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]

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