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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.

In Nivelli's War, the young, German Ernst is sent away by his mother to ensure his safety during WWII. At the end of the war, Ernst encounters Mr. H, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, who agrees to help the boy return home. Although their differences initially divide them, the two form a strong bond that changes the course of Ernst's life. We spoke to the director of this powerful story, Paul Bosco Mc Eneaney. 

 

Paul Bosco Mc Eneaney Paul Bosco Mc Eneaney at work
How did you develop Nivelli's War?

Developing Nivelli's War was all about the strong working relationship between the idea that I wanted, and Charlie Way's inspirational writing. Charlie's work is extremely dense and deep in terms of research and thoughtfulness. I got the script, and then I pulled on all my theatrical resources. Aesthetics, look, feel, all of that. Eventually, things came together, and I'm so proud of the result.  

The character, Mr. H, is loosely inspired by Herbert Levin—Nivelli, or the "Magician of the Holocaust." Though you were not aware of it when you first began work on the show, a young man—Werner Reich—was held captive with Levin in Auschwitz-Birkenau and Levin taught him a number of magic tricks—just like Mr. H teaches Ernst. How did you find that connection to the story?

You're right, the Werner Reich connection came really late, long after the show had opened.  In 2014 I discovered a book called The Death Camp Magicians, which detailed the relationship between Werner and Herbert Levin. I wrote an email to the publishers of the book, letting them know that it was an incredibly illuminating read. Then out of the blue, I received a correspondence from Werner. I almost fell out of my chair! Hearing his story was profoundly inspiring.

Can you connect the show to current events?

Absolutely! You just have to look towards Syria, and you can see the connection to Nivelli's War. Tragically, there are many Ernsts and Mr. Hs in the world right now—evacuees trying to piece together their world after suffering through unimaginable circumstances. 

What has been the most inspiring audience reaction to your work?

There's a moment in the show where the audience physically starts to lean forward. The story is so inviting that it demands you lean forward and actively listen. For me, that's when I get really inspired. When I see a young audience member leaning forward—their eyes glued to the stage—that's my favorite moment.

 

Mr. H and Ernst Mr. H comforting Ernst with a trick
What moment in the show are you most excited for New York audiences to see?

With this show, the audience suddenly realizes that the events we're talking about didn't happen centuries ago. We're talking about a tragedy that people, like Werner, have lived through. Similar events are happening now. There are still children that find themselves in Ernst's shoes. I'm thrilled that New Yorkers are going to get to see those connections so, perhaps, they can empathize with people fighting through those circumstances today.

What's the one thing you want audiences to walk away from the show thinking?

I want them to walk away and think. My goal isn't to make them think about any single thing—it's just to make them think. Some of the best theatrical moments happen on the trip home, when families have a conversation, or when teachers start to work with kids to unpack what they've just seen. For me, it's about how a kid or an adult discovers a new layer to something, and what that means to them in that moment.

How did you find your start in theater?

I actually started out as a drummer. My band and I did three tours in the United States when I was only 17 or 18. Then, I was bit by the acting bug and performed on the stage for many years.  When I was asked to write a piece for a festival back home in Northern Ireland, I fell into theater for young audiences. Eventually, I ended up writing a piece and to get funding for it, I needed to start a company—hence, Cahoots NI was born!

Do you have one tourist destination that you’ll be checking out while in New York City?

My son is very excited to see the Statue of Liberty, so on Saturday we're doing a tour! The Statue of Liberty was the first site many Irish immigrants saw on their way to Ellis Island. I’m very keen to explore that connection. 
 
 
Nivelli's War Experience Nivelli's War with your whole family. Tickets are on sale today!
 
Posted by Beth Henderson

With Grug and the Rainbow closing our 2016-17 Season, we were inspired by Grug—the top of a burrawang tree—and the charming book series that follows his adventures. Have you already read all of the Grug books out there? We've got you covered. Here's a list of books for ages 2-5 that are perfect to read over, and over again!
 
Cloth Lullaby Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois by Amy Novesky and Isabelle Arsenault

Louise Bourgeois was a world-renowned modern artist and her mother wove tapestries. Louise spent her childhood in France as her mother's apprentice, before she became a tapestry artist herself. 

This biographical picture book shows how Bourgeois's childhood experience of weaving with her loving, nurturing mother provided the inspiration for her most famous works. With a beautifully nuanced and poetic story, this book stunningly captures the relationship between mother and daughter and illuminates how memories are woven into us all.
The Wonderful Things You Will Be The Wonderful Things You Will Be by Emily Winfield Martin

From brave and bold to creative and clever, Emily Winfield Martin's rhythmic rhyme expresses all the loving things that parents think of when they look at their children. With beautiful, and sometimes humorous, illustrations this is a book grown-ups will love reading over and over to kids. The Wonderful Things You Will Be has a loving and truthful message that resonates with everyone—both young and old. 
I Dissent I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy and Elizabeth Baddeley

Get to know celebrated Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the first picture book about her life, as she proves that disagreeing does not make you disagreeable!

Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has spent a lifetime disagreeing: disagreeing with inequality, arguing against unfair treatment and standing up for what's right. This biographical picture book about Ginsburg, tells the justice's story through the lens of her many famous dissents and disagreements.
Giraffe's Can't Dance Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees

Giraffes Can't Dance is a touching tale of Gerald the giraffe, who wants nothing more than to dance. With crooked knees and thin legs, it's harder for a giraffe than you would think. Gerald is finally able to dance to his own tune after he gets some encouraging words from an unlikely friend.

With light-footed rhymes and high-stepping illustrations, this tale is gentle inspiration for every child who dreams of greatness.
The Day the Crayons Quit The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers

Poor Duncan just wants to color. But when he opens his box of crayons, he finds only letters, all saying the same thing—his crayons have had enough! They quit! Beige Crayon is tired of playing second fiddle to Brown Crayon. Black wants to be used for more than just outlining. Blue needs a break from coloring all those bodies of water. Orange and Yellow are no longer speaking—each believes he is the true color of the sun.

What can Duncan possibly do to appease all of the crayons and get them back to doing what they do best?
Dragons Love Tacos Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri

Dragons love tacos. They love chicken tacos, beef tacos, great big tacos and teeny tiny tacos. So if you want to lure a bunch of dragons to your party, you should definitely serve tacos. Buckets and buckets of tacos. Unfortunately, where there are tacos, there is also salsa. And if a dragon accidentally eats spicy salsa...oh, boy. You're in red-hot trouble.

This deliciously funny read-aloud will make you laugh until spicy salsa comes out of your nose!
If Animals Kissed Good Night If Animals Kissed Good Night by Ann Whitford Paul and David Walker

In a cozy bedtime chat with her mom, a young girl wonders how animal families might say good night. Would Wolf and his pup "kiss and then HOWL"? Would Bear and her cub "kiss and then GROWL"? But what about Sloth and her baby? They move soooo slooowwwww, they're sure to be kissing from early evening until long after everyone else is fast asleep!

With whimsical art and playful rhyming verse, this picture book is perfect for bedtime snuggles.
The Book With No Pictures The Book with No Pictures by B. J. Novak

A book with no pictures? What could be fun about that? After all, if a book has no pictures, there's nothing to look at, but the words on the page. Words that might make you say silly sounds...in ridiculous voices!

At once disarmingly simple and ingeniously imaginative, The Book With No Pictures inspires laughter every time it is opened, creating a warm and joyous experiecne to introduce young children to the powerful idea that the written word can be an unending source of mischief and delight. 
 
 
Grug and the Rainbow See Grug and the Rainbow with your family before Grug is off on his next adventure. Grab your tickets today!
 
Posted by Beth Henderson
Tags: 2016-17

Thanks to the generosity of The Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation, we've created New Victory SPARK, or "Schools with the Performing Arts Reach Kids," an innovative and robust multi-year arts program specifically designed for schools underserved in the arts. With the esteemed research firm WolfBrown, we're also measuring and analyzing the "intrinsic impact" of this program. The following piece is the first in a four-part story about our initial findings. 
 
Contributed by Courtney J. Boddie, Director of Education/School Engagement

PS 138You might say that the New Victory has a "thing" for raising the stakes. Who else puts wild, urban circuses on the beautifully restored stage of a turn-of-the-century theater? Who else would perform X: Or, Betty Shabazz v. The Nation—a courtroom drama focused on the assassination of Malcolm X—for young audiences? The New Vic's SPARK program is no different – it raised the stakes by entering into intensive and sustained relationships with a set of New York schools that serve some of the city's poorest children. The intensity of the partnership brought the entire organization face-to-face with the consequences of trauma—young people, teachers and schools all of whom live daily with the inequalities that are New York. The work has taught us not just to believe in the power of the arts, but also to live out that commitment in ways that have re-defined our comfort zone. Three examples make this clear:

Agency: Many of the schools that have no arts serve students with high needs, spending their discretionary dollars on tutoring and other support services, pushing to meet standards. In SPARK, we wanted to turn this around by calling on principals' and teachers' agency. Instead of selecting sites, we asked interested schools to apply as the first step in identifying schools who wanted to partner in building an arts program. From the start, we wanted their ownership and vision as full partners.

PS 138Acknowledgement: SPARK schools operate under constant stress: in addition to being classrooms, they operate as clinics, safe zones and community centers. Teachers triple as mediators, social workers and diagnosticians. They can appear angry or disinterested. But rather than grumble, we had to act collectively. We would never be able to enliven curriculum or change school climate without teachers' buy-in. We realized quickly that we had to redesign our professional development sessions to acknowledge what teachers were carrying. Every session called out the (sometimes hidden) performer in each teacher, offering humor, relaxation and collaboration. In addition, teaching artists doubled down on showing how theater skills could build literacy and numeracy. Finally, we re-directed one of each school's teaching artist advisors to focus wholly on working with individual teachers to think through how theater could make a difference in focus, behavior and peer interactions.

And not least, theater as love: Many SPARK students live with personal traumas: homelessness, domestic violence, or forced migration. Especially in middle school this often translated into withdrawal and apathy or eruptive bullying and fighting. To respond to the students fully—with love rather than with disappointment or frustration—teaching artists needed a whole new set of skills. We invited behavioral counselors to observe and critique how teaching artists addressed conflict, and we worked with experts like Shawn Ginwright to explore concrete strategies for working respectfully with youth with trauma. We realized that teaching artists have to build, not assume, safe spaces for creative learning. (For instance, we learned that a low-stakes final rehearsal might be a much better culminating event than a full-blown show). The final rehearsal can be about growth and persistence, rather than perfect performances where "messing up" can ignite anger or sadness.

In our fourth year, the successes outweigh the challenges but only because we have spent three years mapping out the consequences of raising the stakes on how we work.

Learn more about the SPARK program here
 
 
Courtney Boddie Courtney J. Boddie, New Victory Director of Education / School Engagement, oversees the New Victory Education Partnership program and professional development training in the performing arts for teachers. Ms. Boddie is currently President of the Board of Directors for the Association of Teaching Artists (ATA). Additionally, she serves on the Teaching Artist Committee and Diversity Task Force of the NYC Arts-in-Education Roundtable and is a member of the National Teaching Artist Collective in association with the National Guild for Community Arts Education. Prior to joining The New Victory Theater in 2003, Ms. Boddie was Program Associate for Empire State Partnerships (NYSCA) and a teaching artist for Roundabout Theatre Company. She received her Master’s degree from the Educational Theatre Graduate Program at New York University, where she is also adjunct faculty.
Posted by Beth Henderson

Thanks to the generosity of The Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation, we've created New Victory SPARK, or "Schools with the Performing Arts Reach Kids," an innovative and robust multi-year arts program specifically designed for schools underserved in the arts. With the esteemed research firm WolfBrown, we're also measuring and analyzing the "intrinsic impact" of this program. The following piece is the second in a four-part story about our initial findings. 
 
Contributed by Jamie Roach, New Victory Teaching Artist

 

New Victory Teaching Artist New Victory Teaching Artist Melana Lloyd works with a SPARK school
Two years ago, New Victory asked its teaching artists about joining the research team. The offer was a little mysterious—some of my colleagues joked about putting on "white coats over their plaid pants"—but the chance to stay engaged and gain new skills was intriguing. For many teaching artists, the only chance you get to "grow" is to add more gigs or become an administrator. But this unconventional investment in human capital has turned out to be beneficial to the research and to my own professional development.

What I realized is that, as a theatre teaching artist, I have many of the traits that make for an effective researcher. Specialized expertise in the field—check. Keen observation skills—check. The ability to make sense of complex human interactions unfolding—check. The habit of showing up on time, with props, ready to dive in—check. For example, one of my jobs as a researcher was to ask students to improvise the end to a short story they had seen on video. Right away, my theater instincts told me that students were overwhelmed by the task and not able to engage fully. Drawing on my teaching artistry, I knew that if I gave them clear one-step directions on becoming the character (e.g.,"Okay, get in his last position, start moving like he did"), students would be able to take off. I kept it neutral (after all, I was the researcher not a fellow actor), but I found a way to launch their performances—possibly in a way that few PhDs would have hit upon.

 

New Victory Teaching Artist A SPARK school in action with Melana
 
And the consequences flowed the other way as well: being a researcher informed my teaching artistry. As a researcher, I had the luxury to witness all the nuances and micro-narratives unfolding in a classroom. I can see a lesson starting to implode: a broken pencil, a boy with no way to sharpen it, frustrated, who then distracts another student, who then throws the unsharpened pencil at a third student and ka-boom, the theater lesson is over. I feel like I've developed a sixth sense for that first moment and ways to dive in and turn it around—for myself and for my colleagues. One day a fellow teaching artist opened up about feeling disheartened: "I don’t know what happened today—one of the most focused students was totally checked out!" As the observer, I saw tiny behaviors he missed among the 35 children. That student had been following closely the whole while, whispering responses to the friend with his head down on the table recovering from an earlier incident.

This chance to become a researcher has also changed my understanding of how impact actually happens. Getting the chance to witness a particular student over the course of a year illuminated the way that progress occurs: two steps forward, one step back and less linear than it is layered. I now think and respond with that developmental map in mind.

With the SPARK project, the New Vic invested in developing a new kind of human capital: teaching-artist-researchers. We got the rare chance to dig deep. The theater got a trove of insights. We are both like miners who get to keep all the gold we've discovered.

Learn more about the SPARK program here
 
 
Jamie Roach A graduate of Circle In the Square and New York University (MA in Educational Theatre), Jamie Roach has appeared on stages at Playwrights' Horizons, New York Theatre Workshop, New World Stages and this year will reprise his role as a vaudevillian clown at the Metropolitan Opera House. As a playwright, Jamie has had three plays produced in New York City, and as company member of Accomplice Theatre Company, has helped design and act in site-specific theater for clients such as Facebook, Google and Goldman Sachs. Jamie loves to use theater as a tool for human development. He's helped corporations train their employees with improv, and worked with New York City's most dynamic theater companies in the public school system. He is proud to work as a Teaching Artist with The New Victory Theater.

Thanks to the generosity of The Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation, we've created New Victory SPARK, or "Schools with the Performing Arts Reach Kids," an innovative and robust multi-year arts program specifically designed for schools underserved in the arts. With the esteemed research firm WolfBrown, we're also measuring and analyzing the "intrinsic impact" of this program. The following piece is the third in a four-part story about our initial findings. 
 
Contributed by Steven Holochwost, WolfBrown

SPARKIncreasingly, arts and cultural organizations are asked whether they contribute to the greater good. Answering that question is rarely simple, particularly at a time when public and private funders alike press organizations to prove that something they did (e.g., changing concert format, working with seniors or running programs in juvenile detention centers) actually caused the change that they would like to claim (a more diverse audience, fewer doctor visits or lowered rates of recidivism).

In the case of the SPARK program, we were looking to make the case that young people who participated became different from their peers: that time spent in the world of theater could cause stronger inter- and intra-personal skills. Like many evaluators, we turned to the existing research literature to find out how others have measured the growth in these hard-to-capture domains. This method of working from past research to inform new studies has many advantages: measures taken from the research literature often reflect years of conceptualization, testing and refinement. So, drawing on past research, we decided to use a measure called Reading the Mind in the Eyes which assesses children's knowledge of other people's emotions by asking them to look at photos of the upper portion of faces and naming the emotion they detect there. Since becoming available twenty years ago, this measure has been used in over 500 published studies, including those examining the effects of theater education.

SPARKBut the measure behaved in unexpected ways. We found that children participating in The New Victory's programming—over 90% of whom were young people of color—struggled to identify the emotions in the photos—the great majority of which portrayed adult Caucasian faces. Moreover, when young people selected an incorrect option, it often reflected a hostile emotion (e.g., anger). This was a moment when the tables turned: it was time for practice to inform research. The more diverse youth in SPARK classrooms had a message for research: to assess children's ability to read emotion expressions validly, our photos had to represent the people whom SPARK students "read" and react to every day. By putting out a call to its diverse population of theater artists, New Victory staff helped to develop a revised measure that included people from a wide array of ages, cultures, and backgrounds.

We have just begun to collect data with this new tool. We may have still more to learn on our way to valid measures. But the experience opened all of our eyes—researchers, staff and teaching artists—to the ways in which research tools reflect our assumptions, including whose faces are "universal".  It was investing in sustained work in new neighborhoods, with young people of color who have not been the usual subjects of arts education research, that made this clear.

Learn more about the SPARK program here
 
 
Dr. Steven John Holochwost's interests focus around factors that mitigate the effects of risk on child development, and what programs and policy may do to foster the presence of these factors. One of these factors is access to high-quality arts education, and as such Dr. Holochwost's work with WolfBrown has centered on projects with children, including Community Music Works, From the Top and Carnegie Hall's Musical Connections. 
Posted by Beth Henderson

Thanks to the generosity of The Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation, we've created New Victory SPARK, or "Schools with the Performing Arts Reach Kids," an innovative and robust multi-year arts program specifically designed for schools underserved in the arts. With the esteemed research firm WolfBrown, we're also measuring and analyzing the "intrinsic impact" of this program. The following is the final piece in a four-part story about our initial findings. 
 
Contributed by Alan Brown and Sean Fenton, WolfBrown

SPARK SchoolIn the SPARK project we ventured into new territory—we asked students as young as 8 to respond to in-seat surveys about the impact of a performance they had just seen. We wanted to know if young people could help us to develop a deeper understanding of the impact of live theater experiences.

Our survey instrument includes quantitative measures of emotional response, anticipation and impact, as well as open-ended questions pertaining to students' curiosity and feelings about the performances. To make this work, house staff distribute the printed surveys and special pencils during the Q&A session following each performance. Then staff collect the student responses, and everyone heads out to their school buses waiting on 42nd Street within 10 minutes. As of the end of the 2017 school year, we will have collected approximately 2,000 surveys for nine shows. As completed surveys come in, we clean, code and upload the data to an interactive dashboard through which New Vic staff can query the results.

So far, the results paint a picture of distinct "impact footprints":
  • Shows featuring acrobatics, circus acts and other spectacles tend to spark interest in the artists themselves and their training;
  • Story-based productions tend to elicit more questions about characters' emotions and production design choices;
  • Shows with more complex narratives and character arcs evoke a greater mix of positive and negative emotions in students, which may be evidence of empathy development;
  • Both spectacle-based and story-based productions can produce powerful social bridging (i.e., learning about other people and cultures) and aesthetic growth outcomes (i.e., exposure to new art forms).
Survey Results

These results suggest that an artistic director is curating impact, as much as specific works. A season is a tour through a varied emotional landscape—an opportunity to explore a magnificent range of human emotions, ideas and histories. Our work with New Vic has underscored the idea that "challenging" artistic work—work that draws on a wide emotional range, including feelings of sadness or disappointment—has an integral place in a well-curated season, alongside works that elicit feelings of joy and wonder.

The results from this study open a new chapter in our journey to understand the immediate effects or intrinsic impacts of arts programs on both children and adults. But this work is just beginning. Further analysis will investigate how students at different grade levels respond to the same work, whether students with more experience in the SPARK program respond differently and how multiple points of intervention/exposure may stack to create greater impact.

Learn more about the SPARK program here
 
 
Alan Brown Alan Brown is a leading researcher and management consultant in the nonprofit arts industry. His work focuses on understanding consumer demand for cultural experiences and helping cultural institutions, foundations and agencies see new opportunities, make informed decisions and respond to changing conditions. His studies have introduced new vocabulary to the lexicon of cultural participation and propelled the field towards a clearer view of the rapidly changing cultural landscape. 
Sean Fenton As director of WolfBrown's Intrinsic Impact audience feedback program, Sean Fenton has played a seminal role in bringing new tools and approaches to audience measurement efforts nationwide. He brings to the team a background in anthropology, community relations, communications, and arts marketing, as well as over 13 years of experience in the performing arts sector.
Posted by Beth Henderson