Friday, January 30, 2015

The Art That Inspires Our Try This Activities

By Ben Weber, Education Programs Associate

Part of the fun of working in the New Victory Theater Education Department is wearing many different hats daily. One of my favorite hats is collaborating with designer Katie Diamond to create the Try This, a self-guided lobby installation that invites audiences to play with the skills, art forms and ideas from the shows on the New Victory stage. You might have tried out our Cirque Ziva tintamarresque (painted plywood scenes where you can pose as characters whose faces have been cut out) station in December, or you might remember playing with shadows when The Old Man and the Old Moon was here earlier in the season.

When brainstorming ideas for the Lionboy Try This, we got very interested in the idea of propaganda. In the show (and the book!), the Corporacy is a large, mysterious entity that controls many aspects of everyday life. While they claim to be simply a pharmaceutical company, when Charlie Ashanti's parents are kidnapped because of the threat of their scientific discoveries, it becomes clear that there's a lot more going on behind the Corporacy's tidy fa├žade.

From my perspective, a company whose business model is totalitarian rule sounds pretty awful! But the utility of art is opening up the question "what if?" Like, "what if the Corporacy can efficiently and effectively meet the basic human needs of everyone on the planet?" So, while Lionboy is here at the New Vic, our Try This activity will ask theater-goers to explore these more-than-meets-the-eye ideas. Everyone will be invited to share their ideas and build an argument for or against a society run by a single, all-powerful pharmaceutical corporation. We'll also have some propaganda imagery that might feel more familiar. For example, how does a poster encouraging Americans to buy war bonds during WWII depict the brave soldiers fighting overseas--and why are those images chosen by the designers of the poster? The prompts are meant to provoke conversation among our families. But, with these activities, I'm also trying to show that it's important​​ for every person to be able to participate and have a voice.​

I’m a big fan of Joseph Beuys, a German artist who created the concept of social sculpture. Beuys poetically explains that "the concept of sculpting can be extended to the invisible material used by everyone," things like thoughts, words, and social structures. Beuys views “sculpture as an evolutionary process; everyone an artist.” We create Try This with this in mind.

At Try This, everyone is creative and invited to try their hand at art-making. I aim to celebrate the artists on our stages by inviting the audiences to be artistic in their own right. And tapping into every person's self-expression is especially important when we're thinking about oppressive environments, like the world in Lionboy. If the dystopian future depicted in Lionboy were a reality, we might not all be blessed with the power to talk to cats like Charlie Ashanti, but we might find our voice in a different way. Look at any environment where conditions are harsh and unfair--art incites change, whether a person contributes to that change by writing a diary, singing a song, joining a circus, or drawing a cartoon.

Like Mr. Beuys, the following artists consistently harness their creative process to tackle urgent issues and hidden injustice both locally and globally. Take a look at their work and get inspired to create some of your own. Remember, you can always start with us at the New Victory's Try This!

CAT Youth Theatre
A free, award-winning after school program for NYC middle and high school students to create original theater. [Source]

Children’s Museum of the Arts
CMA offers hands-on artmaking programs for children and their caregivers as well as thoughtfully curated exhibitions often featuring work by child artists from the museum’s permanent collection. [Source]

Theaster Gates
Gates' work has been shown at major museums and galleries internationally and deals with issues of urban planning, religious space, and craft. He is committed to the revitalization of poor neighborhoods through combining urban planning and art practices. [Source]

Barbara Kruger
An American conceptual artist. Much of her work consists of black-and-white photographs overlaid with declarative captions which address cultural constructions of power, identity, and sexuality. [Source]

The Yes Men
The Yes Men are an activist duo and network of supporters created by Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos. Through actions of tactical media, the Yes Men primarily aim to raise awareness about what they consider problematic social issues. [Source]

Suzanne Lacy
An American artist, educator, and writer. She has worked in a variety of media, and describes her work as focusing on "social themes and urban issues." [Source]

Bread and Puppet Theater
A puppet theater group, active since the 1960s, whose radical work has addressed social issues from rats and high rent in their NYC neighborhood, to national and global issues like anti Vietnam War protests. [Source]

Circus Amok

A New York City-based circus and theater troupe that produces free outdoor performances every year in the NYC parks. [Source]

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Interview with Marcelo Dos Santos

Last year Marcelo Dos Santos adapted the Lionboy trilogy for the stage. This winter, the production was revived at the Tricycle Theatre in London and next makes its way to the New Vic! Marcelo is here to tell us about what first attracted him to the books and how he brought them to life.

Tell us what Lionboy is about – in two sentences!

Lionboy is the story of Charlie Ashanti, a boy who can talk to cats (and lions) and whose parents are kidnapped by sinister forces. With the help of his cat friends, Charlie sets about rescuing them, facing all manner of danger and excitement along the way.

What made you want to adapt the books for the stage? Were there any challenges involved?

Zizou Corder’s Lionboy books are part adventure yarn, part political fable. They span continents, and are populated by a huge cast of characters both human and animal. The stories are almost boundless in their ambition. All of which makes them fantastic reads but present challenges in terms of adaptation. Which episodes do you follow? How do you structure it? Where do we finish the story? Oh and what does ‘cat’ sound like?!

How did you solve these challenges?

Rather than showing every moment of Zizou Corder’s novels acted out, I worked with the company to develop a language of storytelling that relies on our audience’s imaginations. When you watch Lionboy, you are being told a story. Using just a few props and some circus skills, our ensemble of actors asks you to imagine a circus ship, a futuristic London, a Moroccan forest and more. Having the audience engaged in this way makes the show a truly theatrical experience, like Complicite’s previous award-winning work.

What most attracted you to adapting the books?

Although Lionboy is definitely an adventure story, the issues and themes are very resonant to what is happening in the world now. The books describe the depletion of natural resources and tackle the powerful forces of corporate self-interest. They ask where our responsibilities lie. For me, the real interest and excitement was in Charlie negotiating this dangerous moral labyrinth and learning about the difficulties of the adult world but also realising his own power to effect change.

Complicite has always been about collaboration and the play was partly developed with the company through a combination of improvisation and devising work. So it was also really exciting for me to work with such intelligent and talented actors and directors! It’s been an adventure in itself getting Lionboy here, I hope you enjoy the ride.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Third Year Usher Spotlight: Maritza Ramos

All season long, we’ll be featuring young people from our Usher Corps program in our New Vic Bills and online on the New Victory Blog. Earlier this season, the New Victory Usher Corps program won 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, so we're thrilled to tell you more about this fantastic group of hardworking young people! Read more about the award here, learn more about the New Victory Usher Corps on our website, or find out how the young people in your life can apply to be a part of this award-winning program!

Today we're talking to third-year usher Maritza Ramos, a Bronx native!

Who or what inspires you?
I honestly find my own inspiration through different people I meet and new experiences.

What was your favorite book or movie as a kid?
As a kid, I was addicted to a book series called Junie.B.Jones illustrated by Denise Brunkus. I fell in love with the first book I read and found out there was a series. Every book had a new adventure.

What's your fondest or earliest childhood memory?
My fondest childhood memory, I would have to say, would be all the time I spent with my family--traveling, going places, doing everything as a family. We used to go to a mall out in New Jersey. That was our favorite place to be. It was so much fun.

What is/was your favorite subject in school? Do you have any hidden talents?
My favorite subject in school was Science. Science came easily to me and caught my interest. I was good at it. I shined in that subject. My secret skills are that I sing and I'm a fast learner.

How would you describe your personal style?
With my personal style I mainly dress for comfort. Aside from that, I will wear whatever catches my eye.

What is your favorite thing to do when you're not at work?
When I'm not at work I either like to stay home and relax or just hang out with friends. I don't have a favorite hangout spot. I'm usually open for whatever my friends want to do or where they want to go.

What's the most challenging thing about being an usher?
The most challenging thing about being an usher was just opening up and being comfortable with such a large staff.

What's your dream vacation?
Hawaii is my dream vacation spot. I've heard it's a beautiful place to go on a vacation and I would love to have that experience.

What are you most proud of?
I'm proud of my growth within the last few years. My growth through personal experience. Also The New Vic really taught me about professionalism and being more confident about myself.