Written by Lindsey Buller Maliekel, Director of Education / Public Engagement
Whether in the classroom or at home, the New Vic encourages kids to discuss their theatergoing experiences with their peers and the adults in their lives so that they can make personal connections to a show's artistry and themes. We've received many comments from audiences who attended LUV: AMERICAN STYLE this past weekend. Some told us that the show gave them that chance to start authentic and interesting conversations with their kids, while others expressed that they felt unprepared for the show's plot and content. Given the range of responses, I'm hopeful that this blog post can help prepare audiences to explore and discuss their reactions to the show.
In LUV: AMERICAN-STYLE, choreographer Rennie Harris uses hip hop dance and dialogue to tell a story about how one young man becomes mired in a case of mistaken identity. The loose plot portrays several breakdancing schoolkids who are arrested and wrongfully incarcerated for disturbing the peace. After the kids experience how tough prison can be, the mistake is discovered and they are released. The show touches on issues of prison violence, social justice and law enforcement and community relations.
New York City families are familiar with these issues, if not from their own lives, then certainly from current events featured in the news, on television, and in movies and music. Discussing these topics with young people can be challenging, but I invite you to consider how LUV: AMERICAN-STYLE can be a spark for authentic conversations with your family. The performance is something you experience together, and it can be a useful springboard for talking about topics your kids might have heard a lot about this year, including conflicts between teens and the police. Whether you have already seen the show or are planning to come this weekend, here are some tips to start, extend, and deepen those conversations
This is an opportunity for you to learn what your kid thinks, what they understand, what they have questions about and what connections they might be making to real-life issues and events in the news. Here are some prompts that can get you started:
Before you see the show:
- How does the outside world view you as a kid/young adult? What do they understand? What don't they understand?
- Do you ever feel that the world is unjust? How? If you had to create a dance piece about justice, what style of dance would you use?
After the show:
- Have you ever witnessed or been part of an unjust situation? What happened?
- What real-life issues were explored in LUV: AMERICAN-STYLE? How did Rennie Harris use dance and spoken word to address these issues?
- Can you think of any other pieces of art (dance, visual art, music, theater, etc.) that address real-life issues? Why do people create this kind of art? Do you think it's important to make this kind of art? Why or why not?
- What questions do you have about the show? What did the show make you think about or wonder?
- If you were to create a dance that addressed real-life topics, what topic would you choose? What style of dance would you use? What music would you choose?
Once you've gauged your kid's curiosity and level of understanding, you can continue the conversation in an age-appropriate way. This could be a chance for you to correct misconceptions, answer questions that come up, and help your kid make sense of the world they are living in. Here are some suggestions:
- Try not to over-explain. If your kid saw the show and had a different experience than you did while watching, meet your kid at the developmental stage where they are at. Don't feel the need to link the show to every event you've read about in the news over the last year.
- Acknowledge that these are complicated issues that can be challenging to have conversations about—don't feel the need to be an expert. Include your own beliefs and values in the conversation, but don't feel obligated to have all the answers. You can always say, "I don’t know," or, "I want to learn more about that before we talk about it further."
- Don't forget the art part! LUV: AMERICAN-STYLE has content and a storyline that feels related to current events, but it is foremost a dance performance! Talk about how RHAW used movement, music, space, lighting, tempo and relationships to tell the story.
Now that you and your kid have begun this conversation, here are some resources that can help you continue and deepen the experience.
Prepare yourself to continue the conversation:
Learn more about the artist:
Read books and go to see more art together that addresses related issues:
Art doesn't need to be a thing held apart from the world—rather, it provides a platform for artists to explore the world more deeply, and for audiences to do the same through ongoing conversation. In the case of LUV: AMERICAN-STYLE, Rennie Harris's intent is to provide "a greater understanding of how I personally choose to find the light during dark times." He created LUV with his son, Brandyn, who also performs as the main character in the show; this work is their family's contribution to the conversation. We hope it inspires you artistically, and perhaps gives you a springboard for meaningful conversations.
Lindsey Buller Maliekel is the Director of Education / Public Engagement for The New Victory Theater and has worked here since 2004. She oversees the New Vic/New 42 Youth Corps program, as well as all enrichment activities for New Vic families. If you've ever stayed for a Talk-Back with the artists or hula-hooped with Teaching Artists before a show, Lindsey hopes that you had a great time! She has two sons who she hopes will always enjoy going to the theater with her.