Tasty Monster Productions

Tasty Monster Productions: Tackling Bullying Through Empathy

Promoting empathy and kindness in all schools is a priority across school systems, with particular attention paid to encouraging a positive school climate in the month of October, National Bullying Prevention Month. New YA roster artist Tasty Monster Productions designed an award-winning program to open communication in the classroom and inspire students and teachers to engage in conversations about social issues such as loss and bereavement, the many guises of bullying, the necessity of kindness and empathy, and the power of our words in society.

Tasty Monster Production’s Ferdinand is a powerful and moving modern adaptation of the classic children’s book The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. “Ferdinand tells the poignant story of Tom, a single dad, struggling to go with the flow and raise his son in a world determined to make him fight,” says the artist. “Raised on the story of his namesake Ferdinand, the bull who refused to fight but just wanted to sit and smell the flowers, young Ferdy learns the hard lessons in life as his father endeavors to shield him from the harsh realities of adulthood.”

A 2013 Congressional Research Service report found that these school-based bullying prevention programs decrease bullying by up to 25%.

Researchers have found that programs designed to build character and empathy, address conflict management, and enhance social- and emotional-development are successful at reducing bullying behaviors (Swearer, Wang, Collins, Strawhun, & Fluke, 2014). School systems have rightly begun implementing strategies and hosting programs to address concerning behavior and educate both adult and peer communities to recognize the signs and effects of bullying. A 2013 Congressional Research Service report found that these school-based bullying prevention programs decrease bullying by up to 25%. And since peer interventions have been found to end 57% incidents of bullying (Hawkins, Pepler, & Craig, 2001), it is imperative that schools keep the dialogue open year-round about what it means to be kind, how to listen, and the importance of empathy and understanding.

Schools searching for meaningful, current, and effective programming to relay a message of positivity will find an ally in Tasty Monster Productions. “Ferdinand is a hard-hitting yet heart-warming one-man show which takes the audience on a journey of rebirth. Told from the perspective of Tom, a hard-working middle manager, this is the story of a father bringing up his son with empathy and kindness in a world that seems determined to push him in all the wrong directions. Through Tom we experience all the joys and all the heartbreaks of growing up, as well as quite a few very real parental dilemmas, as he battles to preserve the innocence of childhood despite corporate downsizing, classroom peer pressure, and mixed social messages about what it means to be a man in this contemporary twist on a grown-up fairy tale.”

Tasty Monster Productions brings engaging new and re-envisioned works to a broad audience while expanding the use of technology and multi-media as a tool for storytelling. Learn how to bring Tasty Monster Production’s award-winning performance, Ferdinand, into your school.

Meet our new artists: FutureMakers

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During the last two years, our roster has grown in size to encompass new artists, ensembles, and art forms. From slam poets to improvisers to Capoeira masters, these new artists are undeniably unique.

To introduce audiences to our new artists, we’ll be posting interviews with those who recently joined our roster, giving them a chance to share more about themselves and their experiences with Young Audiences so far. We recently sat down with Matt Barinholtz of FutureMakers.

What is your background as an artist?

FutureMakers started from work I was doing as a visual artist and sculptor with other makers and educators. I was frequently asked if I could bring the type of work I was doing to classrooms. I had met artists, engineers, and technologists that wanted to do projects with young people, but didn’t feel confident about how to approach it. I wondered if an organization could connect makers and educators, so both could build their skills.

During the summer of 2012, I was invited to work with a supportive cohort of community colleges in Maryland to bring STEAM workshops (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) into their summer programs for youth. Since then, we’ve steadily been growing our staff, or as we call them, coaches, and are excited to be working with Young Audiences to provide a formal pathway for those interested in joining FutureMakers to deliver programs to schools.

How did you hear about Young Audiences?

Someone shared a workshop offered by Pat Cruz, Young Audiences Education Director. I wasn’t able to attend, but reached out to Pat to find out how FutureMakers could learn from and work with Young Audiences. In 2013, we were invited to support a summer learning program in Harford County, and participate in the Teaching Artist Institute (TAI) Seminar. Through TAI, we developed a FutureMakers residency. We’ve been making things that wiggle, draw, glow, and do crazy stuff with kids ever since.

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See these sculptures in action here!

What has been the most memorable part of the programs you’ve had through Young Audiences?

I was watching morning announcement videos at a school which used puppets created by students with TAI instructor and playwright John Morogiello. They were funny and sharp. It wasn’t about adults, it was about youth development with young people out in front. I was impressed by the way art was completely integrated into that school. It made me wish that more places would work and integrate this way.

What was your favorite part of the Teaching Artist Institute (TAI) Seminar? How has the experience changed your approach to teaching?

TAI solidified the way we at FutureMakers think about the pathway our coaches follow. It focuses our expertise and creativity on student engagement, measurable outcomes, and addresses the needs of our teacher partners. They get to see and do what they’d like within boundaries of what they need to do.

Our coaches are experiencing how maker education can connect in classrooms because of Young Audiences. Being observed, receiving feedback, and having scheduling and communications support is an enormous value that Young Audiences adds to our organization.

What does your art form–particularly as it relates to STEM subjects–teach students?

With technology, things are moving toward additive processes – for example, 3D printing, which is a process we incorporate in many community workshops. Traditional craft and art media are now expanding to incorporate materials often found in science or technology classrooms, or only available to higher education students. In a rapidly evolving, project-based learning world, coaches help young people embrace the design process in their creative lives – think like engineers to figure out how to solve a design challenge, and have the confidence to iterate, or try again, when things go in unexpected directions.

How do the lessons or skills you teach students apply to their everyday life outside of the classroom?

Students asking, imagining, planning, creating, and improving is the core of what we’re about. Young people have limitless imaginations, and are open to learning how to take a step back and ask questions. In the past, young makers followed plans or prescriptive examples to complete a project.  We’re learning that truly effective coaches facilitate their discovery of paths and options that lead to mastery – supported by the design cycle.

Why do you believe art is important for every student to have access to?

Young people need to have the opportunity to try something and fail, and a coach who can help them through difficult spots. Art was the only thing that kept me focused and motivated in high school; it was my identity early on. When we’re working with students in upper-elementary and middle school, identity is a large and important part of what our residencies are about. Art is a fast path to forming and grabbing onto an identity, whatever the content is.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being a Young Audiences roster artist?

It’s incredibly validating to know as an organization we’re doing something that our school systems embrace. I think the most rewarding aspect is knowing that we’re working in a community of other practitioners who are phenomenal performing and visual artists and amazing coaches. That is a very rare mix, and we’re honored to be a part of it.

Learn more about FutureMakers’ offerings through Young Audiences.

Keep an eye out for more interviews featuring our newest roster artists! See past new artist interviews here.

Meet our new artists: Valerie Branch

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During the last two years, our roster has grown in size to encompass new artists, ensembles, and art forms. From slam poets to improvisers to Capoeira masters, these new artists are undeniably unique.

To introduce audiences to our new artists, we’ll be posting interviews with those who recently joined our roster, giving them a chance to share more about themselves and their experiences with Young Audiences so far.

What is your background as an artist?

I graduated from University of Maryland College Park (UMCP) with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Dance. Since graduation, I have been at the forefront and background of different dance organizations and have traveled around the world as a result of my passion for dance.

The first company I danced with was Lesole’s Dance Project, a traditional South African dance company where I was able to hone in on my leadership, creativity, organizational skills, and learn and appreciate a new form of dance. I served as rehearsal director, administrative and fundraising support staff and learned how to make a dance company successful. The Director and I worked together to create and organize an edu-dance program for young students in South Africa, which we were successful in implementing two years in a row.

In 2011, I was invited to Copenhagen, Denmark as a visiting artist to explore the country’s culture and art. As a result, REVISION dance collaborative (a company in which I co-directed its first season) had the opportunity to perform in and be part of the Kids Euro Festival where we performed in locations throughout Washington, DC.

How did you hear about Young Audiences?

I heard about Young Audiences through Laura Schandelmeir, who had partnered with Young Audiences through the Maryland Wolf Trap program as a teaching artist. Laura was one of my professors at UMCP and is a wonderful dance educator, and someone whom I have had the opportunity to be inspired by.

You recently completed the Teaching Artist Institute (TAI) Seminar this spring. What was your favorite part of the program? How has that experience changed your approach to a program or your teaching practices?

Saying that I loved the TAI program is an understatement. Though I have been working with students within and outside of the classroom for years, I felt that this program truly changed the way I think about and approach my lessons, teachers, and students. I really appreciated Karen Bernstein, the dance facilitator on staff. Karen truly guided and provided me with advice so I could grow. I felt that Karen was the true support that I needed. She gave me feedback when I needed it; let me struggle in order to figure out what I needed to do; and was there when I needed encouragement. So often in programs like this, artists just receive a generalization of arts education/arts integration and then have to figure out: “What should I do with my art form and where do I start?” It was helpful to receive a plethora of examples from different artists. I enjoyed that the staff was fun and made the experience fun.

What made you decide to become a YA roster artist?

I initially joined Young Audiences as a Maryland Wolf Trap Teaching Artist serving preschool classrooms. In my first year on the Young Audiences roster, my opportunities have grown tremendously to reach older students and I am appreciative of that. Being part of the Young Audiences organization, I truly feel like I am growing and developing as an artist–where I am right now in my career is exactly where I want to be. Taking this journey has allowed me to focus on my career, taking everything that I have learned and witnessed throughout the early stages in my career, and create something new.

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Have you had any programs through YA yet? If yes, what was the most memorable part? If no, what are you most looking forward to?

I love teaching within the classroom and working with the teacher and the students to explore learning and understanding subject matter through movement. I am really looking forward to assemblies!

Why do you believe art is important for every student to have access to?

Children need to be allowed to think creatively and develop their own opinions. They need to develop their critical thinking skills at an early stage so that they have a clear understanding of why they think the way they do and why they feel a certain way about different situations. They have to develop their own understanding of how to accomplish tasks. The arts provide a creative outlet by allowing them to explore, imagine, and test new ideas. The arts target a different area of their brain, and once students have this experience it opens them to new possibilities. It allows them to take risks in the classroom that they may have been shy to before an arts experience. The arts help to develop self-confidence.

What does your art form in particular teach students?

Self-confidence, patience, respect for self and others, and focus. It also gives them an understanding of their own bodies–they find out new and exciting things that their limbs can explore, plus they learn their own limitations and to appreciate what others can do.

Learn more about Valerie Branch Dance Ensemble’s offerings through Young Audiences.

Keep an eye out for more interviews featuring our newest roster artists! See past new artist interviews here.

Meet our new artists: Noa Baum

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During the last two years, our roster has grown in size to encompass new artists, ensembles, and art forms. From slam poets to improvisers to Capoeira masters, these new artists are undeniably unique.

To introduce audiences to our new artists, we’ll be posting interviews with those who recently joined our roster, giving them a chance to share more about themselves and their experiences with Young Audiences so far.

Israeli-born Noa Baum, who joined the Young Audiences roster in 2013, is an internationally acclaimed storyteller who uses mesmerizing voices, impeccable timing, and warm authenticity to captivate audiences and confront important topics. Read on to learn how she got involved in storytelling and why she believes it’s so essential.

What is your background as an artist?

I was an actress in Israel at the Khan Theatre, a repertory theatre in Jerusalem. I studied acting at Tel Aviv University, studied with Uta Hagan, and received my Master’s from New York University in Educational Theatre. I started as an actress, but I wanted more. There’s actually a story about why I became a storyteller: I didn’t get an acting part I wanted, so to make ends meet, I got a job doing a story hour with kids in Tel Aviv. The way that the children reacted there was very powerful, and I wanted to learn more about the power of drama and story.

How did you hear about Young Audiences?

I moved to the east coast after living in Israel, and I’ve worked in the area ever since. I heard about Young Audiences when I arrived, and I auditioned and was accepted onto the roster.

What made you decide to become a Young Audiences roster artist?

I really like what Young Audiences does for artists. As an artist, it’s hard to market yourself to the schools by yourself. Working in schools is only part of what I do—I do programs for adults as well—so I wanted someone to take care of the marketing for me because it’s a lot of work. Young Audiences is very dedicated. It’s a lot of really good people working and keeping ongoing relationships with the schools and the school districts.

Have you had any programs through Young Audiences yet? What was the most memorable part?

I’ve been really grateful for this year because, as a first year artist, I’ve gotten to work with a lot of schools. The most memorable part has been the flexibility and support of the staff. With Young Audiences, I feel that I have a home and people to support me. As an artist, it feels really good to know that I can focus on my art because I have people taking care of the logistics.

Why do you believe art is important for every student to have access to?

I think art offers a holistic engagement of the brain, the heart, the body, and the whole self. As humans, art is the way we make meaning of who we are, why we’re here, and what this world is made of. Art has never been separate in the development of humanity, but unfortunately, we live in a society where we’ve started separating it. Art has become this extra thing, something that can be cut from the budget because it’s not as important. I don’t think it’s something extra. I don’t even think art is a subject as much as it’s a way of being. The more we integrate the arts into the subjects that we teach, the more we help the students learn and become who they are.

What does your art form in particular teach students?

Our brain processes information through stories. It’s how we remember and how we learn. Storytelling is the best teaching tool that I know—all of the great teachers and leaders of the world have been great storytellers. For me, storytelling teaches a lot of things, the most important being connecting with yourself. It’s an art form that asks you to participate and connect with your creative life force.

I think another amazing and powerful thing that storytelling teaches is listening in a deep, authentic, and fun way. From a very young age, we tell children to be quiet and listen. We expect them to be obedient and listen to instructions, but we don’t offer practice that teaches them how. One of the best ways to teach how to listen is to create an experience where listening is supported, such as a storytelling performance. Storytelling helps cultivate listening because you really have to listen to be able to imagine.

Storytelling works on a cognitive level as well. There’s a lot of research showing that if you want kids to be good writers, they have to be exposed to a lot of oral language. Writing and reading are basically connecting signs to things in your brain. The more words you’ve been exposed to orally and the richer the language you have in your head, the faster you can connect it to words on paper. If you’re looking at words and you don’t know what they mean or have no experience with them, reading and writing will always be a struggle. But if you know what “blossom” means, for example, and if you’ve heard it many times, you can connect the letters to the meaning faster.

Storytelling helps us emotionally connect the mind and heart. You may not remember all the intricacies of a story, but you’ll remember how you felt when you heard it, and sometimes, that can be lifesaving.

Learn more about the Noa’s offerings through Young Audiences here.

Keep an eye out for more interviews featuring our newest roster artists! See past new artist interviews here.

Meet our new artists: Baltimore Improv Group

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During the last two years, our roster has grown in size to encompass new artists, ensembles, and art forms. From slam poets to improvisers to Capoeira masters, these new artists are undeniably unique.

To introduce audiences to our new artists, we’ll be posting interviews with those who recently joined our roster, giving them a chance to share more about themselves and their experiences with Young Audiences so far.

The Baltimore Improv Group is a talented ensemble that came aboard our roster in 2013, and their performances and residencies never fail to evoke laughter and learning. Read on to find out why they became a Young Audiences roster artist, what they learned through our Teaching Artist Institute, and why they believe improv works so well in the classroom.

What is your background as an artist?

​The Baltimore Improv Group is celebrating its 10th year as a theatre company in Baltimore. We started small but have grown close to 60 performers, and we perform 90+ shows a year, including our annual Baltimore Improv Festival. We also teach classes to adults, teens, and children. Our performers have studied and trained all across the country, and we continue to host the best improvisers in Baltimore. ​

How did you hear about Young Audiences?

​Our Education Director, Bridget Cavaiola, worked with Young Audiences for years in her position as the Residential Life Director for the Upper Chesapeake Summer Center for the Arts. The center would bring in Young Audiences artists to perform for its campers. She knew it would be a perfect fit for BIG and made the suggestion that we audition.

What made you decide to become a Young Audiences roster artist?

​Improv is such a natural fit with children. It encourages risk taking, creativity, and collaboration. We have hosted our own kids’ shows and classes but knew this would be a perfect match for us. ​

Have you had any programs through Young Audiences yet? What was the most memorable part?

YES! We had more than 10 assemblies at schools this year and our first residency, too! We are looking forward to more in the coming school year. Some of our favorite memories are watching the students come up on stage and perform in front of their peers and receive that amazing confidence boost that comes from taking a risk within a supportive environment! We certainly have traveled Maryland quite extensively, and we will certainly remember the fun trek to Flintstone Elementary School in Allegany County!

Baltimore Improv Group at YA Summer Camp

You recently completed the Teaching Artist Institute Seminar this spring. What was your favorite part of the program? How has that experience changed your approach to a program or your teaching practices?

The Teaching Artist Institute is an amazing opportunity where artists, educators, and staff truly collaborate to help process, define, and designate the importance of art in the classroom. We loved the guided lessons, hands-on experience, and being around such amazing, talented individuals. We felt that this experience helped to shine a new light on our own experiences as a teaching artist.

What does your art form in particular teach students?

​Improv teaches a lot! Listening skills, taking risks, collaboration, the power of “yes,” learning from failure and mistakes, and much more! ​

Why do you believe it is important for every student to have access to the arts?

​Art is the glue that solidifies education for so many kids. It allows them to access their own creativity and instills a level of respect and ownership over a child’s education.

Learn more about the Baltimore Improv Group’s offerings through Young Audiences here.

Keep an eye out for more interviews featuring our newest roster artists!