Day 2: Before the Paper Mâché Comes the Story

Newtown Creek Celebration Day 2 Paper Mache On Our Handsby Heather Nielsen

"When are we going to start making the puppets?" was the eager question we were greeted with multiple times before the clock had even struck 9 on Monday morning. The sight of piles of cardboard, paper bags, and paper mâché paste reminded the returning young people of our puppet making process last year and piqued the interest of new campers as they wondered what creatures we would be creating!

Before we started to rip paper and get our hands gloopy with paper mâché, we introduced each group of young people to their section of our 2013 theme: The Tides of Change. Through interactive storytelling, stick puppetry, and process drama, we presented puppets that the youth will be making over the coming days to give them a tangible sense of what their role in this puppet show will be. Read More...

Session One Revised: One Year Later

Newtown Creek Celebration 2013 Day 1 Boot Puppets with Teaching Artists Heather Nielsen and Sherry Teitelbaumby Kevin Ray

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...

Setting Up Shop: From Civil War Hospital to Puppet Lab


by Sherry Teitelbaum

Kevin, Heather and I had a very exciting day on Monday: we visited PS 34 in Greenpoint, where the puppet building, movement and improvisational workshops for Newtown Creek Celebration 2013 will take place during the next two weeks. PS 34 is one of the oldest public schools in Brooklyn.
It was originally used as a hospital in the Civil War. Behind its brick façade is a rabbit’s warren of irregularly shaped classrooms, sans hallways, arranged railroad flat style. We spent several productive planning hours meeting with our biggest fan, the hard-working, high-energy Kasia Selwesiuk-Swietochowski, Director of the North Brooklyn Development Corporation Summer Camp. After the four of us nailed down the daily schedule and reviewed some preliminary story boards, Kasia showed us the two rooms where we will set up shop. We also greeted the approximately 80 young people who will be participating in the project this summer, as they filed past us in their bright yellow T-shirts on their way to a neighborhood field trip. About half the youth are repeat participants from Newtown Creek Celebration 2012, and they treated us to huge smiles of recognition and enthusiastic hand-waving. We’re all set to co-lead our first workshops in our new digs on Thursday. We will be blogging our progress throughout the project so stay tuned for our next blog entry!

Newtown Creek Celebration Needs Your Support

Newtown Creek Celebration Creek Spirit and Fish Puppets

Newtown Creek Celebration is back for 2013 and needs your support.

Above is an image from the 2012 culminating event. The project was so successful that we’ve been invited to return! We look forward to two weeks this August full of sparked curiosity, paper mache, movement, story and music, followed by a joyous outdoor celebration in McGolrick Park on August 15th that will captivate neighbors, start conversations between parents and youth, and inspire environmental action!

While we are delighted to have received modest funding from the city and state of New York to create Newtown Creek Celebration: 2013, we are still $4,500 shy of the funds we need to start the second year of this free summer program on August 1st.

Can you help us? Please click here to view our fundraising video on Indiegogo.

Support Newtown Creek Celebration

My collaborators, Sherry Teitelbaum, Heather Nielsen and I dreamed up a way to use puppetry, pageantry and parade elements to engage young people with an environmental problem right in their backyard: polluted Newtown Creek.

Did you know that 17 to 30 million gallons of oil have been spilled into Newton Creek?

Currently, the creek is being cleaned up. But when the cleanup is complete, who do you think will be of voting age to demand public green space? Today’s young people! In a fun and creative way, our arts project will begin to plant the seeds of agency in today’s youth.

But we can’t do the project without your support.
Visit the campaign and make a contribution today by clicking on widget below!

And guess what? We have lots of perks for everyone who contributes! Visit the campaign page to see perks ranging from posters, to photos of the event, even a puppet from the show!

If you can’t contribute to the campaign, there’s other ways you can help make this project happen
  • Visit the campaign and click the share tools right under the video. You can “like” the campaign and send it to Facebook or “tweet” it to send it to your followers.
  • Forward this email to folks you know who might be interested in supporting youth development, environmental, or arts projects
  • Join us at the final event on August 23rd at 3:30 pm in McGolrick Park, Brooklyn. It’s free and open to the public!
Thank you for taking time to read about our project and for visiting our campaign’s website! I look forward to your support and hope to see you in McGolrick park on August 23rd! Send me an email and let me know if you'll be there!

All the Best,


2011-12 School Year in Review & Discoveries in Practice

Everybody Act!’s debut year was a hit! The company provided arts-in-education programs at two schools in New York City: PS 34 in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and PS 144 in Forest Hills, Queens. Both programs culminated in a final performance of original plays performed by the students for parents and faculty. Here are some snapshots of what each school worked on and some discoveries I made as a result of the work.

PS 34 Oliver H. Perry Elementary School | Brooklyn, NY

Project Description
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
The program was made possible with funds from the Local Capacity Building Initiative, a regrant program of the Arts in Education Program of the New York State Council on the Arts, administered by BRIC Arts | Media | Bklyn and the Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC).

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

Project Description
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!