Harlem Children’s Theatre Festival
By Robin Cannon Colwell
I love creating new shows for families that challenge young people, provoke dialogue, and inspire possibility. For me, that is what the Harlem Children's Theatre Festival is all about.
My journey with TYA in the Ed Theatre graduate program at CCNY began two years ago when Sobha invited me to direct a piece I co-wrote in her Theatre for Young Audiences course. I was honored that our play, Yuki and the Elephant was chosen to premiere at the graduate program's Family Arts Day that year. It was a rewarding experience working on such a creative piece of theatre with talented members of my Ed Theatre cohort. The piece Yuki and the Elephant was a huge success, and went on to tour in two area schools that fall!
2014 Family Arts Day performance of Yuki and the Elephant
Fast forward two years (and a lot of lesson plans and teacher certification exams later)...
I knew my time as a graduate student would soon be coming to an end and I wanted to make the most of it. Our program stresses the importance of staying close to your artistry, and for me that is producing and directing exciting Theatre For Young Audiences. Family Arts Day was now called the Harlem Children's Theatre Festival, and consisted of 3 staged theatrical productions. What a great opportunity for grad students to practice the skills we learn in class!
I was given the chance to work alongside Sobha as Artistic Director of the theatre festival's 3 shows. It was such a fun process! For TOMMY CAN'T STOP: THE MUSICAL, we had the unique opportunity to cast a student from PS161 as well as two students from Repertory High School (both of which have strong partnerships with CCNY's Ed Theatre Program). For the adaptation of OUT OF THE MIND, it was important to us that we find a wheelchair user for the play, and we were lucky enough to find a young talented actor named Tom Ellenson to play the part. For GOODNIGHT BALLOON, the process of developing a piece of Theatre for the Very Young was lovely to watch unfold. The actors in that piece struck a beautiful balance of play, visuals, and structure that captivated young audience members.
PS 161 student Herbert Espinol in rehearsal for TOMMY CAN'T STOP: THE MUSICAL!
Gianna Cioffi, Tom Ellenson, Jan Valle, and Bridid Warnke in rehearsal for OUT OF MY MIND.
Melissa Volpe, Naomi Avadanei, and Angelique Castro in rehearsal for Goodnight Balloon.
I especially enjoyed directing TOMMY CAN'T STOP: THE MUSICAL. It was a pleasure to work with current grad students as well as an alum of our program. Maggie Lalley and Amanda Grundy wrote a fun script and melodies for the piece, and we worked with a fantastic production team to create the world of Tommy. The performance was a hit, and I was proud of our actors for doing such a wonderful job sharing this story with our audience at the festival.
Performance of Tommy Can’t Stop at HCTF. Pictured are students Mariah Morales and Herbert Espinol
and grad students Jim Kroener and Erica Hill.
Because of my experiences with TYA in the Ed Theatre Program at CCNY, I have discovered a love for creating shows for young audiences. Sobha's expertise and guidance in developing a festival for new TYA work has inspired me to take my own career in TYA to the next level. After 3 years in the grad program, I am inspired to continue creating innovative new theatre for families. I'm looking forward to the next adventure!
Robin Cannon Colwell is a 3rd year candidate in the Graduate Program in Educational Theatre at The City College of New York. She has been a Teaching Artist for over 12 years and currently teaches for Arts For All and PlayOn! Studios in NYC. As Director of Education for Infinity Theatre Company, she has produced TYA works such as THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES, PINOCCHIO, TALL TALES OF ENOCH, STORIES LIVE AND IN PERSON, JACK VS RAPUNZEL THE MUSICAL, and ELEPHANT AND PIGGIE’S “WE ARE IN PLAY”.