Category: Blog

Performance as Time Travel: Reindigenizing Movement, Decolonizing Time

By Moréna Espiritual

Posted on Friday, May 22, 2020

This blog is a part of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable’s new blog series, “Teaching Artists Speak Out: Blogs from Quarantine.” As schools remain closed, we’ve invited some “Teaching Artists of the Roundtable” to help us curate a series of blog posts written for and by NYC teaching artists. We’ll be posting new blogs each Tuesday and Thursday for the next several weeks.

if as the older i get the more wisdom i gain– wisdom defined as the acquiring of information that is grounded, ancient–  then isn’t time going backwards?

in “Dismantling the Master(s) Clockwork Universe)”  Rasheedah Phillips shares that “early recordings of an abstract sense of time as a continuous duration arose in the 14th century, while the word ‘time’ itself derives from the word ‘tide’ or ‘tidz.’…”

this written work continues on to explain that before the establishment of the western world and its technological, political, and religious shifts that stressed a linear sense of time which finishes in a “chaotic end,” there were other ways that people conceptualized and interacted with “time.” so the re-imagining of it’s structure that my opening sentence does is in reality, nothing new. the fluidity of time can be seen in how, depending on where you are in the world, it might be a completely different “time”/season right now. or you might use a different calendar system, like the U.S. and China. 

the truth is,those who work with and are connected to the land have always known about this expansive nature of time. and they have used it wisely –take the Africans who fought for and won their freedom in the most successful emancipatory uprising in human history as an example– the Haitan Revolutionaries. they won this war because they were connected to their ancestral religions of ancient wisdom, and hence did not believe in linear time – they fought utilizing gorilla warfare tactics based on their knowledge of the land, and were fueled by a fearlessness of death that came from understanding that existence did not end with physical life on earth; there are other timelines where our spirits go and roam. so maybe, COVID-19s ability to bring everything to a halt with quarantine isn’t some unique, inaccessible magic after all.

i say all of this to propose: maybe we have been able to time travel all along. haven’t you felt it?

when you meditate, and are able to see “past” versions of yourself, or scenarios which have not yet existed (in this timeline). the nostalgia in singing a song. the distortion of experience in the dreamworld. i’d argue that the healing we are capable of unlocking in those moments is proof that these are not imaginary trips. we’ve just been so trained to perceive this one pattern of numbers as our main orientation and organization of life flow that perhaps we invalidate the legitimacy of these experiences in other realms. 

taking all of this into consideration, i propose my second point: to perform is to set an intention. a prayer, a ritual.

 to say: “i will walk over there,” and then walk.

 to say: “i will imagine a new world,” and then create it.

 to say: “i will revisit this occurrence of the past,” and then recreate it. 

performance is also time travel. time travel that uses our body as a vehicle. amend it all. create it all.

through being intentional with this time travel, we can bring so much healing to our communities and ourselves. when we do it alone, it is a private ceremony. but when we do it for others, perhaps its true purpose is to be a culturally/genealogically informed ritual that considers the positionality of the audience. this is what separates it from just “healing.”

the courageous will ask themselves: “who is my audience and why do i want them to witness my time travel? what truths do i need to reveal to them, and from where can i access these truths? where should they be positioned in relation to my trip?”

*uses this clarity to set up the camera phone* 

*commencing ig live in “3.. 2..”*

*****

Moréna Espiritual is a cuir Afro-Taíno teaching artist, performer, and organizer based in NYC. Their work focuses on ancestral healing, re-imagining societal structures to create black/brown utopias, & inquiring about all emotional bodies that can live through the “self.”
 
For inquiries contact them at morenaespiritual@gmail.com
 
Find more work and contact listed here: https://linktr.ee/morenaespiritual

Thoughts on Teaching and Connecting and Change

By Alex La Torre

Posted on Friday, May 15, 2020

This blog is a part of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable’s new blog series, “Teaching Artists Speak Out: Blogs from Quarantine.” As schools remain closed, we’ve invited some “Teaching Artists of the Roundtable” to help us curate a series of blog posts written for and by NYC teaching artists. We’ll be posting new blogs each Tuesday and Thursday for the next several weeks. 

Starting a class now means clicking “start meeting” and then staring at my own face for a little while. There’s this moment in that silence that I can only compare to the sensation of being a kid and fearing that no one will show up to my birthday party.

I make sure my lighting is okay. I glance over at my windows to make sure they’re all the way shut so I don’t have to deal with unexpected background noise. My brilliant co-teachers log on and we chat the way we would before any class, I suppose: making sure the flow of our lesson plan still feels right, looking over the roster of students, etc.

Our very normal conversation makes me forget how different everything is for a few seconds. Of course, we also have to talk through the Zoom-version of our theatre game and wonder if it really will work on screen. I never thought I’d miss asking students to make a standing circle in the middle of the room so much. And then names start appearing in the waiting room. Another reminder of how so much has changed.

 

Things that aren’t the same:

  • I’m never really sure if I’ll see these students again. I don’t have the luxury of long-term curriculum planning and the knowledge that I’ll watch them grow through a whole semester or the full length of a class. Old models have gone out the window.
  • I can’t check in with students in the same way. I may notice someone seems distracted but there’s no discreet way of having a one-on-one conversation with them to see how they’re doing. I can’t use the chat function to connect with one student and continue to lead class for everyone at the same time – I am not that skilled a multi-tasker.
  • It takes an entirely new type of focus. Breakout rooms are cool. But I can’t stand in the middle of all the small groups and soft focus and go in and out of all of their conversations and ideas; hearing one group deciding they’re creating a hero with the “super power of silent farts that can paralyze a villain in their tracks,” another dreaming up a “magical gemstone that will grant their wishes.” Instead, I have to figure out whose mic is making that noise so I can mute them and keep an eye on the chat for questions.
  • I don’t know how to care for students in an individualized way when I’m staring at 20 faces on one screen. In those same breakout rooms, I can’t keep an eye on the student who has a hard time speaking up and pop into the group to make sure they feel safe. I can’t remind the idea person with one knowing glance to make sure they’re leaving space for other people’s thoughts.
  • I can’t casually assess how students interact with each other during drop off and pick up or transition moments. It feels impossible to get a feel for their comfort with each other in the same way. 
  • I can’t high five them. I can’t have a student come up and ask for a hug on the last day of class. I can’t take a moment to walk a student to their car and tell their parent or caregiver that they came up with some brilliant ideas in class that day.

 

Things that are the same:

  • I can look around the “room” and try to discern where my students are at. The information I receive is different, sure. But it’s there. How are they feeling? What does it mean to them to have a space in which they get to be creative? Is it an escape? Is it a release? Is it a way to get the sillies out? I can still meet them where they are to the best of my ability.
  • We can find common ground. Someone makes a Harry Potter reference (I adore that this has not changed since my own childhood), everyone laughs, they ask to know what house I’m in. (Hufflepuff, and proud of it.) 
  • Students support each other. If one student struggles with their lines as they adjust to Shakespearian language, then another chimes in with words of encouragement. 
  • We can create a true ensemble. One that is committed to working together and cheering on each member. A kid tries out a funny accent they’ve created for a character. The Zoom room gets filled with thumbs up and applause emojis, some kids unmute themselves so we can hear their laughter. It’s different, sure. But it’s also the same. It’s kids showing up for each other in whatever way they can. 
  • It gets messy. Sometimes you try out a new warm up or game and it’s a dud. I still invite kids into the process, “Listen, they can’t all be winners! Thank you for trying that experiment with me.”
  • There’s still emails from parents. They still include both heartwarming thank yous for the class and the more banal questions about registration and can my kid have more lines in the next class and so on. 
  • We still reflect. I still linger at the end of classes to check in with my fellow teaching artists. How did that feel for you? Should we try something different next time? Did so-and-so seem quieter to you today?
  • Personal expression shines. There is still seemingly always a student rocking something with a unicorn on it. Or a cat ear headband. Now there’s the bonus of seeing that they’ve got a matching rainbow bedspread or an actual pet cat. They are the coolest kiddos in my eyes.
  • We make art. There’s still characters to be created, stories to be told, and laughter to be had.

 

I miss so much. My heart physically aches for all the things that have changed. It is a terrible lump in my throat, welling up of feelings that doesn’t seem to go away no matter what I do.

But I see names fill up the waiting room. I look at my co-teachers faces, we take a deep breath together. I hit “admit all.”

 

*****

Alex La Torre is a bilingual teaching artist, arts administrator, and stage manager. Her various hats have allowed her to teach, create, and supervise programs at McCarter Theatre Center and throughout a variety of school districts in central New Jersey, working with students of all ages. She holds her BA in Secondary Education, English, and Educational Theatre from Boston College.

On Curating Scenes and Monologues for Our Students

By Leah Reddy

Posted on Thursday, April 30, 2020

This blog is a part of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable’s new blog series, “Teaching Artists Speak Out: Blogs from Quarantine.” As schools remain closed, we’ve invited some “Teaching Artists of the Roundtable” to help us curate a series of blog posts written for and by NYC teaching artists. We’ll be posting new blogs each Tuesday and Thursday for the next several weeks. 

My exposure to theatre had been a beloved VHS tape of Annie, the third grade play, and Sesame Street Live until I found the monologue books in my westside Cincinnati public when I was 12.

Those page-long excerpts of the hottest plays of the nineties contained a monologue from Spike Heels by Theresa Rebeck. I was captivated and immediately memorized it, never mind that it included “the f-word” and I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on. I knew that character’s voice and I wanted to say her words. 

I want all my students, no matter their age, to experience a similar excitement of finding that connection, that part of themself, on the page. It may come from a character’s voice, background, circumstances, objectives, or something less name-able. Yet I often find students are working on the same tired scenes by a narrow list of playwrights, with dialogue that feels stilted rather than real or heightened. 

The New Play Exchange, The Lark, The Kilroys, and other efforts have significantly changed our access to new work. Women and playwrights of color are being produced a bit more often. The material is there, but it’s hard to find the time to digest it in the hustle of making and teaching theatre. 

I decided to use this time of quarantine and self-isolation to read plays and figure out what makes a scene worth bringing to class. The principles below offer my approach to choosing material that I hope hooks students and sets them up for success in building their theatrical skills.

What’s the goal?

I write down the skills I’d like students to gain, or the purpose of the work before I begin. Some examples:

  • If this is an agent showcase for college students, my goals might be to make the students likable, show their range, and keep the audience feeling joyful all night. No serial killer stories needed. 
  • If it’s a fifth grade theatre class, I might be looking for work that offers them a chance to make physical and vocal choices. 
  • If it’s a special education setting, I might look for something with several sound and light cues so the company can practice listening and sequencing tasks. 

Are the students able to engage imaginatively with the action of the scene?

I look for three things:

  • the characters in the scene have clear objectives and actions
  • those actions and objectives are something students can understand from a child/adolescent development perspective. Example: Jaclyn Backhaus’s Men in Boats works for middle school even though the characters are adults. Tweens understand the objectives of getting through the canyon, of surviving, of forming alliances. 
  • the writing being compelling enough that students can immediately imagine some aspect of it on stage

This holds true for scenes being used for design projects or analysis as well as performance. 

What’s the playwright’s intention and how can I bring in that context?

It’s our responsibility to consider issues of equity and Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education in every single space. My approach:

  • I talk about the dominant dynamics of race and culture in our city and country and how they manifest in the theatre 
  • Bring in scenes by writers of all identities (not just racial or cultural). If it’s not appropriate for students to perform the work, it can still be used as a basis for design or analysis projects.
  • Provide tailored context about the scene: a short biography of the playwright, their descriptions of the characters and their notes about casting, the time period in which it was created and set, and information about the rights to the script from the title page to raise the topic of ownership of the work and rights to perform
  • When appropriate, make questions around identity in casting and producing theatre part of the curriculum
  • Offer options for student scenes and, having had the conversation about identity in theatre-making, trust students’ choices

What are your go-to scenes, and how do you think about choosing material for your students? What questions do you ask yourself? Let us know here.

*****

Leah Reddy is a Cincinnati-born, NYC-based director and dramaturg focusing on engineering creative processes in community. Leah is a Master Teaching Artist with Roundabout Theatre Company, a video producer, and a mentor with the Arthur Miller Foundation. Work includes producing  the documentary theatre piece and podcast Justice for Sergio with Leadership High School students. www.leahreddy.com.

Productivity

By Meghan Grover

Posted on Thursday, April 23, 2020

This blog is a part of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable’s new blog series, “Teaching Artists Speak Out: Blogs from Quarantine.” As schools remain closed, we’ve invited some “Teaching Artists of the Roundtable” to help us curate a series of blog posts written for and by NYC teaching artists. We’ll be posting new blogs each Tuesday and Thursday for the next several weeks. 

I put on my Teaching-Artist-Casual garb: yoga pants, a flowy shirt, and purple combat boots.

The Franklin Ave 4-5 train is 4 min away – huzzah!  

I finish writing a lesson plan in google docs, send my mom a ❤️ (I should call her, but I don’t have time!!), and I eat my breakfast burrito.

The train arrives. 

I get a seat! Yas!

I listen to Up First, The Daily, and the beginning of Pod Save the People on 1.5 speed.    

I feel furious at the news as I pop out of the 86th Street subway. 

To calm myself I listen to showtunes (Spongebob Squarepants the Musical’s “Best Day Ever” or Follies’ “Broadway Baby” usually does the trick).  

I carry three heavy bags of crafts, props, and Bluetooth speakers as I swarm through hundreds of people.  

I show my ID to the security guard of the first school, and make my way to my first class.

I take my first full breath of the day and finally relax as I make eye contact with twenty four-year-olds. We laugh as we go on an imaginary adventure in the forest where we help various puppet-animals in need. As we reflect at the end of class, the young people describe how much they loved “giving the mouse a magic blanket” or “showing the frog their Elsa freeze power.” I feel so happy.

After two classes of this forest-themed residency, I must move on to my next thing!

 I jog to the 4-5 train to go back to Brooklyn. I eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while I listen to the second half of Pod Save America, on 2.0 speed this time. I feel informed. And even angrier. 

I send more emails and try to get more teaching gigs on the subway because being still feels unproductive. 

After an hour on the train and walking, I show my ID to the security guard in the temporary housing facility, and I enter a classroom of twenty more young people.

I take that full breath and relax and smile! We read the book Dancing in the Wings and learn about Sassy, a young person who becomes a successful ballerina. After we read the book, we imagine that we are in a time machine, and we travel to the year 2080 where we draw pictures of the awards we will receive for all of our own life achievements. The young people giggle as they pretend to be old and share their successes on our pretend award show. I feel so happy.

But as I walk back to the subway station, I feel furious at the stark difference of opportunity between the morning private school and the afternoon temporary housing facility.

I try to push that anger away as I eat my second peanut butter and jelly sandwich while taking the B train to go back into Manhattan. I respond to more emails on the train and then on the subway platform of Herald Square.  

I take an improv class, or I rehearse a play, or I see a play… something like that…  

And then I take the 2-3 back to Franklin Ave. Still emailing, writing lesson plans, applying for jobs. 

I consider making plans with some friends but I feel too busy and exhausted.

I was productive, though, wasn’t I? I am ready to wake up at 6AM the next day and continue to be a part of the ever-moving machine. 

 

 

….

But then the machine stopped. 

On Sunday March 15, 2020, everything was cancelled, paused, sheltered-in-place.

I tried to keep my ever-moving machine “on” as I sheltered in Crown Heights. I was privileged to still have a few virtual jobs and endless zoom activities. So I facilitated synchronous and asynchronous zoom drama sessions, devised theater online, read the news and twitter, delivered people groceries, listened to podcasts…

But I didn’t feel the “productive” movement that I desperately wanted.

I just felt overwhelmed and flustered with each zoom meeting, news story, and email. 

What was I trying to produce!? What would make me feel USEFUL!!? I WANTED TO ACCOMPLISH SOMETHING MORE!!!! 

Then

                      After five weeks

                                                                 I walked to Prospect Park 

                                                                                                                            Without headphones. 

I walked up the steps to Lookout Hill where I could see 5-mile stretches of the city.

I took a breath through my masked face: that rare, long breath that I had not felt since entering a classroom to teach.

The ambulances, blossoms, and birds moved all around my very still body. 

I felt uncomfortable, but I kept breathing until I did not feel the fury and anxiety that made me want to move. 

I was still. 

I felt pain. 

Pain that I so often denied myself. 

I took out my journal that is usually filled with to-do lists, ideas for plays, and lesson plans. 

And I wrote. 

I wrote about teaching artistry: In this time of crisis as I teach virtually, emotional check-ins and just chatting with students are vital. It is not about “getting things done” but about connecting with one another. In addition to zooming with students, the most impactful zoom interactions have been with fellow educators. These interactions have not been about lesson plans and curriculum goals, but about how we are feeling: about Schitt’s Creek & Tiger King, Marie’s Crisis Cafe, and our favorite books, recipes, and scrabble words. Our conversations have been about who we are: not about what we are doing and accomplishing. 

I wrote about social change: Takiema Bunhe-Smith was a keynote speaker for the virtual Face to Face conference on April 15. She said that supporting individuals going through trauma is vital to work as a teaching artist, but we also have to think about the systems in place that affect trauma. The pandemic has laid bare the inequities of the social, political and economic machine that determine people’s worth through their “productivity” and profit. This machine perpetuates white supremacy and oppression that determines who gets to live and die: Black people in New York City are dying at twice the rate of white people. Latinx people are also dying from the virus at much higher rates than white people. The same can be seen through infection rates and hospitalization too.

Sometimes it feels like the ever-moving disparities of our society will never stop. Especially now.

But this machine is made up of people, and I truly have hope that people can change when they begin to see one another as human: when people can reflect on how the system actively dehumanizes some and humanizes others.

Change means our work with individuals: mutual aid, donations, the practice of teaching artistry (where we get to support people to develop their unique creativity in this world!). And change means work on the systemic level: phone calls to government officials, virtual and in-person protests, petitions. People demanding what they need and electing people to dismantle these inequitable systems.

Change means constantly learning and questioning what I think I know.

Instead of being angry, how can I use my agitation and energy to act and take responsibility?

So then I wrote about myself: How I sometimes live in contradiction to the practices of teaching artistry. Teaching artistry can open people to recognize that they do not need to act within the confines of this “productive” machine. With the exception of the joy I felt in a classroom, most of my days were “moving on to the next thing” and not really connecting with other people or myself. Self-care does not involve me only doing Yoga with Adriene, but taking myself into real stillness so that I can reflect on who I am. I spend all this time trying to be productive sometimes without thinking about what I am truly trying to produce. 

At this point in my writing, I closed my journal and my eyes.

And I wept.

I wept for the sick people, for the deaths, for the loneliness, for the hardship, and for our current system that perpetuates this harm. I wept for the cuts to social services, to education, to the arts, for our current leaders, and for a future that feels so bleak. 

But then I wept for resilience.

Because the very essence of teaching artistry is adapting so that we can continue to create, imagine and act on our current circumstance: to problem-solve and explore multiple solutions. 

We specialize in creating stories that we want to see enacted in this world! 

We can use our capacities to produce new machines of love, humanity, and freedom, not only in our classrooms and on zoom, but in our neighborhood, our country, and our world.

 

*****

Meghan Grover is a Brooklyn-based theater artist and educator originally from Cleveland, Ohio. She is passionate about creating original theater with people of all ages. Meghan works with New York City Children’s Theater, Park Avenue Youth Theater, DOROT, Trusty Sidekick Theater Company, CAT Youth Theatre, Bluelaces Theater Company, AMIOS and Hook & Eye Theater Company. Meghan is also a co-founding member and facilitator of the Defrost Project where she creates community-based art with residents of small towns in Minnesota. She is a Moth StorySLAM winner and GrandSLAM performer. Meghan graduated from the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training Program and is currently getting her MA in Applied Theatre at CUNY. She is extremely grateful to be a part of the Roundtable family and the amazing arts education community!

The Calm During the Storm

By AnJu Hyppolite

Posted on Tuesday, April 21, 2020

This blog is a part of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable’s new blog series, “Teaching Artists Speak Out: Blogs from Quarantine.” As schools remain closed, we’ve invited some “Teaching Artists of the Roundtable” to help us curate a series of blog posts written for and by NYC teaching artists. We’ll be posting new blogs each Tuesday and Thursday for the next several weeks. 

Dear Reader,

Last month, I posted a CALM OVER HYSTERIA piece on my Instagram (IG) page and thought a similar post would be good to share with this community. I wanted to express how I am coping with the loss of lives throughout the world, loved ones who have contracted COVID-19, the shelter-in-place, loss of work, physical distancing, and the 10 trillion other things that cross my mind as this issue persists, while offering hope to the teaching artist community and beyond. As I sit here today on Friday, April 17th, I am at a loss for words. So much has changed since I wrote that IG post on March 15th. At the time, our mayor announced that NYC schools, nightclubs, movie theaters, small theater houses, and concert venues would close, while restaurants and bars would be limited to takeout and delivery.1 An announcement about postponed court cases, a delay in the state’s presidential primary, and an early end to the collegiate academic semester also came across New York City residents’ news feeds.1 By March 20th, New York City’s governor signed an executive order, ordering all non-essential businesses to close and urging residents to stay home if possible.2 The shelter-in-place which at one time was effective through April 15th and then the end of April, has since been extended through May 15th. As government officials learn more about this pandemic, the updates are constant and things are rapidly changing. The incidence and mortality data, which I will not regurgitate, is appalling and saddening. Still, I want to extend hope.

 

When I scribed the IG post, I mentioned that I am choosing the calm during the storm. I wrote about what I planned to do during this time. Productivity was a huge part of that plan. While I have been productive, I realize that productivity is not a reality for everyone. Consistently seeing posts/memes that suggest you are lazy or undisciplined if you’re not writing that bestselling novel (or doing any other grand thing) can lead to feelings of unworthiness. While productivity may be feasible for one person, another individual may need to process feelings. Perhaps journaling may be ideal for that person. Perhaps being still could work for another or indoor gardening for someone else. Whatever you need to do to make sure you are taking care of yourself is exactly what you should be doing at this time, while taking the current climate into consideration and all of the precautionary measures. I am a firm believer that everyone has to do what is best for them—ALWAYS in ALL WAYS.

 

Whatever you take from this, please know that I am not telling you how you should or should not feel, or what to do or not do. I hope to offer beneficial fodder to help you and your loved ones cope during this pandemic.

 

First, a bop poem (bop style created by Afaa Michael Weaver).

 

You Are the Calm 

by AnJu Hyppolite

 

your inner child, a prisoner, looks through a shattered window

at a colorless sky—an offer of somber decay

poisonous smoke imbibed

intoxicatingly haunting a feverish embrace 

that coaxes you to dance

longing to return to the green of your heart

 

You are the calm during the storm

 

muffled voices dazzle you rhythmically

into the dark womb of seclusion

a fire that once burned nightly is doused

broken days come bearing ice

bringing mired morning dew

sinister laughter lingers in an echo

of ghostly reverberations haunting you back

here is the past you could never escape

 

You are the calm during the storm

 

remember you are magic

hold on to your peace 

grounded in rooted joy,

let it be your vast ocean of calm

celebrate your breath—it is sacred, 

a blossoming flower that stops you in your frenzy

 

You are the calm during the storm

 

There is so much in this life that is beyond our control. Our breath is something we can control. Because there is an involuntary aspect of breathing, it is easy to take it for granted. What makes breathing such an amazing capability is the duality of our respiratory muscles: voluntary and involuntary control. Additionally, breath is a sign of life and when voluntary control is underway, it can be used to ground oneself to eliminate stress and anxiety in the body. What a special ability we have!

 

My fervent wishes for you and your loved ones: Safety and health. 

 

My offer: Find what works for you and no matter what, go back to your breath. It will always ground you, bringing you to the present moment and yourself.

 

With calming hope and love,

 

AnJu 💚☥💚

 

1 New York City to Close Schools, Restaurants and Bars

2 Coronavirus in NY: Cuomo issues stay-at-home order for New Yorkers 

*****

AnJu Hyppolite is a Brooklyn-born award-winning actor, writer, and educator who works at the intersection of theater arts, literacy advocacy, and social equity. She is a Lakou NOU artist-in-residence with Haiti Cultural Exchange. AnJu uses meditation practices, yoga, and her spiritual beliefs to cultivate the life she wants and knows she deserves.