Monday, January 24, 2011

Introducing...the New Vic Collaboratory: a TYA Artist Initiative

Before I worked at The New Victory, I wrote and produced two plays for kids. For a few summers my downtown theater cohorts and I had some moderate critical and financial success bringing our productions to various playgrounds around New York City- and we had a great time. But summer ended, and with it the life of my plays. The props and costumes went to storage. The actors went back to their day jobs. However, my passion for family theater was solidified and a few short years later, I was incredibly fortunate to somehow find my dream job: working in the programming department of The New Victory Theater.

Collaboratory event focusing on Shakespeare for TYA
Photo: Alexis Buatti Ramos
In my six years here, I’ve learned a lot: I've seen over 500 different productions - theater, dance, puppetry, circus, music, vaudeville, and then some, from all over the world. I've met amazing artists whose work for young audiences has completely blown my mind with its creativity and innovation. I've learned so much about the international Theater for Young Audiences (or TYA) community and the resources that are available to creative artists and performing arts organizations. The New Vic has taught me a lot and has offered me an ever-widening definition of “childrens' theater.” Experience in tow, I think back and wonder what my plays might have been like had I known then what I know now.

And here is where we arrive at the The New Vic Collaboratory: a TYA Artist Initiative. The New Victory has dramatically broadened my personal understanding of the TYA field; The Collaboratory was created with the idea that the New Vic could offer similar enrichment, guidance, support and resources to NYC performing arts companies who are creating work for kids. This pilot project aims to create a robust network of New York-based theater artists, arts educators, teaching artists, presenters and arts funders who share an interest in expanding the repertory of outstanding, high-quality theater for young audiences. The Collaboratory will explore ways in which the New Victory Theater can support artists and encourage the creation of innovative and artistically-challenging work for young people

Patrick Lynch, center, mid-workshop on theater
for the very young.
Photo: Melinda Berk
The New Victory has jumped into this exciting endeavor with both feet. Since September, we've invited over 150 artists, administrators, educators and other theater professionals to join us at five New Vic Collaboratory events. Participants see performances of the productions presented at The New Victory and then attend facilitated discussions and workshops with some of the artists. In October, a group of Collaboratory members and some of their peers from Philadelphia’s puppet scene met with the puppeteers of Puss in Boots (El Gato con Botas). They had an in-depth conversation not only about the techniques employed to bring Blind Summit’s beautiful creations to life, but also making the puppets sing opera. In November, as part of a workshop lead by Patrick Lynch, creator and performer of Egg and Spoon, Collaboratory members devised short pieces of theater specifically geared towards the very youngest of audiences. Most recently, the group sat down with Susanna Hamnett and Edith Tankus, the masterminds behind Nearly Lear, to talk about re-imagining Shakespeare and literature-based adaptations in the TYA field.

Discussion starts on Post-its
"Universal themes common
 to even the youngest"
Photo: Melinda Berk
This spring and the seasons to come will bring more many more events. The Initiative will continue to lead discussions regarding what constitutes “quality” works for young audiences and why high-quality performing arts for kids of all ages is important. The Collaboratory will continue to coordinate a variety of enriching activities for participants, including master classes conducted by well-regarded professionals in the field, discussions with international theater practitioners, and professional and artistic development workshops. And it will provide New York artists with a chance to see the scope of work that currently exists in the field by offering opportunities to see the wide variety of shows presented at The New Victory as well as encouraging participants to see each others’ work.

In the spirit of a collaborative laboratory, we are excited to see how artists involved in the project will share the results of their artistic experiments and the ideas they mine with each other. And, in the years to come, we hope that this project will grow and expand into a program that enables great work for kids to get up on its feet and start touring the world.

Find the New Vic Collaboratory online! Join the New Vic Collaboratory’s Facebook group and tweet about your New Vic Collaboratory experiences using the hash tag #nvcol.

Carrie DuBois is the Assistant Director of Programming at the New Victory Theater. Since 2004, Carrie has helped evaluate and select the diverse international productions that make up The New Victory's seasons. She also curates the FYI Lobby Exhibits and makes costumes for Victor Bee. In the past, she has written two plays for kids and collaborated on unusual, environmentally-staged theater in various locations around the city including the Tall Ship Peking, Belvedere Castle, a store front window on 42nd Street and many NYC playgrounds.

The 2010-2011 season of the New Vic Collaboratory is supported by a grant from New York State Council on the Arts.

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