Notifications

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 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
 

 

The Way Back Home Puppets A still from The Way Back Home, Photo: Teater Refleksion
As the Arts Enrichment Coordinator at LearningSpring School, a school for students on the autism spectrum, I make it a priority to create opportunities for my students to experience the New York City cultural community. 

Our Magnolia class (kindergarten), will see The Way Back Home at the end of March. Early experiences of theater can shape students’ understanding of the world and the New Vic provides theatrical experiences that challenge what theater is and can be. If young children are presented early on with varied and imaginative examples of theater, they're more likely to explore varied possibilities and experiences in the future. Bringing young students to the theater is also critical for the development of their imagination. Theater is imagination come to life, and if children experience it in this way at a young age, they are opened up to possibilities before their worldview begins to form. The possibilities are endless! 

Developing and stretching students' imaginations through theatrical experience allows work in the classroom to be equally exciting, creative and inventive. As a teacher, I try to meet this challenge by building the show into our curriculum and our work in the classroom. For my young students, this not only prepares them to see the show, it allows them to fully experience the show by enacting artistic elements, diving into the story and connecting the experience of the show to their everyday adventures. In preparing to see The Way Back Home, we engaged in many adventures in the classroom:
 
Experimenting with the form:
When I start to teach a show, I usually begin with the element of the show that is the most foreign to my young students. In the case of The Way Back Home, we began with sounds. In watching the trailer, I noticed the unique soundscape created by the puppeteers as they told the story. We started by listening to sound effects and making movements to go with what we think the sound effects may be (riding an airplane, walking on the Moon, meeting a martian).  

 


The Way Back Home Puppets Aliza Greenberg's puppet making activity
Experiencing the story:
Small objects and puppets are used to tell the story in the play. We created small, puppet versions of ourselves, using pipe cleaners, tape and paint. We then went on a journey with our puppet-selves! This activity challenged us to use our imagination to see objects in a new light. We used dollhouse furniture to model what happens in the show, thinking of all the things the furniture could be and using sound and movement to bring the action to life. 

Stepping into the world:
The Way Back Home includes a trip to the Moon, so we physicalized our own walk on the Moon in our classroom! We used pantomime to fly to the Moon and explore, practicing spacewalks and soil experiments.  Students shared what they might see on the Moon and who they might meet. Sitting and watching theater can be hard for the very young, but given the opportunity to act it out ahead of time, the action on stage can be better understood and more interesting to watch. 

Preparing to see the show:
The book on which the play is based also provided an excellent way to explore and prepare for the show. We read the story several times, sometimes physicalizing different moments. For every show we go to at LearningSpring School, I create a social story, a story about what to expect on our trip. We read the story to help us prepare to go to the theater. After reading about the trip and learning about the show, the students can't wait for their theatrical experience!

Last year, I took my youngest students to Handa’s Surprise. They still sing the music from the show. Seeing a show at The New Victory Theater was a very memorable moment for them and I have no doubt seeing The Way Back Home will have a big impact on this new class of students.  
 
 
Aliza Greenberg Aliza Greenberg is the Arts Enrichment Coordinator at the LearningSpring School, a school for students on the autism spectrum, where she teaches the arts and coordinates cultural partnerships. Aliza is also the Project Leader for Supporting Transitions with the Museum Access Consortium and a consultant with Trusty Sidekick Theater, CO/LAB Theater, and other arts organizations. B.A., Bryn Mawr College; Ed.M., Harvard Graduate School of Education.
 |<  < 1 - 2 - 3  >  >|