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.
September 12, 2018

What Do Six Dozen Donuts Say?

New Victory Teaching Artist WT McRae shares an experience from his time in a Brooklyn, NY classroom. 

As a Teaching Artist, I've been working with a middle school in Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn for over four years now. Being a TA, I travel the city with my colleagues hoping to provide a range of experiences that mirror the formative and meaningful experiences of my own youth. However when I first began my residency in Bed-Stuy four years ago, I found it difficult to even make eye contact in my school. During our first year, the students were skeptical of what we had to offer, and often extremely vocal about that skepticism. We worked with them for over 15 sessions, and they came to our theater three times to see shows. By the end of the year, we opted to do a gameshow-style review of the concepts they had covered over the school year. Although initially resisted, the students surprised me. The most reluctant participants could enthusiastically articulate a whole host of concepts that we brought to their classroom. This made me stop and think. Would a long-term residency be more effective than just one year? Could showing up over several sessions, months and years engage the students' trust more?

WT McRae

Fast forward to two years later: my experience in the halls had drastically shifted. By then, I was a three-year veteran who had taught nearly every student in the school. Walking the halls, students were genuinely excited to high-five me and my colleagues. "You have them today?" they asked their classmates, "Lucky!" Our residency ended with a peer-to-peer sharing in the auditorium that students willingly rehearsed for weeks. To celebrate their hard work, we promised the students donuts.
Here's a memory that stays with me: on the morning of our final share I took the crowded early morning train from Queens to Brooklyn and stopped at a Dunkin' Donuts, right around the corner from my school. On the way, I calculated that I needed six dozen donuts to make sure that each of our students, the teachers and staff could have one. I walked into Dunkin' Donuts, and ask the cashier for six dozen donuts. "You want six donuts?" she said. "No, I'd like six dozen donuts." She asked her co-worker, "Can we do that?" "If he wants to buy them, we can sell them." The entire store gathered to ask why I was buying so many donuts. By the time I had all of the boxes and bags, I'd also shared the exciting work we were doing down the street. It turned out that nearly every person in that Dunkin Donuts had attended the very same school where I was teaching. They were thrilled to hear that the kids were getting a chance to explore the arts and agreed that school would have been more fun if they had had that same opportunity.
On the hardest days, I grabbed a donut on my way back to Queens, wondering if we were reaching anyone. On the best days, my Teaching Artist partner and I would have a celebratory donut as we discussed the joyful moments of connection, collaboration and artistic growth we had seen in the young people at our school. So what do six dozen donuts say? They say that these students, their teachers and the community around them matter. That we will continue to show up and break bread (or donuts) with them. We provided three trips, 15 workshops and 72 donuts. However, we ultimately provided an experience that is resonant in the community and turned the most skeptical students into the biggest cheerleaders for the arts. 

Photo: Clemens Kois

Ben Weber is an actor, writer, comedian and podcaster who works with the New Victory as a Teaching Artist.

For the past five years, I've collaborated with The New Victory Theater as a “Research Teaching Artist” on a longitudinal study focusing on the impact of the performing arts on young people—called "Schools with the Performing Arts Reach Kids," or SPARK. That means I combine my skills as an actor and artist with the demands of rigorous inquiry. Does this sound like an odd combination? Let me walk you through a normal day.
Ben Webber
Becoming My Artist-Researcher Self – 6:00am

I wake before sunrise, making sure all of my investigative tools are ready to go—student lists, interview protocols and a computer. As the train trundles into my station, I rehearse my hybrid role. As a New Victory Teaching Artist, I use my performing skills to inspire students' creativity and to encourage them to try new things. Meanwhile, I also act as a researcher, observing what my students think and feel, without my influence. When I lead a workshop as a Teaching Artist, success looks like each student jumping joyfully, feet first into an arts-based activity. As a researcher, success looks like careful observation of the students, while asking thoughtful questions. I get to school, and find which rooms are free, so my students and teaching partner can focus on the day ahead.

Collecting Survey Data – 9:00am

My teaching partner and I enter a classroom to collect surveys for this year of the study. The surveys are designed to measure how the program impacts the students' views of themselves as learners. It's time to draw on my skills as a Teaching Artist to engage my hesitant audience, “Now this packet may LOOK like a test, but it's really a series of activities to help us understand how you think about yourselves, how you relate to others and how you feel about theater.” One question asks students to cast a production using their classmates as actors, directors, playwrights and designers. Clusters of socially savvy students rapidly write down as many friends as will fit in each role, while lone students who struggle with basic social skills often have a hard time even thinking of one person who could be in their show. The artist in me wants to exclaim, "Don't worry! I bet lots of people would act with you. You are great! You are loved!" But my researcher-self holds back—I'm here to capture whether or not the ensemble work of theater can mitigate the harsh realities of peer relations.

Performance Tasks – 10:30am

Later, my teaching partner and I show students a silent video of a mime trapped in an invisible box. We ask each student to tell us what is happening, including what the main character might be thinking and feeling. As researchers, we are trying to understand whether immersion in the performing arts builds students' understanding of the lives of others. Afterwards, we ask students to act out what happens next in the story using only her body and no words. Here, we are looking at whether students' interpersonal understanding grows over time. Due to confidentiality protocals, we cannot record videos so I struggle to capture every move and facial expression students make. As an actor, I'm amazed when a student boldly picks up her chair to represent a park bench and pretends to smash through the invisible wall. I write down, "Picks up chair with both hands" and I feel an exhilarated, "YES!"

Persisting After Lunch – 1:30pm

After lunch, we fight fatigue from students, teachers and ourselves. As the day draws to a close, students are less likely to tell full stories or make daring choices as performers. Often the students are too shy to take creative risks. They lethargically move through the motions with an embarrassed smile, shooting us pleading looks as if to say, "Can this be over now?" I have to keep a lid on my internal Teaching Artist voice which is bellowing, "Think about what it would REALLY feel like to be trapped in this invisible box. You would feel desperate, trying to get out by ANY MEANS NECESSARY!" But, calling on my inner researcher, I calmly request, "Show me a little more about how the mime is feeling."

Riding and Reflecting – 2:15pm

School's out and now it's time for the long train ride home. I think about both my successes and inevitable blunders. I wish I had explained the directions more consistently...but on the other hand, just sitting with the fourth graders, helped them focus on and finish their surveys...and that student who hurled the imaginary bench—whoa!

Home at Last – 4:00pm

Time to stow my satchel full of materials and log in my observations, thinking about the push-pull of being an artist-researcher. As artists we are gifted data collectors—we can even make annual surveys seem like a fresh and inviting personal statement. But, by being researchers, we practice seeing and reporting objectively and clearly. Not a bad combo.

The performers of Machine de Cirque are building a contraption to communicate with the outside world, but their wacky stunts and daring tricks distract them from the task. Get your tickets to see this quirky crew of daredevils here!

In this Family Activity, you and your family will build a simple machine before the show, practice some contact juggling on your way and deepen your understanding through a post-show game and discussion. 

At Home
Machine de Cirque combines circus and technology. The five performers work together to make a machine that works, while adding in a good amount of fun. In this activity, create your very own machine.

Materials: Six or seven popsicle sticks (depending on size), seven rubber bands, one spoon, one small item

Step One: Gather your materials. Then, bundle four to five popsicle sticks together with a rubber band on either end.

Step Two: Use a rubber band to tie two more popsicle sticks together on one end only. You should be able to separate them on the opposite end. Place your bundle of four or five inbetween the two popsicle sticks.

Step Three: Secure these two pieces together with two rubber bands crisscrossed in the center.

Step Four: Attach a spoon to the top popsicle stick, above the center crisscross rubber band. Attach the spoon with two more rubber bands. 

Step Five: You now have a catapult! Place an object into the spoon, press down and RELEASE.

Step Six: What are some other items you can catapult? Try a marshmallow, a tiny rolled up paper ball, a bean or anything small enough to fit into the spoon.

Bonus: Challenge your family!
  • Can someone catch the small catapulted item?
  • Can you aim your object into a bucket, cup or trash can?
  • Can you play a game of catapult catch with a partner and their own machine?

On Your Way
The folks of Machine de Cirque are also skilled jugglers. One form of juggling that they practice is contact juggling, or manipulating an object while it's in contact with their bodies. In this activity, explore ways you can practice the skill of contact juggling on your way to the theater!

Materials: A paper rolled up into a ball that fits into the palm of your hand

Step One: Make your paper ball.

Step Two: Place your paper ball between your hands, with your palms facing down. Then, try to catch the paper ball as you flip your hands (your palms should now face up). See how many times you can do this in a row. Ask your family and friends to give it a try.

Step Three: How can you level this up? Toss it to your feet? Try it with one hand? We tried tossing the ball from our elbow and catching it.

BONUS: You will see the performers of Machine de Cirque do contact juggling with hats. Are you wearing a hat today? Try it out!
Hat Juggling

After the Show
Once you've seen Machine de Cirque, answer these questions and try this activity inspired by the show:
  • Machine de Cirque centers around technology. If you made a circus, what acts would you include?
  • Which chores would you like to be easier? What kind of machine would you make to help with these tasks?
  • What would you do if all technology and machines disappeared? Think of  how you get ready in the morning and how you travel to work or school. How would your routine change?
The performers of Machine de Cirque create games and challenges with anything they can find. In this activity, create your very own game with things you can find in your home. 

Materials: Small objects that can act as game pieces, one piece of paper, something to write with

Step One: Create your board, making sure there is a start and an end. Create different shapes for games spaces that create a path from the start to the finish.

Step Two: Each player selects a small item to use as their game piece.

Step Three: Brainstorm challenges you can write in each board game space. Here is a list of some of our favorites, but don’t forget to create your own.
  • Contact juggle a cookie with your face!
  • Blow a cup to the finish line.
  • Stack pennies on your elbow to make the tallest tower!
  • Draw off—who can draw the machine from Machine de Cirque first?
HINT: Think of challenges where someone has to finish first.

The person who successfully completes the mini challenge moves forward. The first person to get to the end wins the game. 

And Beyond
Here are some ways to continue your Machine De Cirque journey out in the world.
Machine de Cirque Thumb Making mayhem of their scrap metal set with a live percussive soundscape, this quirky crew of daredevils sure knows how to manufacture endless comedic madness. Get your tickets to Machine de Cirque today!
Posted by Beth Henderson

The New Victory Theater launched the New Victory Usher Corps the day the theater opened in 1995 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 ages 16-21 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 the Usher Corps in our New Vic Bills and here on the New Victory blog. Today we're talking to third-year usher Shanice Rodriguez from the Bronx.
Shanice RodriguezWhat’s been your favorite show at the New Vic so far?
Mother Africa was my favorite show because it was entertaining from from start to finish. My eyes were glued to the stage the whole time! The best part was when a girl juggled a barrel in the air with her feet. 
The show I’m most excited for this season is...
Machine De Cirque! Based on the trailer, it looks so fun and I know a lot of kids will enjoy it. Performers doing flips back and forth on a teeter-board? You don’t see that everyday.
The thing I like most about being an usher is…
I always feel great when theatergoers acknowledge me by name. It's awesome when I get to see a familiar and friendly face.
My dream job would be…
Exploring the world, trying different foods. I'm a food junkie and I love to travel—combine the two and that's my dream job!
My love of theater started...
When I went to see Hamilton with the Usher Corps. I had never been to a Broadway theater before, so seeing that show was a blessing. It completely changed my perspective. 
Who inspires you?
My mom inspires me because she never stops her hustle. Regardless of her financial situation, she always makes things happen for her kids. She wants and expects nothing but the best from us. 
What was your favorite story as a kid?
Junie B. Jones was my favorite book as a kid because I loved her spunk and charisma. She was someone that marched to the beat of her own drum—I wanted to be just like her.
What was your favorite subject in school?
English was my favorite subject because it allowed me to express myself on a piece of paper. I loved writing essays, doing research and being able to express my own opinion. My teacher, Ms. Little, was also a big factor in my love for English. She was strict and liked things a certain way but she cared a lot about her students. 
What’s your favorite hangout in New York City?
Times Square is so beautiful at night. The lights, the smells, the food and the people are all wonderful.
Describe the most challenging thing about being an usher.
The most challenging thing about being an usher is doing a bunch of things at once. It's not easy seating people, handing them boosters, making sure they're not eating inside the theater and answering questions all at once. Once the show starts, I'm out of breath!
Describe your dream vacation.
Going to Greece or Italy. I'd want to stay in a huge, beautiful mansion with the view of the ocean, where I could swim in the crystal clear water. 
What is your favorite childhood memory?
Every Sunday, I'd go to the baseball park and spend time with my cousins. Then I'd go out to eat with everyone right after.

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

Photo: Alexis Buatti-Ramos
Posted by Beth Henderson