New Victory Arts Break: Discover with nicHi douglas

Let’s continue visiting some of our favorite artists creating theater for young people—the artists of New Victory LabWorks! Over the next four weeks, we’ll be exploring the inspirations and artistic processes of playwright, choreographer and lover of cartoons, nicHi douglas! Along the way, we’ll check in with some LabWorks alumni and play alongside New Victory Ushers and Teaching Artists. Ready? Grab your New Victory Notebook, and let’s go!

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New Victory Arts Break: Discover with nicHi douglas

Meet the Artists

New Victory LabWorks has helped foster over 60 projects on their journeys to the stage, and more than half of them have toured across the country and around the world as fully developed productions. Let’s meet some LabWorks alumni and see what creative projects they’ve been cooking up recently!

A trio of images of Spellbound Theatre, Faye Chiao and Christopher Anselmo.

  • Spellbound Theatre is an award-winning theater company creating work for the very young, and their show The World Inside Me was part of the New Victory Theater’s 2018-19 season. Over the past year, they’ve been creating videos and activities for families to do from home, including Anywhere with Catbear.
  • Faye Chiao is a composer and performer of musical theater, opera, concert music and film. Check out some of her work on her website, including video clips and selected tracks from some of her musical theater and opera works. Fun fact: Faye also recently collaborated with New Victory Teaching Artist Chesney Snow on his piece Upstream as part of the 2021 Cold Read Festival!
  • Christopher Anselmo is a first-generation American songwriter and playwright, and he and his writing partner, Jared Corak, collaborated with puppetmakers and fellow LabWorks Artists Fergus Walsh and Matt Acheson on The Pout-Pout Fish, which swam onto the New Victory stage in the 2019-20 season.

Now let’s get to know 2020-21 LabWorks Artist nicHi douglas! nicHi is a Brooklyn-based performer, choreographer, director, writer and activist, who spells her name with a capital H! She is the Head of Movement in the NYU/Tisch Playwrights Horizons Theater School studio and she has worked with artistic institutions across the country, including Denver Center in Colorado, Berkeley Rep in California, the National Museum of African American Music in Tennessee, and The Public Theater and Carnegie Hall here in New York City. Let’s catch up with her in Crown Heights and learn more about what inspires her as an artist.

Take out your New Victory Notebook and reflect on the following questions:

  • Where do you love to think up your stories? In your quiet time? On a train ride?
  • When you want to learn about a person’s life, where do you begin?
  • Was there anything in the video that looked familiar to you?
  • nicHi realized she was a performer from watching cartoons! Is there something or someone in your life that inspires you to think about who you will be in the future?
  • What are some things that make you want to get up and move?

Stories As Old As Time

One of nicHi’s inspirations is life and the lived experiences of other people. Life is filled with stories, and there are infinite ways to tell them! There are stories in the houses we pass by on the street, in the memories of folks that we love and even in the simple acts of everyday life. In this activity, let’s explore all the different ways to tell the story of someone we love.

Step One: Pick a person you want to celebrate through a story—someone in your home, a distant family member, a best friend—and have them answer the following questions, each in just one sentence. Jot down their answers in your New Victory Notebook.

  • Who are you?
  • What is your favorite thing to do?
  • Where do you live and what do you love about it?
  • What is one of your biggest fears?
  • When you are sad, what makes you happy?
  • What is your favorite food in the whole world?
  • What is your favorite memory?
  • What is a place that makes you feel the calmest? The silliest?

Step Two: From their responses, choose five keywords that stand out to you. Start to think of what story those five words tell.

A handwritten list of questions and their corresponding answers

Step Three: Now it’s time to think of what art forms you might use to best tell this story. Is there an art form you already love? Maybe you’re a dancer or a painter or an actor. Or maybe the answers are inspiring you to learn a new art form—do you hear a song emerge from the responses? A comedy act?

Remember, there are infinite possibilities when it comes to style in these art forms. How wacky can you get? Can you tell a whole story through jokes? Can you tell it through a board game? A riddle? How about from your pet’s perspective?

Step Four: Now that you’ve chosen your art form, tell the story! Once you’ve rehearsed your performance or made your art piece, share it with the loved one you interviewed.

An artistic collage inspired by a family member or friend

BONUS: Answer the questions for yourself. Now that the story you’re telling is about you, does that change how you might express the story artistically? How do you want your story to be told?

Neighborhood Charades

There is beauty around us everywhere. nicHi took us around her community and showed us all of the things that inspire her. In our home and the minute we step outside, we are surrounded by inspiring shapes and colors. Let’s follow along with New Victory Teaching Artist P. Tyler Britt as he takes us on an adventure through his neighborhood.

Let’s explore some more!

Step One: Grab your New Victory Notebook and a pen. Take a moment to think about your neighborhood. Think about what you see, the kinds of sounds you hear, the smells, the textures—everything! Set a timer for 30 seconds, and make a list of all the words you would use to describe your neighborhood.

Step Two: Time for a sense-based scavenger hunt! Grab a grown-up and take a walk around your neighborhood. While you’re out, try to find as many sights, sounds, smells and textures as you wrote down. Write down experiences that match those words.

A handwritten, sense-based scavenger hunt list

Step Three: Once you get back home, look at your list. Pick an item from the list, and see if you can create a move or a gesture that matches that shape. This can be as grand or as small as you would like it to be. Think of P. Tyler’s examples. How would you put “shiny” in your body? What about “green?”

Step Four: Grab a friend or family member and have them try to guess what you are recreating. No words! Just movement and shapes with your body.

Siobhan recreating a shape with the movement of her body
(It’s pizza from the neighborhood pizzeria!)

BONUS: Have someone else create a list and create movements for you to guess! Or have everyone write down ideas on small slips of paper, then mix them all up and have everyone take turns performing and guessing. Put a timer on to raise the stakes, and remember—no words!

Have fun creating movements inspired by the people, places, sights, sounds, smells and textures of your neighborhood!

Color the City

Your hometown is filled with buildings, landmarks, people and memories, but have you ever imagined it filled with more unusual things? What if a rainbow led to a pot of gold hidden under that pothole, or dinosaur feet stomped alongside you on the sidewalk? Or what if all the buildings had water slides for fire escapes?! Let’s play around with magical realism and sprinkle some imagination onto the real world.

Materials: A printed image; plain paper; color pencils, crayons or markers; scissors; glue or tape

Step One: From a magazine, newspaper or printed from the internet, find an image of the outdoors, preferably a space with buildings or homes. Cut it out and paste it into your New Victory Notebook.

A photo of a city street
Photo: Wally Gobetz

Step Two: On a blank piece of paper, draw different things that you would love to see in the real-life image. A unicorn, colorful clouds, you and your family or maybe a friend. Draw as many of these separate images as you like.

A white sheet of paper with drawings of a flying unicorn, a dinosaur, an astronaut and desserts, with a pair of scissors on top

Step Three: Cut out your illustrations and glue or tape them onto your real-world image.

Cut out illustrations glued onto a printed photo of a city street

Step Four: Now, looking at your new work of art, what story do you see being told? Who is the main character? What kind of day is it? How are they feeling? What big event is happening to them? Take a second to write down the wackiest story you can think of.

A short story inspired by an original illustrated work of art

Step Five: Share your story and illustration with a friend or family member. Ask them to look at your creation and tell you what stories they see being told.

Have fun creating as many colorful worlds as you would like! Reality is totally overrated. Then join us next week, as we meet nicHi’s ensemble of collaborators and learn more about her creative process.

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.