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Piper Anderson is a 2011 graduate of the CUNY SPS M.A. in Applied Theatre program. She is currently the Director of Education & Artist Development at Young Audiences New York. She is also a performance artist, writer, educator, and life coach. Below is her reflection on the question “Where are you from?” based on time spent in Rwanda working at the Kigali Institute of Education. 

The busy stretch of road from the Kigali Institute of Education to Hotel Civitas is about a 20-minute walk on a narrow sidewalk. J’nelle and I slowed our pace and fell into step together similarly feeling reflective and inspired by all that we were seeing and experiencing in our brief time in Rwanda. Sharing our growing expertise in Applied Theatre was exciting. Learning about a new country and the ways Rwandans were finding creative solutions to the call for reconciliation and healing was powerful and confirmed the deep resonate value of our work. But there was another layer to this trip that I wasn’t quite expecting: “Where are you from?”

It’s a question that I get on Brooklyn streets or the Walmart in small town USA. But when an African asks me this question while standing in a school yard surrounded by the lush hills of the Rwandan country side, I’m not quite sure where to begin. “I’m from the U.S.,” but of course that’s not useful. Africans move to the U.S. all the time seeking opportunities, an escape, a new beginning. The question is not where you ended up. No, where are you from? Where do you begin? So I began with what I knew of my history. I began with the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Which for many Rwandans sounded like some legend, some Grimms tale used to trick naïve children into obedience; it couldn’t possibly be true. But I told the story again and again with the certainty that hours spent in my small public library after school reading every volume on that one bookcase devoted to African American literature. That history finally came in handy on the streets and in the schoolyards where I met people in Rwanda. But my facts seemed to leave more questions than answers and each conversation left me feeling more and more displaced.

Where do I begin? I may never know. Dr. John Henrik Clark says, “History is not everything, but it is a starting point… It tells them where they are, but more importantly, what they must be.” So as J’nelle and I walked along that Kigali road we began to hatch a plan to explore our being, our being a part of the African Diaspora. Our thesis project took the shape of one amazingly simple, complex question: “What does it mean to be part of a Diaspora?” We returned to the states and to our final year in the M.A. in Applied Theatre program and began structuring a creative gathering for a diverse group of Black women artists to explore this question. Our exploration took the shape of a devised theatre piece called “The Offering.” In April of 2011, The Diaspora Project performed “The Offering” at The Brecht Forum in New York City.

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When we reconvened the women who participated in the project for a final reflection, there was an urgent desire to continue creating. What we had created together had become a vital means of generating radical material that challenged perceptions of Black women and revealed the complexity of our identities. We wanted to do more. We wanted to create a theatre company and so we did. On September 18, 2011 Re-writes of Passage Ensemble Theatre was born in my Harlem apartment. This is where we get to define our existence. This is the re-writing of our passage. Where we get to decide who we must BE. To learn more about our company visit www.rewritesensemble.com.

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The M.A. in Applied Theatre culminates with the Project Thesis. Our graduating students envision and implement original projects in Applied Theatre. These projects are the sites for their research, which they in turn document and evaluate in their final written theses. We invite you to attend the dynamic presentations in which they share their processes and discoveries.

The M.A. in Applied Theatre culminates with the Project Thesis.

Wednesdays, May 22, 29, and 30
At CUNY’s Creative Arts Team
101 West 31st Street, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10001

May 22nd
6:45pm, Celebrating Community: An Applied Theatre Workshop for Child and Family Specialists
Brisa Muñoz, Kristy Kadish, and Michelle O’Connor
A two-day theatre-based workshop for a community of social workers in Johnson City, Tennessee. The purpose of the workshop was to promote connection, celebrate strengths, and examine the challenges within the professional community.

7:35pm, The WHY Factor: A Decision-Making Workshop with African Diasporan Male Undergraduates
Antonio Lyons and Julia Reimer
This 5-week workshop series at a college in Queens used theater, storytelling, and creative play to explore choices through the lens of identity, relationships, conflict, systems, and personal goals and expectations.

8:25pm, Facing the Blank Page Together: Finding Collaborative Approaches to New Play Development
Dominic D’Andrea
This presentation documents the experience of an applied theatre-inspired writers’ group that was designed as a lab for a cohort of 9 working playwrights in New York City. Through a focus on group collaboration, individual process, and working with a senior population, the playwrights engaged with applied theatre practice to inform and/or impact their individual approaches to “facing the blank page.”

9:15pm, Acting Out in Math Class: Role play and Mathematical Discourse
Anna Zivian and Nicolette Dixon
The presenters implemented workshops and residencies to support math teachers in developing and facilitating role play scenarios for students based on mathematical word problems. The project objective was to use role play to stimulate engagement in mathematical discourse for enhanced conceptual understanding.

May 29th
6:45pm, Performing Legacies: A Family Storytelling Workshop
Ramy Eletreby, Rachel Evans, and Amy Sawyers
This workshop series was implemented over four Sundays at a church community room on the Upper East Side with a diverse group of 24 individuals. Through a variety of activities geared towards performing family stories, this workshop explored the significance in our lives of sharing family stories.

7:35pm, Looking at the Past: The Women’s Theatre Project
Lydia Gaston and Junko Ishikawa
The presenters implemented a 6-week series of theatre-based workshops with Filipino senior women immigrants in Jamaica, Queens. Looking at the Past used process drama, Freirean dialog, and an exchange of personal stories to address group dynamics and build community.

8:25pm-10pm, Integrating Theatrical Conventions into a High School Peer Education Program
Ellen Brown, Sara Orr, and Leah Page
The presenters spent ten weeks at a community center that offers peer education programs for and with teenagers. The group taught the young people how to create, rehearse and facilitate activating scenes, a convention influenced by Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed. At the end of the ten weeks, the young people performed and facilitated three original scenes for their peers at the center.

May 30th
6:45pm, Arts Together: Celebrating Moms and Kid Through Theatre, Crafts and Fun!
Lillian Ribeiro and Ben Weber
Arts Together was a series of 5 workshops that took place in New Jersey for mothers and their children who live in a domestic violence shelter or supportive housing facility. These workshops explored how applied theatre may foster meaningful experiences between mothers and children during a period of transition.

7:35pm, Interracial Relationships Explored
Carli Gaughf and Reyna Bonaparte
A 5-week project that mobilized theatrical conventions to address the struggles and joys of romantic interracial relationships. Individuals and couples met on weekly basis for Boal-based workshops at the Queens Presbyterian Church in Long Island City, NYC.

8:25pm, ACTION! The Creative Student Leadership Workshop
Claro de los Reyes and Shamilia McBean
ACTION! was a 4-week interactive theatre project that explored the concept of leadership with undergraduate commuter students in Jamaica, Queens. The workshop series addressed civic mindedness and psychological ownership through an arts-based investigation of how students saw themselves in relationship to their school community.

Admission is free.
Guests are welcome to attend any or all of the presentations.

The Master’s Degree in Applied Theatre, the first program of its kind in the United States, is a sequential, ensemble-based program for students interested in the use of theatre to address social and educational issues in a wide range of settings. The program stresses the unity of theory and practice, and is linked to the professional applied theatre work of the renowned CUNY Creative Arts Team.