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New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York's theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we're passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.

Both Dr. Jamie Bleiweiss–a native New Yorker–and Dr. Donia Fahim–a Londoner–worked in clinical practice and as university professors, specializing in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Autism is a broad term that describes a group of complex disorders of brain development that can affect a person's ability to interact socially and communicate with others. It affects one in sixty-eight New York City kids. 
Autism Friendly Spaces at the New VicAutism Friendly Spaces at the Autism Friendly performance of The Gruffalo


Jamie and Donia saw a growing need for everyday community spaces to become more accessible and welcoming to the ASD community. Time and time again they spoke to parents of kids with autism who shared their frustrations about the challenges they encountered when venturing out into the community. These families dreamed of a more accommodating world where they didn't feel compelled to explain their kid's seemingly odd behavior to disapproving onlookers. They wanted a place where they weren't made to feel unwelcome and unwanted by people staring and making ill-informed comments about their parenting skills. 

So, in response, six years ago, Dr. Bleiweiss and Dr. Fahim created Autism Friendly Spaces, Inc., to address the diverse needs of individuals with autism and their loved ones. Its mission is to partner with organizations, businesses and cultural institutions–like The New Victory Theater–to help transform minds and physical spaces to enable meaningful inclusion for everyone affiliated with the Autism Community. 

During April, Autism Awareness Month, we asked Donia and Jamie of Autism Friendly Spaces to reflect on their partnership with The New Victory Theater.  
 

Since 2014, we've been proud to partner with the New Vic to bring New York City families multiple autism-friendly performances each season. These autism-friendly performances at the New Vic are often the highlight of our year. We regularly present our autism awareness training workshops to their phenomenal team of ushers. For autism-friendly performances, we carefully plot out the most enriching ways to introduce the New Vic shows to audience members with ASD. During each event, Autism Friendly Spaces staff and volunteers are always greeted with warm smiles and support from all of the New Vic ushers and staff at the show. It feels like we're all one big family there to support the audience!

"I absolutely love working with the ushers at New Victory! After meeting them during the training workshop, it's so special to see how enthusiastic they are during events. They truly embrace the information they learn, and are able to make connections with the audience while having a ton of fun with them!" shared Dana Khani, Senior Consultant with Autism Friendly Spaces.

 

Autism Friendly Spaces at the New Vic One of the many activities for kids at New Vic Autism Friendly Performances
We also consult with the production team before each show. This is critical in order to make any adjustments to the sound or visual effects to accommodate sensory sensitivities experienced by some audience members with autism. While we may make some minor modifications (like making sure show lights don't shine directly into the audience), we always maintain the integrity of the show so that the audience members have an authentic theater experience.

"Aside from working at Autism Friendly Spaces, I'm also a Special Education teacher. A visit to the theatre to see a live performance is such a great learning opportunity for kids with ASD. Knowing that these families have access to theater means so much to me," says Keren Keyzner, Director of Programs for Autism Friendly Spaces, Inc.

Additional accommodations and supports are provided during the autism-friendly shows, including designated areas in the lower lobby area where patrons can take a break at any point before, during or after the show. Autism Friendly Spaces provides trained volunteers who oversee these break areas and offer support as needed. Various fidget tools (such as koosh balls and tangles) are made readily available for individuals who may need them, as are an array of visual supports to help make the visit to the theater more predictable. Finally, we have a designated family friendly restroom, a support that many families are grateful for at these performances!

When asked what it's like to be involved in these special events at the New Victory Theater, Keren exclaimed, "My favorite part is getting to see the same families come to every show. Watching them get a high-five from the ushers and volunteers as they see a familiar face, it makes it all worth it!" Keyzner notes, "Many families talk with us about how their child said they're only staying for 5 minutes just to 'see how they feel' and then an hour later they are walking out at the end of the show grinning from ear to ear! Additionally, as a mother, I love seeing the parents find confidence. They see that their children can be successful and enjoy the theater."
 
 
Autism Friendly Spaces We believe that autism is not a puzzle that needs to be solved. Rather, we work to unlock minds and spaces in society, that's why our logo is a key! We aim to move beyond awareness, towards acceptance, accommodation and authentic appreciation of individuals with ASD!
To learn more about Autism Friendly Spaces, Inc., find out how to volunteer, or otherwise help support the work they do, please visit their website!


 
Posted by Beth Henderson

 

Herbert Levin Herbert Levin performing as Nivelli
Inspired by a true story, Nivelli's War is a brand new play about an unlikely friendship forged between a Holocaust survivor and a German evacuee in the aftermath of World War II. Though the events of Nivelli's War are largely fictional, the play draws inspiration from two concentration camp survivors, Herbert Levin and Werner Reich, whose lives were both saved by just a few, simple card tricks.

At the dawn of WWII, Herbert Levin was a magician known throughout Germany as "Nivelli," yet he was captured and imprisoned in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Rumors quickly began to spread of a magician in the concentration camp, and Nazi soldiers soon summoned him to perform tricks for them, day and night. To help his bunkmates entertain their guards—thereby saving their lives—Levin taught a number of them simple magic tricks, including one young boy, Werner Reich. 

"Yes, Herbert Levin started something in me. That first explained trick had a huge impact on my life," says Mr. Reich, who's alive today and lives on Long Island.
 
Both Levin and Reich survived the Holocaust and eventually emigrated to the United States. Levin resumed his career as Nivelli and Reich pursued a lifelong interest in magic. Many years later, upon reading Levin's obituary, Reich learned that his friend was none other than the famous Nivelli.
 

 

Herbert Levin Werner Reich shows the identification number tattooed onto his arm when he was a prisoner at Auschwitz concentration camp.
"I was reading the obituaries. I see Herbert Levin had died. He had been in Auschwitz and was known as The Magician of the Holocaust. I noticed his number was close to mine–his was #A1676 and mine is #A1828." He realized, "That's the guy, the very guy," who saved him from death with a card trick. 

"I was inspired from the moment I heard the story of Herbert Levin. This tale of a man using all of his power to fight for survival took my breath away," says Nivelli's War director Paul Bosco Mc Eneaney, founder and artistic director of Cahoots NI. 

Experience this moving story about the magic of friendship. Nivelli's War is playing from April 28-May 7 at The New Victory Theater. Get your tickets today!
 
 
Nivellil's War Brought to the stage by Cahoots NI, Northern Ireland’s premier children's theater company, in association with the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, Nivelli's War tells the fictional story of Ernst. As a young boy evacuated from Frankfurt, Germany, Ernst finds himself alone with no idea how to return home at the end of the war. When all seems lost, a mysterious stranger who knows the true value of magic comes to his aid. As they travel together through a war-torn world, these two survivors become each other’s ally, protector and confidant.


 
Posted by Beth Henderson

Learn magic, explore your memories and make a World War II-inspired poster in this Family Activity for Nivelli's War! For each show in the season, we post a new Family Activity. You can find all of our past Family Activities on our blog and at Pinterest.com/NewVictory.

How Does He Do It?

In Nivelli's War, the main character, Ernst, learns magic. Before you see the show, watch the two videos below and learn classic card tricks from New Victory Teaching Artist Steve Cuiffo.
 


I Want You...To Make a Poster
In the time of Nivelli's War there was no TV or internet to advertise or make announcements. Posters during WWII were often used to relay news or provide important information about what to do in case of emergency. Make your own WWII-inspired poster to share something exciting happening in your family this week!

Materials: Poster template, paper or poster board, art supplies (markers, crayons)

Step One: World War II posters, like the examples below, often contained a title, an imaginative picture and a catchy slogan. Look at the posters below and identify the title, the picture and the slogan
 
Poster Example Poster Example Poster Example

Step Two: Choose an upcoming family event or something you're proud of that happened this week (it could be about something you accomplished or something a family member has done). 

Step Three: Brainstorm a title, picture and slogan for the event or accomplishment you’ve chosen.  

For example, maybe your family plans to eat banana pancakes this weekend...
Title:  Banana Pancakes This Sunday 
Picture: Draw a picture of a monkey eating the pancakes with your family 
Slogan: "So good, we've got to share!"

Maybe your kitchen has gotten a bit messy....
Title: Dishes Overtake the Sink.
Picture: Draw a picture of a giant dish monster emerging from your sink. 
Slogan: "Pick up a sponge and get scrubbing!"


Poster Template
Step Four: Using your art supplies, color your poster and hang it where everyone can see!

Memory Lane
Nivelli's War is told through the perspective of Ernst, based on memories from his childhood. We all recall important memories differently. Remembering details like smell, sound and taste help bring a memory back to life. In this activity, choose one memory your whole family shares and compare and contrast the different details you each recall.
  
Materials: Memory Prompts template, a large piece of paper, writing utensils, art supplies (markers, crayons)

Memory Prompt Template
Step One: As a group, decide on a memory that you all share, like a family vacation or holiday celebration. Then, individually fill out the answers on your Memory Prompts.
  
Step Two: Once your Memory Prompts worksheet has been filled out, share them with one another. Were there any:
  • Similarities?
  • Differences?
  • Surprises?
Step Three: Create a Memory Mural together by using one piece of large paper (the bigger the better). Everyone draw a part of their shared memory. 

MemoryMural.jpg

Step Four: Once finished, look at the mural together and consider these questions:  
  • Does it feel like everyone’s memories are represented?
  • If not, what would you add?
  • How does your family collect and save memories?
  • Are there other memories that your family often refers back to? Why are these memories important to your family? 


Family Activities
We invite you to deepen your understanding of the performing arts with our Public Engagement Activites, Arts Express and Talk-Backs!
Twitter   How did your poster turn out?
Share with us on Instagram or Twitter, #NewVic.
Facebook   Did you show off your magic tricks?
Like us on Facebook and share with us.
Posted by Beth Henderson


Contributed by Auriane Desombre, Spring 2017 Communications Apprentice


As Nivelli's War begins its New Victory run, we're really looking forward to sharing the story of Ernst and Mr. H with our New York City audiences.  In the play, the mysterious Mr. H, a concentration camp survivor, escorts Ernst, a young German evacuee, back to the boy's hometown. Their journey and the friendship they forge make for a compelling story that stays with you. We asked a few of our staff members why this show is not to be missed.


Lauren Hood, our Artistic Programming Manager, was deeply affected by the cross-cultural friendship that develops between Ernst and Mr. H. The unlikely story of a young German boy befriending a Jewish man, Nivelli's War explores the complicated idea of forgiveness and trust in a dangerous world. "Especially in times when things are very uncertain, in times of great sorrow and tragedy, we can still find one another," she says. 

 

New Vic Staff Allison Mui Mitchell and Christopher Ritz-Totten
"They cut through all those layers of fear and hate and still form a friendship," agrees Education Programs Manager Christopher Ritz-Totten. "I think that's very inspiring."

Mr. H is based on a real-life magician, named Herbert Levin—or "The Great Nivelli"—who survived Auschwitz-Birkenau by performing magic for Nazi soldiers.  Known as the "Magician of the Holocaust," his talent for entertaining is likely the thing that saved his life. Realizing this, he did his best to teach what he knew to others, in hopes that they too, might be spared.

The different meanings of the word "magic" captured the imagination of Allison Mui, Director of Public Relations. "You can think about magic in a couple of different ways. There's the actual art form, the practice of magic," she says. "But there's also the magic of meeting people unlike yourself, and finding a common connection. Nivelli’s War celebrates this magic of friendship—believing in each other and holding each other up."

The magic of Nivelli's War stuck with Christopher even after the final curtain fell. "It's about finding joy in the darkest times in our lives. Magic, intrinsically, is joy."

While the action of the final days of the war largely remains offstage, it haunts Ernst and Mr. H throughout their journey together. "It's a great introduction to the history of the time," Lauren says. "Because the show doesn't tell you outright all the details of the war, leaves you with questions that can be great conversation starters for you and your kids."

 

New Vic Staff Kevin Bradley Jr. and Lauren Hood
Public Relations Associate Kevin Bradley agrees that the show offers families a perfect foundation to start important conversations about history. "I love to leave the theater inspired to dig into the story. When you see Nivelli's War, you definitely leave with a desire to learn more about WWII," he says. "It's a show that will spark an important conversation."

Though Nivelli's War takes place after the war has ended, the journey that Ernst and Mr. H take is fraught with danger. The obstacles facing the pair may seem insurmountable, but, as Lauren says, they "help each other and lift each other up throughout their journey, as they try and find their way home."

"It's a play about two human beings who are lost," says Christopher. "A story about perseverance, love, friendship and going home." Join us to find out how Ernst and Mr. H's journey unfolds.
 
 
Nivelli's War Bring your family, and experience the magic of friendship with Nivelli's War. Tickets are on sale today!
 
 
New Victory Thumb Auriane Desombre studies English at NYU, where she's wrapping up her senior year with an honors thesis. Outside of her classes, she reviews theater for Stagebuddy, and has written for Cracked and Urbanette. Her favorite writing collaboration thus far, though, would be the time Lin-Manuel Miranda replied to one of her tweets.
Posted by Beth Henderson
Tags: 2016-17, Staff
The New Victory Theater launched the New Victory Usher Corps the day the theater opened to provide paid employment, job training, academic support, mentorship and an introduction to the performing arts for over 50 young New Yorkers each year. Since then, the program has provided over 400,000 hours of paid employment to over 500 NYC teens from across the city. Find out how teens in your life can apply to be a part of this award-winning program here!

All season long, we'll be featuring young people from our Usher Corps in our New Vic Bills and here on the New Victory Blog. Today we're talking to third-year usher Stephanie Cuevas from Brooklyn, New York.
 
Stephanie Cuevas
What has been your favorite show at the New Vic?
Cuba Vibra! I absolutely loved how the music changed unexpectedly from scene to scene. My favorite scene was when the ensemble came out and started dancing. They took their sandals off and started beating them on the floor to the rhythm. 

The thing I like most about being an usher is…
I like being able to meet and help different kinds of people every day.

My favorite memory from working as an usher was…
After a show, I was doing the Try This activity with a little girl in the lobby. She had so much fun that she didn’t want to leave!

My dream job would be…
I want to become an English Teacher because English has always been my favorite subject. I would love to teach others about it and I love working with kids!

My love of theater started…
My freshman year of high school, I took a theater class. I've loved it ever since!

Who inspires you?
My mother inspires me because she taught me right from wrong. She's been my number one supporter since day one.

What was your favorite story as a kid?
I liked Green Eggs and Ham because, just like the main character in the book, I had trouble trying different things when I was a kid. However, once I tried them, they were never as bad as I thought that they'd be!

What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not at work?
I like to listen to music or watch Law and Order.

What’s your favorite NYC hangout or neighborhood?
Williamsburg is my favorite place because a lot of my friends live there and I love all of the stores! 

Describe the most challenging thing about being an usher.
It can be challenging to be an usher because sometimes you have to multi-task and it can get a little crazy.

Describe your dream vacation
I want to travel around the world.
 

 
New Victory Thumb Want to learn more about The New Victory Theater Usher Program? Take a look here!

 
Posted by Beth Henderson

As Autism Awareness Month draws to a close, we're delighted to feature this post written by Virginia Campbell and Regina Carmody together with Tzvi, a young man they care for who has ASD (autism spectrum disorder). They shared with us the story of what it was like for Tzvi to grow from a New Vic kid into one of The New Victory's biggest fans!

 

Tzvi, Regina and Virgina Regina Carmody, Tzvi and Virgina Campbell in 2017 
When he was young, we started bringing Tzvi to puppet shows. He looked forward to them and showed an early interest in and aptitude for music (especially songs from Disney movies). We wanted to get him comfortable with larger groups, so we started looking for new theatrical experiences. When Tzvi was 9-years-old, we got tickets to Pigs, Bears and Billy Goats Gruff at The New Victory Theater before there were designated Autism-Friendly performances. Despite his initial nerves, Tzvi was able to enjoy the show, singing and clapping whenever he liked. Everyone accepted him for who he was. That was his first step in enjoying social events. What a gift it was!

"When we went to see Pigs, Bears and Billy Goats Gruff, we had to sit in the balcony because I was too anxious to sit in the orchestra. We went in very slowly and carefully, since I wanted to be able to leave as quickly as possible. Now I'm never scared to come to The New Victory!" Tzvi says.

Over eight years that followed, we saw over 50 shows and each one led to exposure in a new area. They made his world bigger. The shared joy of music and laughter is a natural connection to others that kids with autism can't access easily. He now sees himself as an audience member—a part of a group. Theatergoers are his tribe! In fact, Tzvi thinks everyone should join in. "Come by and say hi. Everyone's so friendly. They laugh, smile and help anyone who asks."

This community gives Tzvi a toehold into the larger world. He's learned that even though a show—and by extension the world—may be full of surprises, some things are constant: the lights dim, people perform and the audience claps. Attending New Vic shows made him curious to explore in the larger world, but if he gets nervous, we follow the rules of engagement: look, listen and hold a friend's hand if you don't know what's going on.

Tzvi has enjoyed coming to the New Vic for both family workshops and shows. He says, "There's so many activities; I love The New Victory Theater all year-round. There are so many things to do and all ages—even adults—are welcome."

He rarely gets nervous when attending shows anymore and that goes to show how much he really has grown. One of the most valuable skills Tzvi has learned since coming to the New Vic is how to cope and adjust to the changing sensory aspects he experiences in the theater. To him, it became worth it to cope with the height, sounds, lighting, physical space and crowds, but it didn't come easy. The New Victory became a safe space for him to conquer his fears and enjoy the shows. Tzvi learned to anticipate challenges and then even adjust for his own needs. At first, he would say, "Balloons fall at 4:55. Tzvi goes to the lobby." Now he'll stay for the balloons and actively take part.

 

WT and Tzvi WT and Tzvi at one of Tzvi's first workshops
Another valuable skill Tzvi developed over time at New Vic was self-discovery. The organized schedule allowed him to plan, but it also helped him question his own likes and needs. The schedule gave him choices, and the variety of the New Vic's content helped him grow. It got him to ask questions like: Who am I and where do I fit in? Where will I sit? (It took us years to get to the orchestra.) How do others around me act at a theater? Now he sees himself at a stage in his life when he can grow even further and strive to be like those who mentored him. 

Tzvi has grown so much that a few months ago, he assisted his New Vic Teaching Artist friend, WT, with a juggling workshop. "I loved helping the kids learn to juggle. I even got better by teaching them," Tzvi says. "Getting to take part in the juggling workshop made me feel very proud of myself. I've come so far since 2008! My favorite part of the workshop was introducing my friend WT to the kids and making all of the announcements."

Those mentors—like WT—help Tzvi experience joy. They provide a nonjudgmental place and opportunity to learn to be part of an audience, and to experience different ways to communicate—through dance or physical comedy or clowning. Bringing youth to a place where they will be accepted—where no one will stare at them, or get annoyed at their reactions—is a precious thing. Participation in New Victory shows and workshops also helped Tzvi to access his strengths within the arts. It's increased his awareness and confidence in movement, communication and music. Today, Tzvi can likely be found making announcements at a family gathering, composing a mash-up of old and new favorite songs, or dancing to whatever beat matches the event. All of these hobbies make him who he is, and are all thanks to The New Victory Theater.

Interested in Autism-Friendly performances? Keep your eyes peeled for our work with Autism Friendly Spaces during our 2017-18 Season!
Posted by Beth Henderson

Play with colors, explore the outdoors and make a puppet in this Family Activity for Grug and the Rainbow! For each show in the season, we post a new Family Activity. You can find all of our past Family Activities on our blog and at Pinterest.com/NewVictory.



All About Grug

In Grug and the Rainbow, we meet Grug. Grug began his life as the top of a burrawang tree. Resembling a small, striped haystack with feet and a nose, he's fascinated by the world around him and solves everyday problems creatively and without fuss. In this activity, you'll get a chance to design your own version of Grug and take him on an adventure!



Materials: Grug template, drawing utensils, other craft materials (paper, tape, scissors, etc.), popsicle stick

Step One: Using the template below, color and decorate your own version of Grug. Attach him to your popsicle stick so you can move him around.
Grug Template
Step Two: When you create your own Grug, think about the following things: 
  • Color: If you could make Grug a different color, what would you choose? Don’t forget to keep his signature stripes!
  • Clothing: What kind of clothing might Grug need to get ready for summer in New York? Use construction paper to make Grug sunglasses or a hat.
  • Texture: Think about how you might use other materials, like yarn or tissue paper. Try to give Grug a new hairdo! 
Step Three: As you finish up creating your Grug, talk to a family member about: 
  • What is unique about your Grug?
  • What do you think his favorite activities might be?
  • Where do you think he lives?
  • How do you think he moves?
BONUS: Now that you have created your very own Grug, take him on a trip! Show him around your home, take him on an adventure or bring him to places that are special to you. Don’t forget to take pictures. 

Color Walk Poem

In Grug and The Rainbow, we learn all about different colors and where to find them. What colors do you see around your neighborhood? Grab a family member and head outside to create a color-ific mad-lib poem together! 

Materials: Downloadable template, writing utensil

Step One: Print out the poem template below and take it outdoors. Read the prompts aloud and work with your family member to fill them in. When you finish, read the poem together.

Color Walk Poem

Bonus: Fill it out while you’re on the way to see Grug and the Rainbow. See what colors you can spot and fill in on your way from the subway, bus or car! 

Create a Friend for Grug

Windmill Theater Company uses puppetry to tell Grug's story. In this activity, explore the artform of puppetry with your family. 

Materials: An object from your home, masking tape, marker 

Step One: Find an object in your house that you can hold and move around. Choose something that is safe and fun to play with for the activity. It can be a shoe, a cup or a tissue box—you get to choose!

Step Two: Take a small piece of masking tape (about 2 inches long), and stick it on the object where you think its eyes might be.

Step Three: Using the marker, draw eyes on the tape. Your object has now become a creature like Grug!

A Friend for Grug Example

Step Four: Now it's time to bring your puppet to life! 
  • Give your new friend a name.
  • Introduce them to everyone in your house.
  • Think about how your friend moves from place to place. Do they slither, hop or fly?
  • Use your imagination to move your version of Grug and his new friend around the space.


Family Activities
We invite you to deepen your understanding of the performing arts with our Public Engagement Activites, Arts Express and Talk-Backs!
Twitter   How did your new friend turn out?
Share with us on Instagram or Twitter, #NewVic.
Facebook   Recite your memory walk poem for us by liking us on Facebook.
Posted by Beth Henderson