I can’t even begin to tell you what an incredible honor it has been AWAKENING CREATIVITY in youth (ages 2-15) while BUILDING CONFIDENCE, COURAGE & CHARACTER through theater for nearly a decade! It still astounds me how our company blossomed from 5 students attending a drama class in a small studio space in Falls Church, VA into a full-fledged theater arts education program that has served over 5,000 students in 6 counties within the Washington D.C. area.
As the saying goes, each journey begins with a single step. For us, it all started on Monday, November 10, 2008 when CARE Actor opened its doors for the first-ever “Acting Workshop for Kids,” This class would later be renamed “DRAMATIC KIDS!” However, despite my marketing efforts just a few days prior to the first day of class, we had zero students. There was a part of me that said try again another time. But then a few days prior to calling it quits a co-worker of mine wrote me an email saying her daughter was interested in attending the class. Okay, one student is better than none! But, no wait! With her were 4 other interested kids who wanted to join! And with that our company was born!
Since that day, we’ve partnered with dozens of recreation sites, schools, community groups, and business in the DC area offering our signature classes & camps: LITTLE STARS!, ACT IT OUT!, DRAMATIC KIDS! and THEATRICAL TEENS! We’ve also added DRAMATIC BIRTHDAY PARTIES and FAMILY IMPROV to the list. Through these classes & camps we’ve witnessed countless of creative stories turning into original plays, timid students breaking out of their shells in stellar performances, and most importantly we’ve had a lot of fun & laughs along the way.
We could have never done it alone. That’s why I want to say THANK YOU to all my family friends, students, parents, staff members, community agencies, parks & recreation sites, local businesses, PTA groups and many, many more that made this program a dream come true for what used to be a painfully shy, little girl (me) who hoped that her love of acting & writing could make a positive impact on today’s youth.
Here’s to AWAKENING CREATIVITY for many years to come!
CEO of CARE Actor LLC
Many people don’t realize how beneficial improvisational theater (improv) can be when it comes to parenting. At CARE Actor we understand how valuable and impactful improv can have on building confidence and character. This is why we use improv games in our camps and classes and also have a FAMILY IMPROV workshop. Recently, I sat down with our Director of Operations, Dina Saunders, to discuss re-learning how to play, creativity and how the spirit and techniques of (improv) has shaped her parenting.
Saunders has been an actor most of her life, but started to focus more on improv when she became a new mother and realized she was struggling to trust her instincts on stage. She began doubting herself as a parent and found that improv, especially classes such as CARE Actor Family Improv, became a great vehicle and safe space, for learning to be okay with failure or mistakes.
You have two boys who are 3 and 7. Do you do a lot of creative activities with them?
As a parent, I’ve had to learn how to play again. So creative projects and storytelling have been a big part of my parenting [in an effort to] focus on supporting speech and building communication skills with both of my kids.
[My older son and I tell stories together], where we add to each other’s sentences, or I make up a story on the spot. He then makes up a counter story on the spot but his challenge is to not make his story exactly like my story. We try to make each other laugh the whole time.
Dina leading a CARE Actor Family Improv Workshop
This storytelling you’re doing sounds a lot like an improv game used in our CARE Actor classes and camps, called “One Word at a Time.”
Yes, it is very improv based.
[For instance] my 3 year old son loves dressing up, costumes, role playing. As young as he is, when we do these small scenes together, he has very specific ideas about who he is, who he wants me to be, and what happens, which is a lot of fun.
I always try to unnerve/mess with them – to let them know things are not always going to go exactly like they want it to- that when you do incorporate someone else into the story, it might not end up like you had planned. This doesn’t always go well, but I enjoy doing it so that they can experience that.
It is disruptive, but it’s about being flexible. It helps with problem solving skills, because I might throw something in the mix: blow up their castle, or do something unexpected. They have to figure out what to do, even if they don’t like it, and then keep the story going. Plus it is fun, very fun.
It sounds like you’re [acting] as just another kid, playing an improv game who is enjoying it?
Sure. You can go into an improv scene, think you know exactly what is going on here, or maybe you’ve prepared your [opening] line, and the other person completely derails your plan.
You had this whole plan, and now it’s not going to work?
It’s not. Now it’s about finding your footing, and a way to make it work, and not end the story. Because you had to make your idea work and not let the story die. I think that’s a great lesson in what creative collaboration is about, which is a BIG part of what improv and the theater experience is about.
We can't stop laughing at CARE Actor's Family Improv Workshops!
I love this idea of creative collaboration in improv. As you know, I have a four-year-old son and recently he was playing dress-up at school with friends where he was a fire fighter. The other kids were super heroes and he said, “Mom, they were messing up my scene.” I thought, “he’s growing up to be a theater kid.” I then thought it was a good opportunity to ask why he couldn’t bring them into his story. Almost like an introduction to one improv concept we use in CARE Actor called “Yes, And,” which is the basis for a lot of games and all of improv.
The “Yes, And” concept has made a big difference in my parenting. Starting a statement with “Yes,”(my husband has started doing it too) really makes things much easier.
[For example] if it’s the end of the day and my son really, really wants to watch TV. I will say, “Yes, you absolutely can watch TV, but first, I need you to help clean up this mess.”
If it’s not going to happen until the next day or next week, or not at all it’s still “Yes, you can, tomorrow or next week.” The main point is you’re still starting with “Yes” by saying what you can do?
Yes! It’s not like it’s always magical, nor a cure-all because there can be disappointments in that statement. [However]I always try to reassure my kids that I am saying “yes” so, let’s be flexible, and let’s work with the “yes.”
Do you think this principle of improv, which is so important, is about validating the other person, or about including them?
I think it’s about accepting; That person. Their idea. I think it’s a statement of acceptance. [This is a key principle in improv.]
Any other principles of improv that you think apply to child rearing?
[Improv] has enabled me to be more flexible and, more forgiving of myself. When you practice improv, it’s a safe space to try things out. [Because] not everything is going to work and it might not be the best scene. Maybe you sat on your impulses, or you didn’t share ideas for some reason. You can try things out, and you can fail, but you can get back up on your feet.
Yes! I think the idea that it’s okay to fail, is so important for improv, and also for kids in general.
For kids, and for parents.
For people in general would you agree?
As a mom, I am definitely hard on myself, especially now with the idea that you’re supposed to be 100%, and balance everything perfectly. I’m okay with not having it all.
As soon as I think, “I’ve got this parenting thing down,” something is going to change with one or both of my children, and we are going to have something new to deal with. So I try to be flexible, and to be okay with failure, because I know I can get back up on my feet again.
If a parent wanted to get into improv and had never done it before, what would your advice be?
CARE Actor [has] Family Improv Workshops, locally (we have one soon on June 24th), which is a great way for adults to participate with children. I think anybody coming to the table with a willingness to play is wonderful. Adults can benefit from experiencing improv with children, because the children come to the table with that openness. I think that’s a nice way to experience it for the first time, to have that openness of children in the room.
So what do you think? Have you found ways to integrate creativity into your parenting? Share your stories with us in the comments section of this post or on our CARE Actor Community page on Facebook! Use hashtag #CAREActorKids in your comment or post, and your story may be featured on our social channels. Sign up for our free e-newsletter HERE.
If you’re interested in learning more about our FAMILY IMPROV events, click HERE!
By Kaitlyn McQuin
Teaching is a special kind of career, one that requires patience, adaptability, and a whole lot of coffee. Fellow teachers, can I get an amen?!
As teaching artists, our job, on top of actually teaching, is to inspire our students to be the best version of themselves that they can be through the art form in which we’re trained, such as theater or creative writing.
So what exactly is a teaching artist? Like educators, we’re trained in a specific field of study. For me, it’s theater and film. However, unlike most educators, our qualifications to teach come not only from our education but also from our experience working professionally in our specific field. For example, we may not have a degree in elementary education in order to teach drama to elementary aged students.
Having worked alongside traditional educators in the school system, I’ve noticed that my teaching style is far from traditional. I walk into the first day of class with a plan that allows for ample adaptability according to the needs of those I’m teaching, a teaching style I picked up from acting and directing. When directing a scene in one of our camps, I can use words that I, as an actor, relate to in hopes our students relate to them too. For example:
“When you say your line, say it as if you’ve stubbed your toe.”
Most people, especially energetic children, know exactly what it’s like to run around, hit your toe, and cry out in agony. That phrase “as if” is a a tactic that works for me as an actor. When I apply this technique in my classroom, I see how well it works, yielding the right results.
In my classroom, not only are the students actors, but I am too.
Because we relate to our students on a creative level we can teach them intricacies and practical aspects of the craft. Plus, our real life stories of going on auditions, getting jobs, and shaking out opening night jitters can inspire our students to pursue the arts.
Oftentimes, though we are there to inspire students, it’s the students who do the inspiring and teaching.
In all of the little minds I have encountered over the years, more often than not, they’re the ones who are armed with the lesson plans and knowledge that’s ready to be dropped.
When we take a moment to listen to the kids we teach, we notice that, despite (or perhaps because of their youth), our students have important lessons to share.
As teachers and teaching artists, we’re immersed in what we should be teaching them, and sometimes we overlook lessons that our students can share with us.
As Teacher Appreciation Week draws to a close, we at CARE Actor are recognizing all teachers: for the long hours they’ve worked, the number of clothes now covered in chalk dust, and lunch breaks that aren’t really breaks at all. We are also shining a light on our students, because sometimes they are the best teachers!
Question of the Day!
Do you have any funny or inspiring stories learned from a kid? Perhaps your kiddo has dropped some wisdom at the dinner table, in the car, or on the playground? We’d love to hear it!
Share your stories with us in the comments section of this post or on our CARE Actor Community page on Facebook!
Use hashtag #CAREActorKids in your comment or post, and your story may be featured on our social channels. Sign up for our free e-newsletter HERE.
by Norah Vawter
What is IMPROV?
Improvisational theater is the art of coming up with something out of nothing. No script. No direction. Maybe a prop if you’re lucky. You stay in the moment, and you don’t overthink. Starting with a blank canvas, you add to the scene as you go along – using your body, voice, and imagination to paint the scene. You can be silly, even ridiculous!
At CARE Actor, we’ve found that improv helps kids to open up and helps parents to find fresh ways to interact with their families. It also aids problem solving and team building.
This is why we developed Family Improv Events, where parents and kids can learn and laugh together!
Video credit: CARE Actor Family Improv
What are the benefits of learning the art of improv? Here are seven ways improv helps families be families:
1. “Yes, And...” is the first rule of improv and the basis for many improv exercises. What's the big deal and how does it apply to parenting? It's an alternative to saying a straight yes or a straight no. When you say yes, and ... you validate your child's feelings without giving in to unreasonable requests. This parent gives a great example of how to use improv lingo when faced with a stubborn kid. Want to learn how to play “Yes, Let's”? Check out our recent blog post on friendship.
2. Families who improv together collaborate together, in so many ways. This article from Second City, aimed at teachers, applies to families as well. “Improv teaches participants to step up when another idea is needed (taking the focus) and to cede the floor when another student wants to share (giving the focus).”
Photo credit: CARE Actor Family Improv
3. Comic Mike Birbiglia agrees that improv is key to teamwork, collaboration, and getting stuff done as a group. “The rules of improv, I believe, are so profound because they apply to almost any kind of collaboration. ... Number one: Say yes. Two: It's all about the group. And three: Don't think.”
4. Keep yourselves sane during road trips! Second City has a list of suggested games for the whole family to play when stuck in a car for a long drive. Go beyond counting license plates by getting silly and creative with activities like “One Word at a Time” and “1001 Mermaids Go Into a Juice Bar.”
Photo credit: CARE Actor Family Improv
5. It's a powerful tool for helping all kids get in touch with their emotions, regardless of what makes a particular kid special. Researchers at Indiana University are even working with children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, to help them share emotions and understand others' feelings. According to one researcher, Jim Ansaldo, “What improv really does is create a safe and fun and authentic environment in which to practice, where mistakes really don't matter.” We think lessons like these apply to all of us.
6. Want to help your kids trust themselves? Alan Alda, who co-founded the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University in New York, believes improv is a tool for building trust. He says [improv]'s humor “is not a jokey kind of humor. It’s the pleasure of spontaneity. So that if something occurs to you in that split second, it’s free to come out. You trust it, you trust yourself.”
Photo credit: CARE Actor Family Improv
7. Improv teaches us to stay in the moment. This mom talks about improv teaching her to not overthink, but to be in the present. She says, “[practicing being in the moment when on stage] is highly valuable for anyone who has been dragged down a five-year-old’s rabbit hole of ‘...at my next birthday party, I’m gonna....’ Being in the moment short-circuits your lingering work angst and inspires you to yell, 'Today IS your birthday!' and print out a bunch of cupcake toppers just for the heck of it.”
This month at CARE Actor, we're gearing up for new Family Improv Events, on April 21 and April 22. We'd love to see you there! In these events, we’ll even introduce activities you can do at home. Browse our blog for more at-home improv, such as One Word at a Time, Walking Blind, Mirror, and more.
Photo credit: CARE Actor Family Improv
If you've participated in Family Improv in the past, or seen your kids transformed by improv in classes or camps, sound off in the comments below! Have you found that improv, or other creative pursuits, helps your family's group dynamic? Share tips and tricks on social media, and be sure to use hashtags #careactorkids and #CAREaboutfamilyimprov. Your idea may even be featured!
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by Norah Vawter
Earlier this week, we celebrated National Craft Day, but at CARE Actor, we're still thinking about fun arts and crafts ideas. We think every day is a day to do art, and that National Craft Day was just an awesome reminder of this!
You might wonder what art has to do with theater. We feature a lot of crafts and art projects on this blog and in classes. Our Dramatic Kids and Theatrical Teens write their own original scripts and create costumes, sets, and props.
Photo credit: CARE Actor's Dramatic Kids Summer Campers performing their original play, complete with DIY set and costumes.
We include art and writing intentionally because we love to nourish kids' love of art, and to witness them creating beautiful artwork, whether they're performing a play, improvising silly characters on the spot, writing scripts, or making costumes, sets, and props
Theater is a fluid blending of performing arts, visual arts, and written expression.
In many of our camps and classes, we also integrate fun art projects that relate to our theme of the day. Sometimes we create art about non-typical dragons who just want to be themselves. Sometimes it's brave birds learning to read while they fly, because the world is full of amazing things to see and learn. Sometimes we make clouds out of shaving cream and wonder.
Photo credit: CARE Actor's Act It Out campers showing off their awesome art project of the day.
As teaching artists, we believe, with all our hearts, that theater has the power to transform children's minds and imaginations, because it's more than one art form. It's acting, and writing, and drawing, and molding. It's how we move our bodies, how our gestures and body language can speak for us. It's music and dance. It's the rhythm of imagination.
Theater is . . . creativity.
Theater is . . . connection.
Theater is . . . listening to each other.
Photo credit: CARE Actor kid-made set backdrop demonstrates how the visual arts blend naturally into the performing arts.
Theater is . . . a safe space to express yourself.
Theater is . . . collaboration.
Photo credit: CARE Actor Dramatic Kids performance coming together in perfect imperfection.
Theater is . . . teamwork.
Theater is . . . community.
Photo credit: CARE Actor's community of family and friends enjoys another rousing performance by our talented kiddos.
In honor of the recent National Craft Day, read on for a project you can do with your kids, at home, which incorporates all the arts of theater. And if you haven't signed your kiddo up for summer camp, spring break camp, or spring classes, registration is open across Northern Virginia and Maryland!
A Book (and Skit) of Your Own
This is an opportunity for your child to write a story, illustrate it in his or her own little book, and then act it out. In honor of St. Patrick's Day, you might want to add a leprechaun or tidbit of Irish history to the story.
We like to put a focus on the process rather than the product, so even if your child isn't old enough to read on their own or write yet, turn this project into a family affair and transcribe their words for them! Older kiddos may still need some help, or maybe just encouragement. We're more interested in what our students create than the product being perfect. No need to fret about spelling or handwriting. After all, theater is never complete! I like to tell my students: A little rough around the edges feel will make it feel uniquely you!
Photo credit: CARE Actor
-Lined paper and/or white printer paper
-Hole punch and yarn OR stapler
-Crayons, markers, or colored pencils.
1. Optional -- If you have a kiddo who wants to get the story written "just so," tell him or her to write a draft of the story on paper before making the final book.
2. For a full-sized book, choose two pieces of construction paper for the cover, and lined or blank white printer paper for the inner pages. For a half-sized book, fold one piece of construction paper and the blank/lined paper for pages in half and cut in half.
3. Punch two or three holes along the edge of your pages. Weave yarn through the holes and tie for binding. Alternative: Staple edges together for binding.
4. Write title on cover. Write out story on inner pages. I love to go along on the journey with my kids, and so I'm always having fun listening to and reading their stories. It's so inspiring to see the way a child's imagination works!
5. Illustrate the story. Younger kiddos will have books full of illustrations with a few words. Older kiddos may have more words and fewer illustrations (though some may be more visually inclined and therefore illustrate their books intensively).
6. Act out the story! Now it's time for the whole family to join in the fun of creating a skit from your kiddo's story. Need ideas for DIY costumes and props? Check out our Halloween blog post where we wrote about costume and pretend play ideas for all-year-round. When acting out the skit, remember that if you look or feel silly on stage, you're doing it right!
Looking for more craft ideas? Check out our previous blog posts for projects where your kids experiment with color, make a wacky self-portrait and get into the winter spirit with messy ice-paint, the whole family makes an abstract family-portrait, and more!
Photo credit: CARE Actor's Theatrical Teens deep into creative collaboration.
We would love to hear about your experiences making art at home! If you make a book or try out any of our projects, please let us know how they turn out for you. And definitely share your own ideas! We're always looking to learn new stuff. Sound off in the comments section below. Share your tips and tricks on social media, and use hashtags #careactorkids and #createwithCARE. Your idea might just be featured!
by Norah Vawter
Spring is almost here, and at CARE Actor we're really excited. All these new possibilities in the air! Registration is open for spring classes, as well as spring break and summer camps, so we're definitely looking forward to the new season. As always, we're inspired by what our kiddos are getting up to in class. Our theme of the month is TEAMWORK/COOPERATION, and we see a lot of that happening spontaneously in class.
It’s not difficult to find improv games that highlight teamwork. In fact, I can’t think of a game that doesn’t require teamwork, cooperation, or collaboration. I just read this great article on the value of acting classes for both kids and adults, and was reminded that "the first rule of improvisation is 'yes, and,' meaning that anyone’s contribution to the group discussion is accepted without judgment." In the words of a student quoted in this article: “When you’re performing, it’s not competitive . . . . Improv helps you change on the inside.” If this girl wasn’t doing improv? “I would be a more scared and quiet person. . . . I wouldn’t be the same person.”
Photo credit: CARE Actor
Recently I wrote about an improv game called “Walking Blind,” where one student is blindfolded and led around the room by a partner. The partners can’t talk, communicating by touch alone. I wasn’t counting on my kids being so good at communicating without talking, or so thoughtful to each other. One boy came up with an elaborate system, tapping his partner’s right shoulder to turn right, his left to turn left, pulling back to stop his partner. His partner figured it out almost immediately. They were almost giddy in their excitement to explain how it had worked. A pair of girls looked disappointed, saying they’d done nothing that “cool.” But I’d seen them turning right, left, stopping, just like the boys. After discussing the game some more, they realized they’d communicated just as effectively, though their “system” was more intuitive.
Getting in the Mood to Collaborate
You may already have plans for projects to do as a family as the weather warms up. Spring cleaning, anyone? Maybe a garden you’ll plant together? Maybe you’ve hoping to not drive each other crazy on that eight-hour road trip? We know. We’ve been there. Whatever the project, we wish you well. And, we’ve got some artistic collaborations that might help you find your groove.
This time we’re sharing four variations on one basic idea. Creating art together. Whether you produce a drawing, collage, or story, talk about how it felt to collaborate. Was it hard or frustrating to see someone taking your idea and changing it? Or freeing? Were you surprised how the drawings/collages/stories turned out? Was anyone leading?
What was it like to mesh different artistic or storytelling styles together? Could you have created this by yourself?
Photo credit: CARE Actor
Creative Collaboration: Drawing
Creative Collaborations: Collage
Photo credit: CARE Actor
Creative Collaborations: Improv Game
“One Word at a Time”
– Just your group and their imaginations
Creative Collaborations: Writing Stories
We would love to hear about your experiences with collaboration at home! If you try out any of these projects, please let us know how they turn out for you. And definitely share your own ideas and things that have worked for you. Sound off in the comments section below. Share your tips and tricks with us on social media and use hashtags #careactorkids and #collaboratewithcare! Your idea just might be featured!
by Norah Vawter
This month, our theme in classes and on this blog is FRIENDSHIP.
We have all kinds of kiddos in our classes – different races, nationalities, backgrounds, language skills, and ability levels. Some are differently abled and need extra support in class. All are welcome. We love diverse classes because differences teach us so much. CARE Actor classes are a fantastic place for kids to make friends because of the way improv creates a safe space for kids to let loose. We also strive to make our classes feel warm and welcome places.
There’s a special magic that happens when we play improv games or act out skits, taking on a new character’s identity. Kids who are ordinarily shy, reserved, or serious can fall apart with silliness on stage or during a game. They can’t stop laughing! The improv games we use in classes help kids find common ground and bond through play and laughter. When we work together to create cool stuff with our imaginations, we learn to support each other. This forges a special bond, because we’re having fun together.
CARE Actor Dramatic Kids playing an improv game.
“Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” - Albert Camus
It’s often the small moments that make me see how this is working. For example, my class was playing an intense game of “Zip Zap Zop.” One of the girls goofed, got eliminated from the game, and was confused about what had happened. An older boy, who’s outspoken, started laughing at her. I was afraid he was being unkind. I was about to step in when I heard the girl’s delighted laughter. She knew he wasn’t being mean! He was treating her like one of the gang. And it was okay to make a mistake. This was a little moment, but it’s exactly what CARE Actor strives for – to create a safe space where kids can become more confident and support each other through creative expression.
Read on for two fun activities you can do at home!
Lots of laughter during CARE Actor's Family Improv
This classic theater improv game is a great way to practice supporting each other and going with the flow. No props or materials needed!
A Handful of Compliments
This deceptively simple activity encourages the participants to recognize what they appreciate about one another.
Photo Credit: Pexels Stock Images