Meet Cassidy, New Office Intern

From Cassidy Kapps-Gibson, new Office Admin. Intern

I’d like to introduce myself as a new intern here at Yes! And…Collaborative Arts. I am doing my internship, from September to late March, via Drexel University, where I am a sophomore English major. I am focusing on nonprofit office administration. If you call into YACA during the fall or winter seasons there is a good chance I will answer your call. Besides that, I am carrying out day-to-day office tasks, as well as working on the YACA website and blog. I am really excited to learn more about nonprofit organization, as well as Yes! And… as a whole.

Almost all aspects of Yes! And… drew me to work here. I’ve been around arts and social justice-based nonprofits all my life, so the atmosphere is familiar to me. To this end, art is one of the most important things in my life. Having been raised by two phenomenal visual and performance artists, I myself am a collage artist and photographer and am interested in art therapy, as well as the arts as a form of education.

Hailing from West Philadelphia, I attended a grade school that valued community arts initiatives and worked closely with small arts organizations around West Philly. I also attended a creative and performing arts high school as a creative writing major.

I haven’t gotten the chance to be around the campers at YACA as of yet, but I am excited to attend events and learn more about the benefits of art in education and development.

The Power of the Arts for ‘Tweens

From Michael Brix, our Executive Director

Making friends in Summer Theatre Camp

I am going to share something that may be unpopular: I love middle schoolers! (Full disclosure, I currently have two middle schoolers, but my love for this age group started way before those two yahoos found their way into my life.) I find that kids who are in that special pre-teen age are some of the most interesting, fun, and weirdly loveable kids around. Long before popular culture started calling them “tweens,” I  knew there was something different about them.

Physically this so true! First of all, we know that anywhere in this age range kids can start going through puberty. It is not uncommon for there to be huge gaps in size and strength from one to the other. Their brains show the same kind of disparity. Inside each of them is the child who loved to play with their toys and the teen who would be devastated if their friends ever found that out.

While working on staff at Summer Theatre Camp (so many moons ago) I was with a middle school tribe who kept having trouble with one dynamic young man. In some school settings, he’d be labeled as a trouble-maker. His peers wavered between distraction, frustration, and tolerating him. To make our tribe work, I needed his peers to trust him. Over the course of two weeks, he and I pushed and pulled and then he found a stick. Like, a huge stick. He called it his staff and immediately I was worried that it was going to be a problem (one of the first lessons in my undergrad education program was “don’t let them have sticks.”) I am sure everyone was surprised when we decided to not only let him keep this half-a-tree, but also made it a central part of our tribe’s story! This staff became the way that the tribe interacted with each other. As each middle schooler surrendered to their imagination, a potential distraction or even dangerous object was turned into a positive experience for all.

Middle schoolers are always goofing around! And we wouldn’t want it any other way!

I learned how to trust these not-quite-children, not-yet-teens through the years. Every time, I was rewarded. Heather Wolpert-Gawron, author and educator of middle schoolers says:

Anything you can do to help a ‘tween feel more secure in their abilities and possibilities will potentially improve their achievement… Anything you can do to make a ‘tween feel more in control becomes a powerful tool for you and for them. (Check out the rest of her article on middle school brains here.)

We need to learn to trust these amazing kids. At Yes! And… Collaborative Arts, our programming began 20 years ago with Summer Theatre Camp for 5th-8th grades. For almost 8 years, we exclusively served this age group because we looked around at programming in our neighborhoods and found a lack of engaging, empowering, and uplifting activities for them. We needed a place where it was ok to imagine, to pretend to be adults, to remember their childhood playtimes.

Through the arts, we can give them the opportunity to try and succeed, to learn through collaboration, and to apply their imagination to real world problems and difficulties. In acting, they play a character that is their creation and they learn to use their voice for power. In visual arts they learn that there are no mistakes (just “happy accidents.”) In dance and movement class they learn how to move that ever-changing body and develop a relationship with it even when it fails them. Through storytelling they hold on to their wildly imaginative impulses and have them validated on stage in front of an audience.

At a time when it is easier to let middle schoolers stay home, watch their younger siblings, or play on a screen, we encourage families to instead think about providing them a place where they can be engaged with their peers, with professional artists, and with their imagination. Join us today and allow us the opportunity to speak into your ‘tween’s life. They can even bring their younger siblings along.*

At Yes! And… Collaborative Arts, making art with ‘tweens is our passion, our work, and our legacy.

Check out all of our programming for ‘tweens – Summer Theatre Camp | After School Group | Studio Classes | Sort of Thing

*In the summer, younger siblings can join Imagination Camp and older siblings can join us our Shadow Company!

Program report: After School Group

Editor’s note: This entry was written by Heather McBride, our ASG Director. To inquire about next year’s program, please visit the website and sign up for info!

Our first year of After School Group is coming to an end, so I wanted to share with you a little bit about what this past year has been like. There have been some ups and downs, but all around we definitely had fun. One of our coolest visual arts projects we made, was a stop motion video based off of a story we created as a group. The kids really loved seeing their work come to life on the screen, but we may have had a little too much fun adding in the sound effects. (You can watch the full video here.)

Another project that we are really proud of is our garden. We partnered with the community garden at the Holman field behind Germantown Mennonite Church. Right now we are growing tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini, peppers, broccoli, corn and basil. It was really difficult to narrow down our choices, so we just planted a little bit of everything. We have loved watching our garden grow, some of them from tiny seeds and others from pre-started plants. On our final Foodie Friday™ we are going to have a farm to table meal with the fruits of our garden. We will most likely have to wait for some of the plants to grow a little bit more, but luckily lots of our ASG kids are coming to Summer camp, so they can keep up with the garden.

This past year has been a lot of fun, we learned a lot, told tons of riddles, and ate so much food. We are so excited for all of the cool things we will get to make, learn about, and of course eat, at ASG next year.

Guest post: “Giving Beauty Back” by Katie Wilson of Elephant Room Productions

Editor’s Note: From time to time we will feature guest posts from our Artist Teaching staff. We hope to bring you content that is helpful in understanding who the artists are who work directly with our children and youth. In today’s entry we hear from Artist Teacher Katie Wilson who, along with Artist Teacher Phil Czekner, helps lead Elephant Room Productions, a theatre production company dedicated to telling difficult stories. We encourage you to check them out. Post disclaimer: This post mentions the existence of suicide.

Giving Beauty Back: The Heart & Story Behind Elephant Room Productions

YACA Teaching Artists: Phil Czekner and Katie Wilson.
     Phil is the Executive Director of ERP and Katie is the Marketing Director of ERP.
                                              (Article written by Katie Wilson)

Art is important: whether you are learning it, teaching it, creating it, or just enjoying it. Art is important to have in our lives. As a young theatre artist, I have made it my mission to surround myself with art that will better the lives of others. This was one of the reasons I was drawn to Yes! And… Collaborative Arts. As an artist teacher and collaborator, I am given the opportunity to enrich children’s lives through music, play, and guidance while learning so much from them in the process. Art is all about give and take. As an undergrad studying theatre at DeSales University, I had the rare opportunity to work one-on-one with the late founder of our department, Father Gerard Schubert. Even in his old age, he was constantly inspiring young artists such as myself. He had a personal tagline that he carried with him from day one: “Give Beauty Back”. This phrase has informed my personal and artistic life more than I can explain, and has led me to companies and collaborations that are living this mission out to the fullest. One of those companies is Elephant Room Productions.

Elephant Room Productions, a bi-locational theatre company, was founded in 2014 by Christopher G. Ulloth and Lauren M. Shover, along with a close group of collaborative artists (including Yes! And… Collaborative Arts’ Phil Czekner.) It began with a simple goal: to create the work we wanted to do on our own terms. Our mission statement is based on our devotion to create work that brings to light the stories and issues that are typically more difficult to face. A couple of our previous projects have included topics such as racism, PTSD, addiction, schizophrenia and immigration. We bring this work to the public in many different ways: producing staged readings through our Elephant Ears Reading Series, participating in local cultural events and fundraisers, and producing full-length productions. We strive to use our art to raise awareness of the issues at hand and in turn create true change.

As mentioned above, a unique cornerstone of ERP is our Elephant Ears Reading Series.  The Elephant Ears Reading Series, or EERS, is a developmental playwriting program of our own design. This program gives a home to original pieces at any stage of development and allows writers and actors alike to hone their craft without the pressure of an audience! EERS is broken up into a few developmental stages that take our playwrights on a journey until they feel overtly confident in the work they have created. EERS is the heart and soul of our company and allows us to choose and develop work that we believe will give the most beauty back into the world.

Due to our success and growth thus far, our herd decided to embark on a brand-new adventure this year. Suicide Stories: Gallery of the Untold, a 2017 Philadelphia Fringe Festival piece, will be our first full-length production! This play features a number of different playwrights who have curated original pieces exploring the topic of suicide from the eyes of a survivor. Each piece incorporates its own specific art medium including painting, dance, mosaic, film, etc. to be performed in an interactive gallery setting. The point of this piece is to humanize this problem without romanticizing it. Suicide is an epidemic. It is taboo and misunderstood. We aim to start a meaningful conversation while doing these stories justice. A portion of the proceeds from this production will go directly to a suicide awareness establishment in hopes to continue the fight against suicide.

Much like our teachings with Yes! And… Collaborative Arts, we believe every story deserves to be told and every voice deserves to be heard. We at ERP are so grateful to have the opportunity to create and produce the art we are passionate about. Please join us for one of our upcoming events or reach out to us today to see how you can get involved and make a difference. Join the herd today and always remember to give beauty back.

WANNA SEE US IN ACTION? Join us for our upcoming, collaborative cabaret that is kicking off Philly Beer Week: A Midsummer Night’s Cabaret: Bottoms Up! This ridiculous, musical, drinking game of a show takes place on Sunday June 4, 2017 at City Tap House University City located at 3925 Walnut Street! Visit our events page for details and tickets!

WANNA LEARN MORE? To learn more about Elephant Room Productions, Suicide Stories: Gallery of the Untold, the work we create, the artists behind it, or how to get involved, please visit our website here!

WANNA JOIN THE HERD? If you believe in our mission and want to help us create art that will provoke inspiration and change, please visit our donation page and donate today!

WANNA COLLABORATE? Elephant Room Productions is always accepting submissions from playwrights, actors, collaborative artists or anyone else who wishes to get involved. Reach out, submit, or just simply say “hello!” at erpsubmissions@gmail.com!

WANNA FOLLOW US? You can find us on all major social media sites (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, & LinkedIn) as well as iTunes with our featured podcast, The Trumpet!

Guest post: “Putting Art to Work to Make a Difference” by Belle Alvarez (Artist Teacher)

Editor’s Note: From time to time we will feature guest posts from our Artist Teaching staff. We hope to bring you content that is helpful in understanding who the artists are who work directly with our children and youth. In today’s entry we celebrate with Belle as she shares about an exciting new opportunity with the Painted Bride Art Center. Belle has been an Artist Teacher with us for a few years teaching in Summer Camps and Studio classes. We encourage you to follow along with her during this amazing opportunity on her website or her Facebook page.

  Artist teacher Belle Alvarez leading campers in a movement exercise

When I’m not teaching movement at Summer Theatre Camp or Imagination Camp, I love to use dance and movement in projects that bring together art, civic engagement, and activism. This spring, I applied to and was selected for a residency with the Painted Bride Art Center called BrideNext, which is “a citywide collaboration with people in their 20s and 30s who want to put art to work making a difference in Philadelphia.” My project will be looking at the experience of immigration, becoming American, exploring themes around sanctuary and family, and creating space for immigrants from different cultures to share their stories and celebrate what makes each culture unique.

Here are 3 ways that some of Yes! And… Collaborative Arts’ values appear in the process:

Collaboration

For this project, I am supported by an advisory board of individuals who are artists, community organizers, youth workers, city workers, and entrepreneurs. Their insight and connections will play an important role in connecting with the wider Philadelphia community. A gentleman who works for the city’s office of immigration affairs offered to introduce me to organizations who work with immigrants. I will also be seeking collaboration in dramaturgy, sound design, and composition to add texture and depth to my vision for the performance.

Developing a Story

On November 17 and 18, BrideNext will have two evening length performances of the artists’ work. Like a good session at camp, there is a lot to explore in this “story.” I will spend a lot of time looking at the different nuances of the immigrant experience, how it has shaped the history and culture of our city, and what we as a society can do to create a world that welcomes and honors people who come from cultures that are different that ours.

Mentorship

At Yes! And… Summer Theatre Camps, campers get to work alongside professional artists as they develop their collaborative and artistic skills. As an artist with BrideNext, I am being mentored by artist-activists who have a wealth of knowledge for me to learn from. I am learning from my project advisor about a big artistic and civic project she did 20 years ago in New York City, long before I became a professional artist. I am reading articles and chapters on the history and legacy of artist-activists, and reflecting on where my role is in the movement in 2017.

I hope to see you at the Painted Bride this fall after camp! In the meantime, look out for updates on my website and Facebook page.

-Belle