Steve and Helen are going to the UAE!!!!

This blog has been archived and now reads 1st post to last post.

Originally published Sept. 4, 2008

This October, two teaching artists from The City University of New York’s Creative Arts Team (CAT) will be traveling to the United Arab Emirates to work with students at the UAE University.  During their time in the UAE, Steve Elm and Helen Wheelock, senior members of CAT’s Early Learning Through the Arts/New York City Wolf Trap program (ELTA), will lead two weeks of trainings and demonstrations to introduce undergraduate students to the use of drama in the early childhood classroom.

“CAT’s residency at UAEU will allow our students to gain a unique academic and artistic experience and help our students learn to use the arts as a catalyst to learning,” said Dr. James Mirrione, an American UAEU faculty member and CAT co-founder who arranged the residency.

First graders collaborate to create words that protect the book of letters

First graders collaborate to create words that protect the Book of Letters from the Wizard who wants to destroy it.

Since its founding in 1974, CAT has pioneered the use of drama as an educational tool in public schools, becoming internationally known for its innovative practices. CAT’s ELTA work involves Head Start and pre-kindergarten through second grade students and their teachers in interactive drama activities designed to explore human, social and curricular issues. Within the context of a story that unfolds over a series of days, CAT’s professional actor/teachers, together with the children, play characters that address and resolve dilemmas raised during the drama sessions.

Steve Elm is a senior actor/teacher and has been with CAT’s Early Learning program since its creation in 1994.

Steve Elm as Snip, the Fixing Elf, in the emergent literacy drama, "The Alphabet Keepers."

Helen Wheelock joined the Creative Arts Team in 1994 as an actor/teacher and was named director of the ELTA program in 2007.

Helen Wheelock and actor/teacher Max Ryan listen to teachers present during a professional development session.

Helen Wheelock and actor/teacher Max Ryan during a professional development session.

In addition to direct services to students, ELTA offers a powerful teacher-training model that supports the professional development of teachers in the use of drama in the classroom. Through modeling, mentoring and implementation, teachers are able to practice and reflect on their work with the ongoing support of the actor/teachers.

As part of the ELTA teacher training mentoring model, an early childhood teacher leads an interactive storytelling with support from a CAT actor/teacher.

As part of the ELTA teacher training mentoring model, an early childhood teacher leads an interactive storytelling with support from a CAT actor/teacher.

The CUNY-CAT partnership, initiated on July 1, 2004, integrates CAT’s programs within the nation’s largest public university system. CAT and the Paul A. Kaplan Center for Educational Drama’s outreach programs are housed within the University Office of Academic Affairs and the School of Professional Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center.

Building on the achievements of the partnership with the the School of Professional Studies and the Creative Arts Team, this fall saw the launch of the M.A. program in Applied Theatre, the first of its kind in the United States. A sequential, ensemble-based program for students interested in the use of theatre to address social and educational issues in a wide range of settings, the program stresses the unity of theory and practice and is linked to the professional applied theatre work of CAT.

Steve Elm is a senior actor/teacher and has been with CAT’s Early Learning Through the Arts program since its creation in 1994. Trained at London’s Rose Bruford College, Steve has appeared as an actor in film, television and on the stage. He has worked as a playwright and director with London’s Common Body Theatre, University of Manchester (England), the American Indian Community House Youth Theatre Project, and was a founding member of Chuka Lokoli Native Theatre Ensemble in New York City. Steve also works as an actor with the Only Make Believe company and does professional development nationwide as a Master Artist for the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts. Steve is the Artistic Director of Amerinda Theatre, which, in partnership with New York’s Public Theater, produces new work by Native American artists.

Steve serves as the editor of American Indian Artists Inc.’s Talking Stick Native Arts Quarterly, which publishes Indigenous arts, news, commentaries, features, fiction, poetry and essays written by Native American writers. Its mission is to promote, give exposure to, and explore ideas in the world of contemporary American Indian arts. Steve was recently published in Amerinda/Nation Book’s anthologies, Genocide of the Mind and Sovereign Bones.

Helen Wheelock joined the Creative Arts Team in 1994 as an actor/teacher with the Elementary Program and moved to the NYC Wolf Trap/Early Learning Through the Arts Program (ELTA) in 1996. Since then she has been intricately involved with the development of ELTA’s issue-based curriculum and their highly successfully teacher-training/mentoring model piloted in New York City Head Starts. As a Senior Actor/Teacher, she was a point-person for ELTA’s collaboration with Wolf Trap in the stART smART program, a three-year project that sought to integrate technology with teacher training.

Helen took over the Program Director position in January of 2007. She has represented CAT across the country both as a conference presenter and key note speaker. Additionally, Helen has collaborated extensively with CAT’s senior Youth Theatre, both as a director and production manager, and taught courses for CAT’s Paul A. Kaplan Center for Educational Theater.

Helen also has developed a robust career as a freelance journalist specializing in women’s basketball. With over one hundred articles to her credit, she currently is a columnist for the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s Coaching Women’s Basketball. A regular contributor to the Women’s Hoops Blog and the Women’s Sports Foundation, she has become a resource for reporters and students across the nation.

Helen earned her B.A. in theater from Middlebury College, and her Masters in Educational Theatre from NYU.

Helen and Steve will be blogging their UAE experience.

What are we bringing? Books.

Originally published Oct. 1, 2008

When Steve and I go to the UAE, we’re charged with bringing ELTA’s unique interactive drama strategies to the University’s students. We will be looking at the use of puppeteering and pantomime not just as art forms, but as educational tools. We will also take the University student’s through our interactive storytelling training-mentoring model.

Our storytelling work starts with children’s storybooks. From the text of those books, the classroom teacher develops a storytelling and then adds specific “points of participation” designed to engage their young students in being co-creators of the story.

We’ve found the following books to be good starting points:

Aaaarrgghh, Spider! by Lydia Monks.

Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock, retold by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Janet Stevens.

Bear Wants More, by Karma Wilson. illustrated by Jane Champman.

Kitten’s First Full Moon, by Kevin Henkes.

No Dinner!, by Jessica Souhami.

Ruby, In Her Own Time, by Jonathan Emmett and Rebecca Harry.

We are reading the following books before we go to the UAE:

Kalila Wa Dimna or The Mirror for Princesby Sulayman Al-Bassam.

19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle Eastby Naomi Shihab Nye.

Tales of Juha: Classic Arab Folk Humor,edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi

Finally, from Tami C. Al-Hazza’sarticle (Booklinks, January 2006), “Arab Children’s Literature: An Update,” came the following books:

The Day of Ahmed’s Secretby Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland, illustrated by Ted Lewin.

Sitti’s Secrets, by Naomi Shihab Nye, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter.

What else are we bringing? Puppets!!!

 Originally posted Oct. 1, 2008

It is always challenging to describe CAT’s work. Though we have a strong theatrical aesthetic, our goal is student engagement and the exploration of issues in a student-centered manner across the age groups. We use the medium of theater as a catalyst for learning. We don’t do a “performance,” per se, though there’s no doubt we are performers.

I often say that an ELTA story is like a good soap opera that unfolds over five days. The difference is that, instead of watching the show, students are characters within the story. They are rabbits or cranes or bears, and the story is happening to and with them. In this way it’s not a play, but more like a structured improvisation that moves one way or another, guided by the input and interest of the students and focused by the leadership of the actor/teachers.

Perhaps now you can understand why, after 14 years, I still tell my mom, “You really just need to see it.”

A little history: Early in ELTA’s existence, a team of our actor/teachers was greeted by a school official with, “Oh, you’re the Puppet People!” They simply smiled and said, “Yes, we work with early childhood years, but no, we don’t do puppet shows.”

Somehow the phrase entered ELTA “lore” and became an in-house joke. So it is with no small irony that, years later, we can now say that yes, we ARE the “Puppet People.”

Puppets entered first entered ELTA’s work on the hands of a character who happened to be a puppeteer. In a story exploring anger management, violence and conflict resolution, the students intervened on the two puppets who fought during their show. The students were asked to find solutions for the puppet’s problems that allowed them to still be friends.

Zebra and Flamingo ponder what they'll say the first time they meet a camel.

Over the years we’ve use a variety of hand puppets in various ways. Some puppets have been simple company-created sock puppets. Others have been delightful flights of fancy and art created by local artist and puppeteer, Spica Wobbe.

Coyote and Bear, from the story about new sibling jealousy, "Coyote's Surprise."

Coyote and Bear from the drama about new sibling jealousy, "Coyote's Surprise"

Luna and Fishy try to contain their excitement about their trip to the UAE.

With the UAEU students we hope to introduce them to some basic puppeteering skills and help them develop some puppet scenarios. We’ll also model our ground-breaking work, “Puppet Intervention,” which is our adaptation of Augusto Boal’s Forum Theater work for use in the early childhood classroom.

"Puppet Intervention" - trying to help Luna and Sol solve their problems

A "Puppet Intervention" with Luna and Sol during the drama "Feria de Sevilla."


Where we’re starting from: New York City

Originally published Oct. 2, 2008

The words “New York” can bring to mind some iconic images:

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

Times Square

Times Square

Wall Street

Wall Street










Like most New Yorkers, we use the New York Subway system to get around

In fact, take a little trip with me from my home in the borough of Queens to the Creative Arts Team’s offices in the borough of Manhattan.


Leaving the apartment early in the morning.


 Walking though the neighborhood to the subway.

The subway – though in this case it would be more accurate to call it the “El” as in the elevated. (And yes, that would be my shadow)











In Midtown Manhattan


Exiting at Herald Square. Check out the view down 6th Avenue. The Empire State Building. Up 6th Avenue.

And then in to our building. Check out the nice lobby ceiling in our building!
and our offices

The first bird you see in NYC is….

Originally published Oct. 3, 2008

It’s now t-minus 24hrs until the plane takes off and Steve and I are talking packing lists. Mine includes a pair of binoculars.

One of my hobbies is birdwatching — that is, going out with binoculars and looking at (and, when possible, identifying) birds. Many are surprised that NYC is one of the best birding areas in the United States. Central Park is what’s called a “fly-through zone,” and in the spring it’s a wonder to behold. You never know when you might spot one of these beauties:

Yellow Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

 You might even see one of Central Park’s most famous inhabitants: the Red Tailed Hawk Pale Male.

Pale Male on the prowl.

Pale Male on the prowl.

Of course, I can all but guarantee that the first bird you’ll see in New York City is the ubiquitous Rock Pigeon.


If I’m lucky, one of the birds I’ll see in the UAE will be the Eastern Pied Wheatear.

Or maybe this spectacular beast: the Greater Flamingo.

The animal we’re hoping to see first…

Originally published Oct. 4, 2008

And we’re OFF!!!

13 or so hours from now, we ought to be landing in Abu Dhabi and driving to Al Ain. I’ll be keeping an eye out for this handsome creature…


Charming -- yes, that's my middle name!

Charming -- yes, that




Are you lookin at me? Are you lookin at ME?!?
Are you lookin’ at me? Are you lookin’ at ME?!?

We have arrived!!!

Originally published Oct. 5, 2008

The Plane: Best. Airplane Food. Ever.

The Road: Just to say, New Jersey jughandles have NOTHIN’ on Al Ain roundabouts….

The Place

The Puppets. A tad jetlagged, me thinks.