Days 8, 9 and 10

Newtown Creek Celebration 2013 Needs and Costsby Sherry Teitelbaum and Kevin Ray

Day 8: Putting It Together

Day 8 saw intense, focused work as we sequenced our original material to tell our story. Kevin introduced music he had composed for each section. Heather worked frantically to put the final touches on many of the puppets the young people had built, dashing between our workshop construction room and the large cafeteria that was our devising space. The three of us brainstormed on how we could turn some of the 4th and 5th graders’ ideas for community projects (for example, an eco friendly airport) into black and white object puppets for use in a giant human scale which the young people had created with their own bodies. And whenever we were free, we painted, painted, painted. The day’s big discovery: why not try a voice-over edited into the music to tell the story of Part I, “Falling Woman: The Myth of the Creation of Newtown Creek and Greenpoint”? And so Kevin spent the night creating a voiceover track!

Day 9: The Big Show

On the morning of our performance, we went outside to the playground at PS 34 and rehearsed each group one at a time. After lunch we brought all of the groups together for a final run through.

At 3 p.m. the youth picked up their puppets and began parading from PS 34, through the streets of Greenpoint to McGolrick Park. At the park we performed for an audience of over 125 people including youth from School Settlement’s Day Camp, our young people’s family members, friends, and Greenpoint community residents. At 3:30 pm, we performed a three-part show: Part I was a myth of the creation of Greenpoint; Part II was the gentrification of Greenpoint expressed through a puppet dance between trees, houses and skyscrapers; and Part III was a zany Community Participatory Budget Circus inspired by our youth participants’ observations made during a process drama activity earlier in the workshop. To see more pictures from the show click here.

The performance was a fantastic culmination to our workshop. A guest from the NYC Department of Youth & Community Development (DYCD) told Kasia, the director of the summer camp, that the show was, “Like being in Wonderland!”

Newtown Creek Celebration 2013 Shrimp Puppets

Day 10: Papa Macho

This was our time to get feedback from our young participants and find out what they had enjoyed about the project and what they had found challenging. It was also our opportunity to say goodbye and acknowledge the wonderful work the young people had done. Kevin, Heather and Sherry designed short, interactive evaluation sessions that matched the developmental abilities of the participants, since their ages ranged from kindergarten all the way up to 5th grade. With the youngest participants (grades K, 1 and 2), we used a technique called “turn and talk” in which you turn to a partner, discuss a question together, and then share your answer with the larger group if you so wish. With the older participants (grades 3, 4 and 5) we used a fun approach called “graffiti board” in which you write your answers to questions on large pieces of chart paper taped to the walls. We discovered that many of the older participants were leaving the project with a very different understanding of what a puppet was and how it could be used, as well as with a firm grasp of how to build a puppet from scratch. We also learned that many in the group found paper mâché (which they dubbed “papa macho”) challenging.

Newtown_Creek_Celebration_2013_Community Participatory Budget
the most rewarding moment in the day was when the 4th and 5th graders who had participated in a process drama about community participatory budgeting over a week ago demanded to know which community group had been awarded the $1 million which had been at stake. We abandoned our planned session and followed their lead, using a game called “Four Corners” to determine who would receive the funding. The young people decided that the money should go to Greenpoint’s teachers, stating quite clearly that without good teachers, the other interest groups would not even exist!

The day ended as young people streamed out of PS 34’s playground, joyfully carrying their puppets home. Read More...

Day 4: Adding Up The Puppet Pieces

Sherry and Youth Paper Mache Tree Puppetby Kevin Ray

At the end of our third day making pieces that will be assembled into puppets for our final performance, teaching artist Heather Nielsen counted all of the paper mâché components that we have amassed with our youth participants. In total our 80 young people have used recycled cardboard, used paper bags, and cornstarch paper mâché paste to build 120 puppet pieces. The following is Heather's tally:

  • Laughing Gull Puppet Pieces
    Beaver Head Piece 19
  • Beaver Tails 10
  • Laughing Gull Puppet Bodies 10
  • Laughing Gull Puppet Wings 20
  • Laughing Gull Puppet Tails 12
  • Fish Puppet Bodies 5
  • House Puppets 7
  • High Rise Puppets 3
  • Tree Puppets 4
  • Tree Tops 4
  • Tree Leaves 2
  • Dollar Signs 5
  • Coins 5
  • Hamburgers 5
  • Wind Turbine Blades 4
  • Airplane Body 1
  • Airplane Wings 1
  • Frames 3

Now that we have our pieces we move on to the next step tomorrow: painting!

Day 3: For Today, It’s OK!

Newtown Creek Celebration Youth Create Alternate Ending To Puppet ShowBy Sherry Teitelbaum

Day 3 was four sessions of paper mâché! Inspired by Kevin’s new mantra, “For today, it’s OK, to be gloppy and gross, all day,” almost eighty young people dipped their fingers into Heather’s special cornstarch and warm water mix and stroked, stroked, stroked until their pieces of torn paper bags adhered smoothly to the cardboard bases of their puppets. Young people were delighted to greet old cardboard friends that they recognized from yesterday’s puppet shows (beaver faces, beaver paddle tails, gull wings, gull bodies, houses) as well as to meet new cardboard pieces that were inspired by the work that the 4th and 5th graders did at yesterday’s Town Budget Meeting (hamburgers, dollar signs, nickels and dimes, wind turbines, trees). High points of the paper mâché sessions were when one girl taught Sherry a call and response song as they worked together on a puppet and the spontaneous creation of a “paper factory” so that children who were bored or needed a change from the gloppy texture could keep the group puppet-making machine going by shredding paper bags at a fast, crisp tempo. Before we moved to the paper mâché work tables, we started each session seated in a circle on the floor so that Kevin could check in with each group to find out what they remembered from Day 2. I was quite moved when one child talked about “a tree that couldn’t breathe any longer and had started to lose its leaves.”
Popsicle Stick Tree Losing Leaves
The challenge for this year’s project is to find active, visual ways to explore and represent neighborhood change – as well as how to balance competing agendas for change. Yesterday’s stick puppet show – which showed a neighborhood in flux growing more and more crowded – clearly started third graders thinking about these issues.

Day 2: Before the Paper Mâché Comes the Story

Newtown Creek Celebration Day 2 Paper Mache On Our Handsby Heather Nielsen

"When are we going to start making the puppets?" was the eager question we were greeted with multiple times before the clock had even struck 9 on Monday morning. The sight of piles of cardboard, paper bags, and paper mâché paste reminded the returning young people of our puppet making process last year and piqued the interest of new campers as they wondered what creatures we would be creating!

Before we started to rip paper and get our hands gloopy with paper mâché, we introduced each group of young people to their section of our 2013 theme: The Tides of Change. Through interactive storytelling, stick puppetry, and process drama, we presented puppets that the youth will be making over the coming days to give them a tangible sense of what their role in this puppet show will be. Read More...

Session One Revised: One Year Later

Newtown Creek Celebration 2013 Day 1 Boot Puppets with Teaching Artists Heather Nielsen and Sherry Teitelbaumby Kevin Ray

Repeating a community based arts project one year later offers a wonderful opportunity: a chance to do things differently the second time around! After reflecting on our 2012 session plans for Newtown Creek Celebration: Puppet Parade and Pageant, teaching artists Heather Nielsen, Sherry Teitelbaum and I realized that we overlooked an important element: we did not incorporate basic puppetry concepts into our session designs. We never asked the youth questions like: “What is a puppet?”, “Who uses puppets and what do they use them for?” and “As puppeteers, how do we bring inanimate object to life?” We didn’t facilitate hands on activities to develop the youth’s basic puppetry skills. Instead, we jumped right into building puppets and creating a show. Although our 2012 culminating event was very successful, we wished we had built the youths’ puppeteering skills before we began creating the show. So when we received two grants from Brooklyn Arts Council to reprise the project in 2013, we were determined to take a different approach, starting on day one. Read More...

Setting Up Shop: From Civil War Hospital to Puppet Lab


by Sherry Teitelbaum

Kevin, Heather and I had a very exciting day on Monday: we visited PS 34 in Greenpoint, where the puppet building, movement and improvisational workshops for Newtown Creek Celebration 2013 will take place during the next two weeks. PS 34 is one of the oldest public schools in Brooklyn.
It was originally used as a hospital in the Civil War. Behind its brick façade is a rabbit’s warren of irregularly shaped classrooms, sans hallways, arranged railroad flat style. We spent several productive planning hours meeting with our biggest fan, the hard-working, high-energy Kasia Selwesiuk-Swietochowski, Director of the North Brooklyn Development Corporation Summer Camp. After the four of us nailed down the daily schedule and reviewed some preliminary story boards, Kasia showed us the two rooms where we will set up shop. We also greeted the approximately 80 young people who will be participating in the project this summer, as they filed past us in their bright yellow T-shirts on their way to a neighborhood field trip. About half the youth are repeat participants from Newtown Creek Celebration 2012, and they treated us to huge smiles of recognition and enthusiastic hand-waving. We’re all set to co-lead our first workshops in our new digs on Thursday. We will be blogging our progress throughout the project so stay tuned for our next blog entry!

Newtown Creek Celebration Needs Your Support

Newtown Creek Celebration Creek Spirit and Fish Puppets

Newtown Creek Celebration is back for 2013 and needs your support.

Above is an image from the 2012 culminating event. The project was so successful that we’ve been invited to return! We look forward to two weeks this August full of sparked curiosity, paper mache, movement, story and music, followed by a joyous outdoor celebration in McGolrick Park on August 15th that will captivate neighbors, start conversations between parents and youth, and inspire environmental action!

While we are delighted to have received modest funding from the city and state of New York to create Newtown Creek Celebration: 2013, we are still $4,500 shy of the funds we need to start the second year of this free summer program on August 1st.

Can you help us? Please click here to view our fundraising video on Indiegogo.

First Week and an Unexpected Outcome

blogEntryTopperby Kevin Ray

I had a great time planning and facilitating the first week of Our Play’s the Thing at Young Israel of Forest Hills Senior League with my collaborator Sherry Teitelbaum. Our Play’s the Thing is a two-week Creative Aging project designed to support seniors in creating and performing an original play. We met with our group members at Young Israel after lunch for two hours each day of the week. Read More...

Our Play's the Thing Recruitment Event

Written by Kevin Ray

“Welcome home!” That was the first thing Susan Rabinowicz, director of the Young Israel of Forest Hills Senior League, said to us when we arrived for our recruitment event on Tuesday. The center will be our second home starting next Monday as Sherry Teitlebaum and I will be co-facilitating a two-week theater project with older adults, culminating in a free performance at the center on Thursday, August 9th at 1 p.m. The project is called Our Play’s the Thing.

Sherry and I were at the center on Tuesday to personally introduce the project to prospective participants. First, we visited an exercise class to give a short presentation about what the project would entail. We explained that people in the project would be creating and performing an original play inspired by a physical object such as keys, flowers, or shoes. Then we went to the lunch room to speak about the class to other members at the center. Next we showed our crowd funding campaign video to a few small groups of seniors. They smiled and laughed when they saw our interviews with Susan and other members from the center. Finally we sat down and chatted about the programs with individual folks over lunch served by the center: baked tilapia.

I had a wonderful time meeting and talking with older adults from the center. I sat in on a card game, heard a wonderful love song about a rooster, and caught up with some of the women we interviewed for our video.

I am very excited about the start of Our Play’s the Thing. If you want to follow the project, check back to this blog for updates. On with the show!

This project is made possible in part with funds from the Decentralization Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts, administered by the Queens Council on the Arts. Funded under contract with the New York City Department for the Aging. Additional support provided by Everybody Act! Theater in Education & Communities.


The Little Senior Center that Could

Written by Sherry Teitelbaum

Susan Rabinowicz has been running the Young Israel of Forest Hills Senior League for twenty-three years. A spunky, down to earth, practical woman with an infectious laugh, she has steered her senior center through the ups and downs of funding crises and managed a major renovation that increased accessibility to its services. She has been there for her constituents as they negotiated the daily challenges of living on a fixed income in a changing neighborhood.

But next week, Susan is embracing a new challenge. She is partnering with Everybody Act! to offer Our Play’s the Thing to Queens’s older adults, age sixty and up, who want to create an original play through storytelling, improvisation and theater games.

Susan has a close relationship of three years’ standing with the Master’s program in Applied Theatre at The CUNY School of Professional Studies. So when CUNY graduates Kevin Ray, founder of Everybody Act!, and Sherry Teitelbaum approached Susan about piloting their theater project at the Senior League, Susan didn’t hesitate a minute: she enthusiastically said, “Yes!” As Susan co-planned the project with Kevin and Sherry, she clearly stated her main goal: “Some of the seniors that come to this center are isolated, without someone to talk to at home. It’s important to give them a voice. And that’s what I hope this project will do.”

Up to fifteen older adults may register for the free playbuilding program, which runs from July 30 through August 10 at the Young Israel of Forest Hills Senior League, located at 68-07 Burns Street in Forest Hills. Workshops take place from 12:45 to 2:45 PM, Mondays through Thursdays and on Fridays from 12 – 1:30 PM. On Thursday, August 9 at 1:00 PM, the group will perform the short play they created in the Senior League’s multi-purpose common room. The performance is open to the public and free of charge. No reservations are necessary.
With Susan’s strong hand at the engine throttle, the Young Israel of Forest Hills Senior League has become the little senior center that could. It is chug-a-lugging into a future where its constituents will become active creators of culture. For more information or to register, contact Susan Rabinowicz, 718-520-2305,

The project is made possible in part with funds from the Decentralization Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts, administered by the Queens Council on the Arts. Funded under contract with the New York City Department for the Aging. Additional support provided by Everybody Act! Theater in Education & Communities.