Theater

Big Green Theater 2018 @ The Bushwick Starr

Big Green Theater 2018

Directed by Jeremy Pickard
Presented by Superhero Clubhouse and The Bushwick Starr

April 27, 2018

I wish I could convey just how  much I love Big Green Theater, but aside from USING ALL CAPS or filming myself in absolute hysterics, I'll have to resort to raving through words.

Nothing in New York City - or, for that matter, the country - compares to BGT. NOTHING. It's the program we all dreamed about as kids and the one we should all donate to as adults. It's authentic, honest, riveting, beautiful...and all the plays are written by children.

 

 

Every year, Superhero Clubhouse and The Bushwick Starr team up with an idealistic dream of bringing climate education combined with performing arts to elementary schools in Bushwick. Sound like pie in the sky? Well friends, it's the most impressive work of collaboration and cross-disciplinary after-school education I've ever encountered.

Starting in January, experts from a variety of fields including water treatment, weather, turtle migration, and environmental racism visit two schools in Bushwick. A new expert is introduced to the class every week, and kids ages 10-13 learn about the scientific and socio-cultural impact of many concepts they don't encounter in the classroom. They go on field trips to Staten Island and Rockaway Beach, and discuss ways climate change affects their daily lives, even if that simply means seeing more weeds in the street or more intense rainstorms.

 

 

Next, the kids are taught playwriting terms such as character, setting, plot, tactics, and stakes. They start simply, creating 4-6 lines of dialogue between characters about a specific concept the expert introduced that week. Over the course of January and February, new plays are forged and characters become more complex. Though the plays are often fantastical in nature, they carry profound markers of these young playwrites' personal experiences and family lives. Secret brothers are unmasked at the 11th hour, phytoplankton can talk, and chicken magically appears from the sky! Meanwhile, icebergs are melting and hurricanes wreak devastation.

Finally, the students refine their plays. This rewriting and revision process can be the most challenging (haven't we all been there?) because the kids have become so invested in their work that they resist change (again, no surprise). Classroom volunteers ask questions about motives and character backstory, and ask writers to raise the stakes early so the play captures attention from the first line. A lighting designer will join to speak about mood and tone, and a costume designer will attend a session with paper and markers so she can accurately carry out the kids' versions of their characters on stage. The incomparable Wesley Zurick will take each kid aside to record a song for their play, and the kids write 100% of the lyrics. They even build set dioramas that could rival an MFA student, in heart if not in technique.

 

 

When the plays are polished, they're passed to Jeremy Pickard and an extraordinary cast of actors. Last year I had the joy of being Assistant Stage Manager for the production, and haven't laughed so hard in years. This year, in the audience, I had the same joyful feeling and cried with happiness. A few choice lines:

  • An oyster to a sea monster - "Look at me in my eyes. I promise I'll do anything in my power to get back in time for prom."
  • A hunter to a deer - "Can I get a taxi.....dermist?"
  • A homeless man to a reporter - "My only friend is a rat, and he's a lawyer!"

But there are strong lines as well that innocently reveal the depth of these kids' experiences:

  • A deli owner to the Mayor - "My deli is cleaner than your lawyer's office."
  • A fish to snow - "Just because you gave me everything doesn't mean I'm able to help you."

And finally, my favorite line, "I'm happy and sad at the same time."

The most spectacular thing about BGT is the confluence of children and adults. Let's get that straight: this isn't traditional children's theater. The professional ensemble and creative team take each play 100% seriously, and they don't pull any punches. This is adults taking children seriously as creators and consumers of live theater. This is parents and strangers in the audience clapping for a kid. This is validation of creativity in its most genuine form.

Last year, a 5th grader said "The applause, the clapping...I think that was the happiest day of my life."

I couldn't agree more.

 

Directed by Jeremy Pickard
Written by students in 4th, 5th, and 6th grades at PS75 and IS77 in Bushwick and Ridgewood

Cast:

  • Torian Bracket
  • Amanda Centeno
  • Andrea Ferro
  • Sam Gonzalez
  • Orlik Guzman
  • Christian Jimenez
  • Alejandro La Rosa
  • Penny Middleton
  • Serena Ebony Miller
  • Beethovan Oden
  • Kat Pena
  • Cristina Pitter
  • Julia Schonberg
  • Wesley Zurick

Creative Team:

  • Hannah Birch Carl (Sound Designer)
  • You-Shin Chen (Scenic Designer)
  • Sabrina Bianca Guillame (Costume Designer)
  • Jay Maury (Lighting Designer & Technical Director)
  • Cheyanne Williams (Props Designer)
  • Wesley Zurick (Musical Arranger & Band Leader)
  • Ann Marie Dorr (Production Manager)
  • Hanako Rodriguez (Stage Manager)
  • Priscilla Villanueva (Assistant Stage Manager)

BGT Teaching Artists: Jeremy Pickard Amina Henry, Vanessa Felix, Lani Fu, Kat Pena, Chris Ignacio

BGT Resident Teachers: Joseph Judge, IS 77; Jennia Nabole and Harriet Fisher, PS 75

Interns: Laura Elliot, Cathrine Engelbirth Olsen, Jasmine Vazquez

Workshop Presenters: Markeya Thomas, Tattfoo Tan, Tanasia Swift, Erinn White, Nilda Mesa, Nissy Aya

Classroom Volunteers: David Schacht, Theo Maltz, Lana Richards, Monica Furman, Emilyn Kowaleski, Emily Cordes, Emily Caffrey, Alex Vásquez Dheming, Cassiope Sydoriak

Production Crew: Michelle Chery, Rui Konno, Megan Lang, Matt Korahais, Gene Lee, Sam Silbiger, Carl Whipple

Thanks to Moore PA for their donation of equipment, Materials for The Arts for continuing support of reusing materials in the arts, and Brooklyn College.

Major funding for the program is provided by: The Revada Foundation of the Logan Family, the Cultural After School Adventures (CASA) Program, the Mental Insight Foundation, Con Edison, and the New York City Council.

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