Stories

New Victory Arts Break: Play like nicHi douglas

Last week, we saw how New Victory LabWorks Artist nicHi douglas and her collaborators use play as a source of inspiration for their project Mimi and Rita’s Magic (Half) Hour. This week, we’ll play with those same inspirations and explore fun ways to create and inhabit characters through movement. We’ll also meet mover and choreographer Christoper Rudd, another of this season’s LabWorks Artists.

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New Victory Arts Break: Play like nicHi douglas

A Touch of Local Character

While showing us around her neighborhood of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, nicHi shared that the stories she likes to tell are inspired by other people’s lives, both in her neighborhood and elsewhere. Let’s join New Victory Teaching Artist Ana Cantorán Viramontes as she takes us on a journey through her neighborhood and teaches us how places in her community inspire her to create original characters.

Are there places in your neighborhood that inspire you like Ana’s did? Wherever you are, get ready to set out in search of that same spark of inspiration!

Step One: Grab a grown-up and take a walk around the neighborhood. Look out for landmarks that inspire you and think about why these places are standing out to you. Is it the colors and shapes? The history? The people?

An image of buildings

Step Two: Now it’s time to consider one place that stood out to you. Take out your New Victory Notebook and make a list of everything you can about that one place! Think:

  • What do you feel when you visit or look at this place?
  • What does it look like? How big or small is it?
  • Is it silly? Scary? Boring? Ancient? Colorful?
  • Why is it where it is? What is its purpose?

Various feelings that come to mind when thinking of a specific place, handwritten in a notebook

Step Three: Now, think about how the qualities of that object or landmark might translate into a character. In your New Victory Notebook, answer the following questions to create a character profile:

  • If this place were a person, what would they act like?
  • What might their name be?
  • What is something they would wear?
  • How would they move?
  • What do they do everyday?
  • What is something they really, really want?

A handwritten list of qualities that personify a historical landmark or building

Step Four: Now that you’ve created a profile for your character, think about how to perform them! Walk their walk and talk their talk! Gather some costume or prop pieces to inspire your performance like Ana did, and start to move around like that character might move. Then, using the information you’ve imagined for this character, start to talk like them. How do they sound? What do they talk about?

Have fun pretending to be someone completely unique, and feel free to try this out for as many of the places that inspire you as you want—a neighborhood cast of characters!

BONUS: If your walls could talk, what would they say? What about your houseplant? Take a “neighborhood walk” around your home and look for items that might inspire characters. Then practice your character-crafting skills with New Victory Teaching Artist Ugo Anyanwu in this Arts Break activity from Playmaking Week!

Moves Like Who?

When we’re experiencing a story for the first time, we come to understand the characters in many different ways, from the way they move and speak to what they care about and what jobs they have—the list is long! Check out this trailer for Mimi and Rita’s Magic (Half) Hour to see what kind of characters nicHi and her collaborators are dreaming up:

Let’s think about some folks we know in real life and some characters we can only dream of, and then combine them to bring to life unique characters of our own creation!

Step One: Who are the characters in your everyday life? What do they do? Think of family roles, jobs and hobbies. What are their personalities? How old are they? What do they love? Take out your New Victory Notebook to jot down your ideas.

A handwritten list of everyday

Step Two: Next to your list of real-world characters, make a list of some made-up characters from the world of your imagination. The only rule? There are no rules!

A handwritten list of imaginary characters including dragon, unicorn, gnome, troll and princess

Step Three: Pair up characters from both lists to make new hybrid characters that combine the traits of both! Maybe a mail carrier dragon, or a gnome who is also your little sister! Have fun making the most ridiculous and wacky matches.

Step Four: Put these hybrid characters on their feet! Think about how your character might move. Do they move slowly? Very quick? Do they crawl? What sounds do they make when they walk? When they say ‘hello’, how do they sound? Move across the room as your character and bring your wacky creation to life!

BONUS: Gamify it! Make the same two lists of characters from real life and from your imagination. Then silently pick one from each list to create a hybrid character and see if someone else can guess which two you combined as you move across the room in character!

Movement from the Heart

Stories don’t always need words to be told. Even the most complex experiences can be expressed through movement. Christopher Rudd, another 2020-21 New Victory LabWorks Artist, combines his activism and choreography to create powerful dance pieces. His current project, Witness, is a powerful fusion of art and activism—a three-part exploration of America’s racial biases that uses contemporary dance to open a dialogue on the complicated issue of race in America. Meet Christoper below and learn a bit about his inspirations and process as a choreographer.

Dance can be inspired by anything—a feeling, a story, a picture, a sound. Often, choreographers create dances by putting lots of smaller movement sequences together to create a full piece. These smaller sequences are called “moments” or “phrases.” In this activity, create your own dance phrase and take your first steps toward creating meaningful choreography!

Step One: Think about something that is important to you right now, perhaps inspired by a current event or a cause that you want to fight for. You can do some research by asking a grown-up to share some top news stories with you, or maybe you have a personal story you would like to use as inspiration for your piece. Pick the story that stands out to you the most.

Step Two: What does this story make you feel? In your New Victory Notebook, jot down all of the words that come to mind when thinking about this story. Then circle the three words that you feel best describe your feelings about this story.

A handwritten list of words that come to mind when thinking of a specific personal story

Step Three: Find a space where you can move. For each word you chose, create a movement or gesture to represent it. How can you express that word with your body? How quickly do you move? Do you move up high or down low? What expression are you making during this movement?

A series of three animated GIFs depicting

Step Four: Put it all together! Add music and try moving through your three gestures in a sequence, connecting each one to the next. Bravo! You have just choreographed a dance phrase dedicated to the story you chose.

Looking for more meaningful dance inspiration? Check out the work of Sarah Rose Dahnke, a 2019-2020 New Victory LabWorks Artist who choreographed pieces, co-created with incarcerated people in solitary confinement, with her dance company Dances for Solidarity.

Playing with character and movement this week was just the beginning. Come back next week for our final Arts Break of the season, as we make new works of art devoted to the little things we love and go back out into our neighborhoods for one last burst of creative inspiration.

New Victory Arts Break Supporters

New Victory Arts Break is funded, in part, by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

New Victory LabWorks Supporters

New Victory LabWorks is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and by grants from the Madeleine L’Engle Fund of the Crosswicks Foundation, The Ford Foundation and the Howard Gilman Foundation.

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