By Gabrielle M. Hamilton, Director of Education and Public Programs
This school year, Flushing Town Hall was privileged to receive multiple CASA grants to provide afterschool arts education services to six schools in Queens. CASA, an acronym for Cultural After School Adventures, is a unique partnership program between a cultural institution and a New York City public school. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the New York City Council.
What makes the CASA program so special is the level of financial support that the City Council provides to schools through a cultural institution. Flushing Town Hall’s Education team of Teaching Artists is able to spend nearly six months with students to develop art.
Prior to launching any project, we meet with school administrators to discuss their school community and artistic needs. Some schools have a general idea of the afterschool program that they want to develop, while other schools want to supplement an existing arts program and bring it to a bigger stage.
That’s precisely what happened with our partnership with Flushing International High School (FIHS).
For years, the FIHS theater program presented a small performance of Shakespeare on its school stage under the direction of theater teacher Lily Vero. Lily and her students borrowed small costumes and props, and volunteers made sets from cardboard boxes. Thanks to the CASA funding from Council Member Peter Koo, students just completed their third theater production at Flushing Town Hall.
The Flushing International Players had the opportunity to work with professionals in the field, including a set designer, a sound and lighting technician, and a costume designer, as well as Teaching Artists, including a theater coach and a choreographer. And, when the students felt anxious and nervous, we brought in a teacher for yoga and meditation to help them focus.
The end result: two spectacular performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The students were elated to have such a rich and rewarding theatrical experience.
What makes this student performance all the more amazing is the FIHS students are recent immigrants and new learners of English. The Flushing International Players come from ten countries: Ecuador, Algeria, China, Colombia, Afghanistan, Paraguay, Pakistan, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, and the Philippines. We were so impressed with these students, particularly their willingness to challenge themselves and attempt Shakespeare as English Language Learners. A flip through their cast bios shows a group of immigrant students with dreams of becoming “a top Navy officer”, of graduating from college and supporting families, and of their gratitude for living “in the greatest city in the world, NYC.”
These students are an inspiration to us all.
Flushing Town Hall is grateful to the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and Council Members Peter Koo, Paul Vallone, Costa Constantinides, and Karen Koslowitz for believing in Queens’ students and supporting their exploration of the arts as they develop into socially and emotionally intelligent adults.
We look forward to updating you on the five other CASA programs, including musical theater, Chinese music and dance, Korean drumming and dance, Andean music, African American drumming, and theater for third graders.