EL PUENTE WORKSHOP JOURNAL by Vanessa Felix
Hi! I’m Vanessa and I’m a teaching artist and Youth + Community Programmer for The Bushwick Starr. This past summer, over the course of 5 weeks, myself along with Modesto Flako Jimenez and Noel Allain held a “Creating Performance” workshop at El Puente here in Bushwick. With a group of 9 students, we talked about theater as an art form and collaborated on original pieces of poetry and plays. Here’s a recap of our time together, so enjoy and feel free to reach out to me if you’re interested in working with The Starr or El Puente.
Day 1. The first day is always full of nervousness and excitement. We opened the day with a game called, “yes” where everyone stands in a circle and trades places with each other by saying yes and allowing that person to take our space. Sounds weird, but it definitely makes sense in person and starts everyone off feeling like they are being accepted and welcomed.
Next we all introduced ourselves and talked about our favorite hobbies followed by “Crappy/Happy” where we talked about 1 crappy thing from our day and 1 happy thing from our day. We are big on checking in. It allows us all to get on the same page and hear each other out.
Then the good stuff. An overview of what’s to come, a slew of questions about what interests everyone has, and what inspires them. We all shared our answers and then got ready for the week of work. A wonderful first day at El Puente!
Day 2. We get into the basics of playwriting and what makes for a great and compelling story. There was a lot of discussion about why we choose to go to the theater to see live performance vs. going to the movies. A list of pros and cons of going to both came up and it was interesting to talk about what each medium offers in terms of connecting to a story or narrative.
Next we wrote monologues, short scenes, and shared our work as well some of the difficulties of creating original pieces. One of the things we talked about was being able to put ourselves in our character’s shoes. By fully committing to their world it makes it a bit easier to develop their story.
Day 3. After our check in, Modesto took over for some quality poetry and spoken word work. We learned about the different structures of poems and focused on anaphora poetic structure. Most everyone seemed fairly comfortable with poetry and were able to get to work right away. There’s always something interesting and freeing about being able to write in a way that is familiar and poetry was no stranger in this room. We all went around and shared our work, or rather, those who wanted to share did so. It was an exciting day as those who shared went deep into their points of view on politics, body positivity, and the struggles of life as a teenager. Nothing was held back, and that fire and excitement is excellent fuel for creating!
Day 4. Today’s class was a little light. Several students had other commitments so we spent a longer amount of time “checking in” and just talking about our days. It’s Times like these are so important because it’s always good to know that no matter what we are going through, we are not alone. Sometimes when we hold back our feelings about what we’re going through we close ourselves off from the opportunities of realizing that the people around us are often going through the same stuff, even the adults. Being able to be honest and speak freely makes us all a closer community, and despite the small class size it was definitely a highlight of the day.
The second half of class was spent talking individually with Modesto, Noel, and myself in pairs about what type of pieces we’d like to create for our final performance at the culmination for class and what areas of theater we’d like to learn more about. Surprisingly, there were a lot of inquiries about costume design, which was perfect because that is an area we’d get into later on.
Once we finished those conversations, Noel worked with the students on performing the pieces they wrote the day before. Projecting our voices, and focusing emotional energy and scoring throughout the piece to enhance storytelling were just a couple of things we went over to start getting prepped for our final performances. It was a great way to end the day!
Day 5. A Day At The Theater!! Today we went on a field trip together to see Jesus Hopped the A Train, at the Signature Theatre in Manhattan. We all met at El Puente and then hopped a couple trains ourselves to get there. We had plenty of time before the show to eat and talk about our days, and get excited to see the show.
After the incredible performance, we got a chance to meet one of the stars of the show, Sean Carvajal. It just so happens that Sean used to go to El Puente when he was young, so it was a really special meeting. We all left the theatre inspired, and ready to go back to work.
Day 6. We had 2 special guests with us for this session: William Burke and Daaimah Mubashshir. Both William and Daaimah are successful playwrights here in NYC and came to talk about their experiences both as playwrights and as artists working in the city.
We broke up into small groups and shared our work so far with William and Daaimah and had them give us constructive feedback and offer suggestions on where pieces could continue to grow. Overall, it was a great day and so nice to be able to talk to more working professionals that reminded the group that being a part of the theatrical and artistic community in NYC is an attainable goal.
Day 7: Today everyone really dug in deep and continued to elaborate on each piece of work. With some time to digest feedback and suggestions from William and Daaimah, everyone was ready to jump back in and keep the creative juices flowing!
Day 8: Today we were at The Bushwick Starr for a special night of a technical design workshop followed by a performance of the Starr’s current show, Animal Wisdom. The design workshop was with Jay Maury, The Bushwick Starr’s Technical Director, and Megan Lang a professional lighting designer. Both Jay and Megan talked in detail about sound, lighting, and some stage design, and then went into detail about how spaces like the Starr deal with different types of technical design. We also had a great conversation about opportunities and realistic expectations in the workforce for technical designers.
After our workshop we all stayed and got to talk to Heather Christian, the creator and star of Animal Wisdom. Heather was wonderfully candid about her process and journey with the show, and graciously answered everyone’s questions. The group stayed for the show and we were all blown away. It was a fantastic night at the theater together!
Day 9: Today we had an exciting and fun day doing a design workshop with costume designer Ashaka Givens. She talked to everyone about how costume design helps support the full realization of characters in plays and how they non-verbally communicate to the audience what kind of personalities a character can have. Ashaka then got measurements of everyone in class so she could design costumes for their final performances at the end of our time together.
Day 10: In today’s session we started off by talking about Animal Wisdom. We talked about the use of lighting, costumes, sound and set design, and then spent plenty of time raving about Heather’s incredible performance! We also discussed what roles everyone would play in the final culmination and what (if any) design was needed. Some students chose to perform their own pieces, while others decided that a fellow peer would perform their piece.
Day 11: Today we were back at the Starr for a special acting class led by Noel. We focused on vocal projection, annunciation, character development, and crafting our performance around the emotional journey of each piece. There were times where we got a little silly by doing funny vocal exercises and physical activities, but overall everyone did an excellent job of focusing and zooming in on the importance of performance.
Day 12: We just got back from Thanksgiving break and we put the pedal to the metal today! It was our last day of editing and refining each piece before our rehearsal tomorrow so the whole time was spent writing.
Day 13: Today we were at El Puente Williamsburg where we will be performing tomorrow for our culminating event. We had costume fittings, did a run through of all of the pieces and went through music integration and other aspects of design for the big day! There didn’t seem to be enough time to get through everything, but by the end of the day everyone felt confident and ready to perform.
Day 14: Today was the big day! We met a little early to do a very fast speed through of all of the pieces, and get into costume. The performance went off as smoothly as we had hoped and the final bow was greeted with roars of applause! Everyone stuck around to have pizza and refreshments with friends and family, and we had such a great time they had to turn off the lights to get us to leave! All in all, we learned so much as a group and formed a bond that everyone was grateful to have. Artistic endeavors and performances often go through a rollercoaster of high’s and low’s, but this specific group of students made this journey one of joy, growth, and true artistic collaboration. Congratulations to everyone in our Creating Performance class! Everyone here at The Bushwick Starr can’t wait to see and hear about all of your artistic successes and your bright futures!!!