Applied Theatre in Prisons

RTA Performance at Bedford Hills Maximum Security Prison for Women (Ashley Hamilton – 1st row, center; Clare Hammoor – 2nd row, far right); Photo courtesy of RTA

By Ashley Hamilton

“When I am doing this work, creating art, for just a little while I get to forget that I am in prison” (Bedford Hills Maximum Security Prison Devising Theatre Participant). My work found me, before I found it. My first introduction to working in the prison system, using the arts as a rehabilitative tool, came prior to even starting my master’s degree in Educational Theatre (EDTC) at NYU, long before I understood what the field of “applied theatre” was. Through a serendipitous chain of events, I secured my first teaching artist gig using writing and theatre inside the New York City juvenile jail system. I had no real training, but I felt deeply drawn to the work of being inside of the walls with folks who were yearning for expression, I knew even then that something transformative was occurring.

As you may know, the Educational Theatre program has a long standing, collaborative relationship with Rehabilitation through the Arts (RTA) – an organization that uses arts practices in various New York State Prisons in order to work toward the rehabilitation of incarcerated folks. In the first year of the PhD program, I had the opportunity to assist Dr. Nancy Smithner in teaching a Physical Theatre class, along with master’s student Melissa Sonia (now an alumni) at Bedford Hills Maximum Security Prison for Women. Soon after, I had the opportunity to co-teach a six-month long Devising Theatre course, alongside Clare Hammoor (an EDTC alumni) at Bedford Hills. Clare and I created the class to explore various socially minded themes through movement and writing. Then, after a particularly salient theme emerged from our exploration, we continued on to write a play through a physical and writing based devising process. The class culminated with a performance of the mounted play for the remaining prison population. After months of writing, devising, and rehearsing we had created a play about the contradictions of womanhood inside prison walls. The play interrogated themes of body image, beauty, motherhood, self-sustainment, sexuality and gender.

The women wrote from raw and deep places, clearly craving an opportunity to tell their stories. Throughout the course, Clare and I found ourselves constantly reflecting on several themes but specifically; our roles as facilitators, boundaries, the role of therapy in applied theatre, and emotional safety and wellness. The deeper we went into the work, the more questions and contradictions emerged. The women’s final performance was met with compassion and grace by the prison population as they echoed that they shared very similar experiences and deeply appreciated the vulnerability of their peers. And, Clare and I walked away from that experience stretched emotionally, mentally, and physically, but with so many more questions than when we began.

RTA Performance at Bedford Hills Maximum Security Prison for Women; Photo courtesy of RTA

Currently, Clare and I are co-facilitating a “Life Skills through Acting” class at Fishkill Correctional Facility for Men, a very different yet just as complex experience. We are only a few weeks into the class, and I am already finding that my questions, thoughts and general reflective practice is just as prevalent, but is more centered on questions of gender and aesthetic distance. I am fascinated by the immediate difference I have found in working with men versus women, and by the way I find myself (as a white, cis-gendered woman) performing gender and race in this hyper-masculine, racialized space.

 

 

Regina Ress Honored for Outstanding Contributions by The National Storytelling Network

JONESBOROUGH, TN July 23, 2015 – The National Storytelling Network (NSN www.storynet.org) awarded Regina Ress the NSN ORACLE Mid-Atlantic Regional Excellence Award. This award recognizes the creativity, professional integrity, and artistic contributions of tellers who have greatly enriched the storytelling culture of their region.

Regina Ress, storyteller, actor, author, and educator, has told stories across the US and abroad in English and Spanish, in schools and international festivals, in prisons and parks, homeless shelters and the White House. One of her many programs, Compassion, Generosity, and Grace, was created after she witnessed the 9/11 attack in NYC and participated in the response that day and thereafter.

She teaches storytelling for NYU’s Program in Educational Theatre as well as the Multilingual/Multicultural Studies Program and she produces a long-running storytelling series for NYU at the historic Provincetown Playhouse.

Her CD “New York and Me” won a 2014 Storytelling World Honor. She previously received the NSN ORACLE for Service and Leadership – Mid Atlantic Region in 2003.

Ress received her Oracle award at the National Storytelling Awards Ceremony on Saturday, August 1, 2015 at the National Storytelling Conference in Kansas City.  For more information, see www.reginaress.com .

Brooke Astor International Fellowship

Professor Philip Taylor has secured the Brooke Astor International Travel Fellowship for New York City Teachers. A generous gift from the Astor Estate to NYU Steinhardt has resulted in public school teachers studying special education in Argentina (2015) and science education in China (2014). Next summer, the third year of the Fellowship, 10-12 public school teachers will experience “Arts Education Downunder.” The program will be based at NYU’s Sydney campus with a site visit to Melbourne. All principal expenses are covered by the award. The Astor Fellows need to have three years of full time teaching experience and be committed to global education. Keep watching this space for application details, but in the meantime do read more about this glorious gift.

Welcome to Fall 2015

I am delighted to welcome new and returning students to the Program in Educational Theatre. As my colleagues Philip Taylor, Nancy Smithner, Joe Salvatore, Amy Cordileone, Jonathan Jones and I recently discussed, this past academic year and summer really flew by. What an incredible year it has been for the Educational Theatre community!

We experienced a superb fall and spring with academic courses in our three areas of concentrated study: drama education, applied theatre, and play production for artists and educators. Our diverse work in community sites continued to exhibit the ways in which our program is involved in important urban and global endeavors. Many students getting certified to teach drama were mentored in NYC schools through student-teaching—learning to plan, implement and evaluate drama; teams of students created applied theatre, including our prison theatre initiative, tackling a range of social justice issues; various theatre of the oppressed events were facilitated; directors’ scenes were presented weekly; and the program’s production season produced remarkable theatre.

In the fall, just in time for Halloween, Little Shop of Horrors showcased wonderful student actors and singers, and in the spring, six new plays by Joe Salvatore were featured in In Real Time, with student directors assigned to each play. This culminated in an evening of engaging and thought-provoking theatre.  Our own Theatrix! project continued to profile new works by our students and provide rich opportunities for them to develop their theatre-making skills, while our Shakespeare to Go (STG) troupe brought their one-hour cut of Taming of the Shrew to schools throughout the city. Meanwhile, students involved in two Steinhardt student clubs, the Uproar Theatre Corp and Lamplighters, both founded by educational theatre students, impressively developed and produced full scale productions.

In January, many students studied physical theatre and mask work in Puerto Rico, with Dr. Amy Cordileone leading the program, and our annual storytelling performances, produced and curated by Regina Ress, featured six incredible storytellers from around the world telling stories at the Provincetown Playhouse (including Regina herself).  In February, we were thrilled to accept our first two students to our brand new Doctorate of Education program, the EdD. And our annual forum, the 2015 Forum on Site-Specific Performance, was unforgettable as it offered interdisciplinary panels, performances and workshops with established art makers, emerging artists, and university students to explore site-specific work that developed nuanced relationships between spectators and space.

The 2015 summer’s two on-campus projects, New Plays for Young Audiences (NPYA) and Looking for Shakespeare (LFS), were met with great success as well.  For its 18th season, NPYA presented three new works: Mario and the Comet that Stopped the World, Book and Lyrics by Gabriel Jason Dean, Music and Lyrics by David Dabbon; Nadine’s Coloring Book by Ashley Laverty; and Forever Poppy by José Cruz González. Keeping with the goals of the Program in Educational Theatre, the NPYA series effectively offered both students and theatre professionals the opportunity to test new ideas and methods within the field of TYA. It was a thrilling collaborative process that segued beautifully into the LFS program under the leadership of Dr. Jonathan Jones. The intensive four-week program for high school students from across the country worked with Dr. Jones as director, as well as an artistic team and 13 graduate students, to present Hamlet. It was truly inspiring to witness the dedicated collective of artists, educators and students work together to produce an outstanding production. Also, adding to the stimulating suite of summer offerings on campus was an intensive two-day course with renowned teacher/scholar Dr. Cecily O’Neill on Teacher in Role.  Finally, following the success of the summer 2014 London Study Abroad program under the leadership of Dr. Philip Taylor, in 2015 NYU students studied in our Dublin program led by Dr. Nancy Smithner, working with Ireland’s finest drama practitioners and theatre artists to study community-engaged theatre and explore facilitation, devising, and playwriting/adaptation, along with approaches to using dramatic activities to create context for theatre work.

Looking ahead, this exciting work continues and will be available to everyone, including opportunities to participate in classroom and applied theatre settings, a wide-range of course offerings, main stage productions, Theatrix, STG, NPYA, LFS, Puerto Rico (and our London study abroad offering that will return in 2016), student club productions, storytelling events and next year’s April, 2016 forum—among many other projects.

Speaking of which, the 2016 forum will celebrate fifty years of leadership and artist praxis in Educational Theatre at NYU. As one of the world’s premier academies of excellence, our Program was founded in 1966 by the late innovators Lowell and Nancy Swortzell, graduating over five thousand students who have assumed authoritative positions in cultural institutions, colleges and schools, community centers and other agencies worldwide. For our 2016 annual forum, the Program will build on the Swortzell’s vision, as well as the work of previous annual NYU Forums on curriculum, assessment, teaching artistry, playwriting, ethnodrama, Shakespeare, citizenship, and site specific theatre, by inviting the global community to propose workshops, papers, posters, narratives, and performances around drama in education, applied theatre, theatre for young audiences and play production. Also for the fiftieth anniversary, an alumni event will be held celebrating the achievements of the program. It will undoubtedly be a magnificent evening as colleagues and friends reunite and share classic moments of their time studying at NYU. So keep a lookout for further information to be posted on our Educational Theatre list-serve about this fiftieth anniversary celebration that you won’t want to miss.

– David Montgomery, PhD

Student and Alumni Updates

Jamie Lerner (BS ‘15) was nominated by Professor Jess Barbagallo to be an Open Arts Research Fellow for a weekend-long workshop exploring questions and issues surrounding the arts.

 

 

 

 

 

Emily Lesnick (ETSS) facilitated workshops on Theatre for Inclusion with teachers from the US & India at edcamps in Ahmedabad and Mumbai while in India on an educators’ trip LINEGlobal. Participants engaged in drama work and discussed how to incorporate theatre into their classrooms. Additionally, Emily co-hosts a live variety show and accompanying podcast called The Soul Glo Project. Soul Glo features established comedic voices and up-and-comers in standup, sketch, improv, music and poetry. Previous guests include SNL writers and performers, Comedy Central performers, and high school students.

 

 

 

Amos Margulies (ETED ’11) is currently teaching 11th grade English at the Community School for Social Justice and extended a residency with The Moth for the third year running. He is also one of TDF’s Open Doors teachers. Their mentor is Alex Dinelaris, who this year won an Academy Award for his movie Birdman, and his new musical On Your Feet is coming to Broadway soon. Amos was recently published in the new Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in Theater (June 2015), in which he co-wrote the addendum on teaching theater to ELLs.

 

 

 

 

Kristen Tregar (EDTC ’14) will be starting the PhD program in Drama and Theatre at University of California, San Diego this coming fall. In addition, this has been the second year of successful collaboration with Jenny MacDonald, one of the tutors from the Dublin study abroad program. Their respective students in Ireland and the US have been collaborating on devised works. In the spring, the Irish and American students came to NYU for an afternoon workshop where they had the chance to meet Nan Smithner.

Site Specific Group Project: Impressions of The High Line

By Aliza Moran, EDTC Student

A devised show sets sail without quite knowing where it will land. For this reason it feels quite risky but it can produce surprises and respond to possibilities unrestricted by fixed narrative.

(Collective Statement of IOU Theatre)

Absurd, naturalistic, funny, touching, and lyrical are words that best describe The High Line group devised site specific project, which was created during the Educational Theatre Devised Theatre class in the Summer of 2014.  I was challenged by the process of devising a piece of theatre that was fashioned by numerous writers, the explorations through movement, and the observations of the space. Throughout the start of the process I would ask myself questions such as:  How would a group of ten people create a work from scratch in three weeks? What would our piece be about? How could a performance travel through The High Line? The answers to those questions would come along through a creative process that had me wondering at every turn.

Upon the first day of class, I was unsure of what our group project would entail. I originally thought that we would pair with other classmates and create a piece that would be performed in the classroom setting. When I realized that it was the entire class creating a piece of site specific theatre, my thoughts were filled with questions and worries. How are all of these people going to be able to agree on anything?

I was nervous and excited when the suggestion of performing on The High Line was proposed.  I had never been apart of a site specific theatre piece. I did not know what to expect from the process or how the piece would be created.  It was not until the assigned readings of theory and technique did I understand the methodology for Devised Theatre, which is all about experimentation with ideas, images, and concepts. The process is creatively chaotic but will lead to editing, revision, and re-shaping.

The writings that the group created brought about some unique challenges and insight about The High Line. The writings varied in style. For example, there were several works about children and parents interacting in the space, there was a young woman stalking a past lover, and a daughter relaying her dissatisfaction of traveling with her mother by the use of hash tags. Because of the different tones and subjects within the group writings, the question of cohesiveness came into play within the process. What would our work be about? Should we incorporate some fictional historical narratives or should we remain in the present day experiences of The High Line? Should we fuse the two and meld the past and the present to create one cohesive unit?

Another challenge in the process creating the piece was The High Line itself. We needed to effectively perform on a 1.45 mile elevated railway park that is surrounded by construction noise fitting our written pieces and new historical narratives fit into the space. We asked: What do we want our audience to gain from the work we created? How would we perform around so many patrons to The High Line – a multitude of tourists, business people and casual onlookers?

The role of director became important to the eventual flow of the piece. Dr. Smithner created a proposed outline of the pieces and suggested rewrites that created a more cohesive project. The inclusion of a few members of the group to brainstorm and edit the structure continued, but the only way to really understand where the different scenes and monologues would work was to physically return to The High Line. Returning to The High Line allowed the group to make adjustments and trouble shoot instances when certain locations would not be available due to noise or patrons lounging within the performance space.

The day of performance was an exciting time because we had no real concrete idea about how the performance would be received. The actual performance on The High Line was subject to several challenges — construction noise, unexpected patrons being in performances spaces, and an interruption by the park police all created sense of adventure among the group.  I think that the use of music, movement, and text gave our audience members a varied and playful experience. We came together as an ensemble and worked together to problem solve and create a piece of devised theatre that was unique to that day and the collaborative. What I learned most through the group collaboration was that you must expect the unexpected and move forward. There will be times where the work will not make much sense, but if you stay true to your purpose and goal it will end in an adventure that you did not expect.

NYU Forum on Site-Specific Performance: April 23-26

For our 2015 annual forum, the Program in Educational Theatre is highlighting site-specific performance. Through interdisciplinary panels, performances, and workshops, the forum invites established art makers, emerging artists, and university students to critically engage with spaces on the NYU campus and the greater Washington Square area.

Site-specific explorations have long been embraced by applied theatre practitioners as they collaborate with participants to link performance and community literally on common ground; through participation in such multi-disciplinary encounters, students, community members, and artists may unlock new understanding of the stories imprinted in their surroundings. Moreover, through such collective re-imagining of space, site-specific work moves beyond traditional notions of art and audience, developing nuanced relationships between spectators and space, blurring lines between performers and patrons.

As site-specific performances continue to gain popularity in broader circles and across disciplines, how might we as artists and educators further utilize, build upon, and innovate form while re-examining space as opportunity? What are the implications for artists in community-engaged, educational, and non-traditional performative settings?

Forum Fees

  • NYU Student Registration: $20
  • Other Students Registration: $40
  • General Admission: $75
  • Daily Registration: $30
  • Note: Sunday’s events are free for all STUDENTS

REGISTER HERE

Guiding Questions:

How does space inform, change, and/or dictate conventions of a given performance?

To what extent does space determine audience?

How do we determine which spaces merit performative inquiry?

To what extent does technology inform site-specific performance work?

What can we offer the space as artists, and what can the space offer in return?

What are the educative implications of engaging in and/or developing site-specific artistic encounters?

How are these techniques already present and/or available in classrooms, theatres, and individual practices?

What opportunities exist for audience generation/development?

What connections can be made between artistic skills in traditional performance settings?

THEATRIX: Short Play Festival – THIS WEEKEND

“Theatrix…IN SPACE!”
An Exploration – How Space Affects Performance

A Festival of Original Short Plays
Featuring
A Nice Guy Doing Good Things by Jason Boxer
Back by Megan Ibarra
To the Seance by Katelyn Miller
The Sorry Play by Chelsea Hackett

Pless Blackbox Theater
82 Washington Square East
This event is open to the public. Tickets are FREE!

Tickets can be reserved in advance by clicking on the following links:
Tickets must be picked up 10 minutes prior to start time. Any tickets not retrieved 10 minutes prior to curtain will be distributed to walk up patrons, no exceptions. Tickets will be available for pick up one hour prior to each performance and can be obtained from the house management staff in the lobby of the Blackbox Theatre. The doors to the theatre will open at 15 minutes to curtain.
In the case of a full house, a waiting list will be developed at each performance. Incomplete ticket requests will not be honored.

All pieces are being presented this weekend in the Pless Blackbox Theater and AGAIN the following weekend as site-specific works in the NYU Forum on Site-Specific Performance.
For more information on the Forum, and to register for that event, please go to http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/music/edtheatre/forum
(NOTE: performances presented during the Forum (Saturday, April 25) are not free, but are part of a larger full-day event)

Summer 2015 on the Square

Summer is just around the corner and now is the time to register for our exciting summer courses here at the Washington Square campus.

Acting: Character Study (MPAET-UE 1052/GE 2252)

An advanced exploration into the tools & techniques of creating character within the context of the world of the play. Through script analysis & attention to style, students will learn how to create the imaginary world in which the character lives. Scenes will be selected from both contemporary & classical genres.

Dramatic Activities in the Secondary Classroom (MPAET-UE 1068/GE 2031)

Theories & practices of educational drama & theatre as applied to the secondary classroom in such areas as learning processes, motivation, communication & classroom management. Attention given to the relationship of drama & theatre to speaking, thinking, writing, reading, history & other curricular subjects. An examination of improvisational techniques as well as play production. Student will use drama & theatre to address the human developmental processes that impact on the 7-12 student’s readiness to learn, such as culture, nutrition, personal safety & community. Laboratory experience required: 15 hours.

Physical Theatre Improvisation (MPAET-UE 1113/GE 2113)

Physical Theatre is the study of physical, vocal & improvisational exercises designed to free the creative imagination & develop performance skills. Through the layering of words, sound & movement, students will hone the essential ingredients & tools of the performer’s craft. Focus will be on vocal & movement techniques exploring atmosphere, imagery, gesture, isolation, abstraction, timing, rhythm, spatial awareness, character development, mime, body graphics, viewpoints, & the theories of Yakim, Delsarte & Laban. The creation of original material will also be studied.

Storytelling in the Classroom (MPAET-GE 2042)

This course will examine the ancient art of storytelling as a performance form (developing expressive tools, creativity, physical & vocal skills); as it has appeared throughout history (in mythology, folk tales, legends, fairy tales, fables); & as it can enhance curricular subject areas (math, science, social studies, literature, & history), relate to the New York State Learning Standards for Arts Education & the Standards for English & Language Arts. Oral history projects will also be explored through the telling of personal stories.

Theatre Practices: Problems in Play Production (MPAET-GE 2152)

Participate in the New Plays Series; attend rehearsals, meetings with the playwrights, directors and dramaturges and experience the procedures of bringing new scripts to life. Theories and methods of play development including script analysis, rehearsals and presentation of works-in-progress. Students in MPAET-GE 2152 work with visiting playwrights, directors, and dramaturgs, attend rehearsals, and participate in the step-by-step procedures of bringing new scripts to life. This practical course, designed for teachers, directors, playwrights and producers, gives particular attention to script selection, play analysis and rehearsal techniques.

Drama in Education I (MPAET-GE 2193)

Relationships of theories of dramatic art to general educational principles; present practices & potential of education drama at all levels of instruction. Uses of theatre & drama in education from the Greeks to present day. The history & philosophy of drama in education as they relate to a variety of classroom strategies, including the use of new technologies. The impact of human developmental processes, such as culture, personal safety, & nutrition on learning through theatre & drama. Individualizing instruction to prepare students with special needs for their highest levels of achievement.

Seminar in Applied Theatre Research (MPAET-GE 2400)

An advanced seminar which examines the key considerations which drive research activity in applied theatre. Students canvas the territory of applied theatre, the purposes of an applied theatre, & the challenges researchers face when designing, implementing & presenting their applied theatre studies. Students create their own applied theatre research project which can include a creative component.

Role Play 1: The Teacher in Role (MPAET-GE 2950)

The technique of stepping into the shoes of someone else is at the heart of educational drama. This course focuses on the use of role play as a strategy in the classroom & similar settings, & it explores how teachers may employ this complex convention. It will define those characteristics that are specific to educational role-play & will provide participants with opportunities to practice the techniques & skills required or its successful implementation. The course will focus primarily on the strategy of teach-in-role.

Creating Theatre with Young People (MPAET-GE 2980)

This course is designed for students who would like to develop knowledge & skills in planning & leading theatre workshops with young people. The course explores the theory & practice of creating theatre with young people from a youth-centered perspective, offers practice in designing workshops, & culminates with an in-course opportunity to initiate practical work with young people.

Directing Youth Theatre: Looking for Shakespeare (MPAET-GE 2982)

This four-week graduate course is an invaluable experience working with a youth acting ensemble, providing the chance to delve into Shakespeare’s language and hone coaching/directing skills. Students will also work with an assistant director, stage manager, designers, and youth ensemble on a production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

 

Alumni Updates

Alum Christina Kosyla (MA ’11) has been hard at work assisting her second grade drama classes with their audio recording debuts! Her 28 second graders at Stuart Country Day School in Princeton, NJ, have been working on crafting clear enunciation, appropriate projection, and unique character voices. In October, her students produced two Halloween Radio Shows, capturing sound effects and working on creating a spooky environment. In late fall, Audible recording talent Virginia Bosch spoke with the girls about professional recording. As their culminating project, each class worked with a partner to record books by Eric Carle and Dr. Seuss, constructing unique voices to distinguish between characters. These fourteen titles were given to the kindergarten class to serve as a part of the media library for years to come. Christina is proud of her students and thrilled to share with them all she gained while at NYU!