stART: May 2016 Newsletter

May 2016 stART Newsletter


Welcome to stART (Share the Art), a program committed to bringing local area high school students closer to all of the professional arts experiences in their own community. We have been working diligently with a committed group of arts organizations, teachers, administrators, and most importantly students - all who are interested in networking with other schools, linking together with other creative people, and experiencing great theater, music, visual art, dance, film, and more.

Upcoming Events:

Saturday May 14, 1pm - 3pm
theSHARE: Part end of year party, part poetry performance workshop, part community gathering. More...

June 4, 6:30pm - 10:00pm
stART goes to see Dirty Little Secrets at George Street Playhouse



Abigale McNulty

1) What grade are you in and what is your favorite subject at school and why? 

Abigale McNulty, MCVTS Senior and stART Participant

Abigale McNulty, MCVTS Senior and stART Participant

I am currently a Senior in High School and attend MCVTS Vocational and Technical HS East Brunswick with a major in theatre. My favorite academic subject is English. From a young age, I've always enjoyed reading and in that class, I am able to explore classical literature such as Antigone and Ibsen's A Doll House.

2) What was your favorite stART event? 

My favorite stART event is the dress rehearsal of George Sand's Gabriel directed by Christopher Cartmill at Rutgers University. The direction and purposeful casting of the production made me realize that some people to don't feel like they conform to a specific gender through Gabriel's discovery that they are not man or woman, but a person. That is something that has stuck with me since then.

3) Why do you like participating in stART and going to cultural events? 

I like to participate in stART events because you meet so many wonderful people such as other high school students, John Keller, Christopher Cartmill, Ellen Valencia and many more. Then there's the exposure to art that most high schoolers never get to experience like the reimagining of August Strindberg's A Dream Play at Rutgers University and the Wizard of Oz immersive event Behind the Moon, Beyond the Rain. The stART program allows young artists to be exposed and inspired by the art that we have in New Jersey. 

4) What do you want to see stART do more of in the future?

I would like to see more classical pieces. Some people my age haven't had the chance to experience a Shakespeare production. 


Dr. Nayna Vyas

Dr. Nayna Vyas

Dr. Nayna Vyas

Math Teacher at Middlesex County Vocational and Technical Schools, and stART trip organizer

What I like most about stART is the opportunity they give to students to enjoy theater.  Most of the students in the school I work for do not have the opportunity to see the wonderful theatrical plays, jazz, etc., that we have been enjoying for the past seven to eight months. My students are learning about the different arts, they are learning how they can relate to and may have a future career choices in these areas by exploring them through stART. In the future I would like to see stART open more doors to other school districts and counties and provide access for a wider range of students so they can also enjoy these cultural experiences.

2016 April stART Newsletter

2016 April stART Newsletter

I am a junior in high school, and my favorite subjects are English, Theater, and Television Production. I love English because I love to read and write. It brings out the creativity in me. I love Theater because I love interpreting new characters for people. I love to be a different personality because most people know me as quiet and weird person, but when they see me act it's like sending a message to not judge a book by its cover...

Around theTABLE, May 2015 coLAB Theme Essay - Food: The Ethics of Eating

2015 May coLAB Theme Essay - Food: The Ethics of Eating

Around the Table

by Anthony Capece, Elijah's Promise

While the challenges we face are indeed great, we are only constrained by our creativity and resourcefulness in solving them. 

Last weekend I was asked to take participate in a regular coLAB conversation series called theTABLE. I could not think of a more appropriate name for an event that whose subject was food systems. Food is something very near and dear to our hearts, not only in our consumption of it but also the "experiences and meaning" that it has in our personal lives.  During our discussion it was mentioned food can act "as an emotional bridge" and that its consumption is a "political act", which sound especially impressive when you consider how many chances we get to make these bridges and acts in our lifetimes!

I challenge you to find such a universally shared way to emotionally connect with those we interact with. 

This is why food is the perfect medium to set the stage on many issues that face our society today and in the future. Food systems can give you stark indicators of some of the more difficult dynamics humanity encounters - poverty, hunger, environmental degradation, inequality, exploitation - which are of course necessary to acknowledge in order to correct. However, food gives us something greater: a chance to connect and learn from one another, and also a chance to share our identity, and ultimately our humanity.

My work in food systems is serving as the Urban Agriculture & Food Systems Coordinator of Elijah’s Promise. I work with all of the multifaceted programming in our mission to use food to change lives including - gleaning farm produce for use in our soup kitchen, teaching our culinary students about composting, coordinating produce from one of our community gardens to our Better World Café, to managing our Shiloh Community Garden and Apple Orchard. In addition, I am empowered to serve on a few local coalitions that bring people in our community together to work around food issues - the New Brunswick Community Food Alliance and New Brunswick Community Garden Coalition.

All of these actions seem relatively small by themselves, and they are. But when they happen over time, along with many other small things happening in our community, the stage is set for great things to happen. Just in the time I’ve been a part of the New Brunswick community I have been so grateful for the help that has reached out to me from just down the street  - gardens being built in the local high school and library, an apple orchard, and apiary just to name a few. But more important to me is the way they happen, with amazing partnership and cooperation.

Deconstructing a Food System

Food systems - what do they mean to you? Where do we begin to fix them? What's most important about them? Wait, just how important are they? Once we begin to deconstruct these questions and concepts we see just how nuanced they are. During theTABLE panel discussion and talk back sitting to my right was a community advocate for our local watershed - to my left was the Elijah's Promise manager of the Better World Market who spoke about food waste and how to incorporate more efficiency in our food consumption. Both speakers had strong points and highlighted areas of focus in our food systems, but how can we choose where we individually want to focus? How can one subject area tie into three seemingly disconnected areas of thought and expertise?

Food and its systems comprise of many things, some that immediately come to mind:

Environment - Physically we do depend on our watersheds, ecosystems, soil, and everything in between to grow and cultivate our food. As much as our economy operates in a way that directly clashes with our biophysical reality, food is as subject to natural processes as other resources like wood, air, and water. While many of the natural resources that food systems depend on to bring food to our kitchens do indeed renew themselves, there is a limit or buffer to how much those natural processes like the organic layer of topsoil, or water purifying wetlands can handle - and we routinely exceed those limits. The use of fossil fuels greatly adds to our carrying capacity as it artificially adds energy that supplement these natural processes, such as the production of fertilizer or managing of water purification plants. By making food systems mimic these natural processes with their diversity and smaller scale, we can ensure our reliance on these systems for generations to come.

Equity - food is something we can consume multiple times a day, which means that there is an incredible amount of opportunity to fill that demand on a daily basis. As is the trend in a market based economy, industries that grow bigger can thus lower their production costs and can outcompete smaller operations. Limiting the stakeholders and people who work in food production is unsustainable. This consolidation of wealth also has ripple effects spatially, creating areas of wealth and areas of poverty. Hunger is a symptom of poverty - those who are economically disadvantaged do not have the same access to fresh, healthy foods because there is not enough financial incentive for markets to enter their neighborhoods.  While there are numerous strategies to distribute wealth and resources more evenly, there certainly is room for more variety in where and from whom we get our food.

Culture - Spice combinations can be the difference between making a piece of chicken taste like it is from South America, or from India. Smell (which determines taste) is the strongest sense tied to memory, our brain operates in shortcuts and something as small as a dash more cumin can bring you to a time when you learned how to cook with your parents, or the first time you tried a new cuisine in another county or with loved ones. There is a subtext to food, like the structure of different languages, that sets an immediate tone and impression.

Community - Food used to play a much larger role in the city. Before refrigeration became widespread, routine visits to the market were a necessity to prepare palatable food. Also, preparing food used to take larger parts of our daily lives, before fast food became so prevalent. These hours of interaction with others, either in our homes or neighborhoods, that simply do not exist in the same ways any longer

Networks - okay this is really a synonym of systems but it is exactly that systemic nature of food that touches on so many other facets in our lives and makes it so ubiquitous in many of the issues we face. Improving food systems inherently improves areas of our society that need it - equity in our resources, implementing sustainable systems in our agriculture, regionalizing our food based economy and bringing more people to the table in terms of opportunity, environmental protections that ensure the food that is grown where we live remains healthy to our well being, minimizing transportation of food, and many more.

To me, food systems are what most strongly remind us of our connection to nature, both the nature around us and within us. There is no stronger connection to how much we depend on our natural environment than the food that nature provides us on a daily basis. Like all natural processes, there is an ecosystem of connectivity and feedback that effect all of its inputs and outputs. When you take another step back and look at the human element and its history with food, you can appreciate the power it has.

It is this complexity that gives food systems a great deal of importance in our consideration for the future, but also muddies where to start. My background before starting my food systems work was in environmental studies and science where the exact same dynamic applied: 'how can I even begin to make a difference?' Even worse, the knowledge of the extent of these issues can be downright depressing. Fear is a wonderful mechanism to captivate our attention, but the shock eventually wears off and we fall to a sense of complacency. When the problem is framed to us in such a immense, unsolvable way it is fatiguing, confusing, and leads to inaction.

The Beautiful Scale of Food

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.” -  Robert Pirsig

There isn’t a magic bullet that will make our systems better, however there are countless great places we can begin. Everyday I am inspired by the work of great organizations and efforts across the world - creative solutions that fill niches in piecing together our food systems. All are at different scales, there are entire regions that are incredibly food conscious and actively support their local agriculture, as well as initiatives that work to bring  agriculture and food systems to places that historically have not benefited from them. Both are needed. "Context is everything" and operating within it is the key to making long term change.

This is why working in food systems in exciting to me - we all have our unique take on food and our history with it. There is so much opportunity for expression and creativity, which makes way for amazing inclusive solutions that take everyone into account and empower them to take part in the future. Each of us has knowledge that can contribute in these areas and we can contribute to a collective effort of individual actions. The issues we face are very much human problems, it will take human actions to solve it.

Over time these actions create a  new baseline for what we expect to see and interact with in our neighborhoods. Our physical environment has a great deal of impact on the way we view the world around us and ultimately our perceptions of what we want elsewhere. By bringing food back into the city, by making community spaces of place that spark conversation with urban agriculture as a backdrop, these changes have positive feedback to nurturing an environment that inspires stronger communities and food systems. 

My work at Shiloh Community Garden is very much a metaphor for all of the food systems work that I take part in. Gardens need continuous care and nurturing to produce. These community gardens have diverse gardeners, engaging people that would not have met normally - talking over a common  human element - food. It is my dream to promote agriculture in an way that brings people together and pushes the envelope in rethinking how we use our shared community spaces. There are so many examples of the therapeutic effects of working outside and gardening.

Art and Inspiring Change

The core question posed during theTABLE was - "how can we use art to communicate these complex issues?" I think art can play an immense role in sparking the conversation. Artists use different mediums to tell stories and invoke feelings in those who participate in their work. We are storytelling animals, that is how we have passed our knowledge throughout generations. There is great power in these experiences, and artists can set the tone of their message in a creative way that gets us to think about things just a little bit differently.

The expression and organic interactions that come from an artistic experience can be hard to quantify but have a great deal of impact in our perceptions. There are times in our lives when we learn something small that just seems to make everything we have experienced before that point seem a little different or nuanced. A small, but powerful piece of knowledge or perception that makes it hard for us to imagine the viewpoint we held just moments before. The more we expose ourselves to different viewpoints, and especially in constructive inclusive conversation, we open our mind to the beautiful connections that are right in front of us. These kinds of reactions don’t come from reading abstract statistics or studies but rather through the realization of the stories around us.

These are the kind of thoughts and connections we make when we engage our minds and each other in a creative and open way. That is the artistic touch to bring into advocacy for the complex issues that face us, from food - to race - to to equity - to violence.

Sitting at the Table and Listening to Each Other

It was refreshing to sit and talk constructively about the roles we play in building our food systems. Too often it feels we are bombarded with information that we consume, make a judgement about (and/or snarky comment), and move on to the next small bit. There are many issues that face our communities today both locally and globally.

There is something we all can bring to  "theTABLE" and to the conversation, but it is on us to figure out what that is. Our journeys' all begin win one step and each is a chance to learn from others. By finding what it is that inspires and what calls us to this action, we can go and do the work that is so necessary at home, in our community, and eventually the world.

I am honored to have been asked to be a part of the coLAB theTABLE series and connect with people I hadn't yet met in our community, but are also working to better it. Events like these, where we take the time to talk, listen, and grow, are how we build capacity within individuals and communities. I am excited to see where this new conversation will go and the lessons I will learn that will guide me in the future.


- Anthony Capece is the Urban Agriculture and Food Systems Coordinator for Elijah's Promise in New Brunswick, NJ.


2015 May coLAB Theme - Food: The Ethics of Eating


Food, in the end, in our own tradition, is something holy. It's not about nutrients and calories. It's about sharing. It's about honesty. It's about identity.

~ Louise Fresco ~


There is an age-old understanding that the kitchen is the heart of a home. It is where meals are prepared, loved ones gather, and memories are made. Traditionally, family meals have been prepared and served with pride. In recent years, however, it seems that in the western world, meals have largely fallen to the bottom on the scale of important aspects of family life and culture. Through the major influx of processed, pre-packaged, and take out food sources, the necessity for careful meal preparation has lessened. With busy family schedules and a challenging economy, convenience and budget take priorty. I feel that through these changes, the influence of food in American culture has significantly declined.

My colleague, Thakshila, is from Sri Lanka and when we met, it quickly became apparent that the preparation and serving of meals is very important to her. I was intrigued by the significance of food to the Sri Lankan culture and was presented an opportunity to share a meal with Thakshila in an authentic Sri Lankan restaurant. Throughout our conversation, she passionately explained the details of not only the food itself, but its importance in Sri Lankan culture and how it has maintained that influence despite changing ways of life.


As a child I learned that food is an essential for human survival. As an adult I have come to understand that food is also a part of our individuality. The most wonderful occasions and celebrations of life are centred around food. I often wonder if a wedding would be as fabulous without the many tiered cake or if Thanksgiving would be complete without that fresh oven roasted tender turkey? Every culture and every religion in the world celebrates with food as the focal bonding method among communities.

As a recent immigrant to the United States, I experienced that food is not only vital in maintaining my identity in this melting pot, but it serves as the primary aid in building and maintaining relationships among the many different people I have met over the years. To further explore the significance of food, my colleague Megan and I decided to experience a meal from a different culture. Being a Sri Lankan, food has played an important part of my life where every event and day-to-day activity commenced only after breakfast, lunch and dinner has been sorted out! Therefore, what better way to experience culture than to take Megan to the only Sri Lankan restaurant in New Jersey and introduce her to the wonders of my culinary heritage?

The Food!

Sri Lankan food is full of flavour mixed with a myriad of different spices and fragrances that thrill the senses. The many different appetizers, entrees and desserts which make up Sri Lankan food are mostly vegetarian and the main ingredients are spices, coconut milk and rice. This is not meant for the faint-hearted! Here are some of the dishes that we tried at the restaurant!

·      Rice & Curry is the staple Sri Lankan meal. It is complemented with an assortment of side dishes varying from vegetables, meats, fish, and greens.

·      Kottu Roti is the most famous street food in the country and made with a special Sri Lankan roti called “Godhamba” mixed with vegetables, eggs, meat and spices.

·      Pol roti is a soft flatbread made with shredded coconut and wheat flour served with chili coconut salad and lentil curry.

·      Lamprais is a very popular Sri Lanka Dutch delicacy consisting of meat, vegetables, boiled eggs, and yellow rice wrapped and baked in a banana leaf.


Every country and region has different customs and ways of dining. It is of utmost importance that people are respectful of such customs. Most Western and East Asian countries use utensils such as forks, spoons, knives and chopsticks to consume their food. However, many countries in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia consume food using their hands and fingers. Sri Lankans, too, use their fingers to eat food. While living in the United States, I have garnered different reactions for my eating Sri Lankan and Indian food with my fingers. While a few have expressed their disdain at this custom, many of my friends have been very respectful and joined me in eating my traditional food the traditional way. As Megan soon found out, eating with the hands is an acquired skill that is not so easy!

To sum up, through this wonderful adventure into the spicy world of Sri Lankan food, we learned that food is a gateway to learning someone’s way of life and personality and it also provides a conduit to living in peace with one another.

Megan’s Thoughts

I have never tried Sri Lankan food before, and like many people from our area, I am several generations removed from Irish ancestors who immigrated to America. I deeply value food and its role in life and culture, but have never personally considered it to be more than a life-sustainer. Thakshila has fully immersed me in a culture that, as she said, holds food at its center.

From the minute I walked into the restaurant, I felt absorbed in a rich, beautiful culture that I wanted to know more about. Thak carefully explained the significance of food in her family’s life and how she has carried that passion and value for food and its role with her as she has become accustomed to life in the United States.

I so appreciate Thak’s openness and knowledge. Our dining experience certainly changed my perspective on food and the role that it plays in my life. From the actual meal to the extreme difference in etiquette, my eyes were opened to a culture that I had no prior knowledge of and in just over an hour came to appreciate and love – all through sharing a meal.

FROM THE PAIN, BEAUTY by Colie McClellan

April 2015 coLAB Theme Essay - Violence

FROM THE PAIN, BEAUTY by Colie McClellan

A few weekends ago, I had the pleasure of experiencing a highlight moment of my career as an actor. I was not in a trailer with my name on it. I was not pressing my hands into a Hollywood star. I was not walking down a red carpet.

I was in the community center of a church, and I was saying words like 'abortion' and 'fuck.' I had never said those words in a church before, but I hope I have occasion to do so again. Rather than reciting some angry or political diatribe, I was doing something very simple: I was telling the stories of women who had experienced Intimate Partner Violence, and then talking about it.

Ever since I created the solo show They Call Me Arethusa, my life has been a series of serendipitous opportunities. Performing everywhere from 100 seat theatres on college campuses to 60 seat spaces off Times Square to community centers just like the one I was in two weekends ago, the show has given me voice and a purpose greater than myself. In the acting business, where creating a 'brand' out of your name and headshot can be of the utmost importance in booking work, creating a project with such transcendence has been a lifeline, and finding so many people and communities who support that work has been a true gift.

coLAB Arts brought my project together with the astounding visual artwork of Jennie West, the profound life work of Elaine Hewins, who has spent almost 30 years working in the field of Domestic Violence Awareness & Prevention, and the incredibly moving work of Reverend Susan Kramer-Mills, who has done an amazing thing in transforming a largely unused sanctuary space into apartments for women whose time in a Domestic Violence shelter (30-90 days) is up, and who usually have no place to go except back into the homes of their abuser.

The day was a true blessing, for both myself and the other professionals in the field, and also for those in attendance, who came to lend their ears and their warm support to - although difficult - a topic that is not discussed nearly enough in general, public forums and spaces.

Doing a 50-minute solo performance addressing intimate partner violence isn't easy. Neither is creating devastatingly beautiful art that speaks to it, like Jennie West does in her series titled Paradox of Violence.

In this series she transforms the image of a bullet hole in glass into evocative flowers; from the pain, beauty. These things are about as hard as dedicating your life's work or your church's work to making the lives of victims and survivors better, every day in ways both small and large.

In the first few weeks and months, being a survivor can feel like finally emerging from a pile of rubble. You're fragile, the rocks and dirt tumble away, and the sunlight hurts. But you hope that in time, that the sun will feel wonderful again. You hope that from the pain, there will be beauty. And sometimes, on days like the one coLAB Arts provided to me and the community, the beauty is even more glorious than you could have ever imagined.

Thank you coLAB Arts, for fulfilling such purpose.

Author's note: The title of this piece was taken from Jennie West's presentation accompanying her visual art series, Paradox of Violence.

Homepage Image: P.O.V. 1 by Jennie West

March 2015 coLAB Theme Essay - Surveillance

March 2015 Theme Essay - Surveillance

'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' – a Superhero Fantasy That Keeps It Real by Kyra Willans

It’s a common thought that only documentaries and independent films can effectively address important

issues in our lives. However, sometimes you can find powerful messages in commercial Hollywood blockbusters. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014, dir. Anthony Russo, Joe Russo) is compelling in part because it comes close to delivering a politically astute message and reflects modern fears, but ultimately does stay safely away from taking any sort of firm stance.

It does not take long for The Winter Soldier to begin to mirror our contemporary anxieties about war and homegrown terrorism. The primary antagonist for Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and his "friends" at the S.H.I.E.L.D. agency is the organization Hydra. Dr. Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), a principal agent of Hydra, explains the group's philosophies and beliefs, clearly and obviously to Captain America and the audience: “Hydra was founded on the belief that humanity could not be trusted with its own freedom. What we did not realize was that if you tried to take that freedom, they resist…Humanity needed to surrender its freedom willingly.” He goes on to explain that for over seventy years, Hydra has been functioning secretly, as “a beautiful parasite within S.H.I.E.L.D., where it has been “secretly feeding crises, reaping war…Hydra created a world so chaotic that humanity is finally ready to sacrifice its freedom to gain its security”. Zola’s accent is enough to remind just about any viewer of a classic nefarious bad guy, a throwback to villains from all sorts of decades past. But Zola is very much a modern entity, and he belongs squarely in the 21st century.

Many characters in the film are having some serious trust issues, and the shifting feelings of distrust between one character and another lends to the confusion over who the “real” enemy even is. Because Hydra is operating within S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s at times impossible to identify who is working for whom. When Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) addresses this confusion with Captain America: “How do you know who your enemies are?” Captain America answers cleverly: “The ones shooting at you.” A funny quip, but the line itself is compelling – we no longer know with certainty who our enemies are. Later, Captain America jumps on the public address system at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters to further acknowledge the quandary. “S.H.I.E.L.D. is not what we thought it was. It has been taken over by HYDRA…We don't know how many… They could be standing right next to you.”

The high-profile cases of homegrown terrorism like the Boston Bombers and Jihadi John, frequently described as “Western” and “just like us”, certainly seem to make us feel like we sometimes aren’t able to identify the threats that may be among us – they could be standing right next to us. They grow up in our same neighborhoods and enjoy the same hip hop music we like. Should we be looking over our shoulders and scrutinizing our neighbors, or are these stories being sensationalized to make people simultaneously feel fear and feel an odd sense of complacency with a seemingly never-ending ideological war. Is Hydra already really at work within our society instilling fear in the general masses, ready to pounce when we become ready to surrender our freedom for the greater “good” of “real” security?

Captain America represents the confusion between an older, now likely very outdated, understanding of war with the new. Captain America fought in a war our grandfathers fought, one in which we knew who our enemies were. Before the final battle with Hydra, when Steve Rogers, in street clothes, is asked by Sam Wilson, “You gonna wear that?” He responds: “No. If you’re gonna fight a war, you got to wear a uniform” before suiting up into his Captain America gear – clearly adhering to the belief that people should clearly identify what side they’re on.

Sometimes an action movie can surprise you by talking about something real. Captain America: The Winter Soldier wasn’t going to win any awards or likely stir that many meaningful conversations among moviegoers, but it certainly does give us some things to legitimately think about as we wait in long queues at the airport to pass through the security checkpoint.

"The Arts World Is Bigger Than Hollywood and Broadway"

"The arts world is bigger than hollywood and broadway"

Today's lesson from our teaching artists:

"We live in a digital age where access to the big stuff is easier and easier. We can see hollywood blockbusters anytime, we can stream our favorite TV shows, we can listen to any song instantaneously. But live art is accessible, and in our opinion has far more potential. Today's trip into the NYC theater and arts scene was all about opening access. Seeing how easy it is to get into theater and arts venues and how much variety there is. We don't need to have a fortune to drop on a broadway show. You can access a wide variety of shows, galleries, music venues for about the price of a movie ticket. But the best part is most of the time when you go off the beaten path you are going to find something that surprises you, challenges you, and makes you hungrier for the next adventure."

"You Will Be Smarter At The End of These Two Weeks"

"You will be smarter at the end of these two weeks"

And I mean it. There are a lot of goals to coLAB Education. We want to promote a sophisticated arts culture at New Brunswick High School, to empower teens to take ownership over their own community arts scene, and for teens to see the arts as a pathway to college, etc. But at the end of the day our goal is even bigger and clearer. We want every participant to walk away feeling smarter - about life, about art, about writing, about their own ideas, about the complexities of the world, the experiences of others. We have promised each of these students that when they walk away form this project they will have been exposed to more first art and art criticism in two weeks than most people get in two years. We want them to be able to articulate their own tastes and interests and fight for them. Every artist I have ever met was given the keys by someone - the belief that your ideas matter, what you have to say matters, and just as importantly - the skills to say it matters.

A Windo In...

A window in...

It is really amazing that no matter how much I plan, organize, and confirm I still have that first day anxiety of "will anyone show up?" I sit up at night and wonder if anyone will remember what time to meet, where we are gathering, or quite frankly if they will just decide not to come. The anxiety is a bit ridiculous but telling myself that doesn't make it go away. I imagine it must be similar to the parental anxiety of: trusting, but still worrying. Well long story short…they showed up.

Today we began what will be a 2-week experience with 14 New Brunswick High School students . These teens all applied for and received a full scholarship to participate in a week of workshops in New Brunswick with coLAB Artists, as well as the ContemporaryAmerican Theater Festival three day theater boot-camp. Someone once told me opportunities are given to those who show up…so let's get to it. 

This weekend was a lot of work…

Two months ago I was sitting in the backyard of two of coLAB's biggest supporters as a tremendously successful fundraising event was winding down. The checks had been collected, the presentation lauded, and the food consumed. Now it was time to sit back and start planning the final stages of getting our coLAB Summer Theater intensive finalized. One of our supporters turned to me and wished he could attend the Contemporary American Theater Festival with the students, but do to business travel couldn't make it the week of our program. So I made a suggestion: "Let's go down the week before, for opening, that way they get to participate in the festival and get a glimpse of the experience the students will undertake. Well they decided to take me up on the offer…as did six of their friends.

I took on the role of "cruise director" and after 2 caravans, 7 hotel rooms, 6 group meals, 5 plays, 40 individual theater tickets, 2 opening night parties, countless intense discussions, and 1 impromptu trip to Harper's Ferry which resulted in the milking of a cardboard cow…I'am pooped. I can also say however, I am incredibly grateful for what this trip gave me.

This weekend myself and fellow coLAB Arts Teaching-Artist Jen Ring got to play with incredibly passionate smart and funny people who are educators, artists, and business people who care so deeply about our project. While the weekend was jam packed it was an amazing reminder about the people who make projects like this happen not just because they make a donation but because their energy keeps everyone going.

Many thanks are given to Jeffrey Longhofer, Jerry Floersch, Richard Miller, Vera and Beatrice Camden, Nevin Kessler, and Roxy Ray for keep ing us all on our toes, and moving forward. 

Bringing Washington Heights to New Brunswick

coLAB had the privilege this year of working on the New Brunswick High School spring musical In The Heights. Our teaching artists provided the costume, set, and prop design as well as participated in the two weeks of final tech and dress rehearsals. We were so excited to see how much this annual musical has grown and to be a part of that growth. The performances and audiences were the best we have seen so far and the production is still talked about. We look forward to finding ways to be involved next year. Check out this photo diary starting with early rehearsals through opening night.

First day spacing the movable wall units on the stage. These units became the walls  and street background for our set.

Mr. Thornburg discussing his design ideas with coLAB designer  Ashley Cusack

The initial sketches. Our 
On of many…many shopping lists.
NBHS students working on the set under guidance of coLAB artists

We needed a shop…so we created one!

Ashley working on the salon interiors

Sam painting the stoop and doorway.

We actually created two!

Our set shaping up for the final dress.

Full set and full cast. Final dress run!

March 19:
Jen and I met our two classes today and we where struck by how focused the students where. There is a wide variety of interests in the room and we even had a couple of students admit they didn’t request the class as much as guidance placed them in it. Despite this everyone was really attentive during our introductory circle conversation about what aspects of theater capture their imaginations. We played introductory ball games as well as the transform the room conversation. Our morning session was particularly good at following impulses and coming up with some initial creative ideas. Our second session struggled with this but the whole class participated in the discussion and began to develop ideas and adjustments after some simple questioning and prompts from the teaching artists.

Another year at New Brunswick High School.  It is hard to believe it was five years ago when Jen Ring and I began this residency. Over the next few days we will give you updates as to how the project has grown and how some of our current students and alumni are participating in projects across the city!

Mason Gross Extension Division's High School Musical Theater Academy

Entry 1 - 1/3/14
Ensemble working on OOTI. Hello Tree!

Third session is tonight...

I've been working with high school students who have already been studying with artists for the last couple of months, exercising technique so I can put them on a stage, help them interpret their own pieces, and create an ensemble.

Two sessions down - third session tonight! We've been going through their solos, making adjustments to their crafting and interpretation, and creating settings with the other participating students.

The ensemble and movement work at first seems a bit alien to the students, but they've been absorbing it and my adjustments, like sponges and have really been taking to it. Only obstacles to this being a great showcase is the students themselves. They need to do their share of the work in being prepared: (1) off-book, (2) know the music, (3) know the steps. I have a total of 18 hours left over the next three weeks to get them ready for the showcase.

Some great teachable moments came up last session (12/20), for myself and for the class:

1) In reference Flesh Failures (from Hair) "Let the sunshine in" as a repeated phrase was indicated to me as boring, without import. The given adjustment was to look at it as a tool, a prayer, a supplication. If the result isn't reached after its utterance, then tactics have to change (in this instance, it was reason for them to go bigger - HUGE difference in their understanding and in their performance).

2) At the beginning of the session we were moving through the space, individually, and a new student who joined us last session spoke up and asked how this was going to help them. It didn't disrupt the work that was happening, and it didn't pull her out of the work, so I ignored it. Was it possible that it could have gotten worse to let her go unanswered? Maybe. But by trusting in the work, the exercise proved itself to be stronger than the student's bullying impulse. She ended up being one of the most giving students in the class.

3) I Hope I Get It from A Chorus Line has been a great teaching tool, for grounding the individual students in an ensemble but to not let go of their own personal crafting. It's a HARD song to perform. The choreography is still a bit rough, on which Robert Burke is working with them. But getting them to accept the reality of the characters in this story is pretty removed from their own experiences. Mantra we've been using for their crafting is "There's no Plan B. Be Perfect."

Haven't been able to work on scenes yet. Right now we're looking at the following musical number (still need to work out show order):

I Hope I Get It (A Chorus Line)- choreography set; focusing on crafting
Til I Hear You Sing (Love Never Dies) - potentially doing silhouette work
Go The Distance (Hercules) - song hasn't been prepared yet for review
Waiting for Life (Once On This Island) - ensemble will create a fence with their bodies that will change into a tree
Dyin' Ain't So Bad (Bonnie and Clyde) - image hasn't yet been chosen (student absent last session)
Breathe (In The Heights) - street scene, transitioning immediately from ACL
Flesh Failures (Hair) - choreography set; focusing on crafting
Seize the Day (Newsies) - still waiting on choreography to be set; haven't had a chance to work yet
If Momma Was Married (Gypsy) - haven't been able to work yet
A Step Too Far (Aida) - haven't been able to work yet
Quiet (Jonathan Reid Gealt) - haven't been able to work yet
Sunrise (In The Heights) - had to replace ensemble member
Everything Else (Next to Normal) - haven't worked on it yet

Performances are January 18 and January 19! See you then!


Check out this video from Contemporary American Theater Festival featuring the coLAB Arts High School Apprentice Company. Our four core theater teaching artists, John Keller, Jen Ring, Ashley Everage and Ean Kessler traveled to CATF for the Hostel Youth immersion from July 23-25 with 14 New Brunswick High School Students. Over the course of a very busy 72 hours, students participated in 5 talk-backs, workshops in writing, stage management, marketing, acting, directing and movement, as watching 5 new american plays. Our students took every opportunity to learn from an amazing company of artists. Our students attended the residency thanks to a generous grant provided to coLAB through the Ray Family Foundation. We are looking forward to continue providing this kind of programming for New Brunswick residents!

I attended the New Brunswick High School spring concert the other night.

I am so incredibly proud of the work of these students, not to mention the amazing teachers and administrators that have made this school a place where the arts are loved and made welcome.  It has been four years since we first stepped foot into this school with a simple offering of a few weeks of theater workshops.  However, this incredible renaissance is not just us but encompasses new teachers in music, dance, theater, and visual arts from a variety of cultural organizations in the New Brunswick Community. What t is even more important is the culture shift. Students are taking ownership of the creation of an arts culture - nurturing and protecting it. Dozens of students on stage - a few hundred in the audience. What is being done at New Brunswick High School is not easy - but it's being done. No district can look at this program and say it is impossible - or not of value. I am happy we are a small part of that.


John P Keller
Director of Theater Education
coLAB Arts, Inc.

Here is a fun writing exercise from our Playwright and writing teacher Ean Miles Kessler.  
Try it!

Recap of 2 elements of a Protagonist:
-Inner Truth
-Outer Characteristics.

Led the "secrets" exercise:  students wrote down a secret from their real lives that they wouldn't want anyone to know.  Assured them that no one would read them, and that we'd throw them out immediately.  Stressed the idea that oftentimes in great plays, a secret is at the heart of the story. Giving character's secrets is a wonderful way to develop complex characters and to build conflict.

Led "secrets" writing exercise:  Character A. has a secret about Character B.  This secret directly informs the objective that Character A. wants from B.  Asked students to think about what is at stake, i.e. what happens if this secret gets out?
Step two:  drum up a circumstance where either A. must tell B. this secret, or B. finds out on their own.
All of this was done as a scene outline; once finished, the students were asked to write a 10 line dialogue.

Fantastic first class today with our playwright Ean Miles Kessler

In his own Words:

Jumped into class today; a really great group of students.  I spoke to them about "suspension of disbelief," and stressed the idea that no art is superior to another--acting is as beautiful as dance, which is as beautiful as music, which as beautiful as sculpture.  No one art is more impressive, but theater is the only one which asks the audience to commit to this concept of suspension of other words, theater is the only art which plays with magic.  I hope to build this into their ideas about theater; the idea that they have permission to play with magic, and that the theater is really the only place in society where we are enabled to do this.

Ean Miles Kessler in his first animated writing lecture
Mr Thornburg Participates with students in Ean Miles Kessler's first playwright lecture

Ean Miles Kessler takes questions from the students