Notifications

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.

This post was written by Candace Broecker-Penn, co-founder of Hands On.
Candace Signing
Candace interpreting Mother Africa: My Home.


While The New Victory Theater was still being renovated in 1995, the organization knew they wanted families with Deaf or hard of hearing parents or children to enjoy their seasons of shows. They reached out to us at Hands On, a service organization committed to providing access to the arts for Deaf and hard of hearing people here in New York City. The rest was history! For 21 years we have been working hand in hand providing sign interpreted performances for every show. 

Every season, we start our work the spring before when we meet with the New Vic staff to pick the interpreting dates. We also discuss the specific needs and challenges of each individual show. We’re some of the first people outside of the New Vic to see the scripts and get a glimpse of the wonderful upcoming shows, lucky us! While I interpret many of the shows myself, I often need a ‘team’ to help me out, so I make some calls to the talented interpreting community. Last year we had 14 interpreters working with us and our Deaf advisors! 

Porscha SigningOver the years the number of families who come to the New Vic has grown immensely and we now have a fantastic, dedicated audience. We greet each family in the lobby, and enjoy talking to audience members before and after the shows. There are often fun activities in the lobby and opportunities to meet the performers afterwards for autographs and pictures. We found a whole new audience this past fall when Hands On interpreted one of the autism friendly performances of Mother Africa: My Home. Hands On was asked by a Deaf mom, who has an autistic son if there was a way to combine both special nights. The New Victory and Hands On worked together on this opportunity and the whole family had a great time enjoying the circus together. We left the theater smiling, when a young girl, who was on the spectrum, shared her excitement about the interpreting because–as she proudly announced–she knew signs as well. It was a terrific experience for the whole audience and we look forward to repeating it in the future!

To help us coordinate all of these exciting initiatives, we have many amazing ushers who help us. Recently, we’ve been thrilled to see that many of them have expressed an interest in the Deaf community. Some, like Shamar Pelzer and Porscha Rippy, have learned ASL and gone out into the community to learn and volunteer. Shamar is even thinking about becoming a sign language interpreter! Having a direct conversation–whether it’s getting a ticket scanned or asking for a booster seat–helps to make the New Vic a place that everyone feels welcome. 

A mother and daughter at the ASL performanceBesides working with the wonderful Usher Corps, we also get the opportunity to work with the New Vic’s stellar group of teaching artists when they conduct classroom workshops at The Lexington School for the Deaf. When the TAs work with Deaf high school students on pre- and post-show workshops, we get to interpret! I love getting to see teaching artists begin to pick up signs from the students over the months they work together. 

The New Victory has something for everyone in the family. We’ve interpreted shows for infants as young as six-months-old to high school students to grandparents as old as ninety. It’s wonderful to see families with Deaf parents or Deaf kids watching, laughing and wanting to come back. It’s an honor and pleasure to work here and we at Hands On look forward to 20 more years!


 

ABOUT ME
Candace Penn I am Candace Broecker-Penn, co-founder of Hands On and a certified American Sign Language/English interpreter. I sign many (many) shows on Broadway – but I will admit that my favorite times are here at the New Victory because this is where children learn to love theater like I did when I was a child.

My parents are Deaf and I grew up as a bilingual child using both American Sign Language and English. In college, I studied theater then worked with The National Theatre of the Deaf. As one of their speaking actors I toured the US and around the world presenting theater in ASL. Some of my favorite memories are performing Derek Walcott’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight at the Kennedy Center’s Imagination Celebration, touring Our Town to Japan, taking Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree to Trinidad and performing on Sesame Street
 
ABOUT HANDS ON

We interpret theater, publish a monthly calendar of events for the Deaf community and do workshops and training for theater interpreters. We’re small, but active - interpreting shows at many theaters in NYC – among them Roundabout, Radio City and Shakespeare in the Park. Beth Prevor is the Executive Director. 
Posted by Beth Henderson

Written by Aliza Greenberg, Arts Enrichment Coordinator for LearningSpring School

"Are we going to The New Victory Theater?"

 

The staff of Autism-Friendly Spaces poses with the cast of THE GRUFFALO
Aliza, bottom row and left of center, gives good Gruffalo face with her fellow AFS volunteers at an Autism-Friendly Performance of The Gruffalo.
After attending Handa's Surprise at The New Victory Theater, I get asked this question by my youngest students almost every day. Handa’s Surprise wasn't designed specifically for kids on the autism spectrum, nor was the production adapted to be autism-friendly; but the format of the show and the welcoming environment that The New Victory provides allowed my students on the autism spectrum to have a fun, positive, memorable day at the theater.
 
LearningSpring School, where I am the Arts Enrichment Coordinator, is a school for students on the autism spectrum. From my past experiences with The New Victory as a volunteer with Autism-Friendly Spaces, I knew the New Vic to be committed to providing a supportive and inclusive theatergoing environment for young people with autism. 

The New Victory partners with Autism-Friendly Spaces to train their staff and help plan and coordinate their autism-friendly performances. While volunteering, I've seen a staff passionate about making their theater an inclusive space, and I've had the chance to collaborate with the fantastic New Victory Usher Corps. Everyone I've worked with at the theater has been eager to learn more about autism and provide the most comfortable theatergoing environment possible for this population, so I knew that even if the performance wasn’t specifically autism-friendly, it would still be a welcoming environment for my students. 

 

A stop-motion animation of a star falling from the sky, and a man and a cat climbing the mountains to retrieve it.
Student animation made in preparation for The Star Keeper.

A drawing of purple avocados annotated with 'My favorite part was the avocados'
Fruit-filled post-show reflection from Handa's Surprise.

A drawing of a smiling figure on a bed over water annotated with 'Imagination bed of magic!'
The best bed ever, from a post-show reflection following The Star Keeper.
Through the Education Partnership Program, my students and I have had the pleasure of attending three productions this year, and we have a fourth coming up in May. Not every show is the right fit for every student, so the New Victory Education staff worked with me to identify the shows that would best engage students on the autism spectrum at different ages. We chose shows that had multi-sensory engagement (words, music, strong visuals) but were not overly stimulating to the senses. The Education staff also seated our group close to the exits in case any of my students needed a break.

For each show we see, we begin preparing a month—sometimes two months—in advance. One of the ways we prepare is by learning as much as possible about the productions beforehand, and by engaging students in the art forms they will experience. For Handa's Surprise, we explored the book, re-enacted the story with fruit made from clay and learned some of the show’s music—the fruit lullaby has even become a classroom calming ritual! 

The New Victory Teaching Artists who visited our school also provided interesting ways to engage with the shows’ art forms. All the Teaching Artists have been eager to work with us and learn more about how to best support students on the autism spectrum. We have been able learn side by side as educators and artists in this process. 

Of course, necessary preparations extend well beyond engagement with story and art forms. Individuals with autism often do not know the social conventions associated with going to the theater, and the theatergoing experience can present many challenges. It's dark and quiet, and sounds and visual effects that excite the senses often occur without warning. There’s also little opportunity to move around.

To help prepare my students, I create social stories explaining the events and social expectations of the day. I also create theater strategy cards for them to be able to easily identify their needs using pictures during the show. For The Gruffalo, inspired by to the New Victory School Tool®, we all made Bravery Backpacks and filled them with calming strategies that students could use during the performance: putting on noise-canceling headphones, handling a fidget, asking for help from a teacher, getting a drink of water or taking a break.
 
Strategy card with a grid of simple images labeled 'I will remember to use whole body listening: eyes watch, ears listen, quiet mouth, body calm'
Strategy card with a grid of simple images labeled 'In the theater, I can point to a strategy to tell my teacher what I need: break, headphones, fidget, water, bathroom'
Example in-theater strategy cards, along with our Bravery Backpack worksheet.

My students love the theater, and they deserve to experience the joy of theatergoing as much as any kid. I look forward to more theaters presenting productions that support and engage individuals with autism. And just as The New Victory has welcomed our students to the theater, even when the performance was not specifically autism-friendly, I hope more theaters will begin opening their doors to individuals with autism. But to my kids' question, "Are we going to The New Victory Theater?", my answer will always be, "Soon!"

 


 
Aliza Greenberg Aliza Greenberg is the Arts Enrichment Coordinator at LearningSpring School. No stranger to the autism community, Aliza served as the Autism and Education Specialist with Trusty Sidekick Theater Company during their development of Up and Away. She also volunteers with Autism-Friendly Spaces and the Theater Development Fund's Autism Theater Initiative and is a Project Leader for the Museum Access Consortium's Supporting Transitions project. Aliza's brother is on the autism spectrum and, thanks to increasing initiatives to make theater autism-friendly, she brought him to his first performance last year!
Posted by Zack Ramadan
 |<  <  1 - 2 - 3  >  >|