First Online with Fran Episode 2: Starting a Workshop!

Pulitzer Prize Winning Author Paula Vogel

On Feb. 8th, 2012, Pulitzer Prize Winning Author Paula Vogel spoke at the Drama Bookshop in Manhattan. This five part series will feature clips that highlight topics of her discussion. The first of the series is called “The Great American Bake Off.”

First On-Line With Fran was shot and edited by Brandon York Productions with special thanks to Nancy Reardon and the Drama Bookshop in Manhattan!

Paula Vogel’s Pulitzer Prize winning play “How I Learned to Drive,” played on Broadway’s Second Stage Theatre, and was the first professional NYC production of the play since its premiere 15 years ago.

chandra thomas: ACTOR-WRITER-PRODUCER-YOUTH ARTS EDUCATION ADVOCATE

For as long as she can remember, chandra thomas ACTOR-WRITER-PRODUCER-YOUTH ARTS EDUCATION ADVOCATE credits her family for instilling a love of storytelling. Entrenched in her upbringing between Harlem and Long Island was the importance of enduring the history of her family, expressing her insights and opinions about everyday occurrences, from the mundane to the sublime: “Learning about my world through stories became a big influence in terms of my own journey to this quadruple title world that I now live in.” Drawn to work that tells stories, chandra is inspired to tell “unique, stories that aren’t just recycling of stories we have already heard.”
chandra-ACTOR has the capacity to delve into a character’s spirit through their need to tell their story. She actively seeks subjects whose stories might not have been told.  Her mother is an ardent believer in the importance of the arts and took chandra to her first play at the age of five to see Big River.  Although awed by the spectacle and magic of live theater it wasn’t until she was in high school when she went to see Rent  that she had her “aha” moment:  “I saw people who I knew…people who were in the neighborhood that I grew up in, friends that I hung out with, family that I recognized.  There were people whose stories I had never seen on a stage, no less a Broadway stage, before.” Armed with this new vision, chandra-PRODUCER makes it her mission to promote points of view that might not have otherwise been heard.
And this is why chandra-YOUTH ARTS EDUCATION ADVOCATE  co-founded viBe Theater Experience whose mission is to empower teenage girls through the collaborative, performing arts.  For ten years she has been working with teen girls form all over New York City to create original plays, performances, music, poems, videos, poetic performances originally derived by the young women in a collaborative environment:  “It’s really about the girls speaking from their own voices; it’s often the first time girls [have their voices] validated…to be able to say what they have to say [and that] it’s important, that someone wants to hear it, and very often it’s the first time they discover they are not the only one [who shares similar experiences].”  Using the arts as a vehicle, these young women develop skills such as literacy, critical thinking, cultural competency, marketing, advocacy:  “Our goal is to create well-rounded, well-informed young women who are prepared to meet all challenges, all triumphs ahead…we’re preparing young women to make decisions about what their future is and create the path to achieve that future.”  Girls have gone on to medical school, some in politics, law school, English teachers, and some even become artists! One particular story stands out for chandra: She came to the tryout on the arm of a viBe Alum and spent much of the session detached from the discussion.  When asked why she was interested in being a viBe Girl, she sat there stunned.  In the most eloquent terms, she described how this was the first time she was in a space “where people just listen to me.” Not only did she thrive as a member of the project, but also went on to receive a full scholarship to St. John’s University; a girl who never even considered going to college as an option before working with viBe!  “She found the core of her real story,” interjects chandra, “she had all these other things around it, but it was really…she didn’t know that [she] could afford it.”  Had she not been in the kind of supportive environment she might not have realized her destiny. Today she’s interested in being an English major; this is a “viBe success story. Even as this young woman has academic pursuits outside of” The Arts”, this is a success story as viBe uses art as the vehicle not the destination.”
chandra-WRITER  upcoming play, a one-act called Standing At…  and tells the story of 2 women from the South Bronx  who are long time friends, and one is surviving HIV.  It has poetry woven throughout, original songs that capture traditional Gospel songs, and  ”it’s that storytelling.  “It comes right back to where I started—that storytelling.  That really specific story of two real people being in the same space and how much beauty there is right there.” The play opens March 30th at HERE Arts Center, 145 6th Avenue, NYC.  Follow chandra  on her website, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

Guest Lecturer at The City College of New York School of Education

This past Monday evening, Iwas a guest lecturer at the CCNY Program in Educational Theater Teaching Literacy Through Drama graduate course.  One of the assignments is The Diary Project; wherein, classmates creatediary entries from their childhood and adapt them as monologues and/or scenesculminating in a devised performance.

To get them started on thisproject, I selected a playwriting icebreaker exercise from Young Playwrights Inc.’s Write A Play Curriculum calledWhat’s In A Name? Each participant introducedthemselves by substituting their last name with a new one that reflected eitheran aspect of their personality of which they are particularly proud, orsomething they recently accomplished. For example, I became Fran Dream Reaper; others included SobhaSeedplanter, Marissa Laughter, Laura Lunacy, Joe Bridgemaker, EricSilkscreener, and so forth.  The groupselected Amy Jazzhands as the name they found to be the most evocative.  Delineating the difference between the REALAmy and the one that the group would create, the character evolved as aseven-year-old girl who wore red sequined tap shoes with bows, a neon greentutu with yellow suspenders, had bright red-curly pigtails that bounced whenshe walked.  She carried a journal in herdoggy bag pack and spoke with a froggy voice. She left her home in Staten Island to tell the group something that made thisday different than any other.  She said, “I am leaving home.”  Another response, “I have jazzy hands and Ineed your help.”  Another had her announce,“A crime has been committed and I’m here to solve it.”  Each participant was instructed to choose oneof the prompts and write a monologue clarifying Amy Jazzhands’ Need To Tell.  The renditions were read aloud and the groupdiscussed how the character communicated WHAT she needed to tell, WHO sheneeded to tell and WHY this day was different from all other days? Tofacilitate the lesson further, the class deconstructed the exercise:  the power of choices, how names tell ussomething about the character, how selections impact characterization,etc.  In addition, a discussion ensued onhow the exercise could be integrated into their professional praxis.  During the hands-on demonstration, I stepped outof role to note “teachable moments”; for example, how it applied to a COREstandard, literacy goals, classroom management strategy, etc.

The Paper Airplane exercise was used as an assessment tool:  every member “flew” their paper airplane andshared what they learned.  We exploredhow that same urgency for feedback can be applied to playwriting.  To learn more about how these exercises andothers are used as playwriting tools, the class was encouraged to attend Young Playwrights Inc.’s Teacher Training Institute.

To further assess theefficacy of the demonstration, participants were encouraged to imagine possibilities, integrate the lesson into theirprograms, and share their implementationthrough their testimonies on my website.  Ultimately, my goal was to INSPIRE them to take these new tools outinto the field as theater education practitioners and encourage them to putthem to use!

Thank you, Professor Sobha K. Paredes and theCCNY Program in Educational Theater!

How do you use playwriting as ateaching tool?

Why Teach Playwriting?

This column was written for wordplay the Young Playwrights Inc. March 2010 newsletter .