At Sawyer we have the privilege of working with hundreds of inspiring educators around the country. Whether they teach virtual classes or in-person activities, the curricula always foster enriching atmospheres for children of all ages to discover their love of learning. We got the opportunity to chat with Jocelyn Greene, the founder and Executive Director of Child's Play NY, a company that is committed to offering a diverse array of theater arts classes for children in Brooklyn. They believe studying the art of acting encourages children to be even more creative, collaborative, and compassionate human beings. Keep reading to learn more about Child's Play NY!
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us! I’d love to hear a bit more about you and why you started your business.
I am the child of actors and have myself worked around the country in different theater programs, as both a performer and educator, eventually getting my MFA in Acting from NYU. My life experiences reinforced how magical “play” is and how the actor’s toolbox is superb for helping kids grow their empathy, community and joy. In 2009, I founded Child’s Play NY to be a different kind of theater program for young people. The aim is to cultivate great humans and support kids' development, using a research-based approach to theater games, sophisticated scripts, and powerful acting techniques!
Can you describe an inspiring moment you’ve had as an educator?
There’s too many to name, so here’s a few!
- When, after months of rigor and dedication, our Shakespeare Players get a standing ovation at their curtain call and then the cast breaks out into a dance party!
- Acting out a “quest” with a camp of 4-year-olds: getting immersed in a mission to restore mythical eggs to Brooklyn, sneak past a sleeping dragon and make a magical stew to turn a sea witch silly!
- Witnessing our musical kids in a pre-show huddle, naming how they feel (brave, excited, tremulous), and thanking each other for the inspiration and motivation.
What’s the most rewarding thing about teaching children?
Just bearing witness to kids’ confidence and effervescence as it grows and grows! I would love a time-lapse film in our production classes that shows their journey from “day one” of rehearsal to the final curtain call. I also love watching friendships evolve. It is very brave to step into the shoes of someone else, and our acting work is high-level stuff. Kids forge extraordinary bonds with people when you tell stories and commit to this kind of work! My first Child’s Play NY students are now in college, and I love hearing how they are still best friends, even on big group texts called “The Play’s the Thing”!
What’s one time a child surprised you and made your day?
I do a lot of work now with NYC schools, in partnerships with classroom teachers, to make social studies curriculum come alive through theater. Recently, a 4th grade class made a Revolutionary War Variety Show with me. A student, who had been reluctant to participate at first, came up with a hilarious character, loaded with facts, and a whole backstory which she acted out. She was so lit up, and told me at the end of the show it was the most fun ever that she’s had in school. I loved that!
On a similar note, what’s the funniest thing a child has done in your class?
One time during a performance of Seussical, a kid lost their tooth on stage. They kept right on singing and performing, while simultaneously handing the tooth to our stage manager (who saved it for the tooth fairy, of course). That was so funny in the moment, but also shows how totally committed our kids are to their process.
Why is after school/extracurricular enrichment and camp so important for children?
The data shows us that kids who participate in arts programming are more likely to do better academically, be more self-regulated and have more successful life outcomes. Who doesn’t want that for their kids? Additionally, there’s more understanding of the benefits of social-emotional learning, and I’m biased, but I think the best way to grow empathy is through theater - the ultimate perspective-taking medium! We also put a lot of emphasis on kinesthetic learning, since the body is an actor’s instrument. So, whether they are working on stage combat, dance choreography, or just playing a really physical game of Freeze Dance (in character!), our work activates their body in a way that doesn’t happen during the school day.
How do you think children can discover their passions when they’re not in school or your programs?
I believe that reading is a fabulous way for kids to discover passions. Let’s say they are excited by magic, nature, mythology, travel…you name it - there’s a book for that! Of course, for the younger set, I'm a huge proponent of dramatic play and letting kids have space and time to just work things out on their own - what we call “child-led” play. In doing so, they'll end up creating worlds of fantasy and imagination that will inform their passions later. Simple props (a wire whisk, a rainbow scarf, a floppy hat) that can transform into other things are the best.