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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.
October 5, 2015

History Brought to Life


A great many historical tales have been brought to life onstage, from the historical plays of Shakespeare to tales of folk history, like ROBIN HOOD! With that in mind, and in honor of World Teachers Day this week, we asked our staff to recall moments from their childhoods when history was brought to life in theatrical ways. Here are a few of their stories.
 
 
Christopher Ritz-Totten, in 7th grade and now   Christopher Ritz-Totten
Public Relations Associate

I remember quite vividly the way my 7th grade history teacher, Mr. Miller, spoke about historical figures, and the various ways he would engage our class with through interactive storytelling. He approached every lesson with a passion that I loved, but in the moment I wasn’t sure how to outwardly convey my appreciation. All I knew was that I was having fun while learning! In hindsight, I can say that Mr. Miller was one of the most influential teachers I ever had.

I distinctly remember the week that Mr. Miller prepared our class for a visit from Mary Todd Lincoln. He kept telling us that the late president’s wife would be coming in to tell us about her life as the First Lady. He was right. We were in class one day when all the lights went out. The door opened, and in walked a lady in period dress carrying a flickering lantern. I was captivated, hanging on her every word. She spoke about her life, Abraham Lincoln’s life, the world in which they lived and how it differed from the world as it is now. It was in that moment that I knew learning could truly be engaging. It is this memory that I often reference as being the inspiration for my love of theater, and perhaps my commitment to educational theater.
 
Courtney Boddie, in 5th grade and now   Courtney Boddie
Director of Education / School Engagement

When I was in 5th grade, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty were undergoing a huge renovation. Our classes worked in small groups to research the history of them both. We also recycled bottles and cans for the 5¢ deposit for months to help fundraise for the renovation. The culmination of the project was a field trip to Liberty Island, where still under renovation the old torch lay on the ground! I recall taking a class picture in front of it. 

When we landed on the island, there were people there to escort us from the ferry to the pedestal of the statue. The peculiar thing was that they were speaking gibberish, or perhaps a language that just wasn't known to us. They physically moved us into different lines, examining us (somewhat respectfully) and seemingly asking us questions and expecting answers. But none of us understood. As they continued to switch my classmates between different lines, each student was given a card that was a specific color and had more gibberish written on it. Some kids were shepherded away, while those of us left behind were confused, even a little scared, and I remember being slightly angry!

Eventually, the other students returned, happy and with lollipops, but the rest of us were still confused! Then, for the first time, the leader spoke in English and said that we had just been led through a simulation of what it was like to enter Ellis Island. What we had just experienced was what many immigrants experienced when they first immigrated to this country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We proceeded to have a rich conversation about what we had been thinking and feeling during the activity, and we made meaningful connections to that part of history. 

I often think back to that experience I had as a 10-year-old and it never fails to amaze me that the adults who worked there were, in essence, teaching artists! They acted in roles, and placed me and my classmates in roles, to help us better understand and empathize with the people who had entered this country through Ellis Island. They will never know how much that specific experience has impacted me.
 
Zack Ramadan, in 8th grade and now   Zack Ramadan
Digital Content Producer

I fondly recall Mr. Switzler, my knit tie-wearing 8th grade social studies teacher, who encouraged us to perform original theatrical pieces set during post-Civil War Reconstruction. In small groups over the course of three weeks, we wrote and directed short plays that brought to life the conflict between freedmen and insurgent klansmen, and the relationships between sharecroppers and landowners. In addition to being a freeing creative exercise, this project also helped us forge stronger connections with the stories of Reconstruction-era African Americans—empathy and understanding beyond what a textbook could ever have engendered.

None of this was an accident. Mr. Switzler placed a special emphasis on history being little more than the collected stories of individual people. He taught us to appreciate the value of primary source material and to seek it out whenever possible. Later in the year, he mobilized us—all 100 of us in all his classes—to create a multimedia time capsule of our community. We interviewed long-time citizens and local historians. We photographed historical places and local wildlife. We even spoke to municipal government officials—and their rivals—to gain perspective on local politics. We may not have fully grasped it at the time, but by capturing these stories and moments and recording them all in one place, we were literally making history.
 
 
Robin Hood icon   Seattle Children's Theatre's ROBIN HOOD is bringing the familiar tale of merry men, shifty sherrifs and pompous princes and to life on our stage right now. Don't miss it!
Posted by Zack Ramadan

As we celebrate The New Victory's twentieth birthday this season, we're highlighting some of the families who have been a part of our greater New Vic family for many years. For these parents and kids, seeing theatrical performances at the New Vic has become a tradition, and over the years they’ve shared their love of theater with their extended family and friends.

This week, we turn the spotlight on Sasha Grunberg and her parents, Frank Grunberg and Patty Enright, who have been attending shows here since the late 1990s. Sasha is now twenty years old, a college student, and she’s a New Vic kid through and through.

"The earliest memories I have of The New Victory are my birthday parties," Sasha tells us. "New Vic-wide, I'm known as Birthday Party Sasha." Indeed, Sasha celebrated her January birthday here on multiple occasions, inviting dozens of family members and friends to see a New Victory show—often a holiday circus spectacle. "Because we were here so much, New Vic staff kind of became part of the family, and that's made it so much more special."
 

These birthday party invitations, designed by Sasha's dad, Frank Grunberg, incorporated the artwork for the shows that friends and family would get to see before the party: Circus Oz (2004), Aga-Boom (2005) and New Shanghai Circus (2007).

Sasha's earliest memory of seeing a theatrical performance predates her birthday parties at the New Vic. It was The Wizard of Oz when she was only three years old. "I remember going in the little Dorothy dress with the little ruby slippers. And I remember being so enthralled by these characters that I once saw in a movie or in a book put on a stage. I think that's a great experience for anyone to see, no matter what age."

Sasha's love of theater only grew from there, and her exposure to the performing arts as a kid has had a definitive impact on her. Describing the New Vic as a gateway to stage experience, Sasha credits her personal involvement in middle and high school theater with teaching her lifelong skills in organization, time management and artistic collaboration. "Coming to the New Vic sparked my interest in theater, which ultimately made me a more confident person." 
 
Sasha celebrates her 7th birthday at the New Vic
Patty lights the candles at Sasha's 7th birthday party, here at the New Vic in 2002. Photo: Frank Grunberg

Even before Sasha was old enough to attend shows here, Patty and Frank got involved with The New Victory. Before the theater opened in 1995, they recall receiving a letter in the mail asking whether they'd be interested in supporting high-quality theater for young audiences. Their donation twenty years ago resulted in an ongoing relationship, and they've since joined us for over fifty performances.

"We look forward to helping to support The New Victory's continued good work," says Patty, for whom providing access to affordable, quality programming is an important, personal goal. "My parents made culture a real issue. They exposed me and my siblings to a variety of music, dance, theater and art. I enjoyed every chance I got to be a part of the cultural scene." One of Patty’s favorite memories is of bringing her parents to The New Victory alongside Sasha, expanding their family theatergoing tradition across three generations. They always aimed for Sunday matinees with a family meal afterwards, using theater "as the foundation for time together as a family."

Sasha echoes this sentiment. When she was younger, her parents both had very busy work schedules. "So a show at the New Vic, for us," she explains, "was always a time that the three of us could be together, do something together as a family and all get something out of it." The familial experience extended to friends and neighbors, too. Sasha fondly recalls an elderly neighbor who attended one of her birthday parties that featured a chair-stacking Chinese circus act. The two of them joked for years afterward about how many chairs they themselves could stack. "How many chairs are you up to? I'm on 12!"

Being able to inspire kids like Sasha is why we do what we do at The New Victory, and Sasha recognizes this herself. This past summer she attended Victory Dance, and she saw her own childhood experience reflected in the awestruck faces of kids in the audience. "You never know where that spark is, and you don't know where that kid is sitting in the house. Someone could have the same experience as me, and pick up on something and say, 'Oh, I really loved the Martha Graham performance. I want to do ballet.' Or, 'I loved the sound the tap dancing shoes made. Let me try that.' That's important for kids!"

Where did your #LoveOfTheater start? Let us know on Twitter @newvictory, or snap a selfie for Instagram and tag us @newvictorytheater the next time you're here!
Posted by Zack Ramadan
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