Child’s Play NY - acting classes, camps, birthday parties and productions and in-school programming for ages 3-14. http://childsplayny.com/
Child’s Play in Action - video tutorials for parents and teachers to do dramatic play and imaginative games with their kids. http://www.childsplayinaction.com/
Child’s Play in Action on You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpQG-K__3zkRktDS1dijShA
How many years have you been in business in NYC?
I founded Child’s Play NY in 2009. I had 5 kids in a camp. Now I serve hundreds of kids each year throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan. We are in some of the top-tier schools as their theater provider: Avenues, Friends Seminary, Berkeley Carroll, Packer and many others. We do Shakespeare classes for home-schooled kids in Tarrytown, lead improv classes for 5th grade girls from Brearley and host academic residencies for elementary schools in Brooklyn Heights. Every day of the week there are 5 to 10 classes going and I have a stunning staff of 25 teaching-artists working for the company. I’m so proud that Time Out New York Kids and Red Tricycle have recognized us as among the top ten after-school classes in the city. The videos I create based on the work of the classes are on the Mt Sinai Parenting Website and I look forward to many more years serving the amazing kids of NY!
How did you get your start and what was your initial inspiration?
My parents are both actors and instilled in me a love of theater and playing from the womb! I was born in Brooklyn (they will always consider themselves New York actors!) and then when I was 5 we moved to LA. Our home was always an incredible cauldron of creativity and play. Storytelling was happening all around me. I used to accompany my dad to auditions, and while we were in traffic on the 405 he taught me Shakespeare soliloquies. They continue to work in TV and theater and I’m really lucky to have been on the receiving end of all that love-for-career and artistry.
I have a degree from Wesleyan University in English and a Masters in Acting from NYU. I trained as a teacher working with companies that brought Shakespeare and the Classics to underserved kids in LA and NY.
I loved acting but I loved teaching kids more. So I started Child’s Play NY to bring the work I was doing as a solo-teaching artist to students on a larger level. I started training teachers and found that so satisfying. Now my mission is to be a play-ambassador and help bring this work into households by virtue of Child’s Play in Action and the video content I’m creating. I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with amazing PhDs who weigh in on the games. I’ve learned a lot about how this kind of work is essential for our children’s development. I’ve always loved theater as an artist, but now that I am a parent (I have a 4 year old son), I’ve learned that this work is key to developing executive functioning skills (regulating emotions, making plans and solving problems), to mindfulness, to empathy, to grit. I see how valuable this kind of “playing” is more and more every day!
My husband is a hard-working and happily successful actor (Glenn Fleshler). Our creative life together, in New York and raising our boy, informs the way that I am able to helm my companies and feel inspired by the power of acting!
What do you feel differentiates you from others in your field?
I am not trying to make kids into actors, but rather tapping into the joy, play and incredible potential that this training presents to young people. That said, our production classes are extremely rigorous and I expect a lot from the kids. Our Shakespeare productions are edited down versions of the complete text, we have a staff of 5 teachers including a music director, costume designer and stage manager working on all the shows. For the youngest kids we are asking them to challenge themselves and yet, we all trust that their imagination and impulses are the most incredible creative motor - so I have no real agenda other than making that front and center. We are helping them express themselves, develop powerful language skills, collaborate with each other as you can only do when you are part of a company. Our shows (you should come see Romeo and Juliet this coming weekend!) are extraordinary, because the kids are so joyous and passionate about the work! And I like to think that it starts at the top! The teachers are the key to the work. My teacher have MFAs and off-Bway, B’way careers. Their love for kids triumphs over all, and they are so gifted at working with the children and listening to them as well. My staff is my secret weapon.
What do you feel gives you longevity in this big city with so many options?
I am constantly listening to what parents and schools need. I don’t like to stay locked into any one way of doing things. I think that parents and administrators appreciate - and need - this kind of innovation! And the kids always want new challenges so they keep me on my toes.
As our kids grow, so do we. When I started out 10-year-olds were the oldest that I directed, but the kids kept getting older and wanting to stay! So, I now have a Teen Ensemble and will direct Arthur Miller’s The Crucible with them this winter. We are also growing “down” and starting our first playgroup/pre-school in the 2017/18 school year!
The in-home classes for the pre-k set are an incredibly popular and unique offering, we are running 6 in the coming semester. I tailor a class to a particular host and group, and we tap into the children’s own intrinsic sense of play, and design a theme for them. The kids are ripe for play and you combine that with a team of gifted teaching artists, and the parents are totally thrilled.
Our Mini Musical classes in schools are also really key. The teachers who, through improvisational abilities, artistic and musical talents, and general playfulness, riff off a popular musical. A lot of care goes into these classes. I’m constantly holding think-tanks at my office in Dumbo, generating curriculum for new classes and providing opportunities to train and collaborate.
We don’t have a single theater that we call home. That is by design. It gives me the flexibility to be in so many different locations in a given day. In addition to our relationship with schools, I rent beautiful spaces and theaters that our other classes are in. That is so important to me. We don’t work in dinky studios since I feel like that really informs the quality of the work that can be done. I also feel like the variety of things that I can accomplish with the kinds of teachers in my arsenal is key. We can do academic residencies, original musicals on Bullying and Greek Myth scene study as well as awesome customized birthday parties based on whatever the birthday kid loves!
How do you positively impact your clientele?
Moms and dads give me feedback that fills me with pride. They say their kids are speaking eloquently, behaving more confidently, that their classroom teachers have noticed them blossoming, concentrating. Parents tell me that the imaginative games carry over into their own living room and that is so fantastic. I can’t wait to continue this kind of impact for parents who might not be able to take our classes. With Child’s Play in Action, I’m so hopeful I can help parents (including myself!) find playful and positive ways to connect with kids and find a community together.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I love show days - watching the kids triumph on stage. The students who were most tentative come alive in front of the challenge of the audience, and that’s my favorite thing to witness. I also love my film shoots with Child’s Play in Action - recording the Game Day videos, synthesizing decades old-theater games into specific steps that us busy parents can execute at home. It’s an exciting new challenge! . I also love walking around Brooklyn and seeing children that I, myself, have never taught, wearing a Child’s Play NY shirt. It makes me feel really proud of what I built!
What is your favorite secret NYC spot?
I love taking kids to the Midnight Radio Show’s shadow puppets in community gardens in the summer. http://www.midnightradioshow.org/ The mastermind behind it is our own gifted costume/set designer for our shows and a dear old friend of mine, Charlotte Gaspard!
How do you benefit mamas?
Kids come back from our Child’s Play NY classes refreshed - their brains and bodies have had a work-out. With Child’s Play in Action, mamas are learning valuable skills of positive discipline, mindfulness and PLAY that can hopefully add to their inspired parenting toolkit!
What is the most memorable feedback a client has given you?
These are great: http://childsplayny.com/testimonials/page/2/
Pay it forward and name your top colleagues in the same field or related field:
For sure Melissa Friedman who is the Educational Director at Epic Theater Ensemble. She is a huge mentor and taught me a lot about working in a classroom setting, giving me opportunities to run sophisticated high school residencies when I was just starting out. I also adore Amy White Graves who runs Brooklyn Children’s Theater. They do such great original musical theater work there and reach out to kids in shelters - never turning a student away who can’t pay. Since BCT doesn’t run a summer camp or work with kids as young as we do, she is often referring students to me and that kind of generosity in our line of work is so commendable!
What is the best advice anyone's ever given you? Or what is your "mantra" / words to live by?
The classic improv rule: “Yes, and”. I teach it in my classes and I try to work it into my parenting too. It generates a certain kind of positivity that builds on itself. It means that you are listening, accepting and also moving forward with your own contribution.
As moms, the day can escape us, what is your best time-saving trick?
I like to play “Super Speed” with my son. At clean-up time, I wind up his back (as if he had a key in it!) and he winds up mine. Then he goes super fast through clean-up. Sometimes he slows down (comically) and needs another wind-up, but that’s just one way that a game can really help get things done in a playful way that cuts down on the nagging and creates an opportunity for bonding! For more like it go to http://www.childsplayinaction.com/