Swortzell Innovator Awards Presented at 50th Anniversary Alumni Celebration

L to R: John Patrick Shanley, Jay DiPrima, Trent Norman, Rebecca Brown Adelman, and Lynda Zimmerman

The planning committee for the 2016 Forum on Educational Theatre accepted nominations to honor emerging and seasoned theatre arts practitioners, educators, and thought-leaders changing and impacting our field with their work, reflecting the qualities and values modeled by Nancy and Lowell Swortzell, founders of The Program in Educational Theatre at New York University 50 years ago.

Nominees represented excellence in at least one of the following areas:

  • Drama in Education, Applied Theatre, or Theatre for Young Audiences

At the 50th Anniversary Alumni celebration, the Program acknowledged the recipients of the 2016 Swortzell Innovator Awards:

In recognition of excellence in Drama in Education, the Program honored Lynda Zimmerman, co-founder of the Creative Arts Team, the oldest and largest Educational Theatre Non-profit in the United States.

In recognition of excellence in Applied Theatre, the Program honored Rebecca Brown Adelman and Trent Norman, co-founders of Affinity Arts, an applied theatre company dedicated to positive social change in Colorado and neighboring states.

In recognition of excellence in Theatre for Young Audiences, the Program honored Jay DiPrima who has successfully nurtured the Aurand Harris Memorial Playwriting Award for the New England Theatre Conference for two decades.

NYU’s Program in Educational Theatre thanks the awardees for their service to their communities and to our field.

 

One of our awardees, Jay DiPrima, shared these words with us:

It is an honor to be recognized as a Swortzell Innovator in the Theatre for Young Audiences and Play Production.

Nancy & Lowell’s passion for plays for TYA go back more than the 50 years of this program’s founding – the work of Theatre in Education in England, the founding of The Creative Arts Team that has served youth throughout NY, their avid interest in International Youth Theatre (ASSITEJ), Lowell’s multiple publications of plays for young audiences and published collections of plays for young audiences from around the world and now their enduring legacy of New Plays and the nurturing of playwrights for young audiences hosted here at the Provincetown Playhouse.

This is the stream I go afishin’ in.

I believe the particular reason that I received this award (in addition to the fact that I have been engaged in work as writer, director, producer, and actor for young audiences for too many years), is because of my association with Lowell Swortzell and Aurand Harris.

Back in the day, I studied beginning and advanced playwriting with Aurand Harris and Lowell Swortzell. When Aurand died back in 1996, I was in a position as Chair of the Children’s Division of the New England Theatre Conference to help establish a memorial playwriting award in his honor. Another member of the division, Nina Schuessler (another NYU alumni) who worked with Aurand for many years at the Harwich Theatre on Cape Cod while he tested out his new works in production, affirmed this proposal.  When I called Nancy and Lowell to seek their advice, (as they were now executors of his estate), they were thrilled. So NETC voted to initiate the Award in November of 1997 with Lowell and Nancy as honored guests and speakers at the event in Worcester, MA. Thus The Aurand Harris Memorial Playwriting Award was created to honor the late Aurand Harris (1915-1996) for his lifetime dedication to all aspects of professional theatre for young audiences. I’ve had the honor to serve as the Chair of this Award for seventeen years.

Since its establishment, 25 new plays for young audiences have received either a $1,000 first place or $500 second place award. Every playwright has been honored at the annual conference and many works have received staged readings. I am proud to report that 16 of these plays have received publication either in the Dramatic Publishing Company, Pioneer Press, New Plays, Inc. Anchorage Press, Dramatists, Baker’s Plays or Jacpublishing. So, the work of playwrights for young audiences is alive and well. The goal is similar to the vision of Lowell and Nancy in establishing the New Plays for Young audiences reading series here at the Provincetown Playhouse – a place where new works are realized and playwrights are recognized.

I will recount two quick stories about Nancy & Lowell at the 1997 NETC Convention.

As Guest speakers at the New England Theatre Conference 1997, Nancy recounted a story about their role as executors of Aurand’s estate. When Aurand passed away in 1996, he had named Lowell and Nancy executors of his estate. While they were busy taking inventory of all of his material in his apartment, Nancy noticed a duffle bag at the bottom of his closet. Assuming it to be dirty laundry, she suggested to Lowell that they simply throw it into the incinerator and be done with it. Lowell, being the meticulous and diligent executor, said they had to pull it out and account for every detail. When they opened the bag, lo and behold, they found stashes of money – going back to post depression treasury bonds, cash and stock. When it was all accounted, it was worth nearly a quarter million dollars in value! The irony that Nancy highlighted was the manner in which Aurand lived – as if he was a poor teacher! He would often have to borrow an overcoat to go to the theatre with them! And here sat $250,000 in his closet! The funds were bequeathed to the Children’s Theatre Foundation and serve to this day as a source of Aurand Harris Fellowships for artists serving young people and grants for small and mid-sized theatres throughout America. It is a gift that keeps giving. For more information about their mission, grants and record of giving, see http://www.childrenstheatrefoundation.org/

Lowell highlighted some key points in Aurand’s life … quoting from the recent book he wrote on Aurand (as the authorized biographer) – The Theatre of Aurand Harris: His Career, His Theories and His Plays, c. 1996

In the Preface he writes: “When invited to undertake the writing and editing of this volume I first felt honored, then horrified – honored to be entrusted to document the career of the preeminent American dramatist for young audiences and horrified that he had written so damn many plays! That “damn” by no means modifies the plays, only their number, for, as I now know, most of Aurand Harris’ fifty published works remain refreshingly live. “

In writing about the evolving playwriting craft of Aurand, Lowell says:

“In the works of Harris, we are dealing with a repertory drawn from diverse cultures and from every type of literature for young audiences, including fairy and folk tales, short stories, novels, biography, history, drama, and poetry.

His works also utilize such diverse performance styles as commedia dell’arte, farce, melodrama, realism, comedy, musical plays and revues.”

So … when a playwright holds bountiful dramatic ideas in one hand and an array of theatrical forms in the other, he or she has every chance for a career as long and rewarding as the one chronicled here.”

Lowell ended with a favorite story of Aurand shared at the NETC Conference in Worcester 1997.

Aurand was fond of a question reporters inevitably asked when interviewing him –

“Do you have any children?”  Remembering Johnny Appleseed’s answer to the same inquiry he responds:  “Why, of course, a thousand and they bloom every spring.” But plays are even better than trees for they bloom and bear fruit all year round, and beyond.”

This is the legacy that Nancy and Lowell have left to us – the plays and the makers of plays for young audiences that bear fruit all year round, and beyond.”

Thank-you!

Life After NYU: Lucky Disaster

Last year, the blog featured a number of posts from alumni writing about their experiences after graduating from the Program in Educational Theatre. The series continues this year with a post from Megan Minutillo:

Megan Minutillo is an alumni of the Educational Theater program – (ETED M.A. 2009). In October, she will be producing and directing the fourth volume of Lucky Disaster, a concert series that she created.

Lucky Disaster Volume 4 features the music and lyrics of Ryan Scott Oliver, with original monologues inspired by the selected songs written by Anna Ty Bergman, Megan Minutillo, and The Write Teacher(s).

The concert features a cast of recent graduates and current musical theater/acting students – Kerri George, Kasie Gasparini, Melissa Rose Hirsch, Blake Joseph, Angelo McDonough, T.J. Newton, Olivia Polci, Taylor Sorice, and Stephanie Turci, with special guests Gabe Violett and Jessica Vosk!

The Lucky Disaster Concert Series is conceived, produced, and directed by Megan Minutillo, and Lucky Disaster Volume 4 will feature musical direction by Nat Zegree.

Stephanie Turci and Jacob Samuels singing \”Collide\” by Drew Overcash

Additional information about the concert can be obtained by visiting: http://tickets.thecuttingroomnyc.com/event/675061-lucky-disaster-volume-4-new-york/.

Keys to Post-graduation Success

By Jennifer Socas, PhD

I was apprehensive when I was first asked to write about how I was able to obtain my current job, however Dr. Taylor felt this would be helpful to students and give them hope in this grueling job market. If my story is helpful and gives people hope, I am overjoyed.  I feel truly fortunate to have recently secured a full-time position in the Theatre and Speech Department at City College (CUNY) and realize I am one of the lucky ones. Each year, doctoral graduates across the nation embark on their journey to find a job within academia. Many of my talented colleagues are still searching, a few have chosen non-academic jobs, and some have also been very lucky to receive fantastic full-time positions within the academy.

Over the years, I have always focused on cultivating the skills and knowledge I needed to create my own niche. During my job search, I thought about what made me unique and valuable and how my particular expertise would fit into a department. I already knew I wanted to focus on international applied theatre work, and I concentrated my practical work and research on that area. I published on applied theatre work, presented at conferences, and built an international applied theatre organization from the ground up, securing an impressive core team and working with them to expand our programming to East Africa and India. I also knew I wanted to be in a theatre department at a university, so I sought out opportunities to teach theatre, teaching theatre history and acting courses, as well as directing for Pace University. While honing my curriculum vitae and interviewing for positions, I highlighted the depth and breadth of my teaching experience with students from a variety of backgrounds, both nationally and internationally.

Another key to my success was taking advantage of all of the opportunities offered at NYU and using them to enhance my skills in theatre, advising, and administrative work. While at NYU, I took advantage of many of the study abroad options, including studying with legendary theatre practitioner, Augusto Boal in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. I also studied mask and physical theatre in Puerto Rico and Applied Theatre in Dublin, Ireland. I assistant taught numerous courses with our distinguished faculty – Advanced Directing and New Student Seminar with Dr. Nan Smithner, and Dissertation Proposal Seminar with Dr. Philip Taylor. When Dr. Pedro Noguera in Teaching and Learning asked if I would be willing to teach Inquiries III with him, I eagerly agreed.  I made sure that I took copious notes and reflected on each experience so it would enhance my practice and inform my work as an educator and theatre artist. When writing from my classes seemed like it could be published, I sought opportunities to have that work published. Finally, I volunteered for as much administrative work as I could make time for – assisting on programs and prospective student advisement as a Graduate Assistant in the Program in Educational Theatre, mentoring and observing students in Theatre Education at Manhattanville College, and working as the Coordinator for Doctoral Studies in Music and Performing Arts.

Mentorship is an extremely important part of the doctoral process. I feel very lucky to have had great mentors during my time at NYU. As my mentor and Chair of my dissertation, Dr. Philip Taylor was a constant source of support and encouragement. He often found opportunities for me to enhance my understanding of applied theatre, such as suggesting I join the program in Brazil with Augusto Boal. He always gave meticulous feedback on my work and research as a scholar in applied theatre, and even serves on the board of my organization, Global Empowerment Theatre. He encouraged my publication efforts, and he is including a chapter from my dissertation in his upcoming book. Dr. Taylor always believed in my success and that I would find the perfect job for my skills and passions. His unwavering belief in me made the process less daunting and gave me the confidence I needed when I went in for my interviews. I was lucky to have wonderful faculty members supporting my work throughout NYU. Dr. Nan Smithner’s expertise in physical theatre and directing, her deep knowledge of feminist theory, and her detailed feedback on my work helped shape my teaching practice and my dissertation. Dr. Pedro Noguera’s insights into public education and education in East Africa were invaluable, as were his recommendations for next steps in publishing and support of my teaching practice both at NYU and elsewhere.

I know I have been very lucky to receive so many wonderful opportunities, but I also was persistent in seeking out those people and experiences that would enrich my practice and studies. Once again, I hope in some small way this may help one of you to better navigate your way through this fantastic, challenging, and exciting journey to a career you love!