Tag: teaching artist blog

The Lost Art of Boredom

By Melissa Shaw

Posted on Thursday, June 11, 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.

Novelists are geniuses at staying still and seeing what comes next. I am most likely to be engaged in is staring. If staring ever becomes an Olympic event I am bringing home the gold. While other people go to work, I stare out the window, and then for a while I stare at my dog. I stare at blank pieces of paper and paragraphs and I stare at sentences and a buzzing computer screen. While others are doing things with their lives, hours and hours of my days are spent with my eyes glazed over, waiting, trying to figure things out. 

– Ann Patchett

 

When I was younger it was a lot easier to have nothing to do. There was less to watch on TV, fewer places to go, FOMO didn’t have a name yet, and although there was a rudimentary Internet around in the 90’s, I was not from a family that ever had a computer and the ear splitting dial-up connection of yore. AOL chat rooms, one of the only ways to chat on the internet then, was a stolen pleasure in other people’s homes. Through all of this, I was given a gift that is so much harder to find and embrace these days: boredom. 

 

For many of us, through Quarantine, there is a new air of and potential for boredom around us. Most of us are in our homes wondering what’s next? What do I do now? In this time to have an opportunity you should not miss- to do nothing for a while and see what comes of it. 

 

Think back to when you were a kid. I know when I think back to having a lack of things to do, my sister and friends and I would come up with original games, and fantastical romps through made-up worlds of our own devising. We were monsters and fairies and ran off of storm doors pretending we could fly. Even through high school, when I went to the haven of my room and shut the door I would listen to music, lip sync, dance alone, collage, journal, play dress up and dream of what might come in my future. This was a fertile time for my mind and creativity. If only we had Tik Tok then, I would have been a star. 

 

My personal space to create was born from these nighttimes and weekends unfilled with school, or other people’s voices, or demands on my time. 

 

To this day, I come up with my best plans or ideas when I stare off into space or when I’m stuck in my car singing to whatever song comes on the radio. 

 

Your boredom can be a gift -you just have to let it be. From the Void of Boredom will come your great idea, invention, piece of writing, drawing, or video.  You just have to open the space to let it in. 

 

The problem with most of us these days is that at the very hint of boredom, we move to strike too quickly to fill the void. We check our phones and wonder what other people are doing or thinking. Don’t worry about it sweetheart. You’re where the party is, always.

My advice. Be bored. Be with yourself. Sit on that mountain and the lightning bolt will come. Give it a try. 

 

Think, if you will, of a pimple (stay with me). When you first get a pimple, you are most likely bummed. Drat. This is inconvenient. This is not what I want! I do not want a pimple. You don’t, but there is nothing you can do. You must wait. That pimple is your boredom.  Oh sure you can try. You can fuss, and muss, and apply creams, and wash your face a million times, but you know the rules of a pimple quite well by now. You can’t rush a pimple, you have to give it time, because you know there is going to come the Great Pimple Moment. Slowly, surely, the moment to pop the pimple will arrive. The ugly pimple of boredom will be ready, and so will you. You will get the satisfying moment of release (don’t pretend there aren’t entire youtube channels dedicated to this.) This Great Pimple Moment holds the release to the next phase of healing and the inspiration that something good (the pimple fading!) is at hand. From your angsty patience will come the revelation. 

 

 A lot of research has been done about boredom and creativity. In this article, Clive Thompson writes for Wired that “Boredom might spark creativity because a restless mind hungers for stimulation. Maybe traversing an expanse of tedium creates a sort of cognitive forward motion. “Boredom becomes a seeking state,” says Texas A&M University psychologist Heather Lench. “What you’re doing now is not satisfying. So you’re seeking, you’re engaged.” A bored mind moves into a “daydreaming” state, says Sandi Mann, the psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire who ran the experiment with the cups. Parents will tell you that kids with “nothing to do” will eventually invent some weird, fun game to play—with a cardboard box, a light switch, whatever. Philosophers have intuited this for centuries; Kierkegaard described boredom as a prequel to creation: “The gods were bored; therefore they created human beings.” 

 

Pace around your room, listen to songs and fall in love with the images in the lyrics, flip through magazines, put down your phone, stare into space. Give your brain time to rewire. 

 

 

As Ann Patchett says in her graduation speech from Sarah Lawrence College the year I received my MFA in Theatre, Say still. See what comes next.

 

*****

Melissa Shaw is a writer, theater artist, and facilitator living in Brooklyn.  Her work has appeared in Hey Alma, Litrony, The Writer’s Rock Quarterly, and in the forthcoming Lyrics, Lit and Liquor anthology. Melissa was a member of the 2018 Writers in-Performance Lab at Tribeca Performing Arts Center in 2018 and is an associate artist with Falconworks Artist Group. She holds an MFA in Theatre from Sarah Lawrence College.

Screenshots from Quarantine

By Chaya Babu

Posted on Tuesday, June 9, 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.

The days are all the same but I’ve never been good at time any way. I take walks around the neighborhood to punctuate things, stopping sometimes to sit on the grassy medium along Albermarle under the trees. Yesterday I journaled about how the leaves look translucent when the sunlight pierces them — distinct from the glassy look of a fish, more like gossamer, ready to come apart at the slightest touch. The day before that, about Venus stationing retrograde in Gemini. This is my universe right now: the ten-block radius around my apartment and, in turns, a more galactic drawing of my borders. 

 

“All I learn on Zoom is pig latin.”

 

And a new rhythm of conversation with my almost-nine-year-old nephew. The days have this now too. His face bright with his bad homemade haircut on a screen in my Brooklyn studio, sometimes right after the school day ends too but always for a bedtime story. Between 6:30 and 7pm he FaceTimes me. 

He has on occasion given me the courtesy of informing me that he’s about to do so. It’s not a heads-up as he doesn’t leave time in between the message and the call for me to let him know if I’m free; it’s more just an announcement of himself.

 

“Abu-bay,” he says. “That’s what your last name would be in pig latin.” As if I wasn’t well versed myself thirty years ago. I let him teach me. 

 

 

Vihan is my sister’s child. I always thought he would be 11 or 12 before he had his own device with messaging capabilities. Like so many other changes, COVID-19 sped that up. I’ve relished this development. He’s old enough now for us to laugh at the same jokes (sometimes), and to agree on whether a story is actually scary or not (yes I have cultivated in him a strong inclination toward art about ghosts and maybe killers and baby spiders crawling out of human faces). When I got that first “hey” two weeks ago from an email address that was his first and last name plus a 2011 tacked onto the end, I felt a soft heart-blooming that is so much more palpable now that the earth is quiet. A minute later, he was blowing up my FaceTime. We haven’t missed a story night yet. 

 

I’m reading Dear Mr. Henshaw to him. I never read it as a girl, but a friend gifted it to me recently with his own fanmail in the form of a note tucked into the front cover about his high hopes for my book publishing future. Vihan is taken with Leigh Botts’ transition from writing letters to Mr. Henshaw to writing in a diary with each entry addressed to Mr. Pretend Henshaw. He tells me from his little rectangle world on my iPhone that he can understand why it’s hard to write in a diary because he likes to write but doesn’t always see the point in writing to himself.

 

 

I’m not writing at all. Not beyond my slips of noticing the light, catching the way an ant crawls across my knee, the way my hair has grown wild or my whether my breath goes in deep or shallow. As my brain tries to make sense of what’s happening around us, even as I don’t think about it consciously, it feels that it has nothing left to make sense of anything else. It has nothing else to make sense of through language. I think about stories I might like to tell, essays ideas that had been swirling before, my manuscript draft that is waiting for my discernment and hand with red pen, and the fact that I now have all the free, open, boundless time an artist could have dreamed of. But the days blur together in a way that collapses the clock, and I can’t remember why I once believed there was a purpose in putting these thoughts on paper. I can’t remember why I once believed I knew how. 

 

 

I get good morning and what are you doing now? messages from him at 7am. I’m still asleep then. His good morning emoji game is on point though.  

Sometimes he sends me dispatches from the middle of his day.  

If I tell Vihan I’ll call him back in five minutes but I take seven minutes instead, I get back to my phone with three missed FaceTime calls and a message asking why I’m not picking up. I have to explain to him that if a grownup says five minutes, they usually mean fifteen or twenty. He thinks about that and decides it’s absolutely true. 

 

 

Vihan knows that I’m “a writer,” but only in the abstract. Sometimes he asks me questions about the publication process, but he doesn’t know what kinds of pieces I write, about what, why I do it as my work when it means I live in inside a 500 square foot perimeter while his life happens in the expanse between an Upper East Side townhouse and five acres of green and shadow and crisp air in Westchester. Usually he’s only up north on the weekends but now he’s been there for two months. One day on our FaceTime, after we read a few entries from The Diary of Leigh Botts, I show him my quarantine journal. 

 

“You wrote ALL that just since quarantine started?” he asks. 

 

It’s a soft bound book with a white cover. A gold bee is etched into the front. Vihan requests that I read a page to him. This feels hard. I open to lines and lines documenting my emotional state and the roots of my tendency toward somatic dispersion; somewhere there’s a missive about the direction the dandelion seeds danced in the wind on Ocean Parkway, somewhere else a bulleted list of numbers counting death. 

 

I find something remotely legible and not entirely inappropriate, even if beyond his level of reading comprehension. It’s dated May 5. I read: 

 

“I have lost my way and I know it. I used to know, just from the pulsing within, what came now, and next, and next. Now I trust nothing, always monitoring the okayness, measured by — not me. It has been so sad. This place. Thinking that the current and flow of my own body could be so wrong. An error. Carved into the bed of my feelings place. I’m wondering now if something about now is taking me back. I hope so. I need this time to hold a return. It seems so desperate and urgent a need. And yet, the urgency requires a sustaining force of slowness. Once it was true that the writing came easily. It did. I know it. I was there, that was me. Now it feels like I know nothing, think nothing, without stopping to check for the making sense to the gaze of some other. It never does. What happened? Who said I was such an aberration, and why did they matter?”

Vihan thinks about that. 

 

“Does that mean you think you’re getting less smart?”

 

“Yeah…” I say. “Yeah, it does.”

 

“Me too,” he offers. 

 

“Really? Why? Because you’re not getting much from remote learning?” 

 

And then he explains that all he learns on Zoom is pig latin. 

 

I laugh. 

 

 

The days are marked by our chats. 

A ritual that repeats, but nonetheless allows me to plot the passage of days and ephemeral shifts aside from my own regression. 

 

 

On a pretend Monday, February 5, Leigh Botts writes:

 

Dear Mr. Henshaw, 

I don’t have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of a paper. 

 

 

On a real Thursday, May 14, Vihan writes: 

 

(Because I’m annoying and I asked him to think about ways he might be growing that are not exactly related to what he’s learning academically. I decide after receiving the message that it wasn’t the worst exercise.)

 

 

I’ve been thinking about pig latin. How there is a point in our young lives when we are unburdened by whether or not we are understood beyond the scope of those whom we have let in. How having a secret language is sometimes what makes us feel safe. I think about how there are going to be moments, and they may stretch on in a way that causes time to fold in on itself and spiral out and back again, when talking only to ourselves and to those who intuitively grasp the words we use when we’re separating out the strands of our thoughts is what we need to get through the unraveling weeks of unknowing, whole. 

 

 

It’s the first day that I feel a hopeful warmth on my skin outdoors and I can mark the seasons turning, at last. The leaves are glowing everywhere; I try to figure out the name of a fragrant purple flower on a Stratford Road bush. It’s Friday — I know that much because Vihan goes to bed later and so I haven’t heard from him yet even as the 7pm hour creeps to its halfway point. Then my phone buzzes.

 

 

It’s story time.

*****

Chaya Babu is a South Asian American writer, journalist, artist, and educator based in Brooklyn. Her work focuses on power and oppression, cities, the body, foolishness, individual and collective healing, and more, and has been featured in or at The Margins, BuzzFeed, VICE, Open City, the Porter Gulch Review, GO HOME!, and Project for Empty Space, amongst others. She teaches classes on personal narrative, poetry, and reporting through Community Word Project and the School of the New York Times while she works on her first book, a memoir about the intergenerational trauma of exile and the impossibility of return post diaspora. For more, visit www.fobbysnob.com.

 

The Importance of Art in Trying Times

By Topaz Rodriguez

Posted on Friday, June 5, 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.

Hello there! I see you’ve landed here from your journey, and I’m glad to see you alive and well in these changing times my good friend. Now that I have the privilege of your time and attention; I’d like to talk to you about an observation, or rather a perspective that has been around longer than you can imagine. This perspective is the flippant conversation of pursuing, creating, and dissecting art- society seems to have with artists of all mediums- claiming that our careers are phases, or they’re gaudy precursors to what we are ‘supposed’ to do. This conversation leads in with condescending tones, then follows up with the pressure of living in a capitalist society where if your work doesn’t bring in money it shouldn’t exist. If you’re lucky it ends there, but most times you’re not so lucky and the person or group of people ask you what you’re going to do with your life, why do a career that leaves you in poverty, etc. One of the best examples I can show you of this attitude seeping into an artist’s life, or how pervasive this attitude can be comes from the late Kurt Vonnegut, writer of Slaughterhouse Five, and A Man Without a Country. In this book (A Man Without a Country) Vonnegut (or his character)- is shown to have said:


If you really want to hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”  

 

This observation itself speaks volumes of the attitude towards art both in the times of Walt Whitman’s journey as a writer (some may even argue as a person) and to today’s 21st century.  To many people of the past and the audiences of the present, art is a waste of time- it doesn’t do much, and pursuing it is a disappointment to both you and the people before you.  To some it may be hard to believe nowadays – artists of many mediums have sprung from all walks of life.  We even have  more representation (of people who are marganlized or left in the background) in media such as Black Panther (2018), Steven Universe & it’s epilogue Steven Universe Future, to even revived specials such as Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling where one of the main characters is transgender.  However it is hard to keep art alive where one is in a society where it is neglected, disengaged, or even destroyed for capitalistic gains in it’s society. Below this are my two main arguments, and some advice for your troubles, dear reader.


1 (One): Capitalism is (More) Insidious than you think.

I know what you’re thinking: “Gee, next you’re gonna tell us water isn’t wet, and moonlight is technically still sunlight, wowee” but sarcasm aside it just seems I’m stating what you know to be your reality. However, I’d like you to take a moment, and think of the last film, t.v show, or even youtube series you’ve binged at 2 am and ask yourself if there were any jabs, commentary, at the providers of the show, or the network companies. Now add any implications of characters without a job being portrayed as annoying, antagonistic, etc. Once you’ve got those two ruminating in your brainspace, ask yourself: “How come (insert character name here) is seen as a useless person if they don’t work? How did that jab at (Insert network provider/company) fly past the executives?” Isn’t a little weird that you may feel odd for thinking that’s not fair to the character, or that you might bite a nail, inhale a sharp breath, or even laugh at the creators jabbing at the people that left them behind? Now, I’d like to direct your attention to the idea that people are inherently good but capitalism prevents actual good being done. I know, it sounds a bit radical (and pro-communism if you want to bring in the ideologies of economic systems) but hear me out for a second. I’d like to introduce you to a show title I hold dear and near to my heart called One Day at A Time (2017). This series was inspired by the 1975 sitcom with the same name, but this version follows a Cuban-American  family led by Penelope who starts the series off as a newly single veteran who divorced her partner who was also in the military, and she takes care of her two children and her mother in an apartment owned by a white landlord who’s a really really rich and aloof hipster. Already, this is a major field of representation for people who immigrate to America from Latino, and Hispanic countries, for those who are veterans, and for those who may have the same familial setup or culture- where there’s a matriarch in charge or in the picture. This series is both light-hearted, sweet, and also heart-wrenching at times from the days the family goes through, from Penelope’s daughter coming out as lesbian, to Penelope dealing with the seperation of her marriage, and her youngest son dealing with bigotry from the groups around him at school. To many people’s dismay, the show was dropped by Netflix after it’s 3rd season but was saved by Pop TV, another streaming tv service. In the 4th season’s premiere, there’s a jab done at Netflix where there’s nothing good on it anymore since they cancelled the show itself before. This series brings the inherent goodness idea to light by the representation the show gives, but since Netflix was not gaining the viewership it wanted it was dropped outright. Due to the influence of needing to see profit, cultural growth in television/media was stunted, and many creators that we need may have just given up. We also constantly see characters (in other shows) who don’t have jobs being portrayed as annoying to the main characters who do have jobs, an example would be Jack McFarland from Will and Grace (both the 1993 version, and the 2020 epilogue season) where in the beginning seasons he’s seen as a hindrance/annoyance to Will (his best friend) since he doesn’t work and is often asking for Will to spend some money on him or get him some services- and Will is patted on the back for being a good friend, or he just exchanges jabs to get Jack to quit. This may be a small facet into how capitalism can show it’s ugly rear in art but it’s important to spot it- since it’s a good foundation to bring up the debate or theorization of capitalism’s evil nature, and that it changes the way art is made in the 21st century, and how art will continue to be made in the 21st century. Final point-Keep your eyes open for shows being cancelled even when they do social good, or shows being threatened to be shut down due to its international viewership not sharing the same ideologies as the shows creator/s, money is paper but it affects us like poetry.

2 (Two): Culture is also at Fault.

Now, before you throw me out of a window or commit defenestration, please listen for just a second. I am not blaming any cultures who are at the short end of the stick ie: those who need the money to live, and survive/ need the bread and milk before they can buy the flowers to keep their soul alive. I am specifically coming for the culture in charge of artistic prowess, development, and survival, and I’ll be addressing them directly for this portion so please be prepared…

 

 HI! Are you a white upper-middle class to high- middle class individual who cares about art as a concept, and as a way of life? Do you enjoy seeing really cool things made by people not like you?  Do you go outside and interact with people who are not like you? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, I’d like to introduce you to the state of the art, first of its kind, just for you-brand new tool to make sure art survives, and continues to thrive so we can all have the things we want if you want us to contribute to your wealth. For just a small price of donating to centers, donating to systematic organizations, to cities, and local towns, villages frequently and consistently – you can acquire the tool of understanding that Art should be treated and supported as a necessary part of a capitalistic society that prides itself on earning the right to live, and  just maybe-live happily.

 

People need art to live- we don’t just live for clean food and water, or just shelter, we need things to sustain our minds, our hearts, and our way of knowing each other- including ourselves. People who work get through it through music or videos, or writing or drawing, etc if we’re going to have to work the rest of our lives we have to make it worth something besides material things. Because of you all, we have to work more than you do,  and the things we enjoy come at a price. We can’t work without pay, and we shouldn’t have to work without pay, and representation if you want to enjoy what we’ve made for ourselves. When you give us money we make great things happen. People grow and change, there’s hope for newcomers from the next generations, or those who look for solace here from worlds of tragedy beyond where we are now. 

Treating artists as people who do work for monetary gain is not only a good thing to do, it’s an insurance of humanity. If you feel isolated from what you have, you can start getting to be w/ people if you support the things they love, not just once but consistently- the love will always be there, you just gotta water it from time to time. Be a person with money who cares and the world will thank you for it. Thanks for tuning in.

 

3 (Three): “Art is the revolution that keeps reviving.”


Heya, you’ve reached the epilogue of your journey with me, thank you for sticking with me, here’s the advice you were promised. Art is a reaction to change, a lack of change. It flows through many, changes worlds, changes hearts, it survives, it is the inertia of humanity when it’s at its most powerful, and it is the small shimmer of light in the darkness of uncertainty, war, famine, and times where death seems to be a neighbor- rather than a force. It is what it means to be human, and find humanity again. When this is over, artists will have to seize the limelight of being a foundation of sanity when we were all locked down from the inaction of the government until it was to/too late, and having what I said in mind can be the difference between us as artists, creators, and supporters being lifted into higher places from now and us biting the dust. If we win, then know that art will be the reason we rise day after day, after day. If we lose, art will never die so long as we live to see tomorrow. Remember that in every human the ability to change, or react is instilled in us- art will follow suit. Thank you for making it to the end, for taking the time to read all of this, for creating, supporting the creativity, and for existing as yourself. Best Wishes- Topaz.

 

*****

Topaz Rodriguez is a Trans and Queer poet from NYC who’s writing starts from different mediums of poetry, to original stories that will be published in the near future! User of He/Him and They/Them pronouns, Topaz is also an advocate for Trans Rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, and the right for teachers, educators, and non-profits across the nation to continue their pay for the right price. Feel free to follow their instagram or tumblr under the handle: honeygemtrashbag

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.

The Click

By Renata Townsend

Posted on Tuesday, May 5, 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 miss the click. Do you know what I’m referring to? The feeling in a room when the game clicks in – the energy shifts and the focus is palpable. The feeling where the circle gets tighter, participants’ posture starts to lean in, faces start to change, protective shields start to melt away. There may be laughter or impenetrable silence or nonsense words being said in a quick order. 

I miss this – this is one of the reasons I became a teaching artist. 

I have always loved games. So much so, that I facilitated a session at the 2017 NYC Arts in Education Roundtable Face to Face Conference sourcing and sharing games that we know in our arts education community (shout out to my co-facilitator Paul Brewster). Facilitating a game to build ensemble, reflect on the world around us, break up the day for students, build SEL skills, have fun – is my jam. I love it. I’m fascinated by it. But now that we are living in a digital world, how does this transfer? How do we play games online that were originally created to connect people in space? How do we create the click, digitally? 

Like the majority of teaching artists I know, my work has been significantly cut. I have been able to maintain an afterschool gig teaching middle school students in Brooklyn (now dispersed all over the city/state/country). Parents at the school shared that more than anything else, they believe their kids need to connect to their friends. The kids are bored, scared and lonely. A few weeks ago the normally boisterous, giggly, sassy 6th and 7th graders revealed to us during a check-in that on a scale from 1-5 they were feeling like 2’s and 3’s, using words like sad and tired to describe their moods. They were shells of themselves. It broke my heart but didn’t surprise me. After that experience my co-teachers and I decided that we were throwing the previously decided on curriculum out the window and were going to focus on three things: 

  1. Fun 
  2. Connection 
  3. Play  

This past week I facilitated a session comprised of games. I modified tried and true theater education games that I have played countless times in the classroom, to the digital space. I was nervous to try them and was transparent in the beginning of class that I have never played these games in this way and they might completely fail. I introduced the first game verbally and put the instructions in the chat. At first it was clunky and I had to repeat the rules. But then something magical happened. The game started working and I started to see smiles, students leaning into their computer cameras and bright eyes. At the end of class one student said, “Can we please do this again?”. The click happened. 

I’m re-ignited to find the joy in teaching online and discuss the pedagogy of arts education in the digital space. Here are the games that I played:

Facilitator Note: All of the games take significantly more time to introduce in the digital space. Be patient. I also modeled all of them with a student, wrote the instructions in the chat box and checked in that everyone understood the rules with a thumbs up to ensure that everyone is on the same page before starting. 

 

3 Differences (adapted from the Boal Game, taught to me by Helen White) 

  • I partnered students up and wrote their names into the chat. (ie. Maria, John)
  • I told students to pin their partner so their partner’s box/window could always be seen. 
  • I set a timer for 30 seconds and told students to observe everything about their partner’s box/window (what they’re wearing, how they’re sitting, what is in their space)
  • After the timer was up I told the students whose name I typed first in the chat that they would be turning off their cameras first. I repeated the student’s names that were in the first round. When their cameras were off they had to change three things about themselves or their environments. They had 1 minute to make the changes. 
  • After the minute was up everyone turned their cameras back on and they had to write their three guesses into the chat. Partners communicated using the chat function. 
  • At the end of the round we reflected full group on the experience. 
  • After reflection, switch partners for round 2. 

Facilitator Note: Students were changing clothes, bringing siblings and pets into their screens and running around their homes in the minute’s time – I was shocked by how fun this game became! 

 

Story Seedlings (adapted from Story Words, taught to me by Ben Johnson)

  • This game is done with two people. 
  • One person will be the storyteller and one is the gardener. The storyteller’s job is to begin a story using the phrase “Once upon a time”. While the storyteller is telling their story the gardener is writing words into the chat box. It is the storyteller’s job to incorporate the words into their story. 
  • This is a great exercise in flexibility and collaboration. 
  • It is a lot of fun for audience members (other students in the class) to watch how the storyteller incorporates the words. 

Facilitator Note: Depending on how many students you have participating you may want to set a limit on how many words the gardener types and/ give a countdown when the student should end their story.  

 

15 Crosses (adapted from 4 corners, taught to me by Peter Musante)

  • This is a physical game! Encourage students to stand during this game, if they are able. 
  • The goal of the game is to cross the screen in 15 unique ways. Do not over think it! 
  • When you are finished with your 15 crosses, sit and watch as people finish up. 

Facilitator Note: There is no wrong way to play this game! The goal is to get out of your head and move your body. It is fun to record the game while playing and then watch it back. 

 

For even more ideas of games that particularly work well in the digital space check out the previously recorded TYA/USA webinar: Zoom Zap Zop: Virtual Theater Game Slam  and please share games that are working well for you!

 

*****

Renata Townsend is a teaching artist, theater maker and content creator for young people. She has performed and taught with The New Victory Theater, Lincoln Center Theater, St. Ann’s Warehouse, The Park Avenue Armory, CENTERSTAGE, Co/LAB, Marquis Studios, Opening Act and Circle in the Square Theatre School. She works with the World Science Festival on finding ways to engage families while they are waiting in lines and writes Teacher Resource Guides for Broadway shows. She is the Head of Enrichment for Trusty Sidekick Theater Company, a theater for young audiences company that creates immersive experiences that encourage kids and adults to imagine and play together and has served on the Teaching Artist Affairs Committee and Face to Face Panels Committee of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable. Renata is a SUcasa Grant recipient and New Victory Theater Labworks Artist in Residence and is currently working on an original show that will push into early-childhood classrooms. She holds a BFA in Acting from UMBC and a Master’s Degree in Applied Theater from City University of New York, SPS.

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.

When the Hustle Halts

By Stephanie Anderson

Posted on Tuesday, April 28, 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. 

Let’s go back to Tuesday before everything changed.  

I went from Brooklyn to a class in midtown
to a class on the upper west side
to the office in Herald Square
to a class on the upper east side
to a meeting in Harlem
to a rehearsal in FiDi
And then back to Brooklyn.  

Three days later absolutely everything in my schedule had been cancelled.  Sound familiar?

Before quarantine, I went to an improv show at the PIT, and the audience was asked to simultaneously yell a one-word suggestion, a word that summarized what we wanted most in life.  My roommate yelled, “Pizza!”  I yelled “STABILITY!”  I would like both, please.

There is no stability for a teaching artist.  Not really.  There is no predictable yearly income, no guaranteed residencies, no dependable student attendance, no consistent schedule, no complete ownership over curriculum, no reasonable commute, no power to be particularly picky when saying no to projects.  I am acutely aware of my lack of control, but still I try.  I hustle to get on teaching rosters, maximize my time, and color-coordinate my schedule with artistic precision.  

But then this virus halted my hustle and took away the illusion of control, and I hated it.  Grasping at any semblance of productivity, I signed up to write for this blog, and when asked to pitch topics, I was ready.  I was five days into quarantine, so I had obviously already completed the five stages of grief, and I was prepared to harness my newfound enlightenment to write “What We Can Control.”  You know, something along the lines, of… 

We can’t control this virus or our health or our livelihood, but we can control our attitudes!  
Our use of time!  
Be positive!  
Try Yoga!  
Exercise!  
Eat well!  
Call all your friends!  
Apply to all the jobs!  
Write that play!  
Learn that language!  
Make lemonade out of lemons and turn quarantine into opportunity because you can’t control the chaos in the world but you can control your response to it all! 

However, I soon realized I couldn’t control my response, my emotions, or my energy levels.  I woke up, and I didn’t want to do anything.  I was jaded and exhausted from pouring my heart into productions and residencies and relationships only for them to be taken away.  I saw other teaching artists somehow starting yoga channels, speaking on zoom panels, running a half-marathon in their backyard, organizing 24 hour play festivals, and starting Socially Distant Improv (shout out to Dana!).  

But I was just tired, deflated, unmotivated.  And this scared me because normally motivation is my superpower.  I am a resilient, scrappy, hard-working problem solver.  At least I was?  I felt such a loss of identity because I was no longer productive.  

I was supposed to make my official New York directing debut last weekend: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at The King’s College.  In Act I, Rosencrantz says, “We have no control…none at all.”  Tom Stoppard knew all along.  We have no control, and that’s my big take on day fifty-one.  As much as I try, I can’t control the world, my life, or my emotional responses from moment to moment.  

All I can do is choose where I put my focus, and that has been a constant learning process.  

On day one of quarantine, I started writing a daily list of gratitude, and this bedtime ritual has made a world of difference.  I choose to focus on my faith, the needs of others, and the good in the world.  I focus on my mental health rather than my productivity.  I focus on the times in my life when I have found income, opportunity, and human connection in the most surprising places, and I remember that this too will pass.  When I think upon these things as opposed to what I can’t control, I find a weird sort of quarantine peace, even joy (I’ll let you know how tomorrow goes). 

I have also found joy in redefining productivity.  I’ve played piano for hours with no intention of perfecting a piece, writing a musical, or sharing it with the world.  I’ve called my Aunt Sally.  I’ve made biscuits just because I wanted biscuits.  I’ve gone on walks to nowhere. Slow walks.  Sans podcast.  I’ve sat on the couch and watched three episodes of Gilmore Girls back to back without multi-tasking or feeling guilty.  All of this is so refreshingly “unproductive” because it will never go on my resume, but it has fed my soul and kept me sane.  

Thankfully, new opportunities continue to arise and bring back a semblance of a routine, and I’m slowly rebuilding my capacity to create art and listen to The Daily without letting it wreck me.  I’ve been feeling more like myself again with enough work to motivate me but not define me.  It has taken a global pandemic to make me slow down, but now I’m forced to embrace Dr. Wayne Dyer’s wisdom: “I am a human being, not a human doing.”  I like being.  I like having time to say yes to people.  It turns out, even without my old hustle, I am still loved, still valued, still capable of finding and spreading joy.  And so are you.    

 

*****

Stephanie Anderson is a director, actor and theatre educator with a MA in Educational Theatre from New York University. Stephanie spent five years teaching theatre at a public high school in China, where she built a theatre program from scratch, teaching multi-tiered classes and directing over a dozen showcases and productions. In New York, Stephanie teaches musical theatre, improv, and devising for programs including NYU’s Looking for Shakespeare, Opening Act, Ping Chong + Company, Uncommon Charter High School, Story Pirates, and TADA! Youth Theatre.  She can be seen acting with Verbatim Performance Lab which explores human behavior and implicit bias.  Directing credits include The Last 5 Years, Fiddler on the Roof, Beauty and the Beast, You Can’t Take It With You, Things I Had to Learn, and Hello, Dolly!  www.stephaniejanderson.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.