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The following blog entry was submitted by Acting Assistant Director Michael Wilson, M.A. in Applied Theatre.

On April 16 and 17, the Arts in Education Roundtable hosted the 2014 Face to Face conference at CUNY’s City College of New York.  The conference is an annual gathering for educators, artists, and administrators in the City’s arts education community.  I attended to represent CUNY SPS’s M.A. in Applied Theatre and keep an eye out for developments in the field.

At least ten students and alumni of the SPS M.A. in Applied Theatre participated in the conference, representing every cohort in the program’s seven-year history, including a member of the new cohort entering in 2014.

Andre Dimapilis (’12) presented on the use of drama to teach math to young children.  Participants in the session explored how to adapt and frame familiar games around basic mathematical concepts such as distance, numerical correspondence, and patterns.  In addition to considering math instruction, participants in the session wrestled with the more universal question of how to offer creative challenges to students without embarrassing them in front of their friends.  Andre suggested that mindfully scaffolding activities helps make it safe for young people to take risks.  Andre’s contagious love for learning disarmed the conversation, illustrating that passion and care go a long way, too.  Andre drew his presentation from his work as a core team member of the Early Learning Program at the CUNY Creative Arts Team (CAT).

CUNY SPS M.A. Applied Theatre

Joey Schultz (’12) and Kevin Ray (’11) presented on devising theatre with middle-school youth, drawing from their work as staff members of the CAT Youth Theatre.  Their approach will be familiar to students and alumni of the M.A. in Applied Theatre: play drama games to develop community and common theatrical vocabulary; investigate ideas that are of interest to the group; and provide a clear structure for participants to follow to create their own original pieces of theatre about their ideas.  For this session, Joey and Kevin lead participants in using physical images to assert how they would change the world.  The assembled teaching artists and administrators viscerally lampooned gluttony and inequality in many areas including, pointedly, arts funding.

CUNY SPS M.A. Applied Theatre

I also attended “The Many Hats of a Teaching Artist: Cultivating Professional Partnerships,” a session led by members of the Roundtable’s Teaching Artists Affairs Committee.  We used image theatre and other techniques to address issues that arise in relationships with parents, administrators, and classroom teachers.  Afterward, I spoke with committee member Lauren Jost about organizing to support teaching artists: what will it take to have reliable healthcare coverage?  Reliable pay for preparation and travel?  The issue is near my heart: when I was a teaching artist, I struggled with the inconsistency of the work.  I began a meetup group with Anneka Fagundes (’11) and Reka Polonyi, a graduate in Applied Drama from the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, to workshop issues that arose in our work as teaching artists.  We imagined a structure for combining our resources and elevating the status and treatment of teaching artists in the field.  I am eager for our graduates to pick up that torch and run with it.

CUNY SPS M.A. Applied Theatre
Plenary speakers were concerned with the status of the field in the City.  New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said that making art teaches children how to approach learning.  Making art also develops skills tested by the city’s Common Core academic standards.

Later in the day, City Comptroller Scott Stringer presented from his report State of the Arts: A Plan to Boost Arts Education in New York City Schools.  The report, which was released in April, shows that one in five City schools has no part-time or full-time certified art teacher.  Stringer said he is working to secure funding to place an arts teacher in every school.  Reflecting on the day, Roundtable Co-Chair Ted Wiprud said that we arts educators now have a place at the table more than ever.  I shared this news and Ted’s outlook with my officemate, Maureen Donohue.  “More certified teachers?” she mused, “does that mean more jobs for teaching artists, or the other way around?”

I looked in Scott Stringer’s report and found that one in six schools have no arts or cultural partnerships—in other words, no teaching artists.  Would increasing arts spending expand those partnerships?

The intelligent advocacy of our graduates would help in that direction.  Interested in being involved?  Write me at Michael.Wilson@mail.cuny.edu.

CUNY SPS M.A. Applied Theatre

 


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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