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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.
 

 

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.

 

Holly and her family!
Holly and her family on one of their cultural excursions!

It has always been important to me to make culture a real part of our family life. When my kids were babies, I realized that I had to take a brief hiatus from most spectator activities. So I turned to the kinds of art projects and activities they could enjoy in the comfort of our own home: music classes, dance parties, art projects and watching classics like Parent Trap and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on TV. Whenever possible, we would attend outdoor art festivals where the kids could sample and participate to the extent they were able. I looked forward to the day when we could venture into theaters and museums, but we took baby steps. I knew the big day would come.

And indeed it did. Over the past few years, since my kids have ever so slightly matured, I have been bringing them to cultural events in New York City—all over the boroughs. Now we go into the city often. Here are a few strategies for integrating culture into your family life, based on my own experiences:

Less can be more 
  • Choose a hand full of theaters and museums that you know and trust, and focus on their offerings. The more you try to do, the less you'll actually do.

Plan ahead to save
  • Sign up for something like Cool Culture, which lets your family visit New York City’s best-loved cultural institutions!
  • Become a member of the organizations that you believe in so that you can schedule events in your calendar well in advance, as well as save money. At the New Vic, by ordering tickets for three or more productions at one time, you become a member and save 35% off your tickets.

Tap into what your children like
  • When my daughter was young, she was into the Disney princesses, so I took her to see The Little Mermaid on Broadway. This year she is into fairies and witches, so we went to see Wicked.
  • Go to museums that offer kids' tours or scavenger hunts, kids' sections or activities. It will make the art much more appealing to your children, and you'll have a better chance of being able to take in some of the exhibit yourself.
 
Holly's Daughter
Holly's daughter visiting the New Vic for The Enchanted Pig.
Introduce new things
  • We are actually regulars at The New Victory Theater, where we are amongst many moms, dads and kids eager for the special performances they present from around the world. For one of my daughter's first theaterical experiences, we went to see The Enchanted Pig at the New Vic. It was one of those "Aha!" moments for me about living near New York City and being able to introduce my children to the finest theatrical experiences in existence. My daughter was literally enchanted by the production.

Encourage their budding interests
  • When your kids are ready, start them on musical instruments—even toy instruments, until you feel they are old enough to start taking lessons. Going to a classical concert will take on a whole new meaning. We recently took our kids to Jazz at Lincoln CenterJazz for Young People. Now that my son is interested in playing the guitar and is taking piano lessons, his interest in these types of concerts is far greater than before.
  • The same goes for drama lessons! If your child seems to have a knack for acting, don't shy away from it. Nurture the passion and energy.

Know your family's limits
  • Space your events out. I know that my kids need to play too, so I never plan too much in a weekend. Going to one event and making it special goes a lot further than overwhelming your children and wearing them out.
  • Make sure your kids are well fed before the curtain rises to avoid any issues during the show.
  • If your child has a meltdown or can't make it through a show, take a step back and stop going until you see a change in behavior. Instead, read books, talk about plays and encourage music and theater at home.
Culture is important to my kids because it's important to their mom. I make it a part of our daily life, and using the tactics I mention above, they want it just as much as I do. Living in New York City, there are so many choices for a culture-loving family. It's important to take advantage of what we have on our doorstep.

This post was originally seen on our blog in 2011.
   
Holly Rosen Fink Holly Rosen Fink has a career that spans the world of television and publishing, including positions at Lifetime Television, Nickelodeon/MTV and John Wiley & Sons where she worked closely with Arthur and Pauline Frommer to promote their brand.  She is currently the founder and CEO of Pivoting Media, a marketing consultancy that focuses on mindful social media.

 
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