The Write Teacher(s) Interview: Movers & Shakers Q&A Series

I was recently interviewed by Megan Minutillo, founder of The Write Teacher(s), for their Movers & Shakers Q&A Series. We talked about directing, the arts, education and my involvement with The Vagina Monologues. See below to check out the interview. Then head over to www.thewriteteachers.com to check out their work! Megan and her team are doing some pretty incredible stuff over at The Write Teacher(s). Their website states, “We believe that arts are essential.  We believe in community.  We believe in framing a conversation for all topics, and we do it through the lens of theatre, books, television, film, music, and of course, education. The world is changing, and we want to set the framework for the discussion.” Bravo, Megan!

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Movers & Shakers Q&A Series: Andrea Bertola

Feb. 7, 2013   |  By: Megan Minutillo

I’m happy to introduce you all to our next Mover & Shaker, Andrea Bertola.  Andrea and I are working on an upcoming production of The Vagina Monologues at HERE together, and she is, without a doubt a Mover & Shaker.  Her wit, her passion, her dedication to the arts for social change…well, it’s truly inspiring.  I’m proud and honored to call her a friend and a colleague, and so very pleased that she was able to do this interview. 

TWT: First things first, did you always want to be a director?

AB: Yes! Even when I was little, I was constantly creating theatrical “masterpieces” for my family. My little sister was my first leading lady, whether she liked it or not. All the world was my stage:  the fireplace, the diving board, the garage, our swing set; every family gathering provided me with a doting audience. One time, I got in trouble for putting out a donation basket and asking for tips from my relatives! An early indication for things to come…ha.

TWT:  You are currently directing an upcoming V-Day benefit production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, which will be performed at the HERE Arts Center in New York City. What’s it like to be working at the space where this monumental show was first work shopped?

AB: It is truly mind-blowing. I’m ecstatic and honored. The Vagina Monologues is such an important piece—it beautifully merges art with activism, and with that comes great responsibility. While directing the show, I’ve been very conscious about paying tribute to the original women that were interviewed. I want to honor their lives, their stories, and this monumental work of art.  I also aim to breathe new life into the play by making it fun and approachable for a new generation.

People are drawn to this piece for many different reasons: some are drawn to the play as a work of art; but many others use it as a way to process their emotions as they recover from violence or abuse. This show has the ability to change the way a community thinks and addresses issues of violence against women.

All of the proceeds from these V-Day benefit productions of The Vagina Monologues will be given to local organizations that work to stop violence against women and children. We’ve already sold-out our show, and we have raised thousands of dollars for our beneficiary. The outpouring of community support and generosity is breathtaking. ‎

Eve Ensler said it best when she was asked about the Vagina Monologues and the V-Day mission, “This may be one of the only times that a theater production has really been able to serve a social movement to this degree, particularly economically.”

TWT:  What’s your favorite part of being a director?

AB: As a director, my mission is to examine challenging or controversial themes that speak to contemporary issues in our society. My favorite part about this is presenting these ideas in a way that creates a unique experience for the audience. I believe the energy and atmosphere of the world in the play should stimulate the audience’s senses from the moment they step foot into the theatre. The audience should be jostled (gently) and engaged by theatre, not patronized or preached to. By creating these highly interactive experiences they become a more captivated audience.

While directing provocative, innovative, and envelope-pushing productions, I aim to spark a healthy dialogue between cast, crew, audience, and critics. It’s one of the main reasons why I got my Masters degree in Educational Theatre. Theatre can be a catalyst for social change, and I want to do my part to make the world a better place.

TWT: What advice would you give to high school students who wanted to pursue a career in the entertainment industry?

AB: Get a dual major in marketing! I’m serious. Not because you’ll need a fallback career (you won’t IF you are passionate); but because you’ll need to know how to sell yourself. No matter what career you pursue in the entertainment industry, marketing is key. This industry is all about the packaging. You can be the most talented director in the world, but no one will see your work if you can’t write a compelling synopsis.  Marketing will teach you how to make a website, how to engage an audience via social media, how to pitch a project and where to find investors. Believe me, you’ll need all of those tools to get ahead of your competition.

TWT: You’re a board member of the viBe Theater Experience. Can you explain to our readers more about the organization?

AB: viBe Theater Experience (viBe) produces original, free theater, music, and videos about real-life issues written and performed by teen girls.  We provide a safe and creative space for underserved girls to express their voices, take on challenges and gain the self-confidence necessary to succeed personally, artistically and academically. viBe empowers girls through free programs, which engage and inspire them to write, create, publish, direct, and perform personal and truthful collaborative theater and music.  Since 2002, over 60 viBe productions have brought free theater, live musical performances, music videos, and radio plays to thousands of diverse audience members, changing their perceptions about the kind of art that young women can create.

TWT: Just for fun, what movie could you watch over and over and over again?

AB: I would be totally lying if I didn’t say Father of the Bride. I know, I know. In my defense, Steve Martin and Martin Short together on-screen is nothing to scoff at! “True Romance” and “Gia” would be my second and third place favorites.

TWT: In today’s economy, arts programs in schools are being cut. What reasons would you give a politician for preserving the arts?

AB: The arts provide opportunities for self-expression; they expand our understandings; they give us the self-confidence we need to succeed personally, socially and artistically; they push us to think out-of-the-box and to view the world in new and unexpected ways. They bring magic to our world by filling it with beauty, color, music, and imagination.

TWT:  Who is/was your greatest teacher?

AB: This is a tough one. I grew up with a boatload of learning disabilities (dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADD… to name a few) and school was always challenging for me. It’s hard enough to have confidence as a young kid, let alone a kid who is constantly being told they have a learning disability. Learning disabled? What a terrible phrase.  It was heartbreaking. My greatest teachers were the ones who believed in me, saw past my struggles and appreciated my creativity. The ones that cheered me on and pushed me to reach for the stars: Mr. Grayson, Mrs. Karczewski, Caroline Worth, Maggie Lally, Joe Salvatore, Stephen DiMenna….and my parents.   

More Information:

So far, our online fundraising campaign has raised $1,620.

We’re now 32% to our goal! Please support the cause. Every little bit helps!

2/7/13 Special Announcement: Extra tickets have just been released for The Vagina Monologues.

The show sold-out a month in advance, these extra tickets will go FAST.

Click here to purchase tickets

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Disconnect to Reconnect

Welcome to my social experiment. I’m about to unplug. I’m going to put my Facebook page on hibernation mode. (!!!!!)  Is it a bad sign when your gut reaction is to broadcast that very news via a status update? This is ridiculous! Stepping away from Facebook for a few weeks is not supposed to feel like an Epic, life-altering event.
Over the next few weeks my only connection to the online community will be via this blog as I chronicle my journey of disconnecting from social media.  Now, you are probably saying, “Andrea, you are using your blog! That is totally cheating!” Contradictory, well… kind of. (Spoken like a true addict). However, the point of this experiment is to step away from the minute-by-minute, play-by-play newsfeed of our daily lives. I want to reconnect with you off-line.  More on that… later. For now, the blog will simply hold me accountable. (Again, like an addict).
So. What’s this all about?
I was inspired by my latest project, The Vagina Monologues. I could go on and on about all of the warm & fuzzy feelings that manifested as a result of the show. (Or you could read about it, here). The most unexpected part of the experience was undoubtably the unyielding bond that was formed within the cast/crew. Keep in mind, this was a cast/crew of 19 strong-willed women.  Let me repeat that: 19 strong-willed women working together. I prepped myself for the worst. As I spoke to my colleagues about my undertaking, I can’t tell you how many times I got a sympathetic look as they patted me on the shoulder and sighed, “Good luck, that is a LOT of estrogen!”
Well, as the rehearsal process unfolded I quickly realized that all of my concerns were futile. We surprised ourselves to discover that there was not ONE ounce of cattiness or bitchiness throughout the entire process!  How could it be? Where were the diva attitudes? Where were the cliques? What happened to the emotional outbursts, snarky comments  and sideways glares? Gone. Well– not gone. They never showed up.
What did show up? Pure unfiltered love and support. A sisterhood and a community was formed from day one. As I talked to the women about their experiences in the creation of the project, it became abundantly clear that these women relished in the fact that this project provided them with a much needed “real life” community. Rehearsals gave us a place to come together, talk, LISTEN and be heard. We were able to validate our experiences and realize that we are not alone when it comes to many of the issues that we face everyday as modern women.
Rehearsal for The Vagina Monologues, May 2011
In a city filled with millions of people, it’s not uncommon to feel somewhat isolated from the world. It’s easy to get lost in the rat-race and become completely absorbed with the trivialities of everyday life. What was even more clear was the evidence that Facebook and other social media outlets created a false sense of community online. Pseudo Contact. A community that wasn’t transferring into the real world. At any point in time you can sign-on to Facebook and immediately feel connected to 500 of your ‘closest buddies’, but how many of those connections are genuine?
Information overload has paved the way for lazy friendships. (Please excuse the sweeping generalities). Writing “Happy Birthday” on a Facebook wall has replaced sending birthday cards. We don’t need to call a friend to see what they’ve been up to: we can visit their page,  ‘like’ their pictures and comment on their status updates. It’s a way to always feel connected, yet there is certainly a level of disconnect that results as a byproduct. There is a loss of actual face-time.
Not to mention the time wasted! How much time is spent on Facebook? I personally feel as though I abuse the system. From my talks with some of the cast members, it was not uncommon to hear guilty admissions of Facebook addiction! What would happen if we spent all of that time actually engaging with our ‘off-line’ network? Nourishing ourselves by fostering these relationships face-to-face.  What happens when we disconnect? Is there a chance that we can reconnect? A challenge was born.
Over the next few weeks I am going to challenge myself to temporarily  disconnect from Facebook and Twitter. I’ll journal about my adventure and hopefully some inspiring art will come out of the experiment. My experience with The Vagina Monologues was a testament to the power of women working together for a good cause. Theatre was the perfect vehicle. They empowered each other; volunteered their time; formed new friendships; created meaningful art; raised awareness and gave back to the community. They inspired me every day and I’m anxious to discover what will happen in my attempt to disconnect, in order to reconnect.
Social Networking. Connectivity. Real life. 24 hours until I unplug…..
Stay tuned.

xoxo
Andrea

___

Ensemble Building Activity

STUPID HUMAN TRICKS
AIM:    To practice ensemble building with young students by sharing and teaching unique talents/quirks. 
OBJECTIVE: To share and learn to celebrate their unusual tricks and then teach them to their classmates. Every student has an unusual trick they can do! It’s a unique little quirk, which makes them special.    
STUDENTS WILL:
  • Share their unique tricks in a goofy talent show setting.
  • Learn how to be a patient teacher
  • Be open minded to learning something that seems impossible
  • Have pride in their unique “quirks”
  • Learn to look vulnerable in front of their peers when performing a new skill/trick that is difficult/hard to master.
  • Be a supportive audience for each other during a vulnerable presentation.
  • Approach a “silly” activity with seriousness.
PROCEDURE:
Explain to students, “This activity is called, “Stupid Human Tricks”. 
  1. We explain what a ‘stupid human trick’ is: “Everyone has an unusual trick they can do! It’s a unique little quirk, which makes you…you! There are no excuses! Everyone has something!”
  2. Give students some examples:
    1. Body Tricks: double jointed body parts, wiggling your ears, touching your tongue to your nose
    2. Athletic Tricks: splits, flips, handsprings, stand on your head,
    3. Knowledge Tricks: say the 50 president’s names in less than a minute, sing the alphabet backwards, recite the “I had a Dream Speech”
    4. Misc: Shakespeare Sonnet in another language, drinking water from a straw up their nose, etc..
  1. Explain the rules:
    • The trick has to be performed in ONE MINUTE or less.
    • Have 2 – 3 kids show examples.
    • They will pair up with someone they have NOT worked with yet.
    • They will practice together for 5 – 7 minutes.
    • They have to teach their partner their “trick”. 
      • This is the key lesson: Even if it is a body trick that would be impossible to teach…they must commit, modify and work together to teach each other the trick to the best of their ability.
    • They must practice presenting their trick as an “act”. Beginning, middle and end. (Intro, Trick, and Bow)
  1. Group comes together as a whole and we present as many partners as possible.
    • Remind students that they are on stage and they must commit to presenting their tricks as a full scale scene.
FOLLOW-UP:Discus why this activity is relevant to our work in the theatre: (Working together, patience while learning something difficult, being vulnerable on stage, presenting the trick as a finished scene).
Ask the students:  “Was it harder being the teacher or the student? Why?”
“How did it feel to present a trick that you haven’t mastered yet?”

The Nine Word Play

THE NINE WORD PLAY
(30 minutes or more)
AIM: How do we create a performance piece using language and staging?
OBJECTIVE: To allow young students to experience a mini version of the theatrical process of creating performances using language and physical movement.
STUDENTS WILL: Select nine words as the text for a performance piece and stage, rehearse and perform them.
            PROCEDURE:
1.         Ask the students to partner into groups of three.
                        2.         Tell them that each group will create a Nine word play.
                                    Each member of the group is responsible for writing THREE
                                    words each giving them a total of NINE words.
                        3.         The FIRST word for each person must be their FIRST NAME.
                                    The SECOND and THIRD words must be words that they associate                                      with themselves. Words that tell us something about them.
                        Example           ANDREA     ITALIAN    PSYCHIC
                                                               MATT    SKATEBOARD    PUNK
                                                               LAUREN      THEATER    PINK
                        4.         Now that they have the LANGUAGE or the text for their play
                                    as a group they must decide how to stage it. What performance
                                    style do they want to use.
                                    Examples:  Musical,  Classical,   Abstract,  Realistic dialogue  etc.
                        5.         Tell them they must put it on its feet. How do they want to stand?
                                    WORK TOGETHER and move as they say their words.
                        6.         They can say the nine words in any way they wish, as many times as
                                    they wish. They can say each other’s words, repeat them, and break
                                    them up, say them together as a chorus etc.
                        7.         Model with two volunteers an example of a nine word play.
                        8.         Give them ten to 15 minutes to work then share each group’s
                                    presentation.
SUMMARY: You have just gone through a mini version of the theatrical process
from creation to execution. This is how plays are made; we start with a theme,
create the language or the text of the play then stage it physically in a space.

Diagnostic Activities

3 easy-to-facilitate classroom diagnostic activities!
Elements of Diagnostics:
        a short activity
        all students are involved
        interactive
       the opportunity for the teacher to “step out and observe”
Diagnostic 1: “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring…”
In this exercise, the class sits in a circle and everyone must add on to the picnic list, remembering what the students ahead of them are bringing as well. For an introductory exercise the students can preface their object with “My name is Andrea and I’m going to bring an alligator”. (Alliteration activity).
What can you observe in this diagnostic?
        students ability to engage in the activity
        memorization skills
        creativity
        patience…while waiting for their turn
        Confidence. How do they react when they forget an object?
        Who seems to be actively trying to remember what everyone is saying, before their turn?
        Shyness. Do they look at their classmates in the eye while they repeat their object or do they look at the floor?
        Attention seekers. Who “milks” their turn?
Diagnostic 2: Create a tableau.
In this exercise, the class is told to create a tableau of a specific scene. For example “a day at the beach”, or “the circus”. They join the scene one at a time and freeze in the “still-life” picture.
What can you observe in this diagnostic?
        students ability to engage in the activity
        Initiation. Who jumps right in? Who waits til the end?
        Balance. The ability to hold a frozen position for a period of time.
        Sustainability. Are they commited to their pose, or do they get distracted watching where their classmates fit it?
        Creativity. Who thinks outside of the box?
        Space awareness
        Do they add-on to another student’s activity? Or do they start their own, in solitude?
        Patience.
        Class dynamics
Diagnostic 3: The numbers game, “Buzz”
In this exercise, the class stands in a circle. The ‘mission’ is for students to be aware of their classmates and count as high as they can.  The rules are: they say buzz on any double numbers or numbers with “3” or “7” in them (13, 17, 22, 30-39, 11…etc), and that causes the movement of the circle to reverse.  If someone messes up, you start from 1. They game gets tricky when you reach the 30s…and the direction switches every single number.
What can you observe in this diagnostic?
        student’s ability to engage in the activity
        listening skills
        counting skills
        quick thinking
        Ability to follow several directions at a time.
        Confidence. How do they react when they mess up?
        Patience. How do they react when someone ELSE messes up?
        Awareness. Are they ready for their turn?

Teaching Philosophy Statement

My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy,
And we should treat it with the same status.”
          Sir Ken Robinson

As a creative arts educator, I aim to support the growth of imagination and creativity in our youth by fostering a learning environment where it can blossom. My goal is to inspire students by teaching theatre through the use of creative drama which encourages students to engage their imaginations. The use of creativity and imagination makes drama a fun way to motivate students to learn while generating developmental synapses that simultaneously occur during creative play.
I believe that fostering creativity is the essential ingredient to the foundation of learning. Much of my teaching philosophy is based on the lectures given by New York Times best selling author, Sir Ken Robinson, an internationally recognized leader in the development of creativity. In 2003 he received a Knighthood from Queen Elizabeth the II for his services to the arts and education.  I agree with many of his sentiments when he speaks of how the value of the creative arts is greatly underestimated in many of our public school systems. If we are supposed to be preparing our youth for their future roles in society, I can not think of one profession where creativity does not play an essential part; considering professional careers such as: business management, architecture, advertising, marketing, public relations, science, engineering, and teaching.  Creativity cultivates problem solving techniques used in all of these occupations; it is an essential part of innovation and invention.
The most influential benefit of educational theatre is its unique ability to cultivate student’s personality growth while promoting self confidence. When students step into a role and learn to think as their character would think, they learn how to be empathetic. For example, a student learns these important skills about empathy and relating to other people, not only through recreating character relations in scene work, but through the theatrical collaboration process as well. For a student to be successful at his craft he must be socially aware and in tune with his own emotions, because acting is based on reenacting human impulses and behavior. Through this increased social awareness students can gain perspective of interactions between people and the impact that their actions have upon others. Theatre also has the potential to develop other important skills in its students such as: language, motor skills, memorization, and communication abilities through the study of playwriting and re-enacting the text. Students learn body control, coordination and discipline by learning how to express themselves using voice, hands, face and body.
From the standpoint of teaching core academics, I aim to use drama to teach the art of theatre while expanding the learning in my students other areas of study. The method I use to achieve this is to require my students to research all aspects of the piece and its author when preparing to perform scene work.  Students will study the biography of the playwright to determine the message that the author is trying to convey.  They need to study the time period in which the play takes place; historical events that may effect a character’s actions; geographical and cultural influences on the characters; and any other significant symbolic references. The objective being that by reenacting pieces from a different time, place or culture, students will better understand the importance of the lessons on these subjects. For example if students are studying American History, it might help them to better understand the signing of the Declaration of Independence if they got to act out a scene between John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson from the musical: 1776. In essence, they will feel as though they have “lived” through the experience putting themselves in the shoes of these historic figures.
Beyond understanding the core academic and developmental benefits of theatre and the creative arts, one of my greatest strengths as a theatre arts educator is the fact that I have an extensive background as a working professional, fully integrated into the theatrical industry. While teaching is my passion, I am also a Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) eligible actress and Off-Off Broadway Producer. It is evident in my teaching style that I hold a high level of respect for the craft, and I demand that my students are ambitious with their work. I’m passionate about creating an engaging learning environment that teaches theatre appreciation and the fundamentals of various acting techniques. 

Graduation!

Graduation at Radio City Music Hall!

Certificate of Distinction awarded to Andrea Bertola
On May 10, 2010 Andrea received her Masters in Educational Theatre from NYU.   She joined over 1,300 masters and advanced certificate graduates in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development Valedictory Celebration. The Theater at Radio City Music Hall was filled with proud and enthusiastic parents, grandparents, spouses, children and friends. The ceremony concluded with a rousing rendition of a Steinhardt favorite, “New York, New York” by the Steinhardt Music Theatre Ensemble.
Andrea was proud to be awarded a New York University Certificate of Distinction during the ceremony. Andrea was selected as Alternate Student Speaker to bring greetings on behalf of the class of 2010 at the 24th annual Steinhardt Valedictorian Celebration. This honor recognizes outstanding academic achievements, leadership and service to the New York University Community.
On the stage at Radio City Music Hall!
As a member of the dais party, Andrea marched in the processional and was seated on stage during the ceremony at Radio City Music Hall. It was an unbelievable experience that will not be soon forgotten.

Final Self- Assessment

Advanced Directing
New York University
Educational Theatre Program
Dr. Nancy Smithner
May 14, 2010

Final Self- Assessment

To articulate my personal growth that took place in this course is almost incomprehensible. This was by far the most challenging class I enrolled in this semester. I approached my work with vigor and ferociously defended the beliefs I have set for myself as to what makes quality theatre. I have honed my critical eye and raised my standards, knowing what I am capable of and never settling for less. I have defined my ideals of artistic integrity and look to reevaluate those ideals with every new piece of theatre I have experienced.
In order to keep challenging myself with the course work, I explored our assigned readings with eagerness. When I came across an unfamiliar name, theory, technique, etc. I would research it online. Many times that research would lead me to new research, which would lead me to new research and before I would even realize it… 2 hours of concentrated learning had gone by and I was still on page 3 of the reading. That is really the beauty of the internet. It was in these moments that I relished in my role as a student of the theatre. I have gotten such immense pleasure out of directing and our assigned readings that I wanted to soak up more material. I was like a sponge. Coming from a girl that struggled with some devastating learning disabilities through out my childhood and adolescent years… (dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADD) I really savor the moments when school ignites a deep passion to learn. It is such a radically different feeling from what I am accustomed to, I could write an entire book on the ways a class such as “Advanced Directing” has changed me in my role as an accomplished learner. I’m leaving for a vacation to Italy on Tuesday and I’m excited to take some of the readings from the class with me. I’ll have a whole looong plane ride to delve back into the material and reevaluate it based on the experiences I had in class.
I can’t wait to direct my next full scale piece. I am salivating! I have all of these tools and no venue to work in! This class has given me a plethora of techniques, tools and ideas just waiting to be used! My one regret, I wish we had gone into some “career development” talk. How to make connections and where to find more professional directing opportunities. I’m very eager to direct in “the real world” again, and I’m a little confused as far as which route I should take to work towards that goal. I am inspired by directing, it engages my artistic interests on so many levels. From design to research, inspiration to collaboration; I find directing wholly fulfilling.
In finishing this course I feel as though I have a strong understanding of many of the techniques we learned and confidence in my ability to facilitate several of them as a director. I am anxious to explore future productions through the eye of the director and help others to make connections to theatrical work. I was passionately dedicated to my scene work and able to learn from my mistakes. I maintained my attention to detail and made clear choices in my directing that translated onto the stage. I enjoyed the weekly reading assignments and made notes of my favorites so that I can revisit them in the future. Being that I plan on teaching in colleges and communities I am excited about the freedom I will have to explore this work in a way that mirrors your facilitation of the techniques.
I learned the most about myself as an artist and learner. I redefined my identity by taking ownership of the type of student I was versus the type of student I have become. By challenging myself and overcoming personal obstacles I have made the connection of how to use the content learned in class and apply that passion to my everyday life. I have become an astute observer of the nuances in our world and my artist eye has only improved from that realization. I leave this class with confidence in my capability as a director, an artist and as a hungry student, which is truly the most priceless lesson of all.

My Speech!

Putting on my cap & gown in the Rockettes’ dressing room at Radio City Music Hall!
I was honored to be chosen as the alternate student speaker for the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development’s Valedictory Celebration. Meaning: if the student speaker was unable to deliver her remarks on behalf of the graduating class, I would be asked to stand in her place. On stage. At Radio City Music Hall. Dream come true!!!!!
So… as promised, I am posting my speech that went unused that afternoon. (And a special “thank you” goes out to my Educational Theatre Facebook Friends— for the inspiration…and memories!)
Enjoy!
-Andrea

Valedictory Celebration 2010
Alt. Student Speaker Speech
To paint the most vivid picture of the daily life of my fellow Steinhardt graduate students, I would like to begin by reading a few Facebook ‘status updates’ that I have collected from my classmates over the 2009-2010 school year:

“I spend more time with William Shakespeare than I spend with my boyfriend. Houston, we have a problem.”

“My bed is multi-functional. It is simultaneously acting as a study hall, a library, an Internet café, a Trash Receptacle, and a late-night diner. The one thing it’s not functioning as? A place to sleep. ”

“Does anyone have a skeleton of a cat, a feather boa, an 18th century globe, or a CD with ‘sounds of the subway’ that I can use in a scene for class tomorrow?”

And finally, my favorite:

“200 pages read, 200 to go, 5 hours til class… Why am I on Facebook right now?”

In all seriousness, I stand before a dynamic group of hardworking, ambitious, inspiring graduates who have devoted their lives and made many sacrifices to be where they stand today! I am humbled to be chosen as the student representative of the Steinhardt class of 2010 and I would like to offer my heartfelt congratulations to my colleagues and peers. We did it!

Did you know the United Nations proclaimed 2010 as the “International Year of Youth”? This is an effort to harness the energy, imagination and initiative of the world’s youth in overcoming the challenges facing humankind. I’m just glad that I didn’t have to give the graduation speech last year. 2009 was declared the International Year of the Gorilla! This year, with the “International Year of Youth” the UN aims to encourage dialogue and understanding across generations and to promote the ideals of peace, respect for human rights and freedoms, and solidarity. What an appropriate year for this year’s class of Steinhardt Students to graduate! Those goals of the UN are the very same ones many of today’s graduates have dedicated their lives to, via their studies here at NYU. As Dean Brabeck wrote in her open Letter to the Secretary of Education, “The Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development embraces the vision of educating the whole child. The faculty and staff prepare professionals to work collaboratively across the fields of education, psychology, health, media and the arts.”

In all of the classes I have taken at NYU, one lesson stands out amongst the rest. In the educational theatre department we had a passionate discussion about a famous speech by New York Times best selling author, Sir Ken Robinson. He is an internationally recognized leader in the development of creativity. He is quoted as saying, “Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” He spoke of how the value of the creative arts is greatly underestimated when educating our youth. Whether you are a graduating student in the department of education, psychology, health, media or the arts; I’m sure you would agree with his sentiments. In preparing our youth for their future roles in society, I can not think of one profession where creativity does not play an essential part. Consider professional careers such as: business management, architecture, advertising, marketing, media, public relations, science, psychology, engineering, and teaching. Creativity cultivates problem solving techniques used in all of these occupations; it is an essential part of innovation and invention. Personally, I believe the most influential benefit of encouraging creative self expression in our youth is its unique ability to cultivate personality growth while promoting self confidence. With that self-confidence, our youth will be empowered when they are encouraged to dedicate themselves to fostering progress towards the United Nation’s goals of freedom, peace, and solidarity for all of humankind.

Being a student in Steinhardt’s award-winning Educational Theatre program, as theatre arts educators, we aim to support the growth of imagination in our youth by using creative drama to foster a learning environment where creativity can blossom. Every single week, I watch in awe as my classmates work with the youth of New York City. The passion and dedication that they pour into their work is truly life changing. You don’t need to look any further than on the faces of the children, faces that light up at the chance to creatively express themselves. Children who tell us—they feel as though they are genuinely being heard— for the very first time. Life changing, one child at a time.

All Steinhardt graduates, in every department, know the value of creativity in inspiring youth. The creative solutions of prior generations – from a musician’s improvisation to our professors’ sometimes eccentric solutions to pedagogical problems – have inspired us thus far. Now we have the opportunity to go out into the world and are well equipped to inspire future generations with our own creative solutions in the arts, in education, in psychology, and in the media, just as the United Nations suggested.

Today, the 2010 graduates of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development leave NYU eager and ready to fulfill our roles as leaders in this exciting field of human development. We live during difficult times in an ever changing world and we are ready to make a difference. I am confident that the Steinhardt School has given us tools, inspiration and motivation to tackle the goals of the “2010 International Year of Youth”, not only in 2010 but for the rest of our lives. Yes we can!

Now, I have one final Facebook status update* for you today. This is from my own account and was posted this morning. It says, “Farwell, NYU… and Thank You. From the bottom of my heart.”

* Alternate Ending:
Take out my cell phone and actually update my facebook status at the end of the speech. While I read the last line…

Copyright © 2010 Andrea Bertola
All Rights Reserved


Memorization Technique

Today we started with a memorization technique that Nan taught us. It was awesome! 
First we had to free write a story we recalled from our childhood. Something about family. I wrote about my crazy grandmother! I love the freedom of free writing and not having the chance to edit yourself. I think it’s so important for an actor to do.
After that we read the pieces out loud. After that we paired up with a partner and assigned a specific imagery picture to each word. Nan told us, when actors forget their lines, it is because they don’t have an image for the word. How cool! I didn’t know that. It totally make sense. Assigning imagery to each word added so much color to the work. I wonder how that works when an actor is really enthralled with their character. My first reaction would be to think that the imagery would work against deeply emotional character development. I guess it ties the actor’s life and experiences in with the life of the character…helping to blend the two. Very interesting! Either way… it really did help me memorize my piece. I was able to perform off book! Crazy!