Each year, Enact welcomes our Teaching Artists back with a fall training, focusing on the work being done in the classroom and best practices for how to effectively facilitate our workshops. In addition, this year we are happy to also host Britton Williams, a drama therapist who will be guiding our staff members through her workshop, “Minding Our Biases”. This workshop will explore the impact of assumptions, biases and stereotypes on individuals, relationships, communities, and the therapeutic encounter. The participants will explore the ease of receiving and internalizing messages that influence the way we, as individuals, view the world and others in it. Often, stereotypes and assumptions lock one’s views of others into singular roles or stories. We will explore messages they have received and internalized through historical, social and cultural contexts and how these messages inform personal, professional and clinical relationships. Through the use of drama therapeutic processes, visual art, story, and humor, this workshop will explore ways to allow assumptions and biases to be challenged in service of fostering connection. Tools for working through blank spots and rigid beliefs will be identified and creative ways to continue these conversations in professional and personal communities will be explored.
Britton Williams, MA, RDT, LCAT, is a registered drama therapist, Licensed Creative Arts Therapist, and psychoanalytic candidate. She currently works in private practice in New York City and in acute care with adults and adolescents at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Britton has published and presented on: the impact of assumptions, biases, and stereotypes on individuals, relationships and communities; creative and embodied approaches to self-assessment; and developing a relational-role theory framework and protocol.
Reflections by ENACT Teaching Artist Sofiya Cheyenne Perez
As a teaching artist, an educator, and a theater maker, I can’t help but think about how this world is filled with many connections and relationships. As I think of the importance of connection, I think of my everyday experiences in this world we live in. I stand 4 feet 1 inch tall because I have dwarfism. Every day of my life I have a moment with a stranger, and usually this moment is a teaching moment for them. As I reflect on my teaching artist work, I can’t help but think of one of the first classrooms I ever walked into. I had a few students that were surprised and perplexed by my height. They continued to smile at me and flutter me with (what seemed to be) compliments like: “oh you are so cute” and “oh my goodness are you my teacher?” and “wow how small are you?” I hear whispers as the students sit in their chairs, “oh my god, look it’s a midget”. I quickly realized that my dwarfism was something that I could not ignore in the classroom. As much as I wanted to continue with the lesson plan and pretend that the ignorance of my students wasn’t there, I just couldn’t. It was absolutely necessary to hold them accountable for their words and educate them on the responsibilities we all have to think and act with empathy and compassion.
So what did I do? Well, part of ENACT’s method uses something we like to call the “Creative Container.” The container is a safe space that we create in the classroom for the students and teachers to feel like they can share openly without judgment or ridicule. The container is the base of a creative and production work environment for the students where we tackle tough life issues and learn to be in relationship with each other. So as we proceeded with the lesson, I discussed the importance of safety in the classroom, and I started with myself. Without making them feel bad or like they did anything wrong, I brought up the fact that some students had just made me feel somewhat unsafe. I tried to create an open conversation about words; how important words are, and how important it is to speak with intention and empathy. I continued to reflect on the idea that sometimes the words that feel safe to us might not be safe for someone else. And that opened up a conversation about “why?” The students wondered “How can my words not be safe to someone else if they’re safe to me?” And this was the learning curve, just opening the possibility for the students to think of how someone might feel differently than them or how their actions might affect others. THIS is how empathy can help us learn about other people’s perspectives.
Empathy, the ability to understand someone else’s feelings or perspective, is the core of what we need for social and emotional learning. I often tell my friends that what I do when I teach with ENACT is simply teach kids empathy. Empathy can be a tool for us to open our minds and our hearts to experience just for one moment what another human being might be feeling or living. So, as I opened up the conversation about safety I made sure that everyone in the room knew that there were a few things that I needed them to know to feel safe in the classroom.
Here are the few things: “Midget is an offensive word.” All of the students let out a gasp! “But why miss?” “I didn’t know that was a bad word to say!” Once again we dove into the conversation about words. “Midget actually comes from the circus and freakshow days when little people were exploited and thought of as objects to put on display. Midget also drives from the word “midge” which means small annoying insect. This word is a term that many in my community feel very oppressed by, similar to other words that other communities feel oppressed by as well. We all have a list of ‘Words We Do Not Say’ in group, so I simply ask the students to add my word to their list. I also continue to ask the students to address me as an adult. “By telling me how cute or tiny or how adorable I am, you are demeaning me as your teacher. I am most likely 10 or 15 years older than you. I would like to be treated with the respect, as I will also respect you”.
And in that moment all of my students have a sigh of relief. As if they feel equal to me because we’ve agreed on mutual respect in our space. As if the safety in the room has now escalated. My honesty, openness and demand for respect made everyone in the room feel safe. I do believe that initial experience helped me become an even better educator today. Without honesty, we have no trust. If our students don’t trust us, how can we assume that they will feel safe? How will they be able to open up to us? How can we let their strengths shine, if we do not give them a space to be fully themselves? It is up to us, the educators, to show that by example. This is why one of my favorite parts of the ENACT method is the container. Because it allows ALL of us, teachers AND students to feel safe in the classroom.
The classroom is a place of deep critical learning, and we can only learn if we feel free to explore in our most vulnerable place. If we feel safe and trust the people around us, anything is possible. So, as it is Dwarfism Awareness Month, I share my story with you and hopefully a little bit of new knowledge. And I leave you with a promise: That as a teaching artist for ENACT and as an educator here in New York City, I will always be sure that my students feel safe, and I’ll make sure I feel safe too.
by ENACT Site Director Rebecca Elkin-Young
Afternoon Breakout Session: Inclusive Spaces, Inclusion Teaching: What We Can Learn About Inclusion From Community-based Arts Education Partnerships
Saturday Morning: Good Play/Bad Play: Drama Therapy with Put-At-Risk Youth
In this trauma-informed workshop, participants will use case studies, ENACT’s signature role-play, and active exploration to learn about working with put-at-risk youth in challenging situations through both interactive and didactic means.
Sunday Morning: Trauma in Our Schools: Three Approaches Addressing Widespread Trauma in K-12 Schools
Witness a conversation between ENACT, CANY, and the ALIVE program at the PTSC, three organizations using signature methods with thousands of K-12 students in public schools.
It is with a warm welcome back that I share our excitement as we kick off our 30th anniversary year working in NYC schools! To date, ENACT has reached over 200,000 students through our trauma-informed, creative drama method, delivered by professional actors and drama therapists. We are so grateful to be able to do the work we love and it’s thanks to our wonderful school partners, students, parents and teachers that we are able to continue to do it year-after-year.
In these turbulent times of divisive politics, climate change, and frequent threats to basic human rights, we all rely on our communities as the glue that binds us together. As educators, practitioners and caregivers, we find strength and hope in our firm mission to support and nurture students. It is the resilience we see in our students that acts as a reminder for us to stay strong. Our students teach us how they face and overcome daily, insurmountable obstacles with bravery and even a sense of fun. Each year, I am moved as I observe students working hard to transform their sometimes negative life situations and beliefs into a more positive perspective. Yes, more than ever I feel a renewed sense of determination.
Thinking back over our 30-year history my mind wanders through our first few years in Special Education classrooms working with students with autism and developmental delays. ENACT responded to these students’ often nonverbal behavior with theater games, metaphor and role-play. These early experiences were the very beginnings of developing our method and after years of research and development, we continue to demonstrate that constant attunement and assessment is at the core of our work. It is only when someone feels seen, heard and understood that meaningful transformation can take place. Now with a focus on behavioral change and understanding trauma as a trigger, our commitment to customizing our work to meet our students’ deeper needs, continues to guide us to unearth the obstacles these students face to achieve success in the classroom and in their lives.
In reflecting on our key moments in history, I can’t help but recall the inspiring and bittersweet experience of creating an original theater piece, “Finding the Words,” after the events of September 11th. The piece was devised in collaboration with ENACT Teaching Artists and students who had to evacuate their school because they were located close to the World Trade Center. The students involved in the development, were unable to perform their own stories because they were too emotionally triggered. In a process of therapeutic theater, ENACT Teaching Artists interviewed the students to capture their stories, voices and roles. The students became the directors of the piece to honor their ownership of the content. As the ENACT actors performed the pieces, the students experienced catharsis, witnessing their stories told from a distance. The piece toured NYC and Middletown New Jersey and was written about in Gail Sheehy’s book Middletown.
Our yearly performance event, Show UP! is another example of how therapeutic theater, both process and product, is a powerful tool to help students find and express their voice. Now in its 12th year, Show UP! serves as a culmination of our school-year working in classrooms. Funded by City Council’s Drop-Out Prevention Initiative, the production brings 60 students together to share their obstacles and successes in “Showing up” for school and life. It is always an amazing experience for all involved and we look forward to seeing you at this year’s Show UP! performance.
ENACT also had some interesting and unexpected accomplishments in the past couple of years! In the 2015-16 school-year, we started a pilot program in two schools in Los Angeles. And, this summer, we were invited to present at a global conference, iEARN in Morocco. ENACT’s method was embraced as a “powerful new experience for teachers” and we look forward to continuing to build on the partnerships forged there and offer trainings and resources for teachers internationally. Personally, attending this conference, strengthened my belief that at the core, the human experience of compassion and empathy is something we share regardless of the language we speak or country of origin. Watching 350 educators collaborate and create together gave me just the jolt of joy and hope I needed to start the new school-year.
On a final note, during turbulent times, self-care is often forgotten for caretakers. I encourage you to make sure to take time for yourselves to reflect and renew. ENACT will be offering some stress management workshops this year, so look out for that schedule. Additionally, we are offering training institutes for teachers and therapists who can receive LCAT and CTLE continuing education credit.
ENACT has a wonderful team of teaching artists, drama therapists and administrative staff. We are so excited to embark on our 30th year anniversary as we continue to work to support students and transform learning environments into safe spaces where all can thrive!
President, Founder & Executive Director
In August, under the soft glow of an eclipsing sky, a group of therapists, students, social workers, and artists gathered for ENACT’s 2017 Summer Intensive. The 2-day Institute taught participants trauma-informed methods of engaging, captivating, and connecting with students and clients in fun and active ways. Pulling expertise from 30 years of direct service to put-at-risk youth in NYC public schools, ENACT facilitators challenged participants to broaden their view of trauma and how it affects those with whom they work. The end result of the two days was 14 hours of Continuing Education Credit, inspiration as well as turn-key methods to be utilized immediately, and a deep sense of community built between the professionals present.
What our participants said:
“Thanks for…a wonderful workshop. It truly was filled with unique, interesting, fun, and caring people both participants & presenters. I too can not stop thinking about the two days.” -Laura, Art Therapist, Hearts & Crafts Counseling
“Thanks to ENACT! It was an extraordinarily informative workshop. I enjoyed very much to be a part of the group and gained quite a bit of confidence in the middle of my recovery process from my brain surgery in June.”-Toshiko, Art Therapist, Origami Therapy Association
- Specific focus on building connections and engaging students through trauma-informed approaches
- Participants will learn about:
- group dynamics
- classroom management
- trauma theory
- active and fun group engagement
- Social & Emotional skills
TUESDAY, Aug. 22nd: Captivate & Engage
ENACT is excited to announce upcoming Training Institutes!
Reserve your spot today!
For more information or to register contact: Darci.Burch@ENACT.org
April 2017 training flyer
This winter, I decided to make a shift out of the adult psychiatry field and back into schools with a population that I hadn’t worked with since I was an eager new drama therapy graduate. Since joining ENACT, I have had the joy of being reconnected with the vibrant and dynamic energy that fills the hallways of our public school system. At PS 811, I run four small drama therapy groups per week, two for girls and two for 8th graders transitioning into high school. The amount of creativity and passion that my students bring to these groups each week continues to be awe-inspiring. In my 8th grade groups, we tackle issues that students may be facing as they prepare to transition into high school, including self-esteem, personal responsibility and being able to access internal resources to help manage overwhelming emotions. Through collaborative theater games and role-playing exercises, my students have had the opportunity to sharpen their interpersonal skills and practice various responses to difficult situations in a space that is safe, supportive and most importantly, allows them to have fun and to be themselves.
Throughout this process, I have been consistently reminded of just how powerful imagination and play can be in breaking down barriers and cultivating connection. In my 4th-6th grade girls’ group, many of the students have had ongoing conflicts with one another. These students were individually chosen by school staff to participate in the ENACT drama therapy group in order to strengthen their peer connections. At the beginning of this process, it became increasingly clear to me that the girls had minimal tolerance for a group in which they were going to be forced to share their feelings with one another and somehow magically become best friends by the end of it. After observing this dynamic for several weeks, I entered one of our sessions and excitedly explained to the girls that we would be going on a camping trip. Of course, it was an imaginary camping trip but nonetheless several of the girls expressed their excitement to get the chance to do something they had never actually done in their real lives. To my amazement, these girls who had had such difficulty getting along in the weeks prior were somehow working together to gather supplies, set up tents, tell spooky stories around the campfire that they had built, and even fight off a monster in the woods. Group members shared responsibilities and supported each other in showcasing their individual strengths. The world of imagination had opened up a door of connection for them that had not been there before. They were allowed to lower their defenses and take off their armor for just a moment while in the playspace. There were no reputations or social hierarchy to worry about in the woods – they were all in it together and imagination was their universal language.
Moments like the camping trip have become incredibly important to me throughout my time at PS811. I’ve been collecting them in my memory bank as one might pick up small seashells along a vast shoreline, and I am grateful to my students everyday for reminding me never to take these moments for granted. Because amidst the colorful, confusing and often chaotic world of middle school, having the opportunity to explore life through imagination and play alongside such passionate and creative students has been absolutely priceless.
Natasha Amendolara is a Drama Therapist and Teaching Artist at ENACT. While she is not working with ENACT at various schools around New York City, she also works as a Drama Therapist for The Animation Project, a non-profit organization that uses digital art technology as a therapeutic medium to support the social, emotional and cognitive growth of put at risk youth. Natasha is a New York State Licensed Creative Arts Therapist (LCAT), a North American Registered Drama Therapist (RDT), and a Certified Contemplative Psychotherapist. Natasha received a BA in Theater and Psychology from Skidmore College, an MA in Drama Therapy from Concordia University, and received a certification in Contemplative Psychotherapy through the Nalanda Institute for Contemplative Science.