November 15, 2009

Dear CUNY Colleagues:

Every year on Halloween, when most people are thinking about costumes, candy, and overexcited kids, I celebrate a birthday – the birthday of the Creative Arts Team. 

On October 31, 1974, I was part of a small group of graduate students in educational theatre who set out to bring Theatre-in-Education, a then-pioneering British strategy for teaching and learning, to New York City and the United States.  We had three faculty mentors, but when it came down to our first rehearsal, held in an appropriately dank basement studio, we knew we were in uncharted territory.

At that time, the idea of using interactive drama to help young people strengthen their academic and social-emotional skills was a novelty in this country.  Drama was the provenance of the school auditorium, not the classroom.  Furthermore, skeptics said, drama resonates only with certain students.  Why force an athlete or a science scholar into a drama activity when that student clearly will not succeed?

But conventional wisdom was wrong.  From the start, we found that interactive, issue based drama did belong in the classroom – as a way for kids to become passionate learners, for teachers to generate interest and excitement, for parents to communicate effectively with their children.  When the New York Times did a story on an original, interactive show that we performed in 1976, we knew we were off and running.

More than a million inspired young people later, CAT remains at the head of the pack, with innovative and effective programs that consistently generate strong outcomes in young people’s literacy, critical thinking, and social-emotional competencies.  Former students and teaching artists have spread our approach and methodology all over the world.  Our long-ago Halloween dream has become a reality.

However, today we face a larger-than-ever need for our services, and we anticipate that this need will grow further.  That is why we are so grateful to have joined the CUNY family five years ago this past July.  Profoundly dedicated to the young people – and therefore the future -- of New York City, this university lives and breathes its mission.  As soon as we arrived, we knew we were in the right place.

Since then, we have been privileged to gain an irreplaceable friend in Chancellor Matthew Goldstein and a world-class mentor in Dean John Mogulescu…build thriving partnerships, across the University, to support the success of current and future students…and collaborate with Dean Brian Peterson and the entire SPS staff to introduce the first M.A. in Applied Theatre in the United States.

So this Saturday, as you chow down on your (or your kids’) bag of treats, we at CAT will be thinking that we’ve been given the best treat of all – the opportunity to be part of the CUNY community, arguably the best in all of NYC. 

On behalf of everyone at CAT, I extend a heartfelt “thank you!”


Lynda Zimmerman

Executive Director


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