Interview with Mary Rose Lloyd and Lindsey Buller Maliekel from The New Victory Theater
Lindsey Buller Maliekel is Director of Education / Public Engagement for the New Victory Theater (American for the Arts Education Award recipient, 2008) and oversees all programs and content for family audiences as well as the theater's youth development programs. She manages a roster of 50 teaching artists, as well as continuing to teach in the schools and family programs throughout the year. In 2014, under her oversight, the New Victory Usher Corps program won the National Arts and Humanities award, given by Michelle Obama for outstanding programs in creative youth development.
Nicole Birmann Bloom (NBB): The New Victory Theater has dynamic programs to engage young audiences. Could you tell us more about these activities and how you prepare children and their families for the performances they’ll see?
Lindsey Buller Maleikel (LBM): There are several ways The New Victory Theater prepares its audiences for a performance, from the moment they first hear about a show to the moment the curtain rises. From the very beginning, we are very clear in all of our materials about who will enjoy the show and what makes the show special. When we describe a show and select pictures and videos about a new production, we put a lot of consideration into honoring both the artists’ intention and the audience’s experience. We also ask the artists to create a short video for our website as a way to introduce themselves and the work to our audiences.
Also on our website, The New Victory provides New Vic Family Activities, which are emailed to every ticket holder before a show. These activities contain more information about the show, art form or themes and have short activities that the whole family can participate in together that will help enhance the anticipation of attending the theater.
Once you’re at the theater, we also provide activities for families to explore more about the show either before or after the performance. These activities might include learning to juggle scarves before a circus performance or a theme-based activity, such as learning about New York City morality laws, when going to see a play like Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. For certain performances, we staff our lobbies with trained teaching artists to share their expertise or art form. In this way, audiences are primed for their visit to the theater so they can deeply appreciate the artists and the performance as their experiencing it; afterwards, they can walk into our lobbies and continue to engage in the themes and art forms inspired by the production, but now as participants and creative decision makers themselves!
NBB: How does The New Victory Theater reach out to children who may not have the opportunity to see theater, dance or music. Could you elaborate on the program called Victory Dance, which takes place over the summer?
Mary-Rose Lloyd (MRL): The New Victory’s regular season coincides, mostly, with the New York Department of Education school year calendar (typically late September through June). In our first few seasons we were not programming in the summer months for various, mostly capital improvement, reasons. We were, however, getting requests from subsidized summer camps, summer after school programs and the like, to provide artistic programming in order for those young audiences to add much needed arts enrichment to their schedules through these programs. Also, the New Vic was aiming towards being lit year-round and we wanted to dive deeper into all genres of dance than we get to during our regular season programming. We launched Victory Dance, a series specifically curated to introduce younger audiences to the incredible artistry and diversity of dance in New York City, in the summer of 2014. The series contains three unique programs featuring three New York City-based companies in each program over three weeks in July. In addition to seeing three different works we craft Teaching Artist led interstitial conversations around and between each piece and we host a Talk-Back at the end of the Program with the various choreographers as well as offering free workshops for the young people back at their schools and summer camps.
NBB: You bring U.S. and international artists and companies at The New Victory Theater. Could you tell us more about your programming? How do you negotiate presenting productions loaded with challenging subjects of our time (racism, violence…)? In developing exchanges and partnerships with organizations from abroad, also serving young audiences, how do you handle any cultural differences?
MRL: The New Victory is dedicated to presenting wonderful work from around the world for young and family audiences, including theater, dance, music, opera, puppetry and circus arts. All of the pieces we program, whether comedies or dramas, have a measure of sophistication and wonder about them. We don't shy away from challenging subject matter because the theater, at best, reflects the world we all live in and, thus, our humanity. The theaters themselves offer us a common ground to experience works together and to have a real, live experience with the artists and each other. The families and classmates that attend shows at The New Victory are provided with incredible public and school engagement programs which offer pathways to and insights on discovering meaning in the productions we present. We always assume the intelligence of our audience, at any age, and hope that the work we present brings them closer to understanding his or her own place in the universe. It is very rare that a production would need translation from culture to culture but, if the details of a story do not make sense for another place as to need clarification, it is worth exploring if any details can be adjusted without changing the artistic intent, for clarity's sake.
NBB: You presented Fragile in 2016 by the puppetry company Le Clan des Songes and now you are bringing Cité by the same company to New York, two works for children age 3+. How did you meet the company Clan des Songes and what attracted to their work?
MRL: I met the company's artistic director, Marina, on a trip to Toulouse sponsored by the Cultural Agencies of France in Paris and New York. I was especially looking for work for very young audiences and had heard good things about Clan des Songes. I love the worlds they create and their dedication to their artistry and craft. The puppeteering is masterful and the respect for the imaginations of the young audience members is palpable. I would bring them every season if I could.
NBB: How will you prepare very young children and their families for this specific work?
LBM: Work created for this age group is masterful at creating a piece of art that young audiences can enter and engage with in a very personal way. The art itself is already created to be welcoming and inviting. I think of our job is to build an on-ramp to the experience for our littlest theater-goers, many of whom have never attended this sort of event before! I find myself very aware of what the space feels like as they are entering a performance space...how can we make it feel non-threatening for our very short, inexperienced audiences?
- Are there places for people to sit?
- Is there a craft or activity that they can do while they get accustomed to the space?
- Where can people park strollers and large diaper bags?
- Are there healthy snacks available for purchase for any hungry toddlers?
Can we begin to introduce elements of the world of the performance into the lobby space, taking care not to supplant the theatrical experience itself!
NBB: What are the most striking remarks you've heard from kids [after or about a performance] that you would like to share with us?
MRL: There are so many, but I'll always remember teenage girls discussing whether they were "Team Heathcliff" or "Team Hindley" at the intermission of a production of WUTHERING HEIGHTS that we presented a few seasons ago. It really made my day that they were so involved with the story of these two rivals and that they could see both sides as to want to pick one! For teenagers to respond to theater that intently, especially a classic story that was hopefully made current enough to be relatable to them, was a high point.
LBM: I love it when I hear kids say things like ‘ I want to stay here forever!’ Another response that stands out to me was when a 5 year old turned to her friend upon exiting the theater and asked ‘How did they do that?’ and her friend responded ‘It’s Magic!’ I love that the experience as an audience member can feel so magical and transformative!
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