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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.

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 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.
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