New Victory Arts Break: Connect to ChelseaDee Harrison

From finding inspiration outdoors and in books to building creative spaces at home, we’ve spent the last few weeks exploring the artistry of New Victory LabWorks Artist ChelseaDee Harrison—theater-maker, storyteller and podcaster! This week, we’ll wrap up our exploration of ChelseaDee’s auditory storytelling with some interview-based activities and then practice getting into character.

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New Victory Arts Break: Connect to ChelseaDee Harrison

Flip Letter Fun

Audio storytelling, like you might hear in a radio play or on a podcast like ChelseaDee’s, will sometimes use interviews with other people as the basis for the story. As many a journalist will tell you, a good story comes from asking the right questions and then documenting and organizing the answers artfully and truthfully. A thoughtful interview can also be the starting point for other artistic creations! Let’s conduct an interview with someone we admire and then document the conversation through a piece of mail art.

To start, pick someone to interview. Maybe it’s a family member that you live with or a friend you can call. Whoever you choose, it should be someone you look up to and whose life story you want to learn more about. You can ask them anything you’d like, but here are some questions to start with. During the interview, write down their responses in your New Victory Notebook, or on the template below.

Flip Letter Interview worksheet template

Now you can honor and uplift the story of the person you interviewed by transforming it into something new—let’s make a flip letter! A flip letter is a document that unfolds in magical and surprising ways, and it’s a great way to archive an interview or capture a story. Let’s join New Victory Teaching Artist Marisol Rosa-Shapiro as she creates a flip letter based on an interview with her mother.

It’s time to create your own flip letter! Gather your materials and let’s get started.

Materials: A foldable sturdy paper base, like a greeting card; more sturdy paper; tape or glue; scissors; markers, crayons or colored pencils; stickers or stamps; photos; magazine or newspaper clippings; other small mementos; an envelope

Step One: Start by designing the folded base of your flip letter. Marisol started with a greeting card, but you could use a sheet of sturdy paper folded in half, a manila folder, a dust jacket from a book or even a cardboard box. Then attach additional pages or flaps with tape or glue so that your flip letter unfolds in an interesting way—the more flips, the more story!

An animated demo of a flip letter!

Step Two: Using your interview as inspiration, gather and craft all the little artistic details that will make your flip letter a vibrant reflection of your interviewee’s memories. Marisol gathered stickers, postage stamps and ink stamps, and she also crafted some personalized handwritten details on smaller pieces of paper. Photos, clippings, ticket stubs—include as many mementos as you like!

Step Three: Assemble your flip letter! Get creative about where and how you place the items and details you gathered. Are they hidden behind each other? Do they slide out of pockets?

TA Marisol holding her assembled flip letter

Step Four: Finally, place your flip letter in an envelope and gift it to the person you interviewed, or surprise and delight them by sending it through the mail! Remember Marisol’s advice: include at least 70¢ worth of postage on your envelope. If you need help, ask an adult.

Note to Self

No one to interview? No problem! New Victory Education Fellow William Porter had the great idea to create a flip letter to inspire his future self.

“I created a flip letter with a few different messages. I added a smiley face as a reminder to always smile through everything. On the other side I placed words that will encourage me to keep on standing tall and holding on. I also added a reminder to keep traveling because I love it. I’ve been to 25 states and 3 continents, and I want to keep seeing more!”

New Victory Fellow William's flip letter

Ask yourself some of the interview questions, and think about what dreams and wishes you have for the future. Then create a flip letter for yourself and put it away somewhere safe so that your future self can open it and be inspired to keep striving for those same dreams.

Radio Talk

Radio plays and podcasts are great ways to tell stories, discuss topics in depth and introduce people to new ideas. ChelseaDee is currently adapting her play for middle and high schoolers, Sheela and the Amazons, into a radio play—a sonic drama! The play, inspired by Adrienne Mayor’s research into the warrior women of the ancient world, follows a young woman back through time to the matriarchal society of the mythical Amazons.

ChelseaDee Harrison holding a book titled The Amazons

ChelseaDee’s podcast, Vanguard of the Viragoes, is inspired by that same research. In each episode, she recounts the legend of one of history’s lesser known female heroes and then welcomes a guest to discuss the story and its themes in depth. If you were to create a podcast about a legendary hero or ancestor, how would you go about telling that story? And what if you could interview that person? Let’s practice being podcast hosts and imagine how our heroes might engage in an interview with us.

Step One: In your New Victory Notebook, write down who you would like to interview. Is it an ancestor of yours? A superhero? An extinct animal? Maybe it is a character you’ve always wanted to meet, or a historical icon that you look up to.

Step Two: Write and rehearse an introduction to your podcast episode about the person you would like to interview. Sell it! Explain why this person means so much to you, and make people want to tune in and keep listening. Need some help? Get started by filling in the blanks in this template or writing out a similar introduction in your New Victory Notebook.

Podcast Guest Introduction worksheet template

New 42 Youth Corps member Catherine Bondarenko imagined interviewing singer, songwriter and Queen frontman, Freddie Mercury! She recorded her intro as an example—take a listen:

Step Three: Now that you’ve set up the interview, it’s time to think about what you might ask and how your interviewee might answer your questions. Think: How do they talk? What stories would they love to tell? What about them is funny? What are they passionate about?

Ask a family member to play the character that you are interested in interviewing, or play the character yourself! Write out some questions and answers, and have fun getting into character. For example, take a look at some of the questions Catherine wrote in her notebook and how she imagined Freddie Mercury might answer!

Notes from a podcast interview with Freddie Mercury!

Step Four: Once you have a script ready for your intro and all of your interview questions are prepped, record your podcast! Keep it conversational and be sure to have fun—if you enjoy yourself and your guest has a good time, your listeners will, too.

Youth Corps Spotlight

At the end of every fourth week of New Victory Arts Break, we spend some time with a member of the New 42 Youth Corps who has a connection to one of the art forms, themes or artistic processes showcased over the prior four weeks.

Annalisa D’Aguilar headshot

Meet Annalisa D’Aguilar,
New 42 Youth Corps Member

Annalisa D’Aguilar is a performer, actor and creator who strives to be better at her craft daily. She hasn’t given up despite how difficult her career goals might get. Her tenacity and commitment to develop the characters she plays has brought her a long way. New Victory Education Fellow William Porter spoke with Annalisa about her love of acting and her process of getting into character.

William: How did you discover you were into acting?

Annalisa: When I was a kid, I wanted to be on Barney or the Disney Channel, but I don’t think I understood that it was a career I could realistically pursue. But I remember the exact moment I fell in love with acting. When I was nine years old, I went to Broadway on Broadway, where a bunch of Broadway shows performed snippets of their show on a big stage in Times Square. I remember thinking “I want to do that!” and I’ve been doing it ever since.

W: Out of all of the characters you’ve played, which one is your favorite?

A: I can’t say I have a favorite because I love so many, but if I had to pick, I would say Trinculo in The Tempest. I would love to have the opportunity to play him again.

W: Who’s your favorite actor?

A: Too many actors to list! I love Florence Pugh. She’s so versatile, and that’s everything I love in an actor. Someone I deeply respect is Phylicia Rashad. I had the honor of being in a Zoom group meeting with her, and just her presence changed the way I think about learning.

W: If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

A: Super speed! I could get so many things done super quickly, and I could go anywhere in a matter of seconds. I think it’s the most practical super power.

W: What motivates you to keep performing?

A: That there is someone else who will see my work and feel inspired. If I can change one person’s viewpoint, I have done my job. I want little black girls to feel like they can create the type of career they want, despite what the industry might tell you.

W: What advice would you give to someone who wants to be an actor?

A: Don’t give up, work hard and believe that you are enough. You are amazing and wonderful, and being your authentic self is the most important thing. You are the one who will change the world, so believe in yourself! This is a hard career, but as long as the goal is to be good at what you do rather than achieve fame, you will love what you do 10 times more.

W: What’s one thing you do before every performance?

A: Warm up! Warming up is something that you must do before every rehearsal and every show. Runners warm up before they go for a jog. Gymnasts have to stretch before they do their exercises. The same is true for actors! We have to warm up our voices and our bodies to be able to create a character.

The next time you’re getting ready to perform, try some of Annalisa’s physical warmups to get your blood pumping.

Character Play

Ever wonder how an actor gets into character? How do actors decide how their character should move or talk or react to other people? Annalisa shared a few specific ways she gets into character—she says it all starts with a character collage!

Annalisa’s collage technique allows you to really get in the mindset of a character. Let’s create a character collage inspired by a character you would love to play!

Step One: Take out your New Victory Notebook and jot down a few of your favorite characters from books, theater, television, comics—any story you love!

Step Two: From your list, pick the one character who stands out the most as someone you’d like to play. On the next page in your notebook, jot down every single thing you know about that character.

  • What are they known for?
  • What are some of their favorite things?
  • What colors, smells and sounds do you associate with them?

Feel free to do some research to find out even more and grow your list of traits.

Step Three: Based on your list of traits, collect imagery that reminds you of your character. This could include drawings, clippings, images you find online, or even lines of text. Education Fellow William gathered a few images related to his character—a well-dressed lawyer from a TV show:

Images for the wardrobe William's lawyer character

Step Four: After you have collected your images, tape or glue them all onto one page in your notebook to form a collage. Try to fill every bit of space. Alternatively, if you collected images online, you can create a digital collage using a tool like Jamboard or Collage Maker. Take a look at William and Annalisa’s collages below and notice the different ways they combined all of their images.

Annalisa’s collage for the evil stepmother is two pages because she divided her images into things that her character loves versus things that her character hates. If your character has a wicked side, this is a great way to separate the things they surely love about themselves from the unpleasantness they’re better known for.

BONUS: Bring your character to life! Find ways to walk and talk like your character, and try to go about your daily routine as them. Brush your teeth, eat dinner, get the mail. Do you have any clothing that you think your character would wear? Put it on!

William in full character!

We hope you’ve enjoyed the last four weeks of creative exploration, inspired by the work of ChelseaDee Harrison, and that you’re ready to create something new yourself! Next week, we’ll meet another New Victory LabWorks Artist, nicHi douglas, and spend the following few weeks diving into her inspirations and artistic practices. Until next time!

New Victory Arts Break Supporters

New Victory Arts Break is funded, in part, by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

New Victory LabWorks Supporters

New Victory LabWorks is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and by grants from the Madeleine L’Engle Fund of the Crosswicks Foundation, The Ford Foundation and the Howard Gilman Foundation.