Day 8: Putting It Together
Day 8 saw intense, focused work as we sequenced our original material to tell our story. Kevin introduced music he had composed for each section. Heather worked frantically to put the final touches on many of the puppets the young people had built, dashing between our workshop construction room and the large cafeteria that was our devising space. The three of us brainstormed on how we could turn some of the 4th and 5th graders’ ideas for community projects (for example, an eco friendly airport) into black and white object puppets for use in a giant human scale which the young people had created with their own bodies. And whenever we were free, we painted, painted, painted. The day’s big discovery: why not try a voice-over edited into the music to tell the story of Part I, “Falling Woman: The Myth of the Creation of Newtown Creek and Greenpoint”? And so Kevin spent the night creating a voiceover track!
Day 9: The Big Show
On the morning of our performance, we went outside to the playground at PS 34 and rehearsed each group one at a time. After lunch we brought all of the groups together for a final run through.
The performance was a fantastic culmination to our workshop. A guest from the NYC Department of Youth & Community Development (DYCD) told Kasia, the director of the summer camp, that the show was, “Like being in Wonderland!”
Day 10: Papa Macho
This was our time to get feedback from our young participants and find out what they had enjoyed about the project and what they had found challenging. It was also our opportunity to say goodbye and acknowledge the wonderful work the young people had done. Kevin, Heather and Sherry designed short, interactive evaluation sessions that matched the developmental abilities of the participants, since their ages ranged from kindergarten all the way up to 5th grade. With the youngest participants (grades K, 1 and 2), we used a technique called “turn and talk” in which you turn to a partner, discuss a question together, and then share your answer with the larger group if you so wish. With the older participants (grades 3, 4 and 5) we used a fun approach called “graffiti board” in which you write your answers to questions on large pieces of chart paper taped to the walls. We discovered that many of the older participants were leaving the project with a very different understanding of what a puppet was and how it could be used, as well as with a firm grasp of how to build a puppet from scratch. We also learned that many in the group found paper mâché (which they dubbed “papa macho”) challenging.
The day ended as young people streamed out of PS 34’s playground, joyfully carrying their puppets home. Read More...
By Sherry Teitelbaum
A highpoint of the Newtown Creek Celebration each summer is our intergenerational workshop where the 4th and 5th graders participating in the project visit North Brooklyn Development Corp.’s Dupont Senior Housing unit. They work side by side with the older adults that reside there to create puppets, costumes or props for use in the outdoo
At the end of our third day making pieces that will be assembled into puppets for our final performance, teaching artist Heather Nielsen counted all of the paper mâché components that we have amassed with our youth participants. In total our 80 young people have used recycled cardboard, used paper bags, and cornstarch paper mâché paste to build 120 puppet pieces. The following is Heather's tally:
- Beaver Head Piece 19
- Beaver Tails 10
- Laughing Gull Puppet Bodies 10
- Laughing Gull Puppet Wings 20
- Laughing Gull Puppet Tails 12
- Fish Puppet Bodies 5
- House Puppets 7
- High Rise Puppets 3
- Tree Puppets 4
- Tree Tops 4
- Tree Leaves 2
- Dollar Signs 5
- Coins 5
- Hamburgers 5
- Wind Turbine Blades 4
- Airplane Body 1
- Airplane Wings 1
- Frames 3
Now that we have our pieces we move on to the next step tomorrow: painting!
Day 3 was four sessions of paper mâché! Inspired by Kevin’s new mantra, “For today, it’s OK, to be gloppy and gross, all day,” almost eighty young people dipped their fingers into Heather’s special cornstarch and warm water mix and stroked, stroked, stroked until their pieces of torn paper bags adhered smoothly to the cardboard bases of their puppets. Young people were delighted to greet old cardboard friends that they recognized from yesterday’s puppet shows (beaver faces, beaver paddle tails, gull wings, gull bodies, houses) as well as to meet new cardboard pieces that were inspired by the work that the 4th and 5th graders did at yesterday’s Town Budget Meeting (hamburgers, dollar signs, nickels and dimes, wind turbines, trees). High points of the paper mâché sessions were when one girl taught Sherry a call and response song as they worked together on a puppet and the spontaneous creation of a “paper factory” so that children who were bored or needed a change from the gloppy texture could keep the group puppet-making machine going by shredding paper bags at a fast, crisp tempo. Before we moved to the paper mâché work tables, we started each session seated in a circle on the floor so that Kevin could check in with each group to find out what they remembered from Day 2. I was quite moved when one child talked about “a tree that couldn’t breathe any longer and had started to lose its leaves.”
Repeating a community based arts project one year later offers a wonderful opportunity: a chance to do things differently the second time around! After reflecting on our 2012 session plans for Newtown Creek Celebration: Puppet Parade and Pageant, teaching artists Heather Nielsen, Sherry Teitelbaum and I realized that we overlooked an important element: we did not incorporate basic puppetry concepts into our session designs. We never asked the youth questions like: “What is a puppet?”, “Who uses puppets and what do they use them for?” and “As puppeteers, how do we bring inanimate object to life?” We didn’t facilitate hands on activities to develop the youth’s basic puppetry skills. Instead, we jumped right into building puppets and creating a show. Although our 2012 culminating event was very successful, we wished we had built the youths’ puppeteering skills before we began creating the show. So when we received two grants from Brooklyn Arts Council to reprise the project in 2013, we were determined to take a different approach, starting on day one. Read More...
I had a great time planning and facilitating the first week of Our Play’s the Thing at Young Israel of Forest Hills Senior League with my collaborator Sherry Teitelbaum. Our Play’s the Thing is a two-week Creative Aging project designed to support seniors in creating and performing an original play. We met with our group members at Young Israel after lunch for two hours each day of the week. Read More...
Susan Rabinowicz has been running the Young Israel of Forest Hills Senior League for twenty-three years. A spunky, down to earth, practical woman with an infectious laugh, she has steered her senior center through the ups and downs of funding crises and managed a major renovation that increased accessibility to its services. She has been there for her constituents as they negotiated the daily challenges of living on a fixed income in a changing neighborhood.
But next week, Susan is embracing a new challenge. She is partnering with Everybody Act! to offer Our Play’s the Thing to Queens’s older adults, age sixty and up, who want to create an original play through storytelling, improvisation and theater games.
Susan has a close relationship of three years’ standing with the Master’s program in Applied Theatre at The CUNY School of Professional Studies. So when CUNY graduates Kevin Ray, founder of Everybody Act!, and Sherry Teitelbaum approached Susan about piloting their theater project at the Senior League, Susan didn’t hesitate a minute: she enthusiastically said, “Yes!” As Susan co-planned the project with Kevin and Sherry, she clearly stated her main goal: “Some of the seniors that come to this center are isolated, without someone to talk to at home. It’s important to give them a voice. And that’s what I hope this project will do.”
Up to fifteen older adults may register for the free playbuilding program, which runs from July 30 through August 10 at the Young Israel of Forest Hills Senior League, located at 68-07 Burns Street in Forest Hills. Workshops take place from 12:45 to 2:45 PM, Mondays through Thursdays and on Fridays from 12 – 1:30 PM. On Thursday, August 9 at 1:00 PM, the group will perform the short play they created in the Senior League’s multi-purpose common room. The performance is open to the public and free of charge. No reservations are necessary.
With Susan’s strong hand at the engine throttle, the Young Israel of Forest Hills Senior League has become the little senior center that could. It is chug-a-lugging into a future where its constituents will become active creators of culture. For more information or to register, contact Susan Rabinowicz, 718-520-2305, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The project is made possible in part with funds from the Decentralization Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts, administered by the Queens Council on the Arts. Funded under contract with the New York City Department for the Aging. Additional support provided by Everybody Act! Theater in Education & Communities.
PS 34 Oliver H. Perry Elementary School | Brooklyn, NY
At PS 34, I worked with second grade students and teachers on a theater program I developed called Character Counts! On Stage and Off. I collaborated with the teachers to develop and facilitate an arts integrated program in Theater, English Language Arts, and Character Education for three classes. The program expanded on the school’s existing “Reader’s Theater” and “Character Counts!” Programs by adapting three books by Brooklyn based children’s author Michelle Knudsen into three short plays. Each of Knudsen’s books highlighted a character education concept: Carl the Complainer – citizenship; Library Lion – responsibility; Argus - respect.
The program was designed to:
- Increase language acquisition in English language learners
- Stimulate interest among second grade students in independent reading
- Reinforce NYS Learning Standards for ELA and the Arts
- Deepen students’ understanding of character education concepts (e.g. citizenship, respect, responsibility, caring, fairness, trustworthiness) and the ways in which students can employ these concepts in their real lives
• Increase students’ self-confidence as a result of participating in a successful performance
Discovery In Practice
As part of the program, I worked with teachers and students to develop an ongoing rubric to track the students’ success after each session. Each of the three classes had their own rubric which included assessments based on areas such as “Using Expression”, “Using Kind Words”, and “Fluency”. Both students and teachers created the make up of their own class rubric. At the end of each in-class session, I asked the students to evaluate themselves by a show of hands. I asked them a question like, “As a whole group, how do you think you did today with using expression?” Then they raised their hands for “1: No Expression, 2: Some expression, 3: A good amount of expression, or 4: The best expression we could do.” Each time, I allowed the majority to rule and I wrote up the number in the class chart. By the second session I noticed something interesting. The students where overwhelmingly giving themselves a “4” in each category, which initially disappointed me because it seemed to defeat the purpose of having the students self-evaluate. I thought, “If they’re just going to give themselves a 4 every time, what’s the use of doing this?” However, I began to notice that there was always one or two students who disagreed with the majority of “4” givers. So one day I asked a dissenting student, “Why do you say 3?” Her response was incredibly accurate and truthful. So much so that she swayed the majority into understanding why they all should give themselves a more appropriate evaluation. I continued this practice of calling on the dissenters in each class and found that they were always able to clearly articulate their reasoning. It really showed me the power of truthfulness, bravery and the ability of an individual to influence a group.
PS 144 Col Jeromus Remsen | Forest Hills, NY
At PS 144, I worked with first grade students and teachers on a playbuilding program called Insects & Spiders On Stage! While I had initially proposed working on classic fairy tales, the teachers suggested incorporating a science curriculum tie in at our planning meeting. I’m always excited when teachers come to a planning meeting with interesting ideas; and while I had done A LOT of homework to be ready to work on fairy tales, I was more than willing to go in a new direction. To paraphrase director Peter Brook, “you do the preparation to throw it out!”
The first grade students were doing a unit on insects so we decided to use Eric Carle’s books such as The Grouchy Ladybug and The Very Busy Spider as our starting points. Each class of the five first grade classes focused on a different book by Carle and through playbuilding techniques such as tableaux, thought-tracking, and creative sound and movement activities, we devised five original performances, each about five to seven minutes in length. The plays incorporated different music elements. In our adaptation of The Honeybee and the Robber, the students, in role as bees, created a dance to Perez Prado’s Cuban arrangement of “The Flight of the Bumble Bee.” As part of The Very Lonely Firefly, first grade teacher Ms. Devine played guitar and wrote an original firefly song with the students. Finally, our version of The Very Busy Spider incorporated a processional style spider puppet operated by nine students!
The program was made possible by the generosity of the Parents’ Association of PS 144.
Discovery in Practice
As I was watching the students perform for their parents and teachers during the culminating event, I was struck by how tickled the audience was whenever the students used sound and movement to bring their insect and animal characters to life on stage. When six students playing mosquitoes entered the stage making high-pitched noises and flapping their arms as wings, the audience laughed raucously. As part of our improvisation during an in-class session, the students performing The Grouchy Ladybug came up with the idea to have the snake (played by five students joined together with their hands on their shoulders) enter singing and dancing “Conga-Line” style. This also received a great reaction form the audience. These sounds and movements created by the students helped me see that theatricality is just as important as dialogue - for elementary students, maybe even more so because projecting their voices in a cavernous auditorium is very challenging – even for adults! The insect and animal sounds and movements they created were so vividly executed that they told the story in a way that enhanced the dialogue. It made me wonder about using less dialogue in the future and finding more ways for young students to tell stories on stage through sounds and movements.
So that’s the year in review. I hope that it gave you a little insight into the work going on at Everybody Act! I also hope that my discoveries in practice will support you in your own work as you begin to plan for the 2012-13 school year.
Have a great summer!
My name is Kevin Ray and I am the Executive Director and Founder of Everybody Act! Theater in Education & Communities.
I am thrilled to announce that Everybody Act! is a new face on the arts services provider scene and I look forward to developing creative opportunities with new partners. I chose the name Everybody Act! because it perfectly frames the dual purposes of my core beliefs when using theater with youth and community members: I believe that everybody can learn performance skills to act on stage and that everybody can take action in their daily lives in response to what they have created on stage. Read More...