keep all the cast and crew current graduate students, there were a few spots that needed filling. I think I can speak for all of the new additions to Yuki when I say: we felt so welcomed, and that feeling of ensemble always makes for an even more amazing experience. 

 Yuki and the Elephant is a beautiful story told through actors and some really impressive shadow puppetry. Like I said before, I have never been a part of TYA; it’s a different type of theatre than I am used to, but certainly not any less difficult. Dealing with the various aspects having to do with a traveling show, what was required of us in terms of audience interaction, and the concept and application of shadow puppetry were all completely foreign to me a month ago. After a few very intense rehearsals, we performed for about 100 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders at PS 180 and again for almost 300 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders at PS 161. The feedback from the children during and after the show was overwhelming in the best way possible. All our hard work was evident, and the children—the reason we as theatre educators do what we do—were so responsive, and it was so thrilling to see. 

For me, what added to the success of Yuki and the Elephant was the fact that we were able to provide the students with pre-show lessons the morning before they were going to see the performance. What I loved most about facilitating in the classrooms in preparation for the show was that relationships were already formed between the cast and the students. The students were so excited to participate in the activities regarding Yuki; they were learning new words, getting up in front of the class to perform, and creating ensemble with their classmates. They worked on drawings knowing that they would be able to bring them to the performance and possibly be a part of the show! Plus, they could eventually see the teaching artists who taught and played with them up on the stage. This was so exciting for them, and it made me excited as well.  
 The whole Yuki and the Elephant experience—from rehearsals to pre-show lessons to the actual show—left me really wanting to do more TYA, and that is something I truly never fathomed before last month. What started out being a fun way to get observation hours for my TYA class, quickly became what I know will be one of my favorite and most rewarding memories of graduate school.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

No Child - A Visit from Nilaja Sun

No Child - A Visit from Nilaja Sun
Bahar Cetinsoy

“Your soul grows, and your students grow. Your students’ heart thanks you” says Nilaja Sun.
The Graduate Program in Educational Theatre at The City College of New York invited the actress and a great teaching artist, Nilaja Sun as a guest speaker .   

Nilaja shared  her teaching experience  in New York’s toughest schools. She told her story by playing in the role of characters at the school she taught through a performance of “No Child”.

Through “No Child”  Nilaja showed us the profile of the students, the staff, and the culture of the school by an outstanding performance. I was mesmerized by her talent in acting. I was very interested in how we were introduced with  each character by her sudden transformation from one  to another . 

Her excellent ability to use her gestures, body posture, tone of voice and facial expression made the story very real and made us understand what it  feels like being a teaching artist with students in the school. She presented controversial  issues regarding  New York City education, and the education system that actually leaves students behind by inhibiting their learning.  

One thing in particular stood out to me was when she said she wanted to teach in order to touch lives. I was in tears when she said that we are not teaching these kids how to be leaders, in fact we make them ready for jails. In other words, she meant this is what the system does to those kids. What she wanted to do was exactly the opposite of what the system does. She said that she wanted to teach in the most disadvantaged schools in New York City, the city that raised her. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Listening to Amanda Gronich

Listening to Amanda Gronich
Meredith Akins

Out of nowhere, I find myself in my last year of graduate school.  Where did the time go? Oh my, I’m supposed to write a thesis...wait, huh?...An ethnodrama...Wait! In groups?  Of people with completely different schedules and needs than I might have?  I was already nervous, but now...I am afraid.  Give me strength!  And so the journey of my last year at CCNY begins.  I keep reminding myself of what Sobha said several times in Drama In Education my first semester as a graduate student.  “You will be prepared!”.  I’m holding you to that Ms. Kavanakudiyil!  And so with that, I have kept my ears, eyes, heart, and mind open to learn and be inspired by others.  When guest speaker, Amanda Gronich, came to our Content Research Seminar class, I was listening.  

 I was in Europe performing when the nation was gripped by the events of Laramie, WY.  I returned to the States in November 1998 and Matthew Shepard had already died.  It was still big news and there was talk of hate crimes.   Just 4 months prior, a black man, James Byrd, Jr., had been tied to a truck and dragged to death by three white men in Jasper, TX.  Hate crimes were part of the conversation already and everyone had an opinion.  Even though I didn’t know much about the events, I was horrified that, once again, someone was killed for simply existing.   

I was eager to watch The Laramie Project on HBO in 2002 because I had missed much of the news footage in Europe.  I wanted to see what “actually happened”.  Sadly, I watched the first 10 minutes...and turned it off because it didn’t seem like a movie.  “Where was the action?  They didn’t even show an actor playing Matthew Shepard”.  It is embarrassing to me now, but I was young.  I didn’t understand that this was the most real movies get.  I had never heard of the play, The Laramie Project, thus I didn’t understand that the movie was based on the real transcriptions gathered by members of Tectonic Theatre, including Amanda Gronich.  There was actually plenty of action in the movie.  It was the type of action that lead to transformative change.  

 Ms. Gronich continued to empower us to think, “What is it that theatre can do that no other media can do” throughout the night.  It made me think of the responsibility and accountability on us as researchers.  How do I tell a story that can either inspire change or create more questions?  Ms. Gronich heard and supported our wants and concerns with our final project.  She listened objectively in much the same way she did when she conducted interviews for The Laramie Project.  By the end of the night, I understood that it would be through sharing.The sharing of stories, opinions, and most importantly, emotions with my research group.  It won’t always be easy and it is still a bit daunting, but if we are clear on what is important in theatre education and how we can share our narratives, our work of art will create a space for change or inquiry in a way that no other media can do. We have to be willing to tell our stories to one another first in order to find a way in.  This is more than just about a grade.  It is a way to share our artistry.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Thrills, Chills, and Hills – Starting Something New

Patrick G. McGee 

There is always the thrill of starting something new. Sometimes, it is starting a new hobby, trying a new recipe for a dinner party or even taking a new route home from work.  Starting something new always seems to bring a breath of fresh air to my daily routines and starting my first semester in this program is no exception.   As a teaching artist, I love the first day of classes or rehearsal.  There is always a great sense of excitement from both the young artists and myself.  
The past few weeks have been nothing but exciting and definitely thrilling.  I am slowly discovering the balance of finding my voice as an artist as well as developing my own teaching style.  The rainstorm of new terms like scaffolding, TYA, process vs. product, and devising theater have sparked my interests as a student in so many ways. 
I am thrilled to be in class with so many teachers and teaching artists with such varied backgrounds.  I am both humbled and inspired by my classmates’ discussions and feel myself growing both as an artist and student in these past few weeks. Both the discussions about the combination of  innovative technology and cutting edge theater for young audiences  and being exposed to productions like The Old Man and The Old Moon at The New Victory have a struck a new chord in my artistry.  Also, I was fortunate enough to take Devising Theatre over the summer and that class really allowed me to find the importance of my own artistry as a teaching artist but more importantly understand that we are all creating something together.  I was really struck by our discussions about community that were sparked by the devised theater pieces.  Ultimately, I think as both teachers and artists it is this idea of building a community or ensemble that is extremely important both inside and out of the classroom.  I am excited to find my place in this graduate program ensemble over the next few years. 

With any new experience, there are also so many anxieties.  For me if I am not a little bit nervous starting something, the passion must be missing.  Well needless to say those chills were there the first day of class.  With so many new people and new experiences, how would I fit in?  Also it has been some years since I have been in the world of academia, and I was a little worried that I would not be able to keep up.  Needless to say, the work load is a little intense, and the drama in education paper still makes my stomach churn but all these things combined remind me of my passion to be a better teaching artist. 
 Passion is what drives and fuels my every day existence.  It is why I get up every day with such vigor, and with that passion comes many, many hills to conquer.  I think our lives are series of hills that we are constantly trying to climb.  We have moments of glory when we reach the top and look down at what we accomplished. Maybe it is that lesson you thought could not be pulled off or that production of The Little Mermaid that you have to direct with 18 other directors.  Regardless of the hill you are currently climbing, the reward is in the journey.   I am excited to start climbing this new hill and start my journey towards my Master’s Degree.  Bring on all those thrills, chills, and hills!

Monday, September 29, 2014

No Beach this summer!

No Beach this summer!
Mari Martinez
This past summer, I decided to forgo the beach and instead headed to the mountains in beautiful Denver, CO.  I didn’t get a tan, or sport a new bikini, but instead saw old friends, made new connections and learned new and exciting things about the field of theatre education at the AATE conference.

Going to the conference this summer was such a great experience. I was a bit hesitant about going alone; I was worried about feeling out of place and under experienced to be at National Conference of this size-but immediately felt a sense of relief and empowerment when I saw that I knew people there! Our field is indeed, quite small! I re-connected with a former boss and mentor from over five years ago when I worked as a teaching artist at the Omaha Children’s Theatre.   

We both felt a sense of nostalgia at reconnecting and it was so great being able to discuss the field not as an employee or student, but as a peer in the filed. It turns out that my former boss is very much involved with AATE and through him; I was able to meet many artists from all over the country and many AATE committee members as well. We promised to keep in touch and remember to share new ideas and he also said he would be more than happy to connect me to other people and opportunities in the future. I also was able to meet with other teaching artists I worked with at the children’s theatre who have since moved on to work in other theatres all over the country and through them was able to meet new people and learn about new programs.

The sessions offered at AATE were numerous and at times, hard to choose which ones to attend. Even if you went to a session that turned out to be not as great as you expected, it still was an opportunity to meet and talk to new people and form new relationships. No session, or event at AATE was a waste of time. 
 Most of the time, you did go to very interesting sessions-but there seems to be one in particular that stands out to every person who attends. Again, going to AATE for just that one session-that one that shows you something new, or inspires you in a new way it is worth it all. For me, that session was with a theatre company called C&T based in England. This company presented new ways technology and theatre can work together to engage and teach students.  As someone who isn’t very tech-savvy, this session was very exciting and interesting to me. It definitely got my creative juices flowing and opened my mind to new possibilities.

So, no tan, no beach but I got the mountains and the amazing experience that AATE made possible. I am so glad that I was able to go-and I am so thankful to Sobha for introducing me to new people and for guiding me throughout the conference. After four days, I left the conference feeling engaged, inspired, validated as an artist that was lucky to belong to such an amazing community. See you all in Milwaukee next year!