Acting with Intent : Citizen U. and Civic Ensemble at the NY State Fair

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne element of the Extension Reconsidered project here in New York State is focused on re-claiming theater as a tool for extension. There is a history of theater in extension work that has faded from recent memory. We are hoping that our collaboration with Civic Ensemble will reveal the value of theater as a method for presenting issues in a way that fosters dialog and deliberation. One of the major elements of our collaboration will be the creation of a new theater piece exploring the major themes and issues that have surfaced as the result of our Extension Reconsidered activities. This currently unnamed piece will premier at our capstone event on October 8, 2014.

Being creative and collaborative traveling companions, Civic Ensemble members have participated in a number of brainstorming sessions with us during the past few months. During one of theses sessions a vague and tentative plan was developed to ‘do something’ with 4-H at the New York State Fair. The initial ‘something’ was a vision of extreme beauty and perfection, but -like many visions – reality sets in and you move from blue sky aspirations to practical application.

Rubber, meet road.

In this case, what evolved was a one and a half day workshop with 4 youth from the Citizen U. project of Broome county culminating in a performance in the Youth building at the fair. Working with the youth were Godfrey Simmons, artistic director of Civic Ensemble and Ryan Travis, actor and instructor at Syracuse University. The youth – Embroidery, Nosa, Macalah and Desiree – were taken through the process of creating and staging a performance that built on the 4-H theme for the State Fair of “The power of Youth”.  The day and a half of workshop included the full gamut of theater arts including script writing, acting, directing and performing.

IMG_0160Using “The Power of Youth” as a thematic frame, Embroidery, Nosa, Macalah and Desiree worked with Godfrey and Ryan to develop a piece that was rooted in the lived experience of the youth, and also spoken in the voice of the youth. The subject, language and staging of the piece was facilitated by Godfrey and Ryan but was wholly determined by the interests and desires of the youth.  The resulting piece, titled “The Power of You” was premiered on the main stage of the Youth building on Wednesday August 27. (You can view video of performance below or at Youtube)

Agree, disagree or…

During the workshop process the youth engaged in an exercise called ‘agree,disagree,not sure’ (variations of this activity include Spectrogram and Four Corners). This activity uses a statement, or series of statements, and (not surprisingly) three signs labeled “Agree”. “Disagree” and “Not Sure”. The statement is read aloud and then participants move to the location denoted by the sign that best indicates their feeling about the statement. Then a discussion ensues with participants explaining why they feel as they do. This process can lead to some sorting of participants if, during the ensuing discussion, points are made that cause them to re-consider their position.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter the performance on Wednesday the youth/actors engaged with the audience using the “Agree, disagree” activity. And, while the environment was not ideal (noisy, a lot of traffic passing by) a fairly animated discussion took place. The youth moderated, evoked responses and actively listened, while audience members engaged in dialog.

There is, of course, a lot more that happened during the day and a half of work. And there will be some follow up performances of the piece: the first at the Broome county Extension Reconsidered event on September 12 and then again at our capstone events here on campus on October 8. We’ll be sure to document those performances here as well. And if you would like information about attending either of these upcoming events please let us know! (Post a comment here and we’ll get back to you with details.

 The Power of You premier at the NY State Fair


A few images from the workshop



Ways of doing extension work and imaginary futures

As part of the Extension Reconsidered project we are involved in a number of deliberative forums that present 3 ways of undertaking the work of extension as a basis for dialog. While these three views are not necessarily mutually exclusive they do represent different methodologies and, if taken to their logical endpoints, different future outcomes. And I am using the term outcomes in a full and robust sense – not just for our system but for society and culture writ large.

At an early age we are told to put away the crayons and deal with the real world. And so we ‘grow up’, take jobs, create families; but we never really abandon the imaginary, the hoped for. We each carry within ourselves a vision (however obscured) of how we think the world should be.  The three views we are using as a basis for deliberation in this project present arcs of work that move towards a culminating vision of how the world should be, of how things should work. It takes some imagination to move from here (the three views of work) to there (a future endpoint) but…we all undertake this work, the work of extension, because we want to change the world. We want to change the world because we know it is broken and in need of our care and attention. And we want the future to be better, we want the future to be at least one step further down the path to what we imagined life could be.

We also want to be taken seriously in our work and so the crayons –generally – remain safely in the box. And we are busy people, moving from task to task to program to meeting. But I think it’s time to open the box of crayons, sit down with some newsprint and go to town. Let’s unlock the visions and imaginations we had in youth and temper that with what we have learned so far in life. Let’s let our imaginations run rampant across the fields of our hard won experience to reconnect with and re-imagine the futures we used to dream of.

Let’s tell more stories that shine with the light of what we hope for
Let’s paint murals that enliven the villages, towns and cities of our future(s).
Let’s perform the plays, dance the dances, and sing the songs that exist in our secret dreams of a better world.
Let’s reclaim the mundane and transform it, in order to fuel visions and dreams.
Let’s remember why we do the work we do and then speak that remembrance.

Paul Treadwell

Mona Caron - Noe Valley Mural

Mona Caron – Noe Valley Mural

Image from a mural by Mona Caron -
Mona Caron is a San Francisco-based professional artist, focusing on site-specific and community-reflecting murals in public space.

October 8, 2014 – Voices & Values: Extension, engagement and the future

Save the date! During the afternoon of October 8, 2014 plan on coming and participating in the capstone event of the Extension reconsidered project in New York State. We’ll be gathering in Barnes Hall here at Cornell University for an afternoon of stories, theater and discussion as we wrap up the project. Minimal PowerPoint and maximum dialog is our clarion call for this event. Staying true to our theme of “Join the conversation” there will be plenty of opportunities to interact and engage with friends and colleagues who are passionate about the future of Cooperative Extension.

The afternoon will be (loosely) divided into three chapters. During the first we’ll present a snapshot of some of the key moments from the project. Chapter two will consist of a performance by Civic Ensemble (plus a few special guests) woven from voices that have contributed the conversation around Extension Reconsidered here in New York State these past few months. And chapter three is an open invitation to dialog.

We’re anticipating a dynamic, thought provoking afternoon and we’d like you to join us!

October 8, 2014 1:30-4:00 PM

Barnes Hall (Click here for map)

Cornell University

Ithaca, NY 14853

Compost Theater – performing education.

While there is a history of using the arts in extension work, it is often not the first thing people think of when the think of our work. But there are elements of theater in much of the educational outreach we do – even if it is not defined, or thought of, as such. Leading an engaging workshop can be a performance art. If we think back to the educators in our lives who had the most impact it is easy enough to identify the “theater” of teaching at work.

And sometimes the theater is explicit. Compost Theater is one example of a deliberate and constructive use of ‘theater arts’ as an educational tools. Compost Theater was born in the Tompkins County Cooperative Extension Compost Education program. With a 3 member cast, Compost Theater happened in a diversity of locations with audiences drawn from across the life span.



For those of youPopular theater in Nicaragua - educating coop members about a new law looking for more information on theater – particularly a thread called “Popular Theater – and it’s use in educational programming a starting point would be Bates, R. A. (1996). Popular theater: A useful process for adult educators. Adult Education Quarterly46(4), 224-236.

Popular theater is deeply tied to the Latin American Popular Education movement and has roots in the work of Paulo Freire (among others).  To learn more about popular education this article at infed will give you some background and sources for further reading.



Rooted in community

From the beginning,CCE has always been deeply rooted in communities across New York State. The tradition of the county agent (now educator), connected to Cornell but living and working in the local community, has evolved over time to meet new needs and challenges. But it has been, and still is, one of the distinguishing features of extension work in our state. This short video documents a community art installation that just took place here on campus, but speaks to our deeply rooted tradition.