Sunday, April 10, 2016

A Broadway Books First Class Visit From David Caudle, Anastasia Traina and Scott Cohen

Scott Cohen, Anastasia Traina and David Caudle landed gently in First Grade to
share with us the quiet beauty and powerful message of Bitsy & Raff
I've studied butterflies...

Surrounded by young children I've watched some very hungry caterpillars prepare for their time in the chrysalis and then breathtakingly emerge in bursts of color. I've nurtured and protected these tiny, tenacious creatures from small, overzealous hands eager to touch. And I've anticipated the quick, swiping, dance-like movements of a five-year-old whose body language reveals a reluctance to actually having a butterfly land on him.

It's clear that artist Anastasia Traina also studied the movement, stillness and shifting nuances of these expressive creatures to create her exquisite watercolor illustrations for the children's book Bitsy the Heaviest Butterfly & Raff the Tenderest Reed written by David Caudle.   

The story is a beautiful lesson in overcoming naysayers, challenging misconceptions and celebrating the warm embrace of friendship. So, when David and Anastasia agreed to share this special book with my students as part of Broadway Books First Class, I was overjoyed.

We were also honored to welcome charming - and popular - actor Scott Cohen! Scott read the book to the children while we all got lost in the world David and Anastasia created. The children questioned, laughed, commented and applauded throughout the reading while getting cozy on the rug as if Scott, Anastasia and David were old friends.

Scott Cohen reading Bitsy & Raff with ASL interpreter Mary Grace Gallagher

The reading was followed by questions. The children wanted to know why David wrote this book. His answer was reminiscent of what Charles Busch shared when asked what gave him his creative spark, which I find interesting since both are playwrights. Is there a common thread running through the psyche of those who write scripts?

David said that he was interested in the juxtaposition of something light (a butterfly) carrying around the weight of despair and loneliness thereby becoming something "other than". Bitsy is about the transformative power of finding someone special to laugh with, to feel safe with, someone who gives us strength and allows us to joyfully become our authentic selves. It's what Charles described as finding that tribe or group of people in his life who understood him and inspired him to create.

A magnificent trio - Anastasia Traina, Scott Cohen and David Caudle
Throughout the visit I was struck by how this generous trio listened. They were still and silent when others spoke. They were interested and thoughtful. After they left I started to wonder if I am spending too much time with the wee ones who routinely cut one another off in conversation and display other outward manifestations of a short attention span. It was a striking difference and I think I learned from them too.

The visit ended, as always, with gifts. Usually we all sign a copy of the book for the performer(s) but as this was the first time a visitor had actually written the book that was read, we had to give it some more thought. It was decided that we would use simple materials to make a child's tribute to Bitsy and Raff.

After lots of hugs and goodbyes Anastasia, Scott and David quietly flew off towards other adventures but left behind a charming story and a message we will revisit again and again.

So, the next time you see someone different from you,
Don't make fun as the others in your pond might do.
Make friends instead, and you'll have the last laugh,
Find strength in each other, like Bitsy and Raff.

Culture Shock Festival

Friends of the High Line present Culture Shock, a free arts festival on April 23 from 12:00 PM to 4:00 PM.  This annual Spring opening event is a "joyous, one-of-a-kind celebration" with diverse performances by local artists representing a wide variety of genres.

The program of music, dance, poetry, comedy and storytelling includes a bilingual (English and American Sign Language) performance inspired by the First through Third Grade students at my school (PS347).

The stories were developed during the Winter Workshop with artistic director and creative powerhouse Kim Weild and a group of teaching artists - I was honored to be among them.  The High Line performance at 2:30 PM celebrates children, language, culture, diversity and imagination.

I am thrilled to have an opportunity to perform in this piece - How the I Becomes the We - as a modern day, slightly manic Mr. Rogers guiding a young (and not-so-young) audience into the realm of possibility through creative storytelling.

An exciting, added bonus is that a companion book will also be available for purchase at the event!  It joyously documents the journey from idea to story and encourages children to dream.

Consider this an invitation to join us on the High Line and if you do, please take a moment to say hello.


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