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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.

 

Sara Zatz Ping Chong + Company's Sara Zatz Photo: Adam Nadel
In the rehearsal room are seven folding chairs with music stands in front of them, arranged in a semi-circle. A poster titled "Community Agreements" hangs on the wall. Seven young adult New Yorkers, in hoodies and caps, stand in the corner, waiting for the music for their entrance. Courtney, the stage manager, starts the sound cue, and one by one, Edwin, Syl, Monica, Porscha, De-Andra, Rafael and Mohammad walk onto the stage and take their seats. It's the opening of a run through of Undesirable Elements: Generation NYZ

"You're walking on stage for the very first time!" Sara Zatz, the co-director and co-writer says. "Take your time and really own the space. Don't rush it."

Owning the space, and owning your own story, is at the center of Ping Chong + Company's award-winning theatrical series, Undesirable Elements. Since 1992, the New York-based experimental theater company has created over 50 interview-based theater works that explore issues of culture and identity in specific communities. The basis of the script is in the participants' own words; stories gathered from intensive interviews are interwoven with historical research. While the form—the chairs in a semi-circle, the use of clapping as interludes—is in the same in each production, the results are always vastly different because of the nature of stories told. Sometimes the cast, who are non-professionals, are telling their stories for the very first time. 

For the 25th anniversary of Undesirable Elements, The New Victory Theater commissioned a show that tells the coming-of-age stories of New York City's diverse youth. The recruitment process took over a month: Sara Zatz and artistic collaborator Kirya Traber reached out to over 50 community organizations and schools in New York City, hoping to find 18-21 year olds from a wide range of backgrounds and neighborhoods, willing to share their experiences.

 

The Performers The performers of Generation NYZ, left to right: Edwin, Rafael, Mohammad, Monica, Porscha, De-Andra and Syl. Photo: Adam Nadel
Thirty people filled out the participant questionnaire, which included questions about personal background and reflections on living in New York. From these packets, Sara and Kirya invited 20 people in for individual two hour interviews. 

"We were thrilled to receive such an enthusiastic response to the call for participants," Sara said. "We knew we wanted the cast to reflect the kaleidoscope of experiences in New York City, and was especially mindful of finding stories across the five boroughs. Choosing the final ensemble was tough—we were originally thinking of a cast of five, but expanded to seven because we met so many amazing young people with important stories to tell." The company hopes to keep in touch with the young adults ultimately not selected, offering acting workshops and tickets to company performances. A few of their voices will also be included in a pre-show lobby installation that can be experienced during the show's run at The New Victory's smaller venue, The Duke on 42nd Street theater. 

There was excitement and some shyness when the cast of seven met each other for the first time. Between them, they know seven languages (including American Sign Language) and hail from all over the city, from East New York to the South Bronx. After a quick introduction excercise, Kirya sat everyone in a circle and asked the group to make a list of community agreements.

 

Ping Chong and the New Vic Ping Chong + Company in one of their first planning sessions with the New Vic
"Respect each other's boundaries," someone said. Sara wrote it on the poster in marker. 
"One voice, one mic."
"Be open, ask questions."

"Has anyone heard of the yellow zone?" Kirya said, after a pause. Everyone shook their head. She explained, "Green zone is those things you share easily with the world. Like your name, where you're from. Red zone is private stuff that you can't share with anyone. The yellow zone is a space with a bit of risk, things that you don't normally share that make you feel vulnerable." 

For a show that includes personal stories about serious issues like mental health, bullying, LGBTQ+ identity and homelessness, it was important to Kirya and Sara to form a safe, open environment. Before every rehearsal, they check in with the cast—how is everybody feeling? And the Community Agreement poster stays on the wall, which they review. Soon, the stories that the cast has shared with each other in intensive interviews and group conversations will be shared with the world at the Duke on 42nd Street.
 
Undesirable Elements Thumb From East New York to West Harlem and from the South Bronx to Far Rockaway, witness the jubilant victories, recent discord and distant dreams of coming of age in Undesirable Elements: Generation NYZ.

 
Posted by Beth Henderson

Turn yourself and your family into puppets, perform your morning routine in a new way and use your imagination to create your own stories in this Family Activity! For each and every show in the season, we create custom activities for your family to try together. Find them here on our blog or at Pinterest.com/NewVictory.

My Puppet and Me

In A Sick Day for Morris McGee, puppets are used to tell a beautiful story. In this activity, you will make a puppet for each member of your family!

Adults – Assemble the puppets.
Kids – Color the puppets to create one for each member of your family! Does your dad love purple? Color his body a lovely shade of violet. Does grandma wear glasses? Personalize her puppet face with her signature specs!

Materials: Brads or paper clips, scissors, crayons, a puppet template for each member of your family, a hole puncher

Materials

Step One: Count the number of family members you have. That’s how many puppets you will be making! Print out the appropriate number of puppet templates and cut them out. Don’t forget to punch out the joint holes!

Step One

Step Two: Put them together using brads or paper clips. Then, decorate your puppets.

Step 2
Step 2

Step Three: Once you are done, take some time to test them out. Play around to see how their hands, feet, arms and legs move. Give your family member the puppets that you made for them. Teach them how to move their new puppets, too! 

Step Three

Step Four: Play follow the leader with your puppets to learn how to make them move. Start the game off with one person moving their puppet and the other puppets copying them.

Here are some ideas for how your puppet can move:
  • Wave the arms.
  • Stomp the feet.
  • Use the whole body to dance.
  • Move the arms up high.
  • Have the legs do splits!
Step Five: Everyone should try taking a turn as a leader and as a follower. 

Tabletop Routine

Now that you know how to move your puppet, let’s make it come to life! In this activity, you will act out your morning routine on your own tabletop, just like they do in A Sick Day for Morris McGee.

The Set of A Sick Day for Morris McGee

Materials: Your newly made puppet, a table in your house

Step One: As a family, brainstorm your morning routine. How do you get out of bed? When do you brush your teeth? 

Step Two: Using your puppet, show the different steps of the morning routine you thought out. How does your puppet brush their teeth? 

If your kid is too young to do specific movement with their puppet, perform with yours and have your kid try to guess what you are doing! 

Step Three: Find a table top in your house and use it to act out your whole morning routine. Make different sections of the table different parts of your home.

Example: One section is your bedroom, the other section is your bathroom, the other section is your kitchen.

BONUS: Get different household items to add different elements to your tabletop home. Maybe you could use a shoebox as your bed! 

Beyond the Page

In this activity you will take a deeper look into the story of A Sick Day for Amos McGee, which the play A Sick Day for Morris McGee is based on. The creators used their imaginations to bring new stories of the characters to life. What if each page had its own story that needed to be told? 

Step One: Watch this YouTube video of the book being read by Ms. Shy. Then, pick your favorite page in the book. You are going to work on this page today! Once you have chosen your page, have a conversation about what you see on the page. 

Adults, ask your kids these questions:
  • Why did you pick this page?
  • Who is on the page?
  • What’s happening on this page?
  • Where does the story on this page take place?
Here is the page we chose:

A Sick Day for Amos McGee
Characters: Amos and the elephant
Location: The Zoo
What’s happening: Amos and the elephant are playing a game of chess.

Step Two: Now, think about what else the elephant might do all day that is not already included in the storybook. Add to the story written by Philip C. Stead and create a new part of the story that you and your family dream up!

Example: The elephant had a chess competition against the zebra later that day. The zebra always wins the chess competition, but today the elephant is hoping to win the game!

Step Three: Draw your new page with your new story ideas! Here is our example.

Step Three

BONUS: Go to the zoo! Here are some places you can visit in the five boroughs.

 
 

 
Based on a Caldecott Medal-winning book by Philip C. Stead, A Sick Day for Morris McGee will warm your heart and chase away the winter chills.
Posted by Beth Henderson
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