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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.

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

This blog was contributed by New Vic Teaching Artist WT McRae. 

 

WT and a student!
WT teaching one of his Family Acro classes!
Preparing for the upcoming Family Acro Family Workshop, designed around Mother Africa: My Home, I flashback to the last time I taught a similar class at the New Vic. My students and I are seated in a circle in one of the beautiful New 42nd Street Studios overlooking the hustle and bustle of Times Square. I've just finished teaching the workshop, which includes some juggling, clowning and partner acrobatics, and the room is full of smiles. I pose the question: "Did you learn anything new about yourself or someone with you during today's workshop?"

"I had no idea my dad could be so fun!" says a young girl with braids in her hair. "We've never seen our son work so hard or achieve so much," agrees a pair of parents grinning and nodding as they hold the shoulder of their rambunctious eight-year-old. "When we started, I thought I couldn't juggle, but now I'm really good!" says a young man. We close the workshop with a balancing exercise to thank each other for our work.

In my years teaching circus, I have seen students gain work ethic and self esteem while becoming caring, committed community members who help each other learn. I love teaching circus for many reasons, but there are three that stand out. First, there is very little illusion in circus skills. Balancing on one foot and spinning rings on the other, while juggling fire is exactly what it looks like. Watching people do incredible things makes us feel connected to our sense of possibility and human achievement. Learning to do those things can build a great deal of self esteem and self worth. 

Second, circus skills are difficult and leveled. There is a basic concept to every skill, but if you can achieve that, you can make it more challenging. If you can learn to juggle three balls, you can teach yourself to juggle five and eventually you can even light them on fire. If you can learn to stand on one foot, you can do it on a tight wire; if you can learn to stand on one foot on a tight wire, you can learn to spin a ring on the other foot. There is no end to the possibility of advancement. The reality is that the circus teaches us much more than just a skill itself. Learning circus skills helps us develop our appreciation of practice and our ability to break a complex skill into pieces until we have mastered the whole. That ability can take people far in life whether they pursue circus or any other profession!

WT with a student!Third, the circus is a collaborative art form that makes space for people of all shapes, sizes and talents. In fact, it thrives on diversity. In many areas of our life, being tiny and light, big and sturdy, silly and irreverent, or even meticulous and mathematical can create feelings of being left out. In the circus, we need tiny, light people to fly at the top of acrobatic wonders as much as we need big sturdy people to hold up the team as bases. The silly folks make great clowns and the meticulous are perfect for rigging or juggling. It's fun to offer students an artform that asks them what they CAN do, while also requiring a diverse set of skilled specialists. 

In our education programs, we teach a range of artistic workshops related to the shows that come across the stages here. I am lucky to be a part of the Teaching Artist ensemble, and have the joy of facilitating circus workshops in the studios, as well as in many of our partner schools throughout New York City. The TA Ensemble offers kids and families an opportunity to try their hand at circus skills including clowning, juggling, partner acrobatics and tumbling.

Circus education is alive and thriving in the United States. The American Youth Circus Organization estimates between 8,000 to 10,000 youth circuses are practicing in the U.S. alone. These programs represent everything from introductory experiences like those we provide at the New Victory to full scale touring shows with teen performers. But these programs are not just here in the U.S. This season's first circus, Mother Africa: My Home is performed by Circus Der Sinne, a company comprised entirely of graduates of the Hakuna Matata School of Acrobatics, a training program in Tanzania. Set in South Africa, this show will take the stage with an exciting blend of circus feats and South African culture. 

Seeing Mother Africa this week—and being enthralled by their work—brings me to my favorite reason to be involved with circus. It connects me to a global community with one thing in common: the desire to do something incredible.
 
WT McRae WT McRae has lived in NYC since 2001 creating theatrical and visual works, and contributing to the field of arts education. He is an actor, clown, dancer, director, designer, writer, and devised theater collaborator. Working with fellow clown Christina Gelsone he spent 5 years running Fool's Academy and touring shows in schools that teach curriculum using slapstick and circus. As an educator, he works with The New Victory Theater, where he has taught, built curriculum and conducted research. WT is the director of theater for Alaska Arts Southeast, and the Head of the Movement Department for PPAS. Additionally, he is a guest lecturer for NYU, LIU Post, and Circle in The Square Theater School. His research has been presented at The National Guild for Community Arts Education Conference,  the NY Arts in Education Roundtable. Watch for the off broadway premiere of his show Babel this winter at the 14th Street Y.
 

 
New Victory Thumb Experience the excitement of Mother Africa: My Home and see this circus spectacular for yourself.  Get your tickets here!

 
Posted by Beth Henderson
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