In this invited blog post, my colleague Lucy McLellan and share about the our upcoming presentation at the North American Drama Therapy Association’s conference themed on trauma.
In 2012, I was hired as the new Director of FACES, Maimonides Medical Center’s teen health educational company in Borough Park, Brooklyn. I left Interfaith Medical Center after nearly 8 years for the opportunity to more fully integrate my clinical skills with pedagogy, artistic expression, and civic activism. Together with a diverse cast of teenagers, two drama therapy interns, and a small staff, we devised original performances relevant to their lives and those of our audiences.
Created by a social worker named Susan Montez over thirty years ago, FACES was turned over to me in need of modernization. Teens were performing scenes written in the 1980s, the presentation format was too passive for my taste, PR materials were outdated, and there was no website to speak of. Too few people knew that Zoe Saldana began her career as a FACES teenager.
If all this wasn’t enough, the community has been fracturing over the years; petty disagreements and miscommunications led to participants feeling ostracized and alienated from members who had since moved on.
Needless to say, I pounced on all of the above with fervor. I reconnected with FACES’ lapsed membership, facilitated teambuilding experiences, and created the program’s first website. My supervisor, Dr. Alan Hilfer, charged me with presenting a show to the Maimonides Child and Adolescent Outpatient Services summer camp program within my first month. I focused on finding ways to include the audience into our scenes, sometimes directly, and other times obliquely; I consistently asked the young performers, “How can we enrole the audience in this scene?” The technique not only garnered powerful responses and participation from the spectators, but it also aided the performers in finding organic ways to connect with the audience, aesthetically, vocally and visually. I also began mentoring the teens in rewriting old scenes and generating new plays to reflect their perspectives.
Meanwhile, during my first day on the job, the Grants Officer broke this news: FACES had lost its federal and state funding due to drastic Medicaid reforms. I was devastated. My staff, interns, and I soldiered on until the closure. My focus expanded to include devising ways to create a healthy, meaningful closure of the program. We invited members from the past 30 years to reunite, say goodbye to Susan, the space, and share memories. The finishing touch was creating a puzzle of the FACES logo. On our way out, we each took a piece to represent the dismantling, but also the missing pieces we each held always connecting us.
Despite the untimely demise of FACES, I am so grateful to have met and worked with the inspiring teens and decades of members. The experience also woke me up to the harsh realities of non-profit theatre organizations, especially within the medical arena, and our country’s growing trend towards undervaluing mental heath and community service.
From 2005-2012, I worked full-time at Interfaith Medical Center on 3 different units using Drama Therapy.
Inpatient Adult Acute Psychiatric Unit
I began as Psychiatric Rehabilitation Therapist working with patients suffering from a wide range of diagnoses. Most of our clients were in crisis and considered to be a danger to themselves or others. Charged with creating 15 unique groups per week, I drew from every source I knew and developed new ideas. Based on my training with Fred Landers, I used a digital storytelling process that transformed rehabilitation into a connective, playful experience. After creating over 300 unique videos, I now train other facilitators and graduate students to facilitate these empowering aesthetic experiences.
Inpatient Substance Abuse Unit
I received a promotion to become a Substance Abuse Counselor on the 28-Day Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Unit. I transferred my clinical knowledge into treating addiction and learned how to manage a case load and discharge planning. This assignment also began my role as a Clinical Supervisor training graduate interns from NYU. During this time, I was developing my skills in Rasaboxes and found innovative ways to integrate Richard Schechner’s techniques into my drama therapy practice.
Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation Treatment (IPRT) Outpatient Unit
My third promotion led me to another title change: Educational Therapist. At IPRT, I provided individual and group counseling for behavioral, social, emotional, and vocational skills for clients who were ready to re-enter the community. Additionally, I taught remedial English and Math classes. It was incredibly rewarding to see clients learn and grow after many years of derailed plans due to mental illness. Towards the end of my time at Interfaith, I enrolled in NYU’s PhD program in Educational Theatre and then immediately received an offer to become the new Director of FACES Teen Health Theatre at Maimonides Medical Center.
In this invited guest blog post, I discuss the ethereal paradox of using video as an approach to drama therapy based on creating over 300 video shorts with clients.
NRDC commissioned Six Characters to create these two videos for their climate change awareness campaign.
In Arctic Margarita, I played the President of the United States:
In Global Warmth, I am featured as the Husband in a “Cold” and loveless marriage:
This article unpacks my experience presenting a workshop called “Athletes of Emotion: Rasaboxes in Drama Therapy” at the North American Drama Therapy Association’s conference in Montreal, 2007. In ways, this article feels like a confession because I convey the darker sides that preceded the glory of the “gift” that follows. I hope that readers might identify with me and perhaps be moved to present something yourself at a conference, and especially at the NADTA.
My award-winning silent physical comedy troupe Six Characters meshed vaudevillian stage antics with video.
We proudly earned praises from the New York Times.
Trailer of “Best Show Ever!”
And here’s Andrew in the skit “Tiny Pie Stand”
This Theatre for Young Audiences production was a musical adaptation of the classic Three Little Pigs. I played Lou P. Wolf, a devilish and kooky villain. My performance caught the eye of reviewer Lynne Heffley from the LA Times. Click here for the online version!