Clowns Finding a Home in Harlem

This is a profile on Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone, two wonderful TA colleagues at the New Victory Theater and clown partners in the group The Acrobuffos.

The story is amazing for two reasons.

It talks about the incredible work that they do in war torn countries to bring their art and joy to young people.  To help people to dream, to express, to heal.

They also found a way to buy their own home and make it a place where they can work and live, which for me, as a Teaching Artist, seems sometimes like a faraway dream.  Now I know it’s possible, so that makes me hopeful.

Shaking Up Shakespeare at the Public and Children of Invention

The lovely Cindy Cheung stars in Children of Invention, a new film by Tze Chun that is the centerpiece for the upcoming Asian American International Film Festival in NY.  The official summary: Two young children living outside Boston are left to fend for themselves when their mother gets embroiled in a pyramid scheme and disappears.  I saw this in it’s premiere at BAM and it moved me and broke my heart.  I think that this is the story of so many immigrant families who come to the US to make a life and end up scrabbling to get by.  It’s told with specificity and restraint and I really think it’s an astonishing first feature film.

Check out the trailer here:

In other news, just spent an intense week training with the inspiring  Michael Wiggins to get ready for some programs at the Public Theater this summer.  My head is spinning.  I learned some new games.  We built an exciting sequence for Shakespeare Lab, Jr., a free Shakespeare exploration program for middle and high school students.  And I’m psyched for Summer Shakeup, next Friday, July 10th at the Delacorte in Central Park.  750 young people!

And the 4th of July is upon us.

Happy Independence Day.

What is the role of the teaching artist?

Just sat in on a web symposium at the Seattle Art Museum, sponsored by the Dana Foundation and facilitated by Russell Granet.  There were 600 people listening in from across the country!

Topics included: What is the role of the teaching artist in public education?  How can schools maximize a partnership with an outside artist?  What is the artist role in the classroom, in the art room, in the school?  How can artists help build a culture in a school where creativity, innovation, and imagination are at the core of teaching and learning?

These were the panelists:

•    Lisa Fitzhugh, Founder, Former Executive Director, Arts Corps.
•    Sarah Johnson, Director, Weill Music Institute, Carnegie Hall.
•    Nick Rabkin, Researcher, Teaching Artist Research Project, University of Chicago
•    Naho Shioya. Teaching Artist.

They are going to archive the webcast on the Association of Teaching Artist’s website.  Look for it.

It is helpful to be given the opportunity to reflective about our practice and to constantly think about how we can do things better individually and systemically.   And as most of our work is done for the school year and we’re winding into summer, dreaming about next year and what’s to come.  Thanks, Dana Foundation.

Openings & Closings, Beginnings & Endings

CLOSINGS
Yesterday, last meeting of the Ma-Yi Writers Lab’s season.  We still operate on a school year schedule/theater production company schedule, so it’s summer and school’s out.  As a kid, I was always sad when summer arrived because I’d be bored as anything.  Now, I’ll miss the company and comradeship as I soldier through these two new plays by myself during the desert of summer.

Also, today, was my last gig at a school for the year.  A meeting to debrief with the teachers after a semester long residency.  I walked up to the classroom teacher’s door and she had her wallet and keys in hand.  She locked eyes with me and said, “I forgot.”

Deep breath.  “That’s okay.”  Unlocks the door.  She seems upset.

Are you alright?  She says that she’s just got a billion things to do.  Has to prep for next class, buy supplies for a capioera workshop later that afternoon and she has ten things more to do.  She’s the team leader.  It’s the end of the year.  She says, “I’m so stressed out I’m about to start crying.  In nine years, I’ve never been so stressed out.”

I feel for her.  I ask if there is anything I can do.  She tells me about why it’s so hard right now.  End of year.  Behavioral issues.  Too many duties for too few staff.  I listen and I think she’s starting to feel better because someone hears.

I’ve been there.  Seven years ago, I was  a classroom teacher and I was there.

The other teachers filter in and we talk about our program and what worked and what could be better in our partnership next year.  And she lights up with ideas and anecdotes about our work together this year.

And I think about how all our hardworking, incredible teachers need more support, more time.  They need not to feel alone with the weight of the world on their shoulders and a classroom of students who need so much.  Students need a teacher, yes, but often they also need a mother, a father, a counselor, someone to draw a hard line, a coach, an artist, an inspiration, a citizen, a dreamer, a realist.  They need all these things.  Each teacher has 45 kids that need all these things (and it is a small ratio here, at my last teaching gig, i had 145 students).

How can we help them to stand under all that weight?
How can we hold them up?
How can we thank them for what they carry?
(Have you ever read “the things they carried?”)

They carry us all.

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OPENINGS
This opens next wednesday.  I’ve written a new 10-minute play for them called “Closing Up Shop.”  It’s a lovely evening of 7 eleven minute plays that take place in a convenience store.  Please come by if you can.  Some crackling plays, sharp direction and a fantastic cast.

Desipina & Co Logo

Desipina & Company
Rehana Mirza, Artistic Director & Rohi Mirza Pandya, Producing Director
presents
Seven.11 Convenience Theatre 2009: The Final Year

Directed by RJ Tolan, Kel Haney and Robert Ross Parker
Musical Director Samrat Chakrabarti
Only for 10 Performances
Opening Night Wednesday, June 17, 2009
At Center Stage, NY
48 W. 21St Street, 4th Floor, NYC
June 17th – June 28th, 2009
Wednesday to Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 3 pm
With: Andrew Guilarte, Kavi Ladnier, Cindy Cheung*, Sam Ghosh, Tim Cain*, Jay Lee and Christopher Larkin*

The final Seven plays:
Soonderella by Samrat Chakrabarti and Sanjiv Jhaveri
A new pop musical involving a fairy tale of a different colour.

Color Me Desi by Rishi Chowdhary
A liquor-run to the convenience store before the big desi party uncovers that there are more shades of brown than there are colors to Holi.

One Dollar Box  by Eugene Oh
A provocative tribute about anybody’s father, anybody’s son and the desperate measures that arise when life boxes you in. Working man, work it man.

A Very Desi Christmas by Samrat Chakrabarti and Sanjiv Jhaveri
An original pop musical that illuminates the true meaning of rice.

Closing Up Shop by Carla Ching
A look at what happens when it’s time to move on to the next generation.

What’s in Store by Rehana Mirza
A run-in at the convenience store leaves its manager with the keys to closing up.

Raj Against the Machine by Vishakan Jeyakumar
A Sri Lankan immigrant questions his life in the convenience store, with his best customer by his side.

Production Team
Production Stage Manager – Nick Tochelli
Assistant Stage Manager- Shannon O’Connor
Set – Jason Simms
Asst Set/Props – Amy Lee
Costumes – Jenny Fisher
Lights – Jeff McCrum
Sound – len DeNiro
Choreographer – Sandhya Jain
Graphic/website design Nilou Moochhala
Technical supervisor Enayet Rasul
Original 7-11 logo and t-shirt graphic design Atif Toor

Summertime as a Teaching Artist/All the Time as an Artist

I think I might’ve written the last post because living with less is on my mind because now begins the desert times for Teaching Artists.  Unless you’re extraordinarily lucky and gotten one of the few city TA gigs or are flying off to Alaska or New Hampshire or Vermont to work at a camp, you are here, trying to figure out how to piece together a living in the summer.

I feel lucky to have gotten a job working at the Public Theater for part of the summer.  Working with young people around Shakespeare with the wonderful Michael Wiggins.  Awesome.

But, until then and after that, it’s playing the survival game.  Temping, where I’ve often turned for summer work in years past is slower than usual due to the economic downturn.  And I will figure something out.  I always do.  But it occurs to me that these are the things we often don’t talk about as artists.  How do we make it all work.  So, I’m taking a poll in order to share resources.  I’m currently reading Microtrends by Mark Penn to research a new play and he says that gleaning information from polls can help determine the trends of tomorrow (and of course establish where we are).

So help me out and answer the poll.  And we’ll try and find some answers together.