Pushcart Players, the renowned touring theater for young audiences celebrating its 43rd year, has received a generous grant from Pine Tree Foundation of New York to bring a theater residency to Today’s Learning Center in Clifton, NJ. This first time award is for a pilot program in which Pushcart teaching artists will be engaged throughout the 2016-17 academic year in this unique elementary school.
Today’s Learning Center (TLC) is dedicated to serving the needs of students on the Autism spectrum and with other cognitive disabilities in preschool through eighth grades. Their innovative academic program is designed to surpass NJ curriculum standards and to motivate students to achieve. The faculty of dedicated certified teachers takes a holistic approach to education, and is committed to the educational, social, and emotional well-being of the students. Small by design, TLC is able to individualize their program to differentiate instruction based on the student’s personal learning style.
“Pushcart is bringing TLC a story-telling theater program which we’ve titled ‘From Page to Stage,'” said Paul Whelihan, Pushcart’s producing artistic director. “During each week from October through June, teaching artist Gerry Fierst will conduct in-depth classes on the art of story telling. In three segments – one that explores folk tales, one that concentrates on family history, and one that uses poetry – students will have the opportunity to create and perform their own work, and reap all the educational and social benefits of doing so!”
The program will also infuse the use of puppetry in select classes. Students will also attend Pushcart performances in their auditorium of “Stone Soup and Other Stories” (folk tales from around the world), and “Ellis Island: Gateway to America” (a loving look at a small group of immigrants and their families who came to the US in the early 1900’s and contributed to American history through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s). These performances will be open to the community.
Gerald Fierst is one of America’s most acclaimed story tellers. As a performer, he has appeared throughout the US, in Europe, and in Asia, telling stories, some from his own Jewish tradition, and stories from world folklore. As a writer and teacher, he has worked for school systems and universities across the US, leading workshops for teachers and students in writing and performance. He has served as co-director of the MidAtlantic Storytellers’ Gathering, and as artistic director of the Jewish Storytelling Center at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan.
Fierst has written two books for young people that will be published in 2017. “Imagine the Moon” is based on the folkloric names of each of the month’s moons, offering an introduction to science and technology. The second release is “Bye Bye Big,” which, Fierst notes, “is a primary-school picture-book that deals with the food chain!”
Pine Tree Foundation of NY was established in 2002 with philanthropic priorities of serving children and youth, economically disadvantaged people, students and academics. While the organization’s arts and culture field of interest is the subject of its support for Pushcart Players, the Foundation also supports archives and special collections, communication media, libraries, publishing, and university education.
“We’re extremely grateful that Pine Tree and Pushcart objectives so beautifully coincide,” said Whelihan. “It’s a perfect fit that could not be more appropriate as we seek to expand the depth and scope of our work in the classroom. The project is also very timely, since a statewide initiative to improve arts education in New Jersey’s schools has just been officially launched, called ‘Arts Ed Now.'”
The NJ-based “Arts Ed Now” campaign formally got underway during national Arts Education Week in early September. Spurred by the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership (NJAEP), NJ State Council on the Arts, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and Americans for the Arts, “Arts Ed Now” is a multi-year campaign designed to increase participation in arts education in schools across the Garden State. Pushcart Players serves on the NJAEP steering committee. Visit www.ArtsEdNow.org for further information and resources.
Pushcart Players is the award-winning professional touring theater company specializing in arts education for children. Twice nominated for an Emmy, Pushcart is the recipient of numerous state and private awards for excellence and innovation. A social-profit organization founded in 1974, Pushcart brings substantive musical theater, workshops, and residencies to young people and their families in schools and theaters nationwide. The company has traveled more than 6 million miles nationally and abroad, from the nation’s White House to the rural red schoolhouse.
Pushcart Players addresses social studies, literature, history, the Autism spectrum, special educational needs, and values clarification for young people, their families, and their educators. All performances by professional artists (Actors’ Equity Association) are supported by study guides, post-performance assessments and other supplemental materials, and adapt to any location with innovative scenery, lighting and sound systems.
For further information on “From Page to Stage” or any Pushcart Players program, call their Verona based office at 973-857-1115, email the company at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the website: www.pushcartplayers.org.
Pictured: Pushcart Players in “STONE SOUP AND OTHER STORIES”. Photo by Gerry Goodstein.