Fishtown’s B. Someday Productions (www.bsomeday.org) announces a new initiative serving Navajo youth in New Mexico, starting this summer. Michelle Pauls, artistic director of B. Someday Productions, and Mary Ellen Gardner, a reading specialist, will bring two weeks of arts activities to Navajo children and youth in and around the area of Thoreau, New Mexico, the eastern region of the Navajo Nation Reservation. Working with the Thoreau Community Center, the camp will also serve Navajo elders and parents of the children and youth. The activities will grow out of the work Michelle does with Of Mythic Proportions, B. Someday’s award-winning theater educational program that works with youth in Fishtown and Kensington.
Juliana Ko of the Thoreau Community Center has been working to expand the educational opportunities of youth in the area. Juliana writes, “Here, four out of every 10 families live in poverty and over 25% of the adult population dropped out of school before completing ninth grade. The youth have incredible odds to overcome and the prevalence of drugs, alcohol, and gangs adds to the challenge. Nevertheless, we are making a difference! Between October 2009 and October 2010, 15 teenagers in our community took their lives. The Thoreau Community Center was formed in response to this tragedy and its main purpose is to prevent youth suicides in our community. While there has been a dramatic decrease in youth suicides, the pressures youth face have not disappeared.”
FringeArts recently caught up with Michelle to get the scoop on this project that she hopes will grow into a cultural exchange, with Navajo youth traveling to Philadelphia to share in local arts and performance—and then Philadelphia youth will travel to the Reservation and learn traditional arts and customs from the Navajos, such as storytelling, Indian lore, and care of horses.
FringeArts: How did this project come about?
Michelle: A high school friend, Mary Ellen Gardner contacted me and asked if I wanted to create a summer camp on the reservation with her. She had done some volunteer work with the Catholic School and the Thoreau Community Center there a couple years back. I also have an uncle who lives nearby, he is a Monsignor. I thought the activities that we have been doing with teens from Kensington in our Of Mythic Proportions program would translate well there. Mary Ellen is a reading specialist. And we will be taking our children who are about the same age. Seemed like a great opportunity for all!
FringeArts: What are some of the activities you’ll be doing?
Michelle: It will be divided into morning literacy activities for children aged 5 to 10 during the first week, and for children aged 11 to 13 during the second week. Afternoon performance sessions will be for high school aged youth, 14 to 18. Each morning of the camp, a community member/elder will be invited to read a children’s book aloud to the children. The book will be read in both English, and then Navajo. For the second portion of the morning session, a cultural activity will be planned to go along with the book’s main message. This will include arts and crafts, music, cooking, or vocabulary and math building skills.
These activities will be Navajo-centered with Navajo elders and community members promoting the activities. Each day, the children will be allowed to take a copy of the book home. At the end of each week, a camp art show will be held displaying the activities of the arts and crafts, writing, music, etc., that were accomplished for the families to come and experience.
Afternoon activities will revolve around storytelling and performance and include typical acting class warm-ups and games, focusing on loosening up the body, mind, and voice. Improvisation technique will be introduced, both for fun and to help uncover story/play ideas. The ultimate goal for this program will be to have youth take stories from their own lives and transform them into a piece of live theater, which they will then perform for each other and for the assembled community at the final performance.
FringeArts: How do you go about creating an original performance by the students based on the stories of their own lives?
Michelle: We will use the model for Of Mythic Proportions, our Barrymore Award-winning outreach program. The first part of the time together is doing getting to know you games, creating trust, allowing us all to speak, move, relax and acting goofy. We will incorporate relaxation exercises as well. We will do group writing, writing in pairs, individual writing. We will talk about what is in the news and what is important to them. After some time, we will ask who wants to share their writing.
From whatever is written, the group will choose which pieces are used in the performance. We may do some improv around some of these ideas, to flesh them out and keep it from being too close to psycho-drama. The writers will have a choice about whether they want to perform their own writing or not. We will get the others—younger kids, parents, community members—to help create any costumes or props. Finally, the focus will be on the process of creating and working together, not on the finished product. This is not an acting camp, it’s about giving young people choices, expanding their options, widening their world.
FringeArts: How do you see this project continuing in the future?
Michelle: It is the hope that B. Someday will bring this summer arts camp to the reservation next summer, and eventually, create a Cultural Exchange, where Navajo youth will travel to Philadelphia, PA to share in local arts and performance such as hip hop dancing, performance poetry, puppet making, and the like. And then Philadelphia youth will travel to the Reservation and learn traditional arts and customs from the Navajos, such as storytelling, Indian lore, and care of horses.
I consider this short visit this summer a fact-finding mission. We are going there to see how open they are to having some artists from Philadelphia come and share with them. This part of our country is struggling. We are all Americans and I feel it is my responsibility to help if I can.
Thanks Michelle, sounds like an amazing project!
For more information and to help support B. Somebody’s educational programming go to www.bsomeday.org or call 215.427.9255