Tag Archives: Abrons Art Center

All the World is a Stage

Recently I attended a performance of Don Cristobal, the Spanish version of Punch and Judy, at the Abrons Arts Center. I went in with no expectations and little information about the show other than that it involved puppets. In the small experimental theater, that perhaps sat 100 people, I soon fell under the spell of the charming cast and the universal story of unrequited love.

As I watched, my mind volleyed from incredulity at how adept the puppeteers were in making the Cristobal puppet seem like a real person, to marvelling at the actors’ ability to employ their imaginations and activate those of the audience.

This naturally made me think of dramatic play with young children. Recently in Curriculum for Early Childhood Education, a course I am taking with Sal Vascellaro, we discussed the value in dramatic play for children. Giving children time, space, and materials to explore experiences that are new to them, allows them to make sense of their world. The opportunity to recreate scenes and roles provides children with a medium for problem solving skills, socializing, and building their confidence. When I worked with five-year-olds, I would regularly observe them pretending to be superheroes, monsters, and zombies at recess time, which likely demonstrated their desire to be powerful beings, able to do things that children cannot or are not allowed to do.

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As I have pondered the importance of dramatic play, I have found myself questioning why it seems that as children grow, such play diminishes. In fact, unless an older child, teenager or adult takes an active interest in acting, they often do not participate in dramatic play again. Could dramatic play benefit people of all ages?

In my opinion, it could, and not just particularly for educators trying to capture the attention of their students. Imagining, or playing with concepts of reality can be a very powerful excursion for the mind, creating new perspectives, and even fostering compassion (you can’t know a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes). As standardized testing and curriculum cause ever-increasing pressures in the classroom, it seems that the battle to dedicate time to dramatic play is tougher than ever, though not impossible to win. And the benefits are worth fighting for.  As the Association for Childhood Education International states “No adult instruction can take the place of children’s own activities and experiences through continual play.”

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DECENTER

As part of my fieldwork, I began a placement at the Abrons Art Center on the Lower East Side in January. Thus far, I have visited one classroom in a partnering school where a visiting artist from our StudioLab program works with high school students, and I have assisted in the progress of several in-house projects. This weekend will offer another different and very exciting time to be involved with this center, as a new exhibit, DECENTER, is opening on Sunday.

This is a very special exhibit coinciding with the 100thanniversary of the pivotal 1913 Armory Show that introduced Cubism to the American landscape. Particularly special for Abrons is that this will also mark the 50th anniversary of the relationship between Henry Street Settlement and the Art Center. In 1963 the Armory Show served as the occasion for the announcement of the Settlement’s plan to build the Abrons Art Center.

The focus of DECENTER is contemporary artwork and it’s relationship to digital media, which offers a close parallel to many themes in Cubism, including spontaneity, fragmentation, and of course, decenteredness.

I am super excited to see the work of all of the 27 artists who are attending, but particularly the artist and writer Douglas Coupland, whose work I have read since I was in high school. A few years ago, I even scoured the bookshops of France for one of his French language books!

The opening day will feature two panel discussions about the legacy of the 1913 Armory show and about the perception of art in the digital age, with working artists, curators and other academics. Attending such events not only informs my practice as a burgeoning educator and museum professional, but also allows me to recharge. Any chance I have to absorb the output of other creative minds is a chance I relish.