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New Victory Arts Break — Honoring & Celebrating Juneteenth

Welcome to Week 14 of New Victory Arts Break. Guided by New Victory Teaching Artists, Arts Break is a curriculum designed for the millions of families stuck at home to incorporate the performing arts into their learning. Show or no show, our nonprofit is committed to bringing the performing arts to the widest possible audience, and inspiring you to make art, and make memories, together!

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New Victory Arts Break – Honoring & Celebrating Juneteenth

Juneteenth, celebrated annually on June 19th, commemorates the day when, in 1865, the final emancipation order was read aloud in Texas, two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Since then, African Americans have built traditions to observe this historic day: to celebrate, people gather to sing, dance and eat together.

This week, we turn to the arts to celebrate Juneteenth together as a way to educate, communicate and activate ourselves towards equality, liberation and justice. Throughout, we investigate the power of words and their ability to unite people in a common cause. As well as looking to the past, this Arts Break features three new works from Idris Goodwin’s Free Play: Open Source Scripts Toward an Antiracist Tomorrow, made available to the public through Theatre for Young Audiences USA (TYA/USA), the national advocacy organization for the field of theater for family audiences. Idris’ plays are written to offer insights about the Black experience in America and spark conversations about race across multiple generations.

Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday

Monday

Liberate and Dream

30 – 60 minutes, Ages 7 – 15

On June 19, 1865, the official order was made in Galveston, Texas, that enslaved Africans were now free. This was two years after President Abraham Lincoln had declared his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. June 19th is now celebrated as Juneteenth and is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the progress toward the abolition of slavery in the United States. Join New Victory Teaching Artist Ugo Anyanwu as he offers a brief history lesson on the origins and traditions of Juneteenth.

Juneteenth marks the day when Black Americans who were far from where the Emancipation Proclamation was signed heard the news of liberation and freedom. But what did that mean? Today, New Victory Teaching Artist ChelseaDee Harrison asks you to have some guided conversations with your family and your community about what liberation means to you.

General Order No. 3 was read to the people of Galveston by General Gordon Granger. ChelseaDee read an excerpt for us. Here is the beginning of that text below:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”

After hearing this text read out loud, think about the questions that ChelseaDee poses:

  • What does liberation mean?
  • What is Black liberation and why is it important to America?

Turn and talk to someone you’re with and share your thoughts, ideas and strategies. Take note of what you learn from this conversation and how the conversation makes you feel. What new strategies were you able to come up with to better understand and examine the idea of liberation? How might we liberate ourselves and others?

Want to read the full order? Here is the original archived order featured in the July 7, 1865, edition of The New York Times!

Envisioning Freedom

What does freedom really look like? Are we truly free? Using items we have at home, let’s create a collage that shows what freedom and liberation look like to us. We’ll call this art project an “Envision Board.” To envision means to imagine a future possibility—to visualize something that may not exist yet. Today, let’s use our arts and crafts skills to envision liberation for the future.

Materials: Cardboard or heavy paper, paper collaging materials (newspapers, magazines, photographs, stickers), small decorative items (beads, strings, glitter, sequins, pom poms), glue or tape

Step One: Take a moment to think about how liberation and freedom make you feel. When you look at your Envision Board, how do you want to feel? Inspired? Energized? Calm? Jot down some words that describe the future you want to see.

Step Two: Start to gather the items you want to include on your Envision Board. Begin with an assortment of images. These can be photographs, newspaper clippings, or old magazine pages. You can also gather small decorative items, like beads, string, glitter, or sequins. Search for interesting colors and textures that surround you. Any object or image that matches your envisioning is a great choice. Think:

  • What images, words and objects spark your imagination?
  • What stands out to you?
  • What makes you feel liberated and free?

Step Three: Start to build your Envision Board by arranging the items you’ve collected on your cardboard or piece of heavy paper. Consider the placement, or layout, of your images. What goes where? How do you decide where to place things? Once you’ve decided, tape or glue your items in your chosen arrangement on the paper.

Step Four: Once you’re finished, share your Envision Board with someone! Let them see what you envision for the future.

Here are some collage examples to inspire your Envision Board.

Romare Bearden Collage
“Profile/Part II, The Thirties: Johnny Hudgins Comes On” by Romare Bearden (1981)
“Badu” by Massogona Sylla (2012)
“Badu” by Massogona Sylla (2012)
“You Are My Sunshine” by Wangechi Mutu (2015)
“You Are My Sunshine” by Wangechi Mutu (2015)
“Black Feminist Breathing: Wholehearted for June Jordan” by Alexis Pauline Gumbs (2014)
“Black Feminist Breathing: Wholehearted for June Jordan” by Alexis Pauline Gumbs (2014)

After the Break

For grown-ups looking for more Juneteenth resources, Teaching Tolerance offers guidance for teaching kids about Juneteenth, and the New York Public Library has a list of kids’ books that celebrate Juneteenth.

Together, learn more about why Juneteenth is important for America and read about why Juneteenth endures among other historic moments on the timeline towards emancipation.

Have younger ones at home? Check out this read-along of Floyd Cooper’s Juneteenth for Mazie by Sanfoka Read Along, and this read-along of Grace Byers’ I Am Enough by Power ASC.

Play Time

In Idris Goodwin’s ACT FREE (for audiences ages 9 and up), three kids wrestle with the definition of freedom. To explore this play and the two other plays featured later in this week’s Arts Break, try putting on a staged reading with your family to fully dive into the world of these stories.

What is a staged reading? When playwrights create a new play, there are many steps between their first draft and opening night. One of the early steps is to hold a staged reading—a chance for the new play to be read aloud by actors in front of an audience. Staged readings usually take place with actors sitting in chairs reading the script in front of them at music stands. A director works with the actors and sometimes puts part of the show “on its feet” (or, out of their seats and away from the music stands!). Staged readings are a great way to explore plays and step into new roles.

Materials: Script copies (hard copy or digital), chairs, your imagination

Step One: Look at the roles described on the second page of each play and choose which family members will play each part (or do a Zoom reading with your friends).

Step Two: Read through the play as a family around a table (this is traditionally called a table read) and have a discussion afterwards. Ask:

  • What is this play about?
  • What questions do you have about the play? (If you don’t know what a word or reference in the play is, look it up together! There should be no mystery words or concepts when performing a play.)
  • What does the play feel like? What do you imagine it to look like?
  • What do you want the audience to feel when seeing this play?
  • What does your character want? Do they get what they want? Why or why not?

If reading ACT FREE, ask:

  • Who are 1, 2 and 3? Where do you imagine them having this conversation?
  • How does the news of being free make them feel? How do they answer 2’s question of “what does free even mean?”
  • What is the tone at the end of the play?
  • What do you think happens next for these characters?

Step Three: Try reading the script out loud again now that you have discussed more about the play’s meaning and characters. Adding in your acting skills to really bring it to life—add in more emotion, change your volume and facial expressions!

Extended reading for older kids: These two additional plays by Idris Goodwin, #MATTER and BLACK FLAG, are for young adults ages 15 and up. Read them with your family and use the reading prompts above to have a discussion about the work.

Tuesday

Sing and Write

30 – 60 minutes, Ages 7 – 15

Gathering to sing is part of many Juneteenth celebrations in communities across the country. Some songs celebrate liberation and others were sung even before emancipation to bring hope and encourage change. Certain songs, called negro spirituals, were originated by enslaved African Americans in the American South. These songs often had religious roots and hidden, or coded, meanings. Follow along as New Victory Teaching Artist Neil Dawson leads us through the coded messages in a popular negro spiritual and uses those hidden meanings to write a new freedom song.

Now use Neil’s video as inspiration to write your own song!

Materials: Pen and paper

Step One: Listen to Neil sing the negro spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” This song was written by Wallace Willis, a freedman, in 1840. The song was popularized by the Fisk Jubilee Singers of Fisk University, a historically Black university in Nashville, Tennessee, and was first recorded in 1909. Here is an extended version of the song performed by Etta James.

Step Two: Listen to the song one more time, this time reading along with the lyrics:

Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home
Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home

I looked over Jordan, and what did I see?
(Coming for to carry me home)
A band of angels coming after me
(Coming for to carry me home)

Have a conversation with your family as you read and listen for the second time. Ask:

  • What do you notice in these lyrics?
  • How does the way the lyrics are sung make you feel?
  • What does the singer want?
  • What don’t you understand about the lyrics?
  • When you think of this song being sung by enslaved people, how does that change the way you listen to it?

Step Three: Negro spirituals often have hidden, or coded, meanings within their lyrics. Let’s try to decode some of them and discover new meaning in the song. Take a look at the lyric sheet below. You’ll notice that the first column provides the original lyrics you read and heard. The second column provides a literal meaning—a modern translation—of each lyric, and the third column shows the coded meaning of each lyric.

Decoding

In reading through the columns separately, what stands out to you? What new meanings did you discover? Are those discoveries different from what you originally thought the song might have been about?

In this excerpt from the PBS documentary Underground Railroad, Reverend Velma Maia Thomas offers more examples of coding within spirituals. Want to learn more about the historical context for these coded messages? Watch this TED-Ed video about the life and achievements of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, conductor on the Underground Railroad.

Step Four: Now that you understand an example of coding meaning into songs, try writing one of your own!

Using the melody and meaning in “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” see if you can rewrite some lyrics to evoke the same hidden messages using new words. Neil’s new song was titled “Come Down, Come Free Me Please.” Here are his lyrics:

Come down,
Come free me, please
Take me to the freedom land!

Come down,
Come free me, please
Take me to the freedom land!

I looked o’er Ohio River what did I see?
Take me to the freedom land!The Underground Railroad will help me
Take me to the freedom land!

Grab a piece of paper and start writing. Think about:

  • What is my song about? What message do I want to highlight?
  • How do I feel when I sing this melody? How can these lyrics match that feeling?
  • What rhymes do I see within these coded meanings and the phrases already written into the song? What new rhymes can I create?

Draft up as many lyrics as you need to before you discover your new song! Having trouble rewriting the song? Check out this Arts Break activity from Songwriting Week for an easy approach to rewriting lyrics for a chosen melody.

Step Five: Teach your new song to your family and sing it together. Have a discussion about how the coded messages feel within your new lyrics. How does it feel to sing them together as a family?

BONUS: Here is another negro spiritual written by Wallace Willis, “Steal Away,” performed by the Metro Singers. Can you decode the messages in that song as well?

Spirituals Across Time

Another way to examine spirituals is to pay attention to the feelings evoked by different recordings. Listen to these four versions of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” that span from 1909 to 2015:

Have a conversation comparing these recordings. Ask each other:

  • What was similar in the four performances?
  • Did any recording stand out in particular? Why did that one seem different than the others?
  • How did each recording make you feel? Why do you think it made you feel that way?
  • How do songs travel through time? What keeps them the same? What changes about them?
  • How can we use songs to spread messages? What else can we keep songs alive for?

Interested in learning more about negro spirituals and their influence on music and culture? This segment from PBS’s History Detectives explores the history, meaning and lasting impact of a collection of spirituals published in 1867.

Wednesday

Design and Rhyme

30 – 60 minutes, Ages 7 – 15

Artists and activists can express themselves in many different ways, and they can strengthen their work by creating in community with one another, sharing skills with each other and expanding their toolboxes together. Today, join Teaching Artist Chesney Snow as he collaborates with his mother, an artisan herself, to create a protest sign and a bit of music inspired by the words of Ida B. Wells.

Now it’s your turn to create a protest sign, play a rhyming game and share skills with each other!

Materials: Glue, or make your own papier mâché glue; cardboard; newspaper, or any thin paper to draw the quote out on; a quote; dark markers, crayons or colored pencils; scissors; any other printed images or shapes to decorate your sign with

Step One: First, we need to decide what quote we want to feature on our sign. Think about something you believe in, or an activist you really look up to, and start researching them. Here are some quotes that might inspire you to start:

  • “The way to right wrongs is to shine the light of truth upon them.” – Ida B. Wells
  • “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
  • “Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.” – Malcolm X

Here is a collection of recent celebrity quotes that could also inspire your impactful sign. Once you have chosen your quote, make sure you have it handy as you continue the project.

Step Two: Write out your quote in large letters on thin pieces of paper (newspaper works best). If you want to, you can measure your large piece of cardboard to make sure your letters  will all fit. Decorate or write your letters however you want to—make sure the sign is true to your quote and your style.

Step Three: Cut out your quote and arrange it on your large piece of cardboard. You can also cut out images or shapes and add those to your poster as well. When you’ve got the items arranged the way you like them, glue them in place.

Step Four: Once your sign has dried, it’s ready to march out into the world! Display it in your home or carry it with you proudly on your next activist mission.

Here are some examples of protest signs that you might be seeing out in the world right now:

Protest Signs
Photos: Heidi Atter/CBC News, Lauren Sharpe, Elana Shepert

Looking to put your sign to good use? Try setting it in the window for your neighbors to see, or follow the example of these kids from West Allis, Wisconsin, who are using their voices and their signs to protest racial inequality from their own front yards.

Modification for younger kids: Watch this excerpt from CNN and Sesame Street’s town hall, in which Elmo and his dad, Louie, talk about racism and protesting.

Grown-ups: Listen to this episode of The Imagine Neighborhood about starting a conversation about racism with your kids. Listen solo or as a family.

Time to Rhyme

We’ve made our sign. Let’s not resign! We’ve still got time to try some rhymes.

Step One: Looking at the quote you chose for your sign, pick one word.

Step Two: As a family, go around and try to rhyme that word one at a time in a circle (or tossed back and forth) as many times as you can. The first person to repeat or fail to make a rhyme is out! Keep going until there’s a winner.

Step Three: Play as many rounds as you can with all the words in your quote! Which words were the easiest to rhyme? Were any words impossible to rhyme?

In creating their sign and then freestyle rhyming, Chesney and his mom shared both artistic and activist skills. What skills can you share with your family?

After the Break

Watch the TED-Ed video below to learn more about Ida B. Wells, whose quote inspired Chesney’s sign, or read about her achievements and activism on BlackPast.org.

Play Time

Ready for a short play? Read Idris Goodwin’s THE WATER GUN SONG (for audiences ages 6 and up), which finds a parent trying to find the words to explain to a child why a water gun isn’t simply a toy. Use the staged reading activity instructions from Monday, and think about the following questions:

  • What do you think this play is about?
  • Why does Jules ask how Cindy’s parents are toward Sam?
  • What does Jules mean when they say that not everybody is in on the game?
  • How do you think the Water Gun Song makes Sam feel? What about Jules?

Thursday

Listen and Express

30 – 60 minutes, Ages 7 – 15

What is the role of the arts when it comes to social justice? How do the arts liberate us? How can we use the arts to get inspired to action and to educate ourselves? One thing is clear: now is the time to get moving. Today, New Victory Teaching Artist P. Tyler Britt leads us through a movement activity inspired by words from an African American poet, and asks the question: how can the arts help begin or broaden conversations around liberation and social justice?

Let’s create some poetry-inspired movement together! Below are the steps to Tyler’s activity. Follow along, and remember his invitation to pause and reflect throughout the process.

Materials: A poem, paper and pen, space to move, your body, your mind

Step One: Listen to a poem being read. You can listen to Maya Angelou’s poem from Tyler’s video or choose a poem and listen as someone else reads the poem out loud.

Here is “Awaking in New York” by Maya Angelou:

Curtains forcing their will
against the wind,
children sleep,
exchanging dreams with
seraphim. The city
drags itself awake on
subway straps; and
I, an alarm, awake as a
rumor of war,
lie stretching into dawn,
unasked and unheeded.

Here is another example: “I, Too” by Langston Hughes. Listen to Tyler reciting it below.

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

Step Two: Listen to the poem a second time, but with pen and paper in hand. This time, as you listen through, write down individual words or two-word phrases that stand out to you in the piece. These can be words or phrases that you question, that you identify with, that you feel clarify the poem for you—anything that you hear and feel moved to write down.

Step Three: Look at the list of words/phrases that you jotted down and choose three to further explore.

Step Four: With your list of three words, find a space where you can be on your feet and work alone (there will be time to share with others at the end). Now it’s time to put these words into our bodies. Start with the first word or short phrase you chose and think:

  • What does this word mean to you?
  • What does it represent in the context of the poem?
  • How does this word make you feel? What does it remind you of?

Now, move your body to physically embody that word and your exploration of it. Move around until you have found a position you like and freeze in that pose: this is called a tableau. While creating your tableau, think:

  • What is my body doing to express my feeling about this word?
  • What is my face conveying? Is it holding emotion? Am I choosing to not express big emotions?

Repeat this physical exploration with each of your three words. When you’ve found a pose for each word, practice moving between your three tableaux to create a movement sequence.

You saw what Tyler created for Maya Angelou’s poem in the activity video above. Below, see what he created for Langston Hughes’ “I, Too”:

Step Five: Come back together with your family and share your tableaux. Sharing can happen any way you’d like it to: each family member can share a tableau one movement at a time, or you can share individually one sequence at a time.

Step Six: Reflect on the performances. Here are some guiding questions for your conversation:

  • How did sharing your poses make you feel? What did you notice?
  • What did you see in another’s sharing that surprised you?
  • Did you notice any similarities?
  • How did the sequences feel connected to the poem? How did they affect the way you think about the poem?
  • What are other iconic physical images or poses that are inspired by liberation movements?
  • What other poems are you interested in exploring? Who are other Black American artists you’d like to learn more about? Are there Black American artists you were introduced to today?

Modification for younger kids: Having trouble breaking down some of this poetry with littler ones? Start with the title! Read just the title (“I, Too,” “Awaking in New York” or the title of the poem you chose) and ask:

  • What does that title make you feel?
  • Can you put the feeling of that title into your body and create a tableau from that?
  • Can multiple members of your family make one pose for that title and string them together to make a family sequence?
  • What does that title make you think the poem is going to be about?
  • Does that title inspire you to write a poem of your own?

After the Break

Learn more about the life and work of Maya Angelou in this video from Biography. For younger kids, watch Dr. Angelou sing on Sesame Street about the importance of having pride in your name, and enjoy this read-along of Lisbeth’s Kaiser’s Little People, Big Dream: Maya Angelou on Story Time w/Kayla.

For more about Langston Hughes and his role in the Harlem Renaissance, check out this video from Biography, and listen to him reading “I, Too” and other poems in these Smithsonian recordings from the 1950s. You can also enjoy Hughes’ poem “This is My Dream” as illustrated by Daniel Miyares in this read-along from Sanfoka Read Along.

Eager for more poetry? Start with this article from The Root, which offers glimpses at the lives and work of 20 lauded and beloved Black American poets.

Friday

Celebrate and Act

30 – 60 minutes, Ages 7 – 15

Today is Juneteenth!

Inspired by the history of Juneteenth, let’s create our own holiday celebrating the end of an injustice we’d like to see abolished. Follow along with Ugo to learn how to research, honor and celebrate your vision for a more just future!

Let’s write our executive order and start celebrating.

Materials: Large piece of paper or poster board, marker

Step One: Justice comes from the Latin jus, meaning law or right, and injustice is the opposite—something that is unlawful, unfair or not right. Think of an injustice that you especially would want to celebrate the end of. Racial inequality? Poverty? Gender discrimination? Environmental damage?

Step Two: Write an executive order ending that injustice and declare how you’d want to celebrate it. Print and fill out this template, or use it as a guide and design your own:

Executive Order Template

You can feel free to add as many celebration traditions as you’d like! Maybe:

  • Create a flag for your new holiday
  • Choreograph a dance that you can dance on this day
  • Choose colors to wear on that holiday
  • Decorate that day on your calendar
  • Gather some quotes/poems to read aloud on that day

Step Three: Read your executive order aloud… and celebrate!

Step Four: Take a moment to research organizations that are striving to abolish the injustice you want to celebrate the end of and find out more about how you can help make your holiday a reality!

Play Time

Ready for another short play? Read Idris Goodwin’s NOTHING RHYMES WITH JUNETEENTH (for audiences ages 9 and up), about a child and a parent trying to complete a rap for a school presentation. Use the staged reading activity instructions from Monday, and think about the following questions:

  • Consider the title Nothing Rhymes with Juneteenth. What does this tell you about the play?
  • Pete says Juneteenth is a celebration of being free. Where is there celebration in the play?
  • What did you learn about Juneteenth from Pete’s rap?

After the Break

Learn more about the history of Juneteenth and its celebration in this article from Mental Floss and (for older kids) this Teen Vogue article. Then dive into the tradition of red food and drinks at Juneteenth celebrations, and join Khalid Richards, Dolapo Sangokoya and Matt Wynter at Thrillist as they share their favorites and talk about the importance of celebrating!

We hope you enjoyed this fourteenth week of New Victory Arts Break. Thank you to New Victory Teaching Artist Signe Harriday and Million Artist Movement for their contributions to this Arts Break.  Check out past Arts Breaks here, and keep coming back for more arts-based fun.

You are a part of the New Victory community. We want to see you, and hear from you! Show us how you’re using New Victory Arts Break at home and share your creative work with us—tag us on Instagram @newvictorytheater.

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