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A Sunny Fall Day

October 18th marked my second month in the United States. It feels like I’ve been here longer and I mean this in the best possible way. What’s lovely about being an international student, and one who has never been to America before, is a lot of things are new and exciting. Every moment is an opportunity to learn.

I’m fortunate enough to have experienced the seasons turn from Summer to Fall. Having come from a tropical country, the Philippines, I can’t help but marvel at those who have dealt with cold climates all their lives. I’ve been warned it’s only going to get colder.

While freezing isn’t exactly on top of my “things to do in New York” list, the warmth of the everyone I’ve encountered—from the MA in Applied Theatre Program to the Creative Arts Team and beyond—will last me a lifetime of winters.

I’m excited to be part of this weblog. I look forward to sharing with you my experiences as an international student.

Laura is a teaching artist from the Philippines. She is a graduate student in the MA in Applied Theatre Program and is also an Apprentice in the CUNY Creative Arts Team. She enjoys theatre, music, literature, and silliness. This is her first time in the United States. While she finds New York City full of delightful surprises, she has to admit Netflix has made quite an impression on her.

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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Project Rwanda

Today was our final day in Rwanda.  After two weeks of working, we took the day off to relax and unwind by Lake Kivu in Kibuye (roughly a three hour ride West of Kigali).  The views were incredible, and we were able to take many stunning photographs, both of the lake and the beautiful Rwandan countryside.  We also visited a picturesque church in Kibuye that was the site of a massacre during the 1994 genocide.  Although there was a small memorial to the more than 11,000 people who died there, the church still functions and runs Sunday services.

Having such a lovely and soothing last day here has made it no less easy to leave.  After only a short time apart from them, I already miss the students from KIE.  The work we did together was some of the most rewarding and exciting I have done in my life.  Although we have accomplished much, it also feels as if our friendships have just begun.  Knowing what we have been able to do and create in just two short weeks makes me yearn for more.  How much more could we learn from each other if we had just a little more time?  What could we have created in another week, a month, or more?  The talent and commitment of the KIE students has been incredible, making the possibilities for additional collaboration and learning seem endless.

Our time in Rwanda has been so rich.  The love and welcome I have felt during my stay has been immense, and it will not be forgotten.  Already, I hope for a chance to return to this place, but I cannot say for certain what the future holds.  One thing I know, however, is that the more I travel, the more I realize that I have left pieces of my heart in special places around the world—or perhaps it is the other way around; the places I have grown to love become a part of who I am.  In either case, Rwanda is no exception.  As my classmate, Dianna, said at last night’s farewell dinner/ceremony, “these memories are etched on our hearts.”

In just a few short hours, I’ll be winging my way back to America.  Despite this, I will not say that this is “goodbye.”  Whether or not we are physically in Rwanda, I think I speak for us all when I say that I know that this land and its people will always be with us.

– Brooke

Visit the Project Rwanda blog to read more about the Drama and Theatre Education in Schools for Reconciliation and Development in Rwanda initiative from of our MA in Applied Theatre program.

From yratlarge

We awoke to another beautiful day in Rwanda: birds singing, perfect temperatures and the promise of another rich day at work with the K.I.E. students. The day lived up to its promise. Chris and Helen led a session examining the speed at which things move in “real time” versus the speed at which things move in “theatrical time.” The session focused the students to look for “the important moments” in a scene or story. The results were exciting to see.

The work Chris and Helen did in the morning, translated into the work the K.I.E. students accomplished in the small groups later in the day. In a concrete mime session the students worked to find the essential aspects of an object. In a T.O. session, students made focused choices choosing specific characters to interact with and jumped into scenes only when they thought they could make a difference. While examining a poem through dramatic conventions, they looked for essential characteristics to draw the clearest picture of the poem’s main character. The work excites us and we are all are building skills and making connections. K.I.E. students in a session on making theater using fabric identified “commitment” and “concentration” as key elements of working together to create. Both are evident in the classroom. Theater continues to cross language barriers, offer us a tool with which to make meaning, and engage critical consciousness that engages human feeling as well as thought.

Jean-Marie Kayishema of the drama faculty stopped by each session today. In a conversation with Amy he expressed his happiness that we are here, that we offer the students an opportunity to make theater and experience the power of doing. The students are exposed to theory for much of their curriculum and Jean-Marie expressed a wish that the school could work on this particular brand of practical application all the time. At SPS, and elsewhere, we have experienced the power of doing theater. As I listened to the K.I.E. students discuss what they saw and experienced through the work today, it became clear they are experiencing its power too. As I heard them contemplate how they could implement it in the classrooms they are training to lead, I fully felt the parallels between us.

Visit the Project Rwanda blog and follow MA in Applied Theatre students as they implement the fourth year of the Drama and Theatre Education in Schools for Reconciliation and Development in Rwanda initiative. 

The following post was written by Kristel Brown, M.A. in Applied Theatre class of 2012:

My family and I recently relocated from New York City to Boulder, Colorado.  After eight years in the city, three of which were spent immersed in CUNY’s SPS community as part of both the Disability Studies program and the M.A. in Applied Theatre, it has been a significant, and at times challenging, transition. CUNY’s M.A. in Applied Theatre community is like a cozy home, full of individuals creating sustainable social change through art. These artists are changing their sphere of the world through collaboration and engagement in their diverse communities. Needless to say, it was an incredibly difficult community to say goodbye to.

City view of Boulder, ColoradoThe beautiful piece of this puzzle is that I’ve discovered that the CUNY community extends across the country. I have encountered fellow Applied Theatre artists throughout both the performing arts and academic worlds in the Denver-Metro area, connected to CUNY’s Applied Theatre program. Through those connections, new work is developing and growing; I am building a new community.

Currently, I am teaching theatre and interactive storytelling with babies and toddlers through Parlando School for the Arts, a community based-after-school arts academy that serves the Boulder area. These classes combine storytelling, music, puppetry, and mime to gently introduce babies and toddlers to the world of theatre and performing arts. Parlando has just received funding for the development of an Early Childhood Theatre and Arts program for children living with developmental disabilities; a program for which I have been asked to create curriculum. Additionally, this summer I will facilitate summer camps with the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, through which high school students will devise original musicals and plays.

I am still finding my way, and despite somewhat shaky ground, I have felt the support of the CUNY community from afar. Through the CUNY network, I have found opportunities in this new place, that I would not have found otherwise. The skills I acquired while in the M.A. Applied Theatre program are unique and new to this area. Furthermore, my connection to this diverse web of New York-based artists and practitioners has served as an asset to the work I am building in my new home. Conferences, workshops, and a myriad of resources are a simple plane-ride away. I am grateful for the opportunity to bring pieces of New York City to the Rocky Mountain West, and ecstatic to see where this new path leads.

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.

In September, SPS announced that Linda Key (’12) received a prestigious Fulbright award. Applied Theatre students and alumni continue to break ground. At elementary schools in all five boroughs, Leah Page (’13), Liz Parker (’11), Rachel Evans (’13), Amy Sawyers (’13), Anneka Fagundes (’11), Shamilia McBean (’13), Brisa Munoz (’13), and Sara Hunter Orr (’13) deliver “Alice’s Story,” an interactive theatre piece about bullying. The piece was created by J’nelle Chelune (’11), Ria Cooper (’11), and Anneka Fagundes for the arts in education organization Making Books Sing, with the organization’s Director of Education. TIME for Kids magazine covered “Alice’s Story” in a recent October issue—in fact, the publication featured Rachel Evans and Liz Parker on its cover, in TIME’s iconic red frame.

In Chelsea this summer, second- and third-year students interviewed seniors at SAGE, the nation’s first Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender senior center. Led by visiting professor Tony Goode, our students wove the interviews into an original piece of theatre, and then performed the piece for SAGE and other centers. Chelsea Now covered the performance, acknowledging Carli Gaugh (’13), who had “channeled a SAGE member” and captured the spirit of the singular seniors.

The Applied Theatre program’s collaboration with SAGE began in 2011 as a thesis project. Sherry Teitelbaum (’11), Kevin Ray (’11), and Jenny Houseal (’11) led LGTBQ youth and members of SAGE in creating a theatre ensemble. Foreshadowing this summer’s work, the ensemble drew on its members’ stories to create a dynamic original piece of theatre. Now, the project, called Bridging the Gap, has won major funding to return to SAGE; Bridging the Gap’s second original piece, “The Quest for Love,” premiered Saturday, December 1 at The LGBTQ Center. Also working with seniors, Abigail Unger (’12) was recently hired as Recreation Coordinator for Project Find, a network of senior centers throughout the city.

Downtown at Judson Memorial Church, Wil Fisher (’11) and Michael Wilson (’11) produced The New Masculinities Festival, an evening of performances addressing what it means to be a man. See www.manquestion.org/festival or to watch the performance.

The School of Professional Studies is delighted to announce that Linda Ames Key, a graduate of the School’s M.A. in Applied Theatre program, has been named a Fulbright Specialist.

In 2011, while completing her M.A. in Applied Theatre degree at SPS, Ms. Key participated in the School’s Project Rwanda: Drama and Theatre Education for Reconciliation and Development program, teaching applied theatre techniques to drama teachers at Kigali Institute of Education, Rwanda. The twin goals of the Project are: (a) to develop the use of theatre and drama strategies as educational tools to help promote unity and reconciliation among Rwandans, and (b) to create job opportunities by building applied theatre troupes, first in schools and colleges, and later in the professional, cultural milieu.

The Fulbright award will now enable Ms. Key to continue this work with two possible return visits through 2017. “I am thrilled to be given this opportunity,” said Ms. Key. “I look forward to returning to Rwanda, continuing to professionally develop through this work, and learn from the Rwandan students. I credit CUNY SPS and my phenomenal professors in the Applied Theatre program with opening up this new and exciting career opportunity that I had never imagined.”

Ms. Key is the Education Director of Vital Theatre Company, New York City, whose teaching artists integrate theatre arts into the humanities curriculum in an effort to jumpstart academic progress. A lead partner with Brooklyn Theatre Arts High School in Canarsie, the Company also holds partnerships with Fordham High School for the Arts, Bronxdale High School, PS 6, PS 166, PS 199 and PS 452. Since its founding, Vital has presented over fifty original productions for over 160,000 children and their families.

The Fulbright Specialist Program (FSP) promotes linkages between U.S. academics and professionals and their counterparts at host institutions overseas. The program is designed to award grants to qualified U.S. faculty and professionals, in select disciplines, to engage in short-term collaborative 2 to 6 week projects at host institutions in over 100 countries worldwide. International travel costs and a stipend are funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Project activities focus on strengthening and supporting the development needs of host institutions abroad. Eligible activities include short-term lecturing, conducting seminars, teacher training, special conferences or workshops, as well as collaborating on curriculum planning, institutional and/or faculty development. U.S. faculty and professionals apply to join a Roster of Specialists for a 5-year term. Roster candidates are reviewed by peers in the same discipline, and by the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board (FSB).