Words, Words, Words: 2012 In Review Via Word Cloud

blogEntryTopperby Kevin Ray
Kevin Ray at Newtown Creek Celebration Puppet Parade and Pageant

Writing A Useful Year in Review

As 2012 comes to a close, I decided to write a year in review for Everybody Act! I thought it would be a great way give everyone an inside look at the arts-in-education projects and the community-based projects that happened in 2012. I also thought it would be an opportunity to reflect on the work that was done this year and, if structured well, might be useful in revealing areas of growth for the work and the blog in 2013.

I considered a few structures for the review. Initially I thought about profiling each of the projects Everybody Act! implemented this year. Then I considered compiling a roster of the new partnerships Everybody Act! formed in 2012 with schools and community-based organizations to offer in-school, after-school, creative aging, and intergenerational programs to participants both young and young at heart. Finally, I thought about reflecting on the many, sometimes painful, lessons I learned in writing grants, closing the gap between grant awards received and actual project budgets via crowd funding campaigns, and the bumps in the road I stumbled over when implementing first time projects. However, all of these structures seemed like they would generate lists and I didn’t think lists would point to areas of growth.

In the end, I realized the year in review needed a frame or a lens, some way to look at the year from a specific vantage point. Then I thought, “Why not look at trends in the blog over the year by creating a word cloud?” So I created the word cloud, which you can see at the top of this post.

When I looked at the word cloud, a few useful questions came to mind:
  • What light does the word cloud shed on the content of the blog? In what ways is the blog accurately describing the work at Everybody Act!? What content has been written about frequently and what has been overlooked?
  • What conclusions can be drawn from the word cloud and how might those conclusions point to areas of growth in 2013?
  • How might the word cloud be used to engage people via social media to foster conversations about the work in practice?

What is a word cloud?

A word cloud (formally called a tag cloud) is a visual representation of key words from a selected text (e.g. a transcribed speech, an essay, a poem). It is created by entering the text into an online program that generates a display of the words, weighted to show the most frequently used words in larger font and lesser-used ones in smaller font. The words are then arranged in a shape, similar to a concrete poem. I chose the “callout” shape because it created a visual metaphor, a way of showing what this blog would say if it could talk.

This word cloud was created using Tagxedo. I entered the blog’s web address, clicked “submit”, and the website did the rest!

One important note, Tagxedo only chooses single words; multi-word proper nouns like “New York City” or multi-word terms like “applied theater” are not reflected in the word cloud even though they appear several times in the blog.

Drawing Conclusions from the Word Cloud

The first thing I did was look at the cloud. I looked at the words that were large and the ones that were small. I thought about how the size of the words reflected the content of the blog over the year. Then I wanted to know exactly how many times each of the words were used, so I went back to Tagxedo to get a report.

The Most Used Word
It would have been disappointing if the word “theater” did not figure prominently in the word cloud. However, “theater” was the most frequently used word in the blog, appearing 336 times!

Everybody Act! is an arts services provider offering projects that use theater as a medium to support participants to take action on stage and in life. The action we support on stage includes not only the action of performing theater, but also the act of making theater. Some of our participants have never appeared on stage before; most have never made their own theater. The projects are structured to support everyone, regardless of past exposure to theater, to develop original performances emanating from their ideas. We want participants to have ownership of the final product. Also, we want our theater to do more than “say” something (e.g. “Pollution is bad.”) We want the theater to “do” something (e.g. Inspire the participants who created the theater and the audience who viewed the theater to think about their relationship to the environment and to take action in real life.)

I was happy to see “theater” at the top of the list and I look forward to writing more about the theater Everybody Act! creates with project participants in 2013.

Other Top Ranked Words
After “theater”, the other top ranked words were “project” (318), “students” (297), and “group” (277). These words describe the type of work we do and whom we do the work with.

The work at Everybody Act! is project-based. Each project is designed with the interests and concerns of the participants at the forefront. When developing these projects, we consider:
  • What impact will the process of creating theater have on participants?
  • What impact will performing the culminating event have on the participants and the audience they perform for?
  • What actions might participants and audience members take in the future, after this experience is over?
The project-based nature of the work offers the opportunity for focused outcomes that impact both the project participants and the audience who comes to the culminating events.

Often times our participants are “students” (297) in schools, but Everybody Act! has offered creative aging and intergenerational theater projects to seniors and adults through Our Play’s the Thing and Bridging the Gap. The word “students” may not resonate with older adult participants, but our projects are all about learning: learning about improvisation, learning about playbuilding, learning about the different people in the group. And the teaching artists who facilitate the projects learn as well. We learn about what works and what does not work when facilitating sessions and we take that learning and apply it to the next project.

Due to the ensemble nature of theater, the work takes place in “groups” (277). Group work is very fruitful and offers opportunities for socialization, collaboration, and the expression of multiple perspectives. I love group work and I look forward to meeting new group participants in 2013 projects.

The Lowest Ranked Words
Some words had to come last. These are the words that point to areas for growth in the blog and the work in the field. Among these words were “audience” (12), “successful” (10), and “understanding” (10).

Seeing “audience” (12) on the bottom of the list was a disappointment because theater has a living, breathing relationship with the audience. When the audience laughs during the show, the performers hear it. When the audience pays close attention, the performers feel it. We strive to create dialogue between the performers and the audience, bringing conversations that started in the workshops between participants to the audience witnessing the show. In 2013 I would like to address this relationship between theater and audience more frequently in the blog.

Even though “success” (10) is at the bottom of the list, there have been many achievements this year: we’ve had several culminating events, formed new relationships with schools and community based organizations, and seen many smiles on participants faces. Since this word was so low on the list, I realize now that I need to toot the horn of Everybody Act! more often in 2013.

In Other Words

I love that the word “city” (44) is inserted inside the “c” of “project” right at the center of the word cloud. All of the programing offered this year occurred within the five boroughs of New York City.

Of the boroughs where we offered programs, “Brooklyn” (36) appeared most frequently. Brooklyn is the home base for Everybody Act! and I am proud to have offered three programs here. In the Greenpoint area of Brooklyn, I worked with P.S. 34 to facilitate an arts-in-education program for Grade 2 students called Character Counts! On Stage and Off, and with teaching artists Heather Nielsen and Sherry Teitelbaum, Everybody Act! partnered with North Brooklyn Development Corporation (NBDC) to offer an ecology awareness through puppetry program called Newtown Creek Celebration: Puppet Parade and Pageant. The third Brooklyn collaboration occurred in Bensonhurst. Shakespeare in Our Words was offered at International High School at Lafayette (IHSL). I worked with IHSL drama teacher Leah Hamilton to offer 14 two hour after school sessions during which students, all of whom were English language learners, used Shakespeare’s play The Comedy of Errors as a jumping off point for devising an original show set in a circus.

In 2012, projects were also offered in “Queens” (15) and “Manhattan” (17). However, The Bronx and Staten Island are noticeably absent. In 2013 I’d like to develop new partnerships in these boroughs.

Directly above the word “arts” (199), in lime green, is one of the most important words in this blog: “work” (136). All too often, the arts are not seen as “work” because they are “fun”. It’s true that making and performing theater can be fun, but it is also important work that produces results. Through the theater making process, the work
  • reduces isolation in older adults by providing a space for socialization,
  • builds collaboration skills in youth by the process of revising their improvised scenes to create the final performance,
  • fosters critical thinking by offering participants the opportunity to practice real life interactions through the imagined world of theater.
And those are just a few of the results theater produces. There are many more.

Additionally, there is the work of the people who facilitate the projects: grant writing, session planning, facilitating sessions and reflecting on what happened during the sessions, then revising the plans for subsequent sessions. In 2012 I’ve had the pleasure of working with fantastic people. Jenny Houseal, Heather Nielsen, and Sherry Teitelbaum have worked on Everybody Act! projects as teaching artists. They are creative problem solvers, smart, resourceful, and dedicated theater artists who have worked tirelessly to engage participants on the journey of making new theater. I’ve also been lucky enough to have Max Freedman take beautiful photographs of the work in action. Many of his photos decorate the Everybody Act! website, giving an inside look at what we’ve been up to. I love them! I look forward to working with these talented folks next year and to adding more artists to the Everybody Act! roster in 2013.

As soon as I created the word cloud, I decided to make it the banner for the blog page. I’d like to start a new tradition of changing the banner annually with a new word cloud. I’m excited to see the result next December!

Creating the word cloud has given me a lot to think about and I’ve enjoyed reflecting and writing out some new directions in this post. I hope that it’s been inspiring to you as well.

I think I’ve at least begun the process of answering the first two question I set out to answer, but there is still one left: “How might the word cloud be used to engage people via social media to foster conversations about the work in practice?”
So, dear reader, in the spirit of starting a conversation, I have a few questions for you:
  • What words are not in the word cloud that you think should be?
  • If this blog is about the work of using theater to inspire everybody to take action on stage and in life, what has the blog left out in 2012?
  • What would you like to read about in the blog in 2013?
Post a comment and start the conversation!

Make A Donation Today! Everybody Act! Theater in Education & Communities is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the purposes of Everybody Act! Theater In Education & Communities must be made payable to Fractured Atlas and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. To donate click here!
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