Thursday, March 8, 2012

Shining a Spotlight on: The Bully.

Students in the project showcased their artwork with a cool series of posters addressing the subject of bullying.  One in particular used a live person, in front the poster in order to tie in the human point of view within the poster.

It was decided we would focus on this subject for the acting portion of the workshop. 

The work by the project members leaped from page to stage with one of the first scenes in West Side Story dealing with bullying.  Members identified the first scene between Riff and Tony as a form of bullying.  Yes, even a friend can bully a friend, just by simply applying pressure on them to do something they know is wrong.

Riff:         Jets are the greatest!

Tony:         Were...

Riff:         Are!

The actors showcasing this scene for the group, took the last two lines from this exchange – "Were."  "Are!" – and tossed them back and forth at each other at great length – using the experience of a repetition exercise they had tried earlier in the day during warm-ups – only now with Riff: “Are!”, being more aggressive and persuasive and Tony: “Were...”, making an attempt to avoid and deflect.  It was funny at times to watch, and also, very interesting as it developed and grew deeper in meaning – for the actors and the observers.  Especially as the police officers and the students began to identify: physical, vocal and emotional choices each actor naturally employed to accomplish their individual goals – tone, gesture, physical stance, feelings - much like a real life scene between two friends with different viewpoints on a subject.  The more aggressive, it was determined, displayed classic elements of bullying.  The recipient, clearly, they felt, was the victim.

Students then shared stories about their own choices in certain situations, with the most telling being one story by a young man about listening to all of the other voices around him, without listening to himself.  The most important voice, he learned, and shared, was after the fact.  It was indeed his own voice.  Because that is who he was left listening to after everything was over.  Himself.  Alone.  And in the end, he learned that that was all he had to depend on in making a decision at the beginning.  Himself.  Alone.  A lesson learned – and a life lesson portrayed through the acting scene showcased within a session of The West Side Story Project.

- Tommy Demenkoff, PossibleArts

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Program Director Leads West Side Story Project

I would like to take this opportunity to share my thoughts in regards to the West Side Story Project. I never knew anything about this musical and quite honestly had no desire to be part of this program. I’m not only a part of this program; I was named the Program Director of this project. The first thing I have realized about myself is never miss the opportunity to try something new and begin to change my perception on things and not just about this project but life in general. Working with the kids is such a gratifying job and to be able to watch a student smile, feel accepted regardless of race, and being able to help change a student’s perception about law enforcement makes this opportunity special. What I failed to realize is this isn’t just about a musical it’s about life 50 years ago. Unfortunately the same social stigmas still exist. This project is not only helping the students but its helping me as well to realize how our perception of law enforcement is delusional. It just goes to show you never judge a book by its cover!!!
Program Director
West Side Story Project

A Desmond "Shout Out" on West Side Story Project

The West Side Story Project is a good thing for kids in high school. It helps us to understand the things that effect us in everyday life and be able to be in the same room with a cop and still be yourself and not having to keep your guard up at all times. It’s a good thing to come to when you want to learn about acting and become an actor in your future life.
- Desmond


West Side Story Guest Star Kicks It Up A Notch

Professional Actor, James Tully, who played Dective Schrank in a National Tour of West Side Story dropped in for some intense work with the Phoenix House Students and Suffolk County Police Officers at the Long Island West Side Story Project session last week.  An imposing figure with a booming gravely voice, Tully brought to life one of the more disturbing characters from WSS for the workshop participants.  Playing his signature role several times with a variety of students and officers swapping out to play the other roles, Tully then stepped into gang roles himself within the scene, giving everyone a chance to play Shrank and look at that opening scene over a dozen different ways.  The post-workshop discussion was a vibrant sharing of stories.  The officers, students and Phoenix House Staff members broke down the Shrank scene line by line, beat by beat, and identified body movement, language, objectives and circumstances, and the overall reaction generated by the script for the scene and the performing of it.  The items receiving the most debate were large group fights and how officers deal with this situation.  Officers shared that bringing everything under control and making it quiet quickly was key.  Also, stereotypes were talked about, and how officers are sworn to protect and serve the public is similar to friends and families feeling strongly about sticking up for each other.  Yet everyone agreed, oaths and beliefs were important, but that within groups there are often a few individuals who are not nice and choose to behave in  highly inappropriate ways.  Like Shrank.  Hence, a conflict is born.
Tom Demenkoff
Artistic Director


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Young Actors from West Side Story Project

When the actors came to our high school a couple weeks ago to do the West Side Story with us, it was a fun thing to do. Tommy helped us learn how act and learn certain type of techniques to let your inner actor come out. He showed us types of ways to make ourselves confident to perform in front of people. Also how to memorize things that are very long. In talking about the dialogue he asked us to act out. Also the types of faces you make and the way you look when talking, your image, by what’s going on in a persons head about what they are doing and thinking.
I look forward to doing more activities and learning about how to handle the police and how they handle our community. It’s all good!!!!!!   - Desmond R.

According to the exercise activity that we did a few weeks ago, I would say that I enjoyed it a lot. It teaches you how to communicate with other people whether they are strangers, friends, girlfriends or boyfriends. The little skits I enjoyed watching because it shows how you can keep a conversation. Also doing thing’s like that brings out your feelings for another person.  I learned that when you are communicating with someone you give them a chances to see who you really are. Anyways I really enjoyed my self; I wish we could do this every year, matter fact if it was class I would never skip. I think doing activities like this helps students get rid of their stress or whatever they feel inside of them. I think acting is very fun. Thanks to my health teacher for telling me about this program.   - Damaris V.

Leonard Bernstein's Music Informs Characters in Valuable Role Play

From Inside The West Side Story Project:  Those instantly recognizable melodic phrases that inform a great many of the moments for characters in West Side Story have proved to be a most valuable point of reference for all participants.  In sessions for the West Side Story Project, Police Officers and Young Adults, are learning about this through a movement  based exercise, building characters from their own daily life, who mirror the characters from West Side Story.  Using the opening prologue as a traditional warmup in the background, this team building exercise has been allowing everyone to observe and discuss: gestures, body language, intentions, misunderstandings, attitudes, fear, hatred, cool and uncool...  This gem of the project, employing improvisation, choreography, and authentic movement, fully engages participants in the importance of music as a key element within West Side Story, and how to use these vibrant splashes of rhythm and melody to arrive at the heart of a character when making choices and decisions from moment to moment.  Tom Demenkoff - PossibleArts

Monday, December 19, 2011

Long Island Director, Beth Gabellini, Thinks West Side Story Project is "Cool"

On Wednesday Dec 7, 2011 Phoenix House kicked off the West Side Story Project with its first workshop at the Wyandanch Memorial High School. There were 18 kids who reluctantly came to the auditorium, some of them told us that they couldn't stay for the entire workshop but we must have done something right because all 18 of them stayed, participated AND enjoyed themselves. It was fantastic!
On a side note, I later found out that of the kids that participated in the WSSP there were a couple of them who have already been in trouble and some of them were the kids that never participate in anything. I definitely consider this an accomplishment!
The kids engaged in diction exercises, movement activities, acted out short skits and got to interact with Phoenix House staff and Police Officers from Suffolk County Police Department. The goal of this project will be to have the students express themselves creatively while participating in a program that uses the themes from West Side Story to address issues such as youth violence, bullying, gangs, interracial tensions and cultural conflicts.  Students from the Milton L. Olive Middle School at Wyandanch will also be participating in this program.  
Yesterday (Dec 14) we had our second gathering of students (about 12-14 kids), police officers and PH staff. Together we watched the first 45 minutes of the movie and then paused to have some discussion. We asked the students to tell us what the themes were that they saw and if they could relate to what they had seen. That conversation was followed with some very raw discussion of how the police were viewed in the movie and then how the police are viewed in Wyandanch.  Some very honest conversation took place and the SC Police Officers handled the situation with grace and ease by sharing a couple of on the job stories which provided insight and got the students to look at certain situations from a different point of view. Students also had the opportunity to share their experiences with officers in the community. The situations were broken down, discussed and processed to the point where the PO's were able to be seen not just as "cops" but as human beings. The West Side Story Project is about changing perceptions and stereotypes, and yesterday we started to do just that.

In the future we look forward to additional theatre workshops with Tom Demenkoff from PossibleArts (our very own theatre professional), as well as weekly activities to include (but not limited to) creating Public Service Announcements on issues of violence, creating a mural or posters expressing non-violence & hopeful themes, an open mic night where students will recite their own poetry and (fingers crossed) a youth summit in the Spring. We hope to continue to build on the excitement that the kids are expressing about this project and let them create and experience a true collaboration and relationship between the school community, SC Police Department and Phoenix House.

Let's keep up the great work!
Beth Gabellini, M.S., L.M.S.W.
Director of Mobile Services
Phoenix House of New York