community

Giving Girls A Voice To Change The World

When I spoke with Angela Patton a few months ago, I was struck by how direct and open she was. We discussed the CAMP DIVA program she founded in Richmond, Virginia in 2004, its merger with non-profit Girls for a Change and her current role as CEO of that organization. Her passion for her work was clear, from her constant reference to program participants as “my girls” to the story she told of networking and making contacts while on a family vacation because you have leap at the opportunities that present themselves.

Not only has Patton leapt at the opportunities that have come her way, but she has tried to facilitate opportunities for her girls to advance themselves, improve their communities and feel empowered to make their voices heard.

The article that I wrote about Patton, CAMP DIVA and Girls for a Change appeared in the May 2017 issue of The Advocate, the newsletter for Virginia Union University’s Center for the Study of the Urban Child. You can read it here.

Angela Patton
Girls for a Change CEO and CAMP DIVA founder Angela Patton

 

 

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Bridging the Gap Together

I spent some time over the past few months talking with Quinnipiac University’s professor of drama Crystal Brian, and sitting in on her Theater for Community class. Brian partnered this term with Mary Lou Lauricella, a drama therapist at the West Haven VA. For the past 20 years, Lauricella has worked through VA Connecticut to facilitate a PTSD drama therapy group called the Veterans’ Homefront Theater Group. Over the semester, they guided the students in the class and veteran volunteers got to know one another and created an improvisational performance piece which they presented together on Wednesday night. (more…)

Turning Up In Connecticut

Although I grew up in Connecticut, I am a pretty recently returned resident of Connecticut. Before mid-2014 I had been living in North Carolina for half a dozen years. When I started going back to school one of the first stories I reported on for class was the Forward Together/Moral Monday Movement and the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II. You can take a look at those stories here and here, and view a slideshow as well.

In my final semester, I became aware of Moral Monday CT. It seemed fitting for one of the last stories I would report on for class to come back to the Moral Monday movement through Rev. Dr. John Selders Jr. Here’s the story that I wrote for JRN 470 …

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Confronting Issues That Matter

It’s easy to imagine theater students worrying about costumes and learning lines, rushing to rehearsals, or performing on stage. Students at Quinnipiac University do this all the time. But, as part of their theater program over the past 15 years, they’ve also collaborated with combat veterans, worked with children living in extreme poverty in Nicaragua, explored “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland first-hand, developed plays with at-risk youth in New Haven, and spoken with inmates in Louisiana’s Angola State Penitentiary.

“Everybody should have to visit a VA hospital; everybody should have to go into a lethal injection chamber,”  Dr. Crystal Brian, Quinnipiac’s professor of theater since 2000, explains. “Once you are there, you can’t deny it. You can pretend to, but the innocence is gone and you can’t ever really be the same again.”

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Dr. Crystal Brian

Brian introduced the concepts of theater for social change to her students and makes the case that theater itself is naturally theater for social change. The Greeks used it as a way of discussing the issues that faced them as a society, and today, when you consciously do theater with the idea that you’re changing yourself or changing the world, you are using theater as a way to understand social issues and engage in your communities.

Brian knows that her early students were an amazing group. They really latched onto this vision of what theater could be and how it connects to all aspects of life.

Allison Clark was one of those students from 2001-2005. She recalled what being involved with the theater meant to her, especially following the events of 9/11:

Not only did theater become a way for us to connect to our own catharsis, but we were asking our community to think and feel and respond to bigger questions as well.

In Clark’s freshman year, she was involved with “The Laramie Project,” a play about the reaction to the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student who had been beaten, tortured and left to die near Laramie, Wyoming.

The following year students produced “The Antigone Project.” They considered the motives behind war and its impact on those involved by interacting and interviewing combat veterans, many of whom had fought in Vietnam. Listening to their experiences and hearing about the negative reactions and lack of support that often greeted their return home, was the moment when most of the students involved really personally connected with a marginalized population for the first time.

“It was profound for everyone involved,” Clark said. “I remember writing in a journal back then, “we held each other’s heartstrings.”

Student Kathryn Monigan was a freshman at Quinnipiac in 2003. Although she loved theater, she was not pursuing it as a major when she arrived on campus. After being cast in the production “The Troubles of Romeo and Juliet” in the spring of 2004, things began to change.

“Dr. Crystal Brian and her vision of Theater for Social Change altered my perspective on theater entirely,” Monigan said. “The concept that theater can carry with it a strong social message, and that the message can have the power to help heal a community, or bring about understanding and change, that to me is so impactful.”

The following spring, Monigan and Clark were among a group of students that traveled with Brian to tour “The Troubles of Romeo and Juliet” in peace and reconciliation centers throughout Northern Ireland. Speaking directly with former combatants and victims who experienced that period of conflict between Catholics and Protestants was an experience both feel fortunate to have had.

“Gaining an understanding of ‘The Troubles’ and seeing real life uses for the art of  drama therapy had a profound impact on my understanding of conflict resolution between groups and individuals,” Monigan said.

During her senior year she was involved in the production of “Dead Man Walking.” The students traveled to New Orleans to meet with Sister Helen Prejean, who authored the book that went on to be adapted to stage and screen by Tim Robbins. They also toured Angola State Penitentiary, including the death house, and interviewed inmates there.

“I hope that we were able to translate some of the reality and sensitivity we now had to the audiences and community of Quinnipiac with our performances and talk backs,” Monigan said. “As a cast member, I can tell you these experiences will linger with me for the rest of my life.”

Brian, who had become friends with Robbins when they were both students at UCLA, arranged for the actor and director to participate in a workshop with students at Quinnipac. A photograph of Robbins with her students holds pride of place in Brian’s office, and the words he shared about the work being done through the Theater and Community program are framed with it:

I hope you understand how important the work you are doing is.

You are creating angels.

Brian believes the program does change the students who participate.

“Some of them are immediately drawn to it and they just realize they want to find a way to use this to make the world a better place,” she said. “But even those who take a bit longer to warm to the course have grasped the idea by the end and become different people because of it.”

This was the case in 2009, when students joined with youth from the New Haven Family Alliance’s Juvenile Review Board to create the play “Whitewashed: In the (Neighbor) ‘Hood.” At first, it seemed like students on both sides were struggling to enjoy the experience.

“But then they began to learn from each other, talking about their families and getting to know one another,” Brian said. “Then it became something.”

The play was performed at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater.

Theater students began taking annual trips to Nicaragua in 2006, in order to work with youngsters living in extreme poverty. During the year, the university’s students would collaborate with the students in Nicaragua to create a play they would workshop and perform during the spring or summer trip.

In 2013, the students, many of whom had no fathers in their lives, wrote a play to express the love and appreciation they had for their mothers. The Nicaraguan students were excited to travel by bus into the city of León to workshop the play. On the final day, their mothers were brought in to see the performance. The kids even learned to sing a song in English for their mothers.

“To see their moms come in to the city, and for them to see their children say how much they care about them and how glad they are to have them – it was beautiful,” Brian said.

Civil unrest has prevented students from traveling to Nicaragua the past two years, but Brian hopes to resume the trips in 2016.

Another project Brian is working to arrange for the 2016 spring semester involves the Lifers Group Youth Initiative at Cheshire Correctional Institute. Working within the prison is an idea she’s had brewing for some time, and she has made contact to arrange a meeting to discuss the project. If it gets the go-ahead, Brian hopes that students and inmates will be able to write and perform a play together.

Amber Hopwood is a criminal justice/psychology double major at Quinnipiac. She is one of several students eager to take part in the Cheshire project in the spring. The idea of rehabilitation was what really hooked her.

Theater can help people in ways that we may not think of or recognize at first, and as an undergraduate, to be able to do something to that extent, even getting to go into the prison and interact, is a big deal.

Hopwood is interested because it is really a way of doing something different. Theater will give inmates something fun and creative to do, an outlet that they can have input into and where it can become whatever they want it to be rather than a solution that is forced on them.

“I hope to come up with a program that sticks,” Hopwood continued. “Something that can open doors into the prison for other classes and programs that can also be effective. That’s the biggest thing – to help the prisoners.”

This kind of long lasting impact has happened for both Clark and Monigan.

Clark has become a Drama Therapist. Over the past 15 years she has worked with people in acute inpatient psychiatric settings, homeless populations, terminally ill children, women who have been physically and sexually abused, and victims of rape and incest.

“I aid in the coping and emotional support of those who believe their voices are not worth hearing, and I help them to understand their voices still need to be heard,” Clark said.. “It’s everything my work with Crystal [Brian] taught me.”

Monigan also uses the ideals and lessons she learned at Quinnipiac in her daily life. She acquired her teaching certification in Theater Arts and works as a high school teacher and director today. She uses a repertoire of shows that challenge social norms and address the larger issues of culture and society.

“I strive to teach my students that the arts can have a profound impact,” Monigan said. “I am forever thankful to Dr. Brian and the opportunities I was provided while at Quinnipiac University.”

Brian is proud that these opportunities help students to grow and develop by engaging with the local, national and global community. They are invaluable in helping to foster the understanding of the role “citizen artists” can play in our complex and sometimes troubled world.

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To hear about the creation of Quinnipiac’s Theater and Community program from Crystal Brian and some of the students watch this clip edited from Kelly Shamburg’s student film, “Theater for Community.”

Don’t Let The Bed Bugs Bite!

Over the past several weeks I have been working to produce a show that has now recently aired on The Colin McEnroe Show on WNPR 90.5 Connecticut Public Radio. The idea originated with one of the station’s producers, Betsy Kaplan. I thought it was really interesting and she was kind enough to let me run with it.

When I started out, I didn’t really know much about bed bugs other than they can be really hard to get rid of and no one wants to have them! I know a lot more about them now …

Our paths probably crossed in an ancient cave when a bed bug decided to skip the usual bat blood and try a taste of a sheltering human’s blood instead. Apparently we were quite to their liking so the bed bug has stayed with us ever since, traveling with us all over the world and adapting to our habits and habitats.

I wondered why I had never heard of anyone having bed bugs when I was growing up since they seem to be everywhere now. Maybe it should have been obvious, but it wasn’t until I researched the show and read Brooke Borel’s book Infested: How the Bed Bug Infiltrated Our Bedrooms and Took Over the World that the obvious became clear to me – DDT. It had virtually wiped out bed bugs, except those that were immune to its effect. When we stopped spraying DDT and the residual effects wore off, the bed bug made a comeback with one slight difference – much of the population had developed a resistance to the chemicals we use to kill them.

From weird bed bug sex known as traumatic insemination to how the selfie may be behind increased head lice among teens, you’ll learn a few things you never knew you wanted to know if you Listen to the podcast of the show here!