Saturday, December 21, 2013

Annual BX-BK Holiday Cookie Party, December 2013

This year marks the 7th anniversary of our annual BX-BK fake-bake-sale holiday cookie party throw-down. You can read all about the roots of the tradition HERE.

Ingrid came early this year and helped Q, Denisse and Letishia get started on cookies

Siri and Lyle bond with the ladies at the table

Bintou holds it down in the kitchen

Dr. K poses with a crowded table

Siri and Denisse

Playing "Celebrity"

Getting competitive

Julie and the ladies

The whole crew

Chanukah is officially over but tradition dictates we sing the blessing anyway...

We also light all the other holiday candles in the house and sing "Light in the Soul"

After the kids head home, Siri and Lyle watch the candles burn down

A peaceful moment in the quiet kitchen before bedtime

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Lantern Floats in Brooklyn: A Mandela Tribute My Kids Will Never Forget

Kate Quarfordt


A Lantern Floats in Brooklyn: A Mandela Tribute My Kids Will Never Forget

Posted: 12/09/2013 8:33 am

Just a few hours before I heard the news of Mandela's passing, I was struggling to write about a contentious, emotionally-charged charter school co-location hearing that took place recently in my Brooklyn neighborhood of Fort Greene. I'm not especially prone to frustrated outbursts, but the writing was going badly, and at a certain point I got so overwhelmed by the swarm of voices duking it out in my head over charter school policy, local politics, teacher assessment, social justice, gentrification and school reform, that the next thing I knew I was slamming my laptop shut, shoving myself back from my desk and yelling -- out loud to no one, like a crazy person -- "I'm not doing this! This is IMPOSSIBLE!"
Not a great note to end a writing session on, but it had gotten late and it was time to quit anyway. I needed to snap back into mom-mode and get home to make dinner, wrestle my three small kids into their pajamas, and get the bedtime launch sequence started. I gathered up my stuff and checked my phone, and only then did I see that Mandela had passed away.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Keepers of the Story: Young Theater Artists Thrive at Irondale

Kate Quarfordt


Keepers of the Story: Young Theater Artists Thrive at Irondale

Posted: 10/23/2013 9:14 am

"Being a brilliant storyteller is different from just being a raconteur," says Jim Niesen, co-founder and director of Brooklyn-based Irondale Ensemble Project, looking up from the photocopied text in his lap at the actors gathered around the script-strewn table. On his left, several adult Irondale actors nod in agreement, while on his right, four teenage members of the ensemble's Young Company squirm a little and dodge his gaze. Jim grins at them. "Maybe 'raconteur' is a new word for you all," he offers. Andre, a slender high school student with short-cropped hair and a dazzling smile, bugs his eyes out and whispers, "Busted!" There is playful laughter from the group. Jim swivels in his chair, ignoring the more experienced actors now and directing himself with laser-beam focus straight at the teens. "A raconteur is someone who can tell a good anecdote, hit you with a one-liner. A wise-cracker, right?" Andre and the other kids nod. "But a storyteller is different. A brilliant storyteller in some cultures is revered as a shaman. The keeper of the history of the tribe, you know?"
2013-10-23-Terryandthecast.jpgIt's two weeks from opening night of Dead End, the first-ever production in Irondale's 30-year history that puts teenage actors from the group's Young Company in prominent roles alongside their professional adult counterparts. I'm sitting at the table with Jim and the cast, feeling privileged to be watching kids on the cusp of becoming professionals being taught by example how to take responsibility for the stories they tell.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Cycles of Work

September 1st, 2013.
Today marks the first Back-to-School month since I was five years old--three if you count pre-school--that I haven't been preparing to step into a classroom, as either a student or a teacher.
With ten years behind me at Bronx Prep and now with three small children at home, I find myself at a creative crossroads of sorts. To be honest, this is the kind of moment that might have paralyzed me in the past.
Luckily, a decade into this teaching journey, I have tools up my sleeve that come in handy in moments like these. One of my favorites is the image on the right, a wheel representing the seasonal cycle that I use with my students to bring a sense of rhythm and momentum to our project-based work.
What's great about this cycle is that it can scale up or down (and contain infinite numbers of nested mini-cycles), so it can describe a project of any duration--from the arc of a single class period to a month-long unit, to a full year of work... or even the span of a long career. No matter the length of the project, the principles are the same:
 Starting with the spring phase, we get inspired and plant the seeds, building excitement about the questions and ideas we're grappling with, and connecting to why we care about them.
 The summer phase brings a period of focused practice and work, symbolized by tending the crops. During this time we roll our sleeves up and get down and dirty; we embrace struggle, we wrestle and hustle and grind.
 The autumn energy is a time to celebrate the harvest, when the fruits of our labors are presented, either for a small group within a classroom or onstage for the whole world to see.
 And finally, the winter brings an invitation to rest the soil, to reflect on what has been created and to replenish the creative forces in preparation for the next project. 
Over the years I've found that working with this wheel can bring coherence to creative processes that can otherwise feel jumbled or unwieldy. It can also serve as a great diagnostic tool, helping us get unstuck by showing us where we're out of balance, which phases we may have overindulged and which we need to pay more attention to.
One interesting discovery I've made, both in working with young artists as well as in my own creative practice, is that the last phase--the winter--is often the most difficult to commit to. This may seem counterintuitive, since resting is the stage that seems to require the least amount of effort. But I think it's hard for many of us--especially in a culture that values the feel-good juiciness of inspiration, the yeoman grit of hard work, and the varnished shine of a finished product--to give ourselves a chance to just chill for a minute. It's hard for a lot of us to rest. To reflect. To replenish.
But I think--no, I know--that it's necessary, and it's worth it.
So as the days get longer... and as baby number three forces me to stay a bit closer to home... I'm welcoming the opportunity to rest the soil for a little while. To reflect on--and write about--the work my students and I have created together. And to replenish my inner life in preparation for the next big thing... whatever that may be. Maybe I'll launch headlong back into the fray at Bronx Prep next year. Maybe I'll help smooth a transition to new leadership there and follow the unfolding of a new project.
Either way, I know I'm not alone in this need to pause occasionally. So for now, here's a gentle call to all of my fellow creative instigators out there: In the midst of your bustling lives, your vibrant creations, your heart-busted-open support of your students, colleagues, clients, family members and friends... Is there a moment of pause with your name on it?
Hoping you find it... and that when you do, you fill it with a long, slow, sweet breath.
P.S. Big thanks to my former student Chris Moncrief, whose experiences working with the season wheel at Farm and Wilderness Camp have had a transformative effect on his teaching and leadership skills, and by extension, on mine.

Monday, August 12, 2013

High-Stakes 2.0: Letting Kids Run the Show

Kate Quarfordt


High-Stakes 2.0: Letting Kids Run the Show

Posted: 08/12/2013 8:56 am

"Oh my god, you're the playwright? It's soooo amazing to meet you!"
Brian -- my former theater student and star of the production of Les Miserábles I co-directed with students last year in the South Bronx -- fights through the crowd in the lobby of Atlantic Stage 2 in Manhattan. He's still sweating from his opening night performance ofCircuits, one of two student-written one-acts currently in production by National Theater for Student Artists.
As Brian lunges forward to hug the young playwright of Circuits, she shouts, "You were fantastic!" and they launch into a volley of overlapping compliments. The lobby around them is a jumble of whooping, high-fives and gravity-defying hugs. Audience members vie to congratulate exuberant swarms of student directors, designers, stage managers and actors -- the oldest recent college grads, the youngest fresh out of eighth grade. From across the lobby, I catch NTSA founder and executive director Victoria Chatfield's eye and wink. Judging by the jubilant reaction of this opening night crowd, her high-stakes gamble is paying off big-time.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

VIDEO: Behind the Scenes of "In the Heights" with Lin-Manuel Miranda

Huge gratitude to Lin-Manuel Miranda for paying it forward in the BX and props to my boys Alejandro, Anthony and Fabian at The Digital Project for helping us tell the story.
Still carrying these kids in my heart: Thanks for this, @katequarfordt. What a gift!

Click to Play Video of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Amazing Visit to Bronx Prep