Thursday, April 17, 2014

Career Panel Reflection from Usher Gabriel Fortuna

Note from the editor: Each season the New Victory Usher Corps participates in several career panels. Based on suggestions from the ushers, a panel of professionals are gathered by staff and the New Vic Council in order to answer questions and network with the students in our Usher Corps program. 

By Gabriel Fortuna, New Vic Usher

I have attended three Career Panels, but this most recent one opened up my eyes a bit more than the others. The panel included Police Officer Supervisor in Child Homicide/Assault Prosecution at Queen's County District Attorney's Office and Chief of the DNA Prosecution Unit/Mayor Crimes Division at the Queens County District Attorney's Office. I've never felt interested in being a police officer or working in the Criminal Justice field before, but listening to these three successful people was incredible in so many ways. All three spoke professionally and intelligently. They inspired me to look more into those careers because of the way they shared details about their daily duties and information about their careers.

Gabriel, working on this blog post!
First on the panel was Jeffrey Zambrano. Office Zambrano is the Police Officer in the 43 precinct. He works for New York City’s Police Department in the school unit, in the 43rd precinct located in the Bronx. I pulled him aside after the panel to talk to him more since the precinct where he works is near the neighborhood where I live. It was interesting to get to know a bit more about how things go for him as a cop and to learn more about his personal life and journey. It was awesome to learn more about this person who serves my community every day.

When I asked him about the best part of his job, he answered by saying that it's important to him to get all of the guns out of the streets. He sees how dangerous they are to citizens. That stuck in my mind because I couldn't agree more. Guns bring a lot of destruction to our city and the world. Others might disagree, but people that have lost family due to gun violence would agree with me. It is important to take guns out of the streets now so that people could live their life peacefully and I admire the work that Officer Zambrano is doing to change people's lives in this way.

Next, there was Leigh Bishop. Ms. Bishop is the Supervisor in Child Homicide/Assault Prosecution at Queen's County District Attorney's Office and a mother of two. Hearing her speak about her career was wonderful. It was clear that she is hard worker and my main takeaway was her discussion of how people perceive her in the workplace. She said that others sometimes think of her as a mean person at work, but she said that if she didn’t act that way, people might not understand how seriously she takes her job. That idea stuck with me because it showed Ms. Bishop's passion and fearlessness.

Last was Eric Rosenbaum, Chief of the DNA Prosecution Unit/Mayor Crimes Division at the Queens County District Attorney's Office. Eric and Leigh work together and it was particularly interesting to hear them speak about their relationship as colleagues. They helped me to realize the value of having a good team and working together because they both talked about the skills that that helped the another. They both work in the same place but in different roles and it is wonderful because they seem to have a good friendship and love their careers.

There was a lot of things that stuck with me that Eric spoke about. One very interesting story was when he described working on files that were never solved. The files has been left alone for a long time because there wasn't any way to get DNA, but in the years since 2000, a DNA database has been created that investigators can use to find anyone's DNA. He has already solved six cases that had previously been left unsolved, giving victims from years ago reassurance, and allowing them to live their lives knowing that criminals had been caught. I can tell he has a good heart, because of how passionately he spoke about solving crimes and helping crime victims.

Any time there's a Career Panel, I will attend it because I get so much information about wonderful people in our community. In the future, I want to become a Civil Engineer. While we didn't speak with a Civil Engineer, attending these panels helps me to see how my career might tie into other industries or organizations. I took all the positive feedback and advice that all three gave me and I will take it with me wherever I go. The main thing I learned from these three professionals that affected my thinking is that I should never give up on anything that I want to do and I should take advantage of every opportunity that heads my way.

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Baby's First Time at the Theater

Are children ever too young for the theater? While certain museums and theaters put age minimums on their exhibits and shows, there is scientific evidence that confirms the benefits of arts education for children, even before they can walk and talk. So, over time it became increasingly important to us that we look at programming for very young audiences.

Luckily, here at the New Vic we have a focus group practically built-in! In the past year alone, multiple staffers have welcomed new bundles of joy into their families. And with This [Baby] Life happening at our New 42nd Street Studios, we wanted to take advantage of our panel of experts to make sure we had some feedback and helpful thoughts to share for parents who still feel unsure about venturing out to a show for the first time. We enlisted the help of New Victory Digital Services Director Lilaia Kairis and her 14-month-old daughter Siena, who shared some thoughts about their experience. This was Siena's first theater outing!

"I was very excited to bring Siena to see her first New Victory Show," said Lilaia. "About a month ago she started dancing or rocking side to side when listening to music. About a week ago she started singing little songs to herself while she plays. I thought I would have to wait longer for the right opportunity, but luckily, this year, we have two shows that are appropriate for very little ones."

The show, This [Baby] Life by Sally Chance Dance out of Adelaide, Australia, was designed specifically for children, aged 4 to 18 months...and their parents. The company promised an experience that was welcoming and cozy for new parents, but also invited babies to explore the performance space.

"Honestly, I wasn't sure what to expect," continued Lilaia, "as I've never been to a show that was created with such a very young audience in mind. I thought the performance would end up being more for me than for her, but after the initial settling down period, you could see the babies getting caught up in watching the performers. A few little ones even became part of the action, which was not at all discouraged! The performers adapted to and were influenced by the sounds and movements of their audience. It was kind of mesmerizing to watch it unfold."

"My favorite moment was when one of the performers played a rainbow-colored xylophone (like I had when I was a kid) and then made it dance in the air like a kite. It was a simple movement, but the babies were absolutely transfixed. I think all of the parents would agree that it was very special."

Aside from the performance, we know there are a lot of additional factors for parents to consider with this sort of outing -- from snack time to bathroom breaks (or changing tables). Our team not only tried to put together an accommodating space for parents and babies' needs, but also built additional activities to get families comfortable venturing out and engaging with the space.

When we asked Lilaia what she thought of the experience beyond the show, she said, "the whole environment was very welcoming, but the staff was particularly helpful in encouraging us to get comfortable on the floor right away and engage with the pre-show activities."

This [Baby] Life completed its run on February 23, but if this sounds like the right fit for you and your family, check out our next show recommended for kids of this age. Baby Rave will play at The Duke on 42nd Street from May 7-18 and is recommended for kids, ages 4 months to 4 years.

Will Lilaia and Siena be back?

"We're coming back for Baby Rave... I'm hoping in a few months she'll be dancing even more!"

Monday, April 7, 2014

What a Line Can Do: Reflection on a workshop with Paris-based Arts Education Non-profit Peekaboo!

By Billy Schultz, New Victory Teaching Artist

Blue prints, bench marks, Common Core, budget cuts, polished performances, oh my! These are the parameters within which I, as a teaching artist, often work. Here at The New Victory Theater, one of my primary goals is to enhance students' theater-going experience in their classrooms -- and this is a joy. Partner schools and teachers are already participating in our programs, so there is less pressure to prove the value of arts education.

But even though every Teaching Artist has a story of a child that they connected with, a child who came out of their shell and thrived in the wake of an arts workshop, arts budgets continue to get cut. So, I always find myself wondering, “What do we have to do to make legislators believe?” Moments of discovery, growth, expression, trust, and changing kids’ lives are tough to quantify.

Even as an adult, I continue to experience the magic creative collaboration among a group of people. I experienced it recently, and profoundly, on a winding Parisian backstreet this past October. While on vacation visiting some friends from school, I was exploring the city and came upon a diverse group of wide-eyed adults holding dangling pieces of tape. The groups were intermittently skipping, pointing, staring, holding hands and doing some seriously detailed architectural and stuff-in-the-street-based investigating. A woman with a sparkle in her eye whispered to me, “We’re looking for lines.” I surveyed the area and indeed began to notice lines of neon tape in unusual places.

I soon learned that the group called themselves Peekaboo!, an arts-education organization, created in 2011 by ex-pats Selena McMahan and Coline Irwin. Together, they host workshops to “create, invent, and play.”

They’ve teamed up with Les Trois Ourses (The 3 Bears), a non-profit organization that focuses on the artistic education of children by putting the “book at the center.” Combine Peekaboo's approach with source material from Les Trois Ourses -- in this case, a book featuring a symphonic exploration of a line entitled “D’une Rive A L’Autre” (“From One Bank to the Other”) by Milos Cvach -- and you have a one-of-a-kind experience like mine on that winding backstreet.

I was given a piece of tape. “That fire hydrant,” I noticed, “has a line on it!” I ran over and stuck my tape to it. Nothing within reach was spared: cars, construction barricades, street signs, and last by not least, lest no line go unnoticed, a port-o-potty. Neon tape highlighting lines all around me brought my surroundings to life in a new way.

Then, in groups of three we travelled along this winding street, connecting the lines. These lines had become a new map. We had redefined the street and now became line-hungry Lewis and Clarks making our way along this new cityscape. We were instructed to find different ways to travel from one line segment to the other. Some groups skipped. Some hopped. Some flew. Some carried a member of their group.

We’d changed the street. And during this 15 minutes we’d gone from being total strangers to trusty co-conspirators.

Ten minutes later, we were inside a classroom gathered around a table. Our source material, the book “D’une Rive a L’Autre” was laid out on the table. It’s about a line. And there are no words, so we “read” the book with movement in our fingers and hands. Sound effects began to accompany the movement. We all took turns in front of the book, then we laid the book out and walked past the page with the quality of the image on the page. There was no clear narrative to the story of the line. However, when you have a line and then turn a page and don’t have a line, you wonder where it went. The book is a beautiful manipulation of expectation and form.

We finished the book and were then given an 11”x17” piece of paper. “Begin your line at the left side of the page...”

The thought that I’m not a graphic artist, and have never, not once, drawn a straight line without a ruler never crossed my mind. With colored pencils scattered around the table we took our lines on a journey. Some of them were direct and geometric, others twirling and whirling into flowers and faces. Some exploded into fireworks. I felt the urge to fill up every square inch on my page and thought about how I do the same thing to my calendar. I resisted and left some blank space. We sat down in a circle and laid our drawings out in front of us. Selena, looking down at the drawings asked, “Would anyone like to elaborate-- to say anything about their line?”

We went around the circle and in the same manner we had “read” the book, we read our lines to the group. Sound effects, hand dances, a few brave souls got up and arm danced, and then a performance artist blew the whole thing open by dumping water all over the floor. We laughed and cleaned up the mess and then it turned more verbal. We began talking about our lines and the qualities of our lines and eventually, as we neared the end of the time in the workshop, we began hinting at even more personal things in our lives. The simple instruction and manageable form had given us the platform to do so. It had expanded the personal into a public sphere and in the course of 2 hours there was a tangible intimacy in the room. We were connected and invested in the activity, and the activity had become about each of us.

Dialogue sets the stage for transformation, and whether it's a child speaking up for the first time or a group of adults sharing their personal lives, that’s an incredibly authentic assessment of learning. As a teaching artist for the New Victory Theater, I’m part of a team that introduces students to an art form. We want to share as much as we can in those short forty-five minutes. After taking this workshop with Peekaboo, I’m challenged to find the simple things I can do to open up this territory where the aesthetic experience becomes one that can’t help but inspire personal investigation and rich social interaction. Investigating beauty with personal investment in the context of others never gets old.


Billy Schultz is a New York City-based visual theater artist. He has trained at the International School of the Comic Actor in Reggio Emilia, Italy, Dell Arte International School of Physical Theater (Blue Lake, CA), Michael Howard Studios, Movement Theater Studios and with many masters of the Physical Theater art form, Norman Taylor, Richard Crawford, Jango Edwards, Nikolai Terentiev, Gregg Goldston (mime), Virginia Scott and Orlando Pabotoy (Chris Bayes Clown Technique) and John Towsen (physical comedy) to name a few. He has performed at theater festivals in and around Italy, France, Spain and Germany. Here in NYC he has performed at the Triskelion Arts, Dixon Place, Galapagos Art Space, The Kraine Theater, The Guggenheim Museum, Webster Hall, and various other dance and variety theater venues. He is currently directing a 13 person ensemble in a live performance and dance film entitled “The Red Gloves.” He teaches for The New Victory Theater, Brooklyn Arts Council, and Metropolitan Opera Guild.