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New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York’s theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we’re passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.

Courtney K. BoddieThis summer, New York University Steinhardt's Educational Theatre Program hosted a special roundtable event in conjunction with New Plays for Young Audiences' 20th Anniversary, to explore theater for young audiences in today's world.

Panelists included Laurie Brooks, award winning theater for young audiences (TYA) playwright, José Cruz González, a leading Latino voice in TYA, Cecily O'Neill, foremost drama-in-education authority, David Montgomery, Director of NYU's program and author of Theater for Change and Courtney J. Boddie, Director of Education/School Engagement at The New Victory Theater. The panel was moderated by Philip Taylor, NYU Educational Theatre professor. 

Below, Courtney takes us through where she thinks the future of TYA is headed. To hear from the rest of the panel, take a listen to the podcast!
 

Thank you so much for having me here today! I graduated from NYU Steinhardt's Educational Theatre Program in 2003 and I've worked at the New Vic ever since. This program really helped me find my home. At The New Victory Theater, I love to provide a place where kids are heard and where they can express themselves. TYA opened my eyes to this world because, prior to that, I only understood theater for adults. My parents took me to shows, but—for a long time—I didn't understand that shows could be made specifically for kids too. 

Courtney J. BoddieThe New Vic opened in 1995 and since we've been the premier theater for New York City kids and their families. My job mainly focuses on the 40,000 kids from 170 schools we welcome to our theater each year. The majority of these schools have a general education curriculum with amazing teachers who understand that it's important for kids to have theater in their lives from an early age. 

Due to testing and budget cuts, middle and high schoolers don't see a lot of theater. The New Vic is different because we serve pre-k through high school, but the majority of schools we work with are elementary schools. In order to showcase how affective theater is for kids of all ages, we are working on a longitudinal research study with WolfBrown. In two years, we'll be able to share our findings on topics like theater's intrinsic impact on elementary and middle school students with the public. We know that theater is good for all audiences, and we're hopeful that the results of our study will inspire schools and other theaters to invest in young audiences. 

I hope studies like this positively affect the future of TYA, because it's so important to make sure that provocative, sophisticated work continues being created. We want to truly represent our audiences. There are many kids coming to our theater who are Black or Latinx and they, sadly, don't often see themselves on stage. We aim to represent all kids so they all can grow up feeling represented by the characters that we, as creators of TYA, show them. The Panel

The thought that young people can't appreciate theater is ridiculous. Kids are the most honest audiences in the world. My favorite thing to do is to watch our education performances, because those kids are going to tell the actors right away what they really think. They'll let you know if they don't like the show, but, more importantly, they'll tell you if they love it. 

There is always a beautiful reciprocation that happens between artist and audience, but with kids there's this palpable energy that's so synergistic, it's difficult to describe. What we need to push for is a range of performing arts that kids are exposed to, as well, as the number of stories they can connect to. Being with these amazing artists today and seeing the incredible work created around the globe, I have hope that my goals for TYA will come true!

 

Courtney J. Boddie, New Victory Director of Education/School Engagement, oversees the New Victory Education Partnership program and professional development training in the performing arts for teachers. Ms. Boddie was President of the Association of Teaching Artists (ATA) from 2015 to 2017 and is currently on the Board of Directors. Additionally, she serves on the Teaching Artist Committee of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable, the editorial board for the Teaching Artist Journal and is a member of the National Teaching Artist Collective in association with the National Guild for Community Arts Education. She is an adjunct professor at New York University and The New School. Prior to joining The New Victory Theater in 2003, Ms. Boddie was Program Associate for Empire State Partnerships (NYSCA) and a teaching artist for Roundabout Theatre Company. She received her Master's degree from the Educational Theatre Graduate Program at New York University.
 

 

The Way Back Home Puppets A still from The Way Back Home, Photo: Teater Refleksion
As the Arts Enrichment Coordinator at LearningSpring School, a school for students on the autism spectrum, I make it a priority to create opportunities for my students to experience the New York City cultural community. 

Our Magnolia class (kindergarten), will see The Way Back Home at the end of March. Early experiences of theater can shape students’ understanding of the world and the New Vic provides theatrical experiences that challenge what theater is and can be. If young children are presented early on with varied and imaginative examples of theater, they're more likely to explore varied possibilities and experiences in the future. Bringing young students to the theater is also critical for the development of their imagination. Theater is imagination come to life, and if children experience it in this way at a young age, they are opened up to possibilities before their worldview begins to form. The possibilities are endless! 

Developing and stretching students' imaginations through theatrical experience allows work in the classroom to be equally exciting, creative and inventive. As a teacher, I try to meet this challenge by building the show into our curriculum and our work in the classroom. For my young students, this not only prepares them to see the show, it allows them to fully experience the show by enacting artistic elements, diving into the story and connecting the experience of the show to their everyday adventures. In preparing to see The Way Back Home, we engaged in many adventures in the classroom:
 
Experimenting with the form:
When I start to teach a show, I usually begin with the element of the show that is the most foreign to my young students. In the case of The Way Back Home, we began with sounds. In watching the trailer, I noticed the unique soundscape created by the puppeteers as they told the story. We started by listening to sound effects and making movements to go with what we think the sound effects may be (riding an airplane, walking on the Moon, meeting a martian).  

 


The Way Back Home Puppets Aliza Greenberg's puppet making activity
Experiencing the story:
Small objects and puppets are used to tell the story in the play. We created small, puppet versions of ourselves, using pipe cleaners, tape and paint. We then went on a journey with our puppet-selves! This activity challenged us to use our imagination to see objects in a new light. We used dollhouse furniture to model what happens in the show, thinking of all the things the furniture could be and using sound and movement to bring the action to life. 

Stepping into the world:
The Way Back Home includes a trip to the Moon, so we physicalized our own walk on the Moon in our classroom! We used pantomime to fly to the Moon and explore, practicing spacewalks and soil experiments.  Students shared what they might see on the Moon and who they might meet. Sitting and watching theater can be hard for the very young, but given the opportunity to act it out ahead of time, the action on stage can be better understood and more interesting to watch. 

Preparing to see the show:
The book on which the play is based also provided an excellent way to explore and prepare for the show. We read the story several times, sometimes physicalizing different moments. For every show we go to at LearningSpring School, I create a social story, a story about what to expect on our trip. We read the story to help us prepare to go to the theater. After reading about the trip and learning about the show, the students can't wait for their theatrical experience!

Last year, I took my youngest students to Handa’s Surprise. They still sing the music from the show. Seeing a show at The New Victory Theater was a very memorable moment for them and I have no doubt seeing The Way Back Home will have a big impact on this new class of students.  
 
 
Aliza Greenberg Aliza Greenberg is the Arts Enrichment Coordinator at the LearningSpring School, a school for students on the autism spectrum, where she teaches the arts and coordinates cultural partnerships. Aliza is also the Project Leader for Supporting Transitions with the Museum Access Consortium and a consultant with Trusty Sidekick Theater, CO/LAB Theater, and other arts organizations. B.A., Bryn Mawr College; Ed.M., Harvard Graduate School of Education.
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