arts

SheeRo

In a world where men are consistently idolized, Id like to use my platform not to idolize woman

but to appreciate their everyday

fight to do something more than what the norm expects of them.

They say its a mans world

But it would be nothing without a WOMAN’s touch.

To put Woman on a pedestal highly, back where they belong

Is for nations to never suffer again!

Today my SheeRo is

Ty Black, also known as Queen Blizzy age 27 from East New York, Brooklyn,

known for her Hip Hop, activism, and community work.

1503472_1588309571441846_1688456853_n

Here are a few questions i asked to help get to know her better.

BWB

How do you use what you do to create social justice awareness to your people?

QB

By placing social topics in my music, activism, and community work. Spreading awareness, knowledge,

and solutions for social justice in all avenues I embark on.

11117850_1588309578108512_962379243_n

BWB

What does culture mean to you ?

QB

Culture means a way a life. A bond with communities and race.

11356315_1588309564775180_21486694_n

BWB

How do you feel about the current white washing of black and brown communities? And what

message/advice do you have for white people moving in?

QB

I feel, just like damn near everything else in America, gentrification is a way to keep black and brown people

oppressed. I also feel that after years of this, we should be tired of the cycle, and fighting harder

then ever against it. I don’t have any advice for white people moving in. I do have advice for the

black and brown people being pushed out. Unite and build.

Understand that all this oppression is coming from the same source. The people united can never be defeated.

11356109_1588309561441847_1291541024_n

BWB

What are some of the projects you a are currently working on?

QB

June 17th makes 11 months since the murder of Eric Garner. Im assisting Jewel, the mother of

Eric’s 1 year old daughter with an action. This action is powerful and creative. People will be organizing

together to spell out Eric Garner on the ground with  their bodies. This is something I encourage everyone to partake in.

For more info like the page facebook.com/LegacyGarner.

Another program I’m working on is “Warrior Queen Wednesdays”. Stay updated on facebook.com/TyBlizzyBlack

11311883_1588309581441845_1748032695_n

BWB

As powerful as your voice is, is their anything you fear?

QB

What I ultimately fear is staying still. Not growing and progressing. Life is constant and about evolution.

If you aren’t growing, your dead.

11279993_1588309574775179_2103604890_n

BWB

What does black and brown success mean to you ? How does it look ?

QB

Black and brown success is black and brown people being Creatively great and powerful. No oppression, and no

boundaries of fear. Peace and unity among one another.

11291786_1588309568108513_69452788_n

Brooklyn Queen Reppin

Leaders Look Like This

Stylin on Them

 

Advertisements

Human Geographies of Bushwick

by Chiara Valli

hg2

My name is Chiara Valli. I am an Italian PhD student in Human Geography at Uppsala University, Sweden, who has spent six months in Bushwick doing research about how the neighborhood has been changing and how its residents feel about it.

In academic literature about gentrification, much attention has been paid on the economic or cultural aspects of it. However, less attention has been given to every-day experiences of gentrification on a micro level. In my research, I have tried to explore peoples’ sense of place and belonging in a neighborhood in transition such as Bushwick. I have interviewed almost 40 Bushwick residents, both long-term and new residents and asked them about their experiences in living in the neighborhood. The richness of different perspectives and nuances in this big picture astonished me. Something I have noticed during almost every one of my interviews was a general curiosity about the interviewees in getting to know what other people had said. The curiosity was there, but vey rarely had the interviewees been able to engage in meaningful conversations about gentrification with people belonging to different cultural or ethnic groups. Various barriers appear to still divide neighbors that share the space of the neighborhood and not much else. I myself had difficulties in getting in touch with some people I would have liked to interview. Undoubtedly, my being a white woman researcher from Europe in my late twenties has made it easier to approach some and harder to gain trust from others. The effects of embodying a certain identity are particularly relevant in a space which is undergoing the sensitive process of gentrification. In a gentrifying neighborhood, every relation is loaded with high stakes: home, community, and sense of belonging. All these feelings represent yet another barrier to communication between different groups.

In the spirit of Bushwick Bridge, I would like to make a step towards bridging people, groups and communities using the means that are available to me. During my interviews I have had access to a wide and rich amount of information from different people. With the aim to share some of this information I organized an event at Silent Barn on May 18th, 2014 together with Margaret Croft and Kunal Gupta. I have summarized 16 interviews (and made them anonymous by changing names or specific info), and invited the audience to read them and together producing a zine, cutting and pasting quotes from the interviews, and adding their own reflections. Drawing on the interviews, other Bushwick residents have learned about their neighbors’ points of view, re-elaborated these points, added their own and finally produced a zine that will be reproduced and shared for other people to read.

hg3

With this event of knowledge co-production, we have tried to create a space for discussion, reflection, and exchange for Bushwick’s voices and perspectives. You can find the zine here.

You can also find a table with the interviews texts on AiB Community Day, May 31st, Maria Hernandez Park, Bushwick.

hg4

MIGUEL, 36 y.o., Puerto Rican origins, Bushwick native, high school teacher

Some people are mad. As a matter of fact, that’s an understatement. A lot of people are mad. I speak to friends in the community, family members, some people feel their homes and their community are being taken away from them and they feel the community is changing and they are not part of that change. Some people feel like they have been forced out of their neighborhood because they cannot afford to live here anymore. Some people feel that the people who are coming here don’t necessarily want to have anything to do with them. It’s very subjective because it’s how you experience it and the truth is there should be ways where there is some mediation for that.

You pass by and you see that the business is flourishing, and it probably flourishes because the new people that are moving to the community support those businesses, but the people that have lived in the community don’t feel that those businesses really would  like to cater to them. Because you go in and maybe they might be serving brunch, but brunch is really expensive, When these people are accustomed to go into the corner store and maybe getting a breakfast for 2 or 3 $. So now if you go to certain businesses, they cater to people who can afford particular prices, and the people of the community who still live here, who grew up here, are very aware of that.  Even those who might have a decent income, they might not necessarily hang up there because there is nobody like them there, there is no people from the community they grew up with. People don’t necessarily hang out in those places. It seems like a story of two tales, and both sides are pointing the finger at each other, saying that’s their fault.

I think people like art, art is like the freedom of expression, and there were a lot of high points where people were enjoying the beautification, maybe some places that were littered, dirty, they cleaned it up, art is art and is beautiful, but then some people take a nice platform and then they might abuse the opportunity, and put up things that might seem offensive to the people who grew there.

Art is beautiful but if it’s not done correctly… for me, your artistic expression should be respecting diversity, if you want to send a message out, you have to be very careful, because your good can be misinterpreted or misunderstood.

So if you are an artist and you do art, to me I deem you as a person irresponsible or negligent artist if you express art that offends people who live in the community. So now I question your art: what’s more important, your art or the community? Are you a person who is looking to do art that expresses a message that looks to offend? Are you being political with your art? What is your agenda? What is your purpose? What is your intention? The absence of information only allows people to speculate. So if you are going to express a message, and you are not going to make information available, you shouldn’t be mad when people speculate, because that’s their right to speculate. Especially when it may offend them.

These are unintended consequences. And for me unintended consequences are when you don’t think things through. Or the truth is maybe they are intended consequences, and if they are intended consequences it means you thought it through and it wasn’t really important to you whatever the consequences were going to be. Because what your agenda was, supersedes what you knew the reactions were going to be.

This could be an interpretation of gentrification in general. Everybody is aware of the dynamics and consequences, but it’s happening anyway.

hg

JENNY – 24 y.o., female, white, art curator and artist, owns a gallery in Bushwick

I moved here three years ago, I moved here because I was graduating from art school and I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew I wanted to live in a city. I went to a small college that really fostered DIY, the idea of making your own fun, setting up shows, and all that stuff that you could do as a student.

So I wanted to keep doing that in the real world. And everybody told me “Bushwick seems to be the place for you because there it’s what everybody is doing, with pop-up galleries, doing things on their own, and there is the infrastructure there, with all those warehouses, it’s really gritty and it’s still cheap”. So I just found a place to move out here and I started immersing myself as much as I could into the Bushwick life. I started teaching art classes, and later I decided to open my own gallery in the neighborhood.

My artistic work has changed a lot since I’ve moved here, to reflect this environment of Bushwick, and what it turned up in was a sort of alternate reality. There are so many people here, so many young people, so many parties, so I focus on that, the party scene, bar scene, everybody doing these things that are so close to each other, but… how real is that? People come here and it seems like a dreamland, not a real place. A lot of people have unusual jobs, nobody seems to work 9-5, people are out any hour any day, I’m interested in trying to portrait that.

C:  Do you think people might think of you as a hipster?

Oh, I´m sure they do. But they are nice. Generally, when I go into the deli and someone from the neighborhood is there, they will be like: “oh are you new here? Oh, let me know if you ever need anything”. They are just really nice and all the guys that work at the delis are really nice too. Which surprises me, you know, sometimes you wonder if people secretly get pissed off to see more kids coming in. That´s what I would expect, honestly. Even my friend and I are like that: every time a new bar or restaurant opens up we are like “F***! This place sucks, it looks like Williamsburg! Every time a place like that opens we’re gonna leave from here sooner”.

 *IMG_3285

LAYLA, 29 Y.O., female, African American, Bushwick native, works as dentist assistant 

Gentrification is gonna happen, it doesn’t mean we cannot change the way we see it

There are a lot of people that are self-defeating people in this area, a lot. There are a lot of black people with self-defeating mentality, but it´s not really about your color. You become a person of a certain kind of color when you start acting like a person of a certain kind of color. When you are a black person and you are acting like a freaking idiot, you are the same gentrifier yourself. You could be a white person and say “hey what do you need me to do to help with what you are doing? What can we do as a community?”.

If there is an expensive place and I want to live there, then my goal is to be hired in a better job and make more money, if my rent goes up, now I have to be entrepreneurial and find more ways to make extra money. People that want to be here and they are not big-money people, they have to adapt. That´s what we do, we adapt. So if this house cost a lot of money and you wanna live there, you are gonna adapt. I wanna live in Brooklyn and I wanna own in Brooklyn, and I don’t want to sit back “oh no I can´t afford it”. So I have to work more for it. That way you can create more entrepreneurs, more businesses and create more houses, because nobody wants to be kicked out of their neighborhood and I don’t think a few people with money could do that.

Gentrification comes after many things. There is something deeper, which is racism and segregation and our own people´s mentality of feeling inferior and not trusting or putting value in each other.

Our people have the passive-aggressive mentality of being always unsatisfied and discontent and accept this condition without ever doing anything.

For example I know many black homeowners who do not rent to black people, they only rent to whites because they are a more secure investment. This hurts our people more than gentrification.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Welcome to the Barnyard

by Camilla Zhang

People getting pumped up for ELM's performance. Photo credit Andrew McFarlandPeople getting pumped up for ELM’s performance. Photo credit Andrew McFarland

When one takes a gander at Silent Barn, located at 603 Bushwick Avenue, it appears to be just another closed and somewhat ramshackle storefront. Upon further analysis of the oddly electric, pastel mural covering the gate, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suspect that this space is frequented by “hipsters.” What then, makes Silent Barn (otherwise known as “the Barn”) different from other art spaces in Bushwick? For starters, they possess a genuine and proven commitment to diverse programming. They also have a Community Outreach group that is dedicated to ensure that the arts collective is a socially conscious one.

According to its website, Silent Barn “is a multi-functional all-ages art incubation space,” but in reality, it is so much more than that. This is certainly a biased statement, as I myself recently became a member of Silent Barn’s Community Outreach group. I had no prior art collective experience and that’s precisely why Silent Barn is unique. You can just dive in if you want to be involved. For example, the youth group, Educated Little Monsters (ELM) holds their weekly workshops there. Meanwhile, I’ve co-organized an exhibition of paintings by seniors of the Diana Jones Center, which is a block away from Silent Barn. The neighborhood activist group, Northwest Bushwick got their start at the Barn. And the arts collective has so much more in store.

Everyone boogies to SHAMS, a musical performer. Photo credit MF ClarkeEveryone boogies to SHAMS, a musical performer. Photo credit MF Clarke

After one of our bi-weekly meetings, I sat with two members of the Outreach group, Brandon Zwagerman and Andrew McFarland, to get the scoop on why Silent Barn cares and how it sees its role within Bushwick. The Barn is referred to as a DIY space, but Zwagerman prefers the term “DIT (Do It Together) culture and [what its] values embrace and put forward: that without a lot of resources anyone can put on cultural events and bring people together. It’s about accessibility to a lot of different people.”

Zwagerman helped the Barn find their current location a little over a year ago. He said, “It was tough because we wanted a space that was both commercial and residential, kind of a holistic 24-hour idea.” When they signed a ten-year lease, they knew they wanted to serve and sustain the community.

 Natives and newcomers chill at the Silent Barn Yard Party. Photo credit Andrew McFarlandNatives and newcomers chill at the Silent Barn Yard Party. Photo credit Andrew McFarland.

When asked about their aspirations for the community, Zwagerman said, “My hopes would be more connections made between different sub-communities in the neighborhood; creating new links, cohesiveness, and collaboration between people of different backgrounds, ages, and values, hopefully all with shared goals of making the neighborhood more liveable, safe, affordable, happy. This all sounds very idealistic, but you have to believe and hope for these things.”

Andrew McFarland added, “I’d love to see more social and cultural sustainability. From a DIY scene aspect, I think a lot of people–especially with 285 Kent closing down on the Williamsburg waterfront this past winter– are talking about how scenes are sort of just moving as gentrification moves us. I would love for things to just stay still for a while and for people to actually form connections with cultural resources, like Silent Barn. We can be invested in the community for the long term instead of moving every couple of years to a cheaper neighborhood. Cause I don’t think that’s in the community’s best interest either. I think that our fates are intertwined.”

 Mr. Xing Yi Tian and Ms. Bei Yu admiring art painted by themselves and by thier friends from the Senior Center. From the Silent Barn - Diana Jones Center joint event, Landscaping for Links. Photo Credit MF ClarkeMr. Xing Yi Tian and Ms. Bei Yu admiring art painted by themselves and by thier friends from the Senior Center. From the Silent Barn – Diana Jones Center joint event, Landscaping for Links. Photo Credit MF Clarke

I interjected, “Pretty soon, there won’t be any place left to run, for any of us!” McFarland echoed my sentiments, saying, “If we want to be sustainable culturally we have to be sustainable socially, which means making the neighborhood affordable and [acknowledging] that we’re connected to certain groups. All people are actors and players in our neighborhood, because we are definitely all in the same boat.”

In regards to noticeable differences Silent Barn has made, Zwagerman recounted March 8, 2014, when ELM had their open mic: “Awesome neighborhood kids performed and the crowd seemed to like it. [There were] a lot of different folks who maybe haven’t been together at the same event at all. I’d like to hope that some crossover happens when you put a bunch of folks in the same room when they don’t know each other. At the very least, there’s shared cultural expression happening between the audience and performers.”

McFarland reminisced about the significant “Tongues” event organized last June by  Amritha [Kidambi] of ISSUE Project Room. “It was traditional Indian music with the Sitar. It was a beautiful night. There were other [non-Indian] artists that played songs inspired by Indian music. The event had different cross-cultural pollination. The great thing about it was that it was on a night in June and it was pretty warm and everyone was sitting on the floor of Manhattan room, the main space at Silent Barn, and it was totally full. Everyone was sitting cross-legged over the entire floor and it was so quiet in there, you could hear a pin drop. Then this beautiful music was just radiating out of the building through the warm air. It was a really awesome night. It had a lot of Indian people, but there were a lot of White twenty-somethings too. It was cool to have [experienced]. It’d be really amazing to have another event like that.

Eventually, I came to the hard, heavy-handed question, “Why do you care?” Zwagerman himself created his own DIY space in Ann Arbor, MI. After hosting a bunch of music shows in his living room, he thought, “‘Wow, you can really just bring people together like that by having a space, seeing if a few people want to perform and telling a few people it’s happening.’ It was like a really simple thing, but also really needed and powerful and people seemed to love it. So I started doing shows regularly and it expanded to some larger things in Michigan.

“But I moved to New York seven years ago and tried booking shows at a bar in Long Island City. I just got disillusioned with the music scene here in particular. I thought it really sucked. They’re really cold and ask you who you’re here to see and check off a tally mark at the door at all these clubs. It’s a very mechanical thing; admitting that people don’t actually want to see a full-billed show, because we’re all to busy. People don’t try to curate holistically. I was really bummed about it all until about five or six years ago when I found the DIY scene, like Market Hotel, etc.

 ELM youth on the micELM youth on the mic. Photo credit Andrew McFarland.

“I think in particular, the old Silent Barn on 915 Wyckoff, was probably the most intimate, homey space I found. People performing in this small space in the kitchen. Really nice people and it felt like those old house shows in Michigan, so I really connected with that. I don’t know. It’s something, I think, a way for people to become involved with the community. It makes the community seem smaller and more personal and [it also allows you to] share artistic expression in an immediate way. That’s just why Silent Barn is important to me in general and why bringing that to the surrounding neighborhood is important to me.

“We’re going to be around for the next nine years. I guess I just have a civic sense about me. I really believe in the small scale democratic values of participatory collaboration between neighbors…If we were to just exist there and serve whomever’s existing friends not the people who live two blocks away, I think it’d be a really sad thing. Spaces are a premium in NYC as is the whole infrastructure for performance in the arts. We could offer that to the neighborhood. Neighbors can take us up on it. I think it’d be a really wonderful thing and hopefully we can be a positive force in the world around us.”

Juggling art, gentrification, and the practicalities of housing issues is a tricky thing, but Silent Barn is doing pretty well so far. McFarland noted that “there was a tenants rights panel back in November; a housing rights discussion with lawyers.” Zwagerman chimed in, saying, “Primarily we’re an arts organization, but we’re also a space for public forums and information and discussion of any type, political, informational or otherwise and we’re very interested on a whole in hosting these types of events and facilitating them.”

 Tres bonding with the youth. Photo credit Andrew McFarlandTres bonding with the youth. Photo credit Andrew McFarland

In truth, all art is media, and as McFarland explained, “media, especially today with the internet, is such an important tool for bonding and bridging communities.” Silent Barn is still growing, but they’ve made tremendous strides by incorporating the leadership of organizers, like Jaz Colon, who are already tied in with long-term communities. In fact, a few weeks ago, Jaz herself became a “chef,” a term used to designate core members of the Silent Barn. With “chef” status, Jaz can organize and host her own events and daytime programming.

This is only the beginning. We can make our communities better by “DIT”. People who had nothing to do with Silent Barn, like Jaz and I, became involved and so can you. Silent Barn Community Outreach is always looking for new members. If you have a vision for a more sustainable community, don’t be shy! You can contact us at silentbarnispeople@googlegroups.com.

The Yard Party's bubble perfectionist. Photo credit Andrew McFarlandThe Yard Party’s bubble perfectionist. Photo credit Andrew McFarland

Bushwick Native: My Story

by Kassandra Steward

As a child I always felt I had a complex. Growing up as a mixed child (African American and Puerto Rican) I was often asked which side I believed I belong to more. I constantly thought it was an ignorant question, but it has followed me and stuck with me my whole life. As I grew I learned that I didn’t have to choose a side. I could be content and proud with the fact that I am a dark skinned Latina and African American woman, which means I have to work three times as hard to get what I want in life. Women, Blacks, and Latinos do not have the same privileges or opportunities as white males. Therefore anything I do will be under a microscope, waiting for me to fail.  I am a Bushwick native and these pavements have molded me. Bushwick for me growing up was a family community and although it had its fair share of crime (what place doesn’t?) it kept me solid as a kid to know I would have people to look out for me. For the most part, I think a lot of my friends and I would say we had a great childhood in Bushwick. I graduated from Bushwick High School for Social Justice so I guess that’s where I learned to be passionate about anything I believe in and know my rights as an individual.

Broadcast journalism is something that I wanted to pursue for the longest. I have always been a talkative person especially when it came to topics I strongly believe in. My love for music, arts, and fashion made me feel complete growing up in Bushwick.  That has always been something that kept me inspired: how a community of struggling middle and lower class citizens can all come together with music and food for a block barbeque and everything could be alright. Great music and old family members dancing to salsa, the swaying hips of Spanish culture. Neo-Soul, Hip Hop, Blues, Rock, Jazz, bachata, salsa, and merengue all have had an impact on my life. From the thug intellectual voices of Wu- Tang to the smooth melodies of Maxwell. The constant weekend nights of poetry, bands playing and art shows at 3rd Eye Sol all gave me a clearer lens to the unlimited possibilities of my community.  I’ve been here for all twenty years of my life. I’ve seen all the culture shocks, but this by far is one for the books. I have seen Bushwick at its worst and at its best. From drug dealers on the corner to children playing hop scotch and baseball. But the fact that I might not be able to live here anymore is frightening. Recently, my landlord was offered three million dollars for our building. It’s pretty obvious that once we move we will have no choice but to move to a neighborhood that won’t be as safe. It’s known that natives get moved to worse neighborhoods so we stay oppressed. Slumlords raise rent by thirty percent in one year so people are forced to move out. Gentrification was just a word to me when I was in high school, but now I live in it. It surrounds me everywhere I walk in Bushwick. The only thing I think people of this neighborhood can benefit from it is the fact that Bushwick has become more diverse and maybe this is an opportunity to get to know others cultures and respect them. Although that is the bright side, how can that happen when most of the new comers look down upon us? They ignore us as if we are in their space. I laugh because they moved here for the same reasons that we’ve been living here: cheaper rent. The ignorance has been quite obvious to plenty of my friends and I when we don’t feel comfortable enough to walk into a local coffee shop. We get looks that make us feel out of place. I’m watching my community being torn from the roots to start new ones. It’s upsetting that now Bushwick is looked as an art center because of gentrifiers, when it has always been a place of great art. Street art or otherwise, it has always been found in Bushwick. Young adults that grew up in this community that are trying to get into the arts, fashion, and music world are constantly being overlooked because we are from here. We have to strive more because we are the “minority”.

So my purpose for joining this newspaper is to educate the people of this neighborhood on unjust situations. Things like knowing your rights and how to being a better neighbor. To give the young adults that grew up in Bushwick the opportunity to be heard through their music, arts, and fashion. Our power to continue when people expect us to fail because of our stomping grounds gives me inspiration. To be young and see success so close, but it’s out of reach because people shut you out, this is for you. Our generation isn’t lost, we are just finding our way. I want the voices of these aspiring Bushwick natives to be heard because it seems as if our voices have been fading. So through this publication we will show you the REAL BUSHWICK.

An Interview with Brooklyn Acts

By Tres Myers

10152616_429178730551917_794238343411405383_n

As I walk into the brightly lit open space of The Living Art Gallery at 1094 Broadway in Bushwick, I immediately notice an aura of intense focus. Like a force field, it prevents me from entering the deep vortex in which six youth are exchanging dialogue in calculated timing. Even though I’ve worked with some of these kids before, they do not even look up, immersed in the script they are bringing to life. This is my first moment of seeing Brooklyn Acts in progress and I am already amazed. Peppered about, sitting and standing throughout the room are their six instructors, lightly guiding them and inquiring their ideas about the words in front of them. All are engaged and involved in a moment of their creation, stimulated by the process of their imagination.

Brooklyn Acts (BK Acts) was founded in January 2012. Initially, it was a collaboration between Yazmin Colon (Jaz) and Nyssa Frank. Jaz, a local artist, event coordinator, youth organizer and longtime resident, had a vision of a place where young people like her son could have an artistic outlet and learn theater arts. She shared her vision with Frank, a fellow artist and owner of The Living Art Gallery, who had moved to the area with the desire to give young people an outlet through the arts as well. They then recruited theater educators Isabel Shanahan and Tara Elliot who constructed the framework of the class and run the class still. I sat with BK Acts students and talked with Tara and Isabel about what the group is, where it’s been and where it’s going.

Bushwick Bridge (BWB): What does a class look like?

BK Acts Students: We start off with a warm up. We do improv warm ups, tongue twisters, stuff like that to get loose. Then we get into the lesson. We gather ideas together to start a new project. Once we do that, we start working on it slowly. We cut the projects into pieces and then bring it together.

BWB: What have been some of your favorite projects?

BK Acts: Our song. It had a lot to do with the change in the surrounding area. It has a lot to do with gentrification. We wrote down a bunch of lyrics on a big piece of paper. And then our advisors put it all together into verses and then John Burgoss made the beat. We used the beat and laid down the song. It was pretty cool.

BWB: Where did you record?

BK Acts: Flux Studios in New York City. Beautiful place [all laugh].

BWB: I saw you guys did a music video too. What was that like?

BK Acts: We actually picked places to record scenes. We all picked one spot (to record at) and did our verses there.

BWB: What were some of the spots you picked and how did you pick them?

BK Acts: The first verse [We filmed] was across the street from one of our houses near Willoughby. The other one was at Knickerbocker Park [Maria Hernandez] where the skateboarders skate.

BWB: That’s awesome. So who are some artists you guys look up to?

BK Acts: It’s funny cause we were coming up with a list the other day. Jay-Z, Lupe Fiasco, Big Daddy Kane, Common, Nas. It was a great list. We also like Immortal Technique, Tupac, Slick Rick, Drake.

BWB: Anyone else?

BK Acts: Shakespeare was someone we looked up to during our play.

BWB: Did you guys do some Shakespeare?

BK Acts: We had started Romeo and Juliet. It was hard because his language is difficult.

BWB: What was the hardest part about doing Shakespeare?

BK Acts: The language, definitely, and the love story; to stick to the character. We’re like brothers and sisters and we had to pretend we were lovers. It was pretty awkward. [All laugh] We’ve known each other a while from school or living on the same block.

BWB: What would you tell other kids to convince them to join Brooklyn Acts?

BK Acts: That we go to perform different places and it’s really fun. The advisors are great. They help us write our own scripts for our own plays.

BWB: Are you guys writing a play now?

BK Acts: Yeah. It’s like Sci Fi. It’s about a drug epidemic. A drug dealer uses the materials from an artifact that was found in Vietnam to create this drug that people love. It messes with their minds. The drug itself completely eliminates all sense of pain. You don’t feel any pain, not mental or physical. The world could be ending around you and you’d be OK with it. Your leg could be cut off and you’d be crawling like, “Yeah, this is normal, this is cool”. It’s weird. It also makes people ignorant.

BWB: Who came up with the idea for the play?

BK Acts: It’s our play. We came up with the idea by brainstorming in class.

BWB: What are some of the best things and the biggest challenges about growing up here in Bushwick?

BK Acts: The best thing is the [diversity of] cultures. There’s such a variety here; so many fields, like arts and music, that’s so cool. The challenge is that there aren’t a lot of groups like ours. That’s why we started this, cause we don’t have many youth groups in Bushwick and there’s so many talented minds. It’s cool to gather everyone and put their ideas together and it creates a cool mix.

BWB: What advice would you give kids your age based on what you’ve learned at Brooklyn Acts?

BK Acts: Be hungry for your craft. Keep doing what you want to do. Strive for what you want. Be humble. When you’re humble about things it’ll pretty much go your way. If you’re angry all the time it’s a turn off (for other people).  If your humble it will put you into the spotlight and get your attention.

10168236_429178827218574_4831377160292241155_n

I thanked the kids for their participation and then took aside Isabel Shanahan and Tara Elliot, the directors of the group, to catch up.

BWB: How did you guys start with Brooklyn Acts?

Isabel: Nyssa [Frank] put out a call for theater educators and so I responded to that call. At the very beginning, I met her spoke with her and Jaz trying to conceptualize the group. I decided I wanted to be on board. I then got in touch with Tara with whom I’d run other theater groups and projects, and she wanted to be a part of it too. We took it from there.

Tara: The way it started was pretty bare bones. We held an open house and some kids showed up. We just started playing improv games. The first week was a little scary, I was thinking, “I’m not from Bushwick. What am I doing? Are they gonna hate me?” But they were really receptive and had a good time. We did icebreakers, basic movement and improv games.

BWB: What are some of your favorite games to play with the kids?

Tara: Human knots[1]. Sometimes it fails and sometimes it’s awesome. You really get a clear sense of their desire to be in contact with each other or not. But this group of kids grew up together [so it was easy].

Isabel: I like a lot of the Boalian games. Augusto Boal[2], who conceptualized ‘Theater of the oppressed,’ has a lot of games that involve freezing or speaking from a role or mixing up instructions to free your mind from rigid constructs. I like using a lot of those. We use [Boalian] images and frozen images that turn into these scenes, which are responses to words like ‘gentrification’ or ‘community’. We did one on [the word group] “home, school, and community” from there we developed scenes from improvisation that turned into scripts.

BWB: If someone was interested in joining Brooklyn Acts or getting someone they know to join, what would they do?

Tara: Come [here to The Living Gallery] on Monday at 6 and see how it feels. People are free to get in touch with either of us anytime. I’m not in the neighborhood, so Isabel might be a better local contact, but we have an open door policy.

 BWB: No auditions then?

Tara: The most important thing is commitment and showing up; Having a positive attitude.

Isabel: It’s not about skill it’s about being receptive to the work.

BWB: How did you two get started in performing arts?

(Both laugh)

Isabel: For me it was putting on plays in my living room for my family. Then that turned into going to acting classes as a kid.

Tara: Yeah, essentially the same thing [for me]. I was a kid who lived inside my imagination. I spent a lot of time playing alone and making up stories. Then acting out plays in my living room or with my friends or crafting magical experiences for other people. I ended up studying it in college. I have pursued it in various ways ever since. Working with kids is a natural segway. Group dynamics and relational dynamics come out of working in theater. That’s something we’re both interested in.

BWB: Tell me about you teaching experience. How did it prepare you for this work?

Tara: My first job out of college was as a drama teacher position at a public school on an island in Maine. I was teaching kindergarten through high school. Prior to that I had done a summer camp and a teaching internship. I had educational experience, but it was always more defined then this, because not only were we teaching when we started this, but we were also creating the structure of the program and at the same time trying to figure out “What is our policy for communicating with parents?” and “What role do we play in the community?” and “What kind of rules do we need to enforce?” So those were interesting questions. I felt that I had teaching experience but not the teaching experience that was relevant to this situation.

Isabel: This idea of creating a community youth theater group is an idea I’ve fantasized about for many, many years. When were we had that first conversation with Jaz and Nyssa about their vision I said, “Yes! I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to build something from the ground up; have it be completely of and for the community.” It was a perfect moment in time.

 BWB: What are some of your favorite Brooklyn Acts moments?

Isabel: It’s hard to pick! Their performances; having people come to watch. Especially with the “Talk Backs” and responding directly to the community about questions that are relevant to their lives. In the performance there are these really beautiful moments. And then there’s moments that come out of rehearsal. Even right now, they’re reading their words and they’re like, “Oh, I said that! It’s on paper and now it’s gonna be in a script!” It’s really empowering when the look at their work and feel that ownership.

Tara: Of course the performances are so impactful. Especially when other kids haven’t shown up and the rest have to rise to the occasion and fill in for each other. That’s been wonderful to witness. Also just the moment when they walk in and give you a hug. Because one of the really wonderful things about this process is it’s totally transcended being a “class”. They have become my friends, and I know that they care for us and we care for them. It’s moved into this really beautiful place. They don’t know whether to call us ‘teachers’ or ‘advisors’ or what. [Both laugh].

BWB: What have been some obstacles you’ve faced?

Isabel: There’s been some obstacles [Laughs]

Tara: Totally. It’s changing. The structure has changed a lot since the beginning. When we started we had about twelve kids involved. In the first three months, we were dealing with discipline issues. There were some kids who didn’t respect us and didn’t seem fully committed to the atmosphere we were trying to create. That was the first obstacle. We were also trying to figure out our identity group and how we functioned as a group. It was really frustrating for us.

Isabel: One challenge has been to convey to families that this is something we want them to be a part of in a bigger way. Knowing how to effectively address invites for performances or other ways to involve parents and families. We’ve now put some of that responsibility into the kid’s hands. Telling them, “It’s us and its you. We’re working together and we need each other in this symbiotic relationship.”

Tara: It’s also totally volunteer-powered. There’s no money. That’s one of our first questions: “are we going to charge for these classes? Do we want it on a sliding scale. Wait, no that doesn’t feel right.” And then we finally got to a place where we said “There’s not gonna be payment.” We can have fundraisers. But that also presents challenges, cause you get to the bottom of the tin can and you ask, “What now? Where’s snack money coming from?”

BWB: What would you say to kids who are skeptical about joining BK Acts?

Tara: Take a positive risk. Come and see how it feels.

Isabel: [I would say,] “You might be surprised.” You don’t have to be an actor and you don’t have to be outgoing. You don’t even have to know what “acting” or “drama” means.

BWB: Have you noticed the kids’ confidence growing?

Tara: Yeah, completely. The confidence, the ownership of their words and their art is pretty huge.

BWB: What are some of the biggest challenges around teaching this age group?

Tara: Well first off, these kids are awesome. This is really a close group of kids who are pretty mature, but there are all of these borderline issues like sex and drugs and gangs. We’re in this role of being the adults in the room, but we’re also relating to them as peers in some ways. Knowing how to address those issues and how much those issues come into the fray is challenging. For example showing them videos: Can we show the more mature content? We know they watch it on their own but now we’re responsible. Also, with the content of this play, it’s all about this drug called ‘Wipe.’ It’s relevant to them.

BWB: Anything else you’d like people to know about BK Acts?

Isabel: Come check us out Mondays from 6- 7:30 PM. If you have a talent, interest, passion, or material thing you’d like to share, come in. We’re always hustling. [If you have something to give], the kids will take it and use it well.

 Tara: We love to grow our network. We are always looking for other individuals or organizations inside the community and outside the community who are interested in us as a group.

Isabel: Performance spaces, anything of that sort, especially needed.

BWB: Thanks so much for opening your doors to us!


 [1] A group of people get into a circle and extend hands reaching it out to hold the outstretched hands of two other members of the group. Then they try to get themselves untangled without letting go of their held hands.


[2] Augusto Boal was a Brazillian dramatist and activist who wrote Theatre of the Oppressed’