I’m here with Megan Cramer! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in Atlanta, GA, and now I live in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. I’ve been in New York fourteen years, and I’m currently the middle school drama teacher at Avenues: The World School in Chelsea. I have always had a background with kids and theatre: usually I’m acting, directing, or writing plays with some awesome combination of children and adults collaborating to make new theatrical endeavors.
And I was told you worked for the 52nd Street Project?
Yes, I was the Associate Artistic Director there. I was at the Project for nine years, but I just left last June. The Project is a phenomenal non-profit organization in Hell’s Kitchen, that works exclusively with Hell’s Kitchen kids, pairing them with volunteer actors, directors, and writers, many of whom have come through SPACE (Zack Fine, Lauren Blumenfeld, Max Posner, Michael Chernus, Dylan Dawson, Robert Askins, Youngblood Playwrights, just to name a tiny handful). The Project even had a staff retreat up here on the farm a few years ago.
That’s great! And its all volunteer based?
Yes it is. The artists get opportunities to work one-on-one with kids, acting with them, writing a play with them, or acting in a play written by a kid. All of the plays are original, and all of the shows are free too! When you come see a Project show, you might get to see Peter Dinklage portraying a bank robber, or see a wacky offbeat play that Rob Askins wrote. All sorts of fun stuff.
What’s the age range of the program?
The kids are from 10-18. They all enter the program at age 10, with a Playmaking class–where they all write their own two-character play. They then continue with programming through high school, so you get to chance to develop a relationship with the kid for the next eight years.
And is it after-school?
It is primarily an after-school program, but every theatre program that they do also involves a trip out of NYC into the country. That’s something Emily and I used to talk about when she was creating SPACE. She was curious about what happens to people when they get outside of the city and are able to focus on a creative project. You can be your best self when you can get outside of the city and really focus. I have seen it happen countless times with the kids AND adults that the Project works with!
So, you’re not at SPACE as a resident but you’re a staff member this week. What are you working on here?
Emily and Alex Barron contacted me a few months ago and said there would be a group of playwrights coming up to the Farm who wanted to bring their children. I got really excited about the possibility of a parallel experience the children could have alongside their parents. Obviously, the whole family is enjoying a respite from the city, and the adults are curating their own artist retreat experience, but Emily and Alex and I were curious about how to create an accompanying experience for the kids during their time at SPACE. The programming morphed into a combination of creative projects, embracing what it’s like to be on a farm, and also embracing that feeling of “play” and what it’s like to be a kid. Right now, as we’re talking, we’re hearing the laughter of kids playing in the backyard with their parents, which is a nice example too of that adult-kid collaboration that happens when both can find that free sense of just “playing.”
The kids have been doing a lot of great projects.
They have! The real challenge has been trying to find activities that can work for our age range of kids this week. The kids are between the ages of 4 and 11, and actually, our 11 year-old is, without prompting, doing her own parallel artist residency experience. She’s chosen to take her time on the farm to read books and write creatively. The other kids have been doing activities that combine art with farm life, like painting old windows to make ‘stained glass windows.’ We did a big photography project, as well, where the kids took photos of places and objects around the farm that were interesting to them. Throughout every day, the kids have been enhancing their observational skills by taking in nature, going on hikes and having imaginative play, using the natural surroundings as inspiration.
You told me you have commissioned playwrights to write plays for the students at your middle school. What do you think is the key to writing for kids?
I think what really makes it work is to work with a playwright who understands the mentality of a kid. It goes beyond simple understanding, though— you want the adult to challenge the kids as well, and not talk down to them. Kids are often much more sophisticated than we give them credit for. For example, all week these kids have been making up witty and wonderful jokes about things they see, and have running gags with each other. Tonight, we played a word game where they were trying to get me to figure out a word by removing all the vowels. There’s so much silliness in kids, but there is also so much sophistication in that silliness. They are sharp observers of people and events around them, and they are watching everything. You have to honor that. We all lose a little bit of silliness every moment of our lives, which is so sad to me, but in return we gain little drops of depth and complexity.
So last question: if you could be any farm animal, what would it be and why?
I really like the white horses. They are very ethereal and otherworldly. They are almost unicorns, but just missing the horn.
Interviewed by Leigha Sinnott