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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.

Our New Victory Teaching Artists are an amazing bunch, and this season we're welcoming seven new Teaching Artists to the ranks! They possess a diverse range of skills, including acting, directing, music, puppetry and dance. Together with their 47 peers, they extend the theatergoing experience by engaging school and public audiences in the art forms and themes we present onstage. 

So who are these new TAs, and how did arts education become their passion? We asked them each to introduce themselves, and to tell us about their experiences so far as part of our Teaching Artist ensemble. We also asked them to share their favorite stories from when they were kids!
 

Jono Waldman

Jono WaldmanMy name is Jono and I'm a musician. I also devise plays and musicals with young people. I became a teaching artist because I love collaborating with kids. They tend to know fewer rules than grownups. Art-making is better with fewer rules!

I have already had some wonderful teaching experiences as a New Vic TA, but honestly my favorite experience has been working with the TA ensemble as a whole. Teaching artist work tends to be solitary.  It's usually just you and the kids. At the New Vic, I get to collaborate with a group of quick-witted, inspiring artists and educators. I truly look forward to every meeting.

When I was a kid, my father would put on orchestral records, and he and I would imagine narratives that followed the movement of the music. My favorites were Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 and Drigo's Enchanted Forest.
 

Julia Sirna-Frest

Julia Sirna-FrestI'm an actor, director and singer and have spent my New York life performing in the downtown theater world, as well as tours to France and Croatia. I also sing and play ukulele in a Dolly Parton cover band called Doll Parts!

I was lucky enough to grow up surrounded by the arts and got the chance to perform from an early age. It shaped who I am, so being able to give that opportunity to young people today and help them find their voice is so exciting and moving.

I feel like teaching artists are really teaching pride, empowerment and confidence, and we just happen to be using theater to teach those life lessons. During one of our lessons recently, one of the students exclaimed, "This is a dream come true!" It doesn't get much better than that! 

As a kid, I was obsessed with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Magical lands in a closet? Genius!
 

Janet Onyenucheya
Janet Onyenucheya
My name is Janet Onyenucheya and I am a musician, songwriter, actress and educator. I wanted to become a teaching artist because it was the best way to combine two of my biggest passions—arts and education! I really love my students and they give me so much life and inspiration.

My favorite New Victory Teaching Artist experience has been facilitating the Pedal Punk classroom workshop. The lesson plan is extremely fun, and I always enjoy acting like a clown in the classroom!

My favorite story as a kid was Tar Beach. I appreciated seeing an African-American family cooperate in a thriving community full of unique traditions. The pictures were absolutely beautiful and the story was set in the urban landscape of New York City—my hometown!
 

Patrick Ferreri

Patrick FerreriMy name is Patrick Ferreri and I'm a dancer and an actor. Movement has always been in my life. From potty dances as a toddler to support my early bathroom usage to kitchen tap dances to amuse my family, I have always found moving to be an excellent way to make things happen. My explorations of movement as an adult have led me into more and more subtle arenas, thus the progression into acting. 

My mother is a teacher and it has always been her dream job. As a little guy, I grew up witnessing firsthand the passion and dedication that she brought to the art of teaching, as well as the fulfillment she received in return. I was hooked. As a professional dancer just out of college with lots of ideas and decreasing avenues to explore them, I thought back to how influential the arts were to me as a kiddo and decided that education was the best way to build new avenues of empowerment and opportunity. 

So far, my favorite Teaching Artist experiences have been around A Midsummer Night's Dream: watching the faces light up in a class of fifth graders as they connected the dots between the Shakespeare they were reading, the opera they had just seen and the movie they had watched in class. Seeing them piece together something that had at first seemed overwhelming and inaccessible to them was exhilarating and reminded me of why I keep teaching.

I always loved old family stories. Stories of what my mom was like before she was my mom. Stories of her living in New York working with tenants' rights organizations and first starting to teach in Newark. Stories of my grandmother as a little girl born and raised in Philadelphia escaping to her grandmother' farm in Virginia and running around barefoot, climbing trees and chasing after chickens. Stories that made the world bigger and full of adventure. 
 

Arielle Lever

Arielle LeverI'm Arielle Lever. I identify as an actor and deviser (a deviser is someone who creates original theater from a collaborative process instead of being given a pre-written script). While I definitely still do the traditional acting "thing," my favorite projects are based in devised theater. I love collaboration and working with a group of people to make something new. I also find that, when I'm devising work, I learn so much from the others I work with.

There was a program in my school that allowed drama students to teach and work with individuals in the community with developmental disabilities. The funny thing was that I ended up learning the most from them. This opened my eyes to new ways of interacting with theater—as an educational tool, a form of outreach and a true exchange of ideas.

My favorite experiences so far have definitely been with the Lexington School for the Deaf. It is rare to be in a community that is so supported and supportive. All of the teachers and students treated each other with dignity, care and respect. I rely so heavily on language in my life, but I've learned that oftentimes it's just white noise. It was so amazing to get to the core of communication, either by simplifying language to what I really needed to say or to not use words at all.

As a kid, I loved the story of The Giving Tree.  I actually read an excerpt from it at my college graduation!
 

Curt James

Curt JamesI'm Curt James, and I trained as a classical actor in London, learning Shakespeare, Chekov, Greek theater, corporeal mime, neutral and character mask as well as pure voice and movement. I have been working as an actor ever since and have also dabbled in bunraku puppetry.

I love teaching and believe that as a theater practitioner I have a responsibility to help educate and shape the audiences of tomorrow. I fundamentally believe that theater is valid and necessary and that it should be accessible and enjoyed by everyone. Being a teaching artist helps me stay in touch with what ignites communities and theatergoers of today and tomorrow. So far, my favorite experience has been getting to know my fellow teaching artists as we learn together.

I love stories about epic journeys and finding your way home. My favorite story as a kid was Corduroy. It's about a toy bear who lives in a department store and catches the eye of a little girl. Her mother notices that Corduroy is missing a button and refuses to buy him, so after the store closes, he gets down from his shelf and wanders the store in search his button—an overnight adventure!
 

Kevin Ray

Kevin RayI'm Kevin Ray. I'm a theater artist with experience in acting, processional puppetry and directing.

I participated in an arts-in-education training program through The Actors Fund and started working as a teaching artist shortly thereafter. I was excited about using art as a medium for teaching a variety of subject matters and engaging young people in learning. Recently, as part of a post-show workshop for The Gruffalo, I had a fantastic time working with first grade students creating original monsters!

As a kid, my favorite story was Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. I liked it because the film combined so many different genres. It was a musical, a romance and a horror story all at the same time. As an artist, I'm interested in the ways that styles, genres, and forms can be used to deepen content.
 
 
Play icon      Our newest New Victory Teaching Artists are all looking forward to meeting you! Keep an eye out for them throughout the year at Family Workshops, pre-show Arts Express events and post-show Talk-Backs and TXT Marks the Spot events. Say hi, and surprise them with a shout-out to their favorite childhood stories!
Posted by Zack Ramadan
New Victory Teaching Artist Spica Wobbe at a Puppetry Kids Week
This week is National Arts in Education Week, a week devoted to promoting the value of the arts—dance, music, theater, literature, design and visual arts—as core academic subjects in schools. At The New Victory, we believe that the performing arts have the power to spark young imaginations and give kids the tools for learning in all disciplines. As the largest provider of live performance to NYC schools and after-school programs, we partner with more than 160 schools and serve over 40,000 students each year. Our New Victory Education Partner schools enjoy $2 student tickets, free classroom workshops, and online resource guides and professional development for educators interested in incorporating the arts into their lesson plans.

We also provide opportunities for kids and their families to explore the performing arts by learning new art skills inspired by the performances they see on the New Victory stage. These public engagement activities—from at-home Family Activities and pre-show lobby activities to Family Workshops and Kids Weeks—enhance kids' experiences as both audience members and future patrons of the arts. And, of course, they have lots of fun!New Victory Teaching Artist Liz Bolick at a pre-show Arts Express

In honor of National Arts in Education Week, we wanted to share some thoughts and stories from our New Victory Teaching Artists—our "boots on the ground," as it were. This ensemble of 55 arts educators possesses a diverse range of skills, including acting, playwriting, music, puppetry, hip hop, street theater, circus arts and contemporary dance. Together they develop comprehensive explorations of the art forms and themes presented onstage. Our Teaching Artists work in classrooms as part of the Education Partnership Program, and they also lead many of our Public Engagement programs. If you've ever come early or stayed late at the New Vic to participate in a fun activity, you've probably met at least one of them.

So, why do our TAs do what they do? We asked what inspires them and what kind of impact they believe they have. Here are some of our favorite answers.

How do you share your art forms with students and families?

"My circus, clowning and physical comedy skills create excitement, fun and lots of laughter.  Kids are fascinated by my antics and tricks and want to play! They want to experience the skills they have seen in the theater, so I perform and demonstrate these skills up close and help them get hands-on experience."

"My primary art form is movement theater, though I work professionally in acting, directing, design and dance. I get to share this work with students and families through workshops, public performances and edu-taining at special events. There is nothing greater for me than watching a family learn, explore, and laugh through the arts."

Teaching Artist WT McRae at a Circus Kids Week; Teaching Artist Drew Petersen and Education Staffer Renata Melillo Townsend at a Theater Kids Week

What does your engagement with students and families add to their theatergoing experiences? Why is it important?

"Teaching young people and their families art form-based lessons offers them a frame of empathy for the work the performers are doing. We often hear families say, 'I had no idea how challenging this is!' I think this makes them feel more connected to the person they will be watching onstage." 

"Too many kids in too many schools are having their arts programs cut. Many kids learn more physically—they need to move and play. Music, circus, dance, theater and puppetry—all art forms—help reach students in different and deeper ways."

"Hands-on experience with the form gives students and families permission and the necessary language to confidently share their opinions. For instance, 'I loved that show, because they used this artistic principle we were learning about,' or, 'I am glad I saw it, but it wasn't for me because...' That discourse is important."

"Artistry needs to be passed down to younger generations. Allowing kids to experience live theater and to meet living, breathing artists shows them the possibilities that exist to become artists themselves." 

TA Josh Matthews at a pre-show Arts Express; TA Skyler Sullivan at the Family Benefit

What's your favorite memory of a kid you've taught?

"We were in a 2nd grade classroom facilitating a workshop in which kids played with marionettes and acted out fairytales. One kid exuberantly raised his hand and asked if the three little pigs would be in the show. We explained that the show was the story of Sleeping Beauty and that there were no pigs. Insistent, the kid told us that he had a pig puppet at home and would be happy to lend it out to Carlo Colla & Sons Marionette Company for their show." 

"In the middle of a workshop for The Light Princess last year, one little boy grabbed my arm during the first activity and said 'This is really fun!'  A few minutes later we were telling secrets when he told me 'people think I'm really smart…but I just listen.'"

"One very withdrawn 3rd grade boy almost never spoke. He barely looked anyone in the eye, and some of his teachers considered him a "trouble-maker" for being so distant. For a classroom performance, he chose to do a gymnastic streamer solo.  When I asked him what music he would like, he asked for rock 'n' roll. He choreographed and performed a totally amazing piece to a song by The Rolling Stones, which made the audience go wild. He focused, worked really hard on his steps and did a spectacular job. It was stunning and incredibly brave."
Teaching Artists Margot Fitzsimmons and Shelah Marie leading classroom workshops at an Education Partner school
Contributions from WT McRae, Liz Bolick and Renata Melillo Townsend
Posted by Zack Ramadan
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