"Inside Norman Street" @ Outpost Artist Resources, Queens NY
A Neighborhood-Based Storytelling, Dance Performance & Book Project for and by people living on Norman Street, Queens NY.
Libby Mislan recruited 12 neighbors from her block to participate in an 8-week creative writing workshop. The group was intergenerational, ranging in age from 17 to 74 years old and reflected Ridgewood's eclectic cultural mix representing Nepal, Poland, Puerto Rico, Kyrgyzstan, Jamaica, Spain, other parts of the states, New York City and Ridgewood itself. The neighbors, previously strangers, wrote and shared their stories about relationships, first times, overcoming fears, where they felt most at home and what they hold sacred.
At the end of the 8 weeks, Zoe Rappaport worked with 3 professional street and stage dancers to bring the neighbors' stories to life through movement. With roots in Playback Theatre and expressive arts, Zoe facilitated a transformative artistic process in which the neighbors had their stories not only witnessed, but reflected back to them in another art form, or language. As movement goes beyond words, a deep and powerful connection quickly emerged as the dancers embodied the neighbors' stories, translating spoken word into dance. Together, the neighbors and dancers gave a one- time-only performance at Outpost Artist Resources, an arts organization located on Norman Street. Yo-E Ryou created an anthology of the neighbors' stories from which they read during the performance.
Proceeds from the event went to support one of the neighbors' initiatives to send boxes of clothes to an orphanage in her home country of Kyrgyzstan.
EPILOGUE: POST-NORMAN STREET SUSTAINABILITY + BUILDING A MODEL
The neighbors now host their own workshops. It happened organically. There have been workshops in cooking, Salsa dancing and drama therapy. There was a New Year’s Day potluck with vision board-making and a musical jam session with instruments. The weekly writing session continues, now hosted by Sherel, one of the neighbors, in her home. We held a screening party for the mini-documentary at Libby’s house with the whole cast and crew. Everyone communicates and keeps in contact via a Facebook group. Workshops are hosted at the neighbors’ homes or at Outpost Artist Resources, the performance venue on the block which offers their space for no cost — they are simply happy that people in the neighborhood are utilizing them, as that was their original vision.
Everyone who participated in Inside Norman Street has continued to support one another beyond hosting workshops and events. Neighbors who did not previously know each other have spent Thanksgiving together and star-gazed from their rooftops. Libby, Laurie, and the owner of Outpost helped Anara launch an IndieGoGo campaign to further support her mission to send boxes of clothes to an orphanage in Kyrgyzstan. Dominique, one of the dancers, donated the proceeds from her own performance showcase to Anara’s cause. Sherel moved into Erin's basement when she needed a place to move. Aziz, Sherel and Marta attended Tami's storytelling event. Libby is beginning to work with Sahadev on flushing out the script for his one man show about trying to make it as a theatre artist in NYC without citizenship, money, or connections. Sahadev is attending Playback Theatre sessions with Laurie's improv troupe. Aziz and Marta go salsa dancing together. John may be hired as a camp counselor/lifeguard at Libby's summer program. Marta frequently stops by Tami and Sherel's houses on her way home from picking up her kids. Lots of seeing and greeting each other on the street for conversation reported amongst all participants. The list goes on.
Looking towards the future, we are interested in creating a sustainable model based on our experience with Inside Norman Street that can be adopted in other US cities and countries overseas and has lasting effects long after the project has culminated.
We are more than happy to speak with anyone interested in working with us and being a part of this vision.
TESTIMONIALS FROM PROJECT PARTICIPANTS
"I've lived on Norman Street for more than 15 years and I don't know my neighbors. The day after our first meeting, I ran into two people from the group who I would have otherwise walked right past, never even really seeing them. It was nice to recognize and be recognized. This space has brought together outwardly different people sharing the same human experience. The commonalities are vaster than the differences. More powerful too.” -Marsha Sinanan, Project Participant, 2017
"Libby Mislan – is the girl who came up with the idea to unite the residents of Norman Street and gave us a chance to learn how to discover a little hidden talent inside us, even when you think that it is impossible. This is my second project with Libby Mislan and to tell the truth I was very skeptical at the beginning of the first one. I decided to participate in it only because my uncle was a famous Kyrgyz writer (Alykul Osmonov) and I always strived to be at least a little bit like him and I always liked literature and poetry. Genes, I guess. I even had published a small book of my poems and stories in Russian. Speaking in English is challenging for me at times, writing is even a bigger challenge. Therefore, I wanted to challenge and improve myself. Long story short, it was scary and at times frustrating, but little by little I started to feel myself more open, I am able to write stories, poems, and share it all. It is amazing! Libby Mislan is an inspirational teacher, writer, and artist. Through these projects, she constantly shows and proves that there are more things in this world that unite then divide us. We are all humans with the same red blood, same vices, and same feelings. We need to coexist and learn from each other together. Thanks to Libby Mislan and her friends Zoe Rappoport and Yo-E Ryou, this is something that we do in this project!” -Anara Myrzali, Project Participant, 2015 & 2017
"It's a very inspiring and motivating group! I go there and I have no idea what we would be talking about, but I leave each meeting with much to think about and very inspired. Last night one of the attendees said while commenting on an issue: 'It's very challenging, but not limiting.' That phrase kept echoing in my mind since then. It motivated me! No matter how the challenges we face, it shouldn't limit my abilities to achieve." -Hatem El-Gamasy, Project Participant 2017
"I am a community-based artist and educator and it seemed like a great way to connect creatively with my neighbors. I have been amazed by the warmth and comradery being generated in such a short period of time. I have lived in New York for 20 years and this is the first time I am connecting with my neighbors on this level, beyond exchanging pleasantries in passing, or helping with little tasks. I think it is really important for community building, especially in today's climate. We have engaged in really interesting conversations, reflected on our lives and learned about each other's lives, and all this has informed the writing experience in a really positive way.” -Magin Schantz, Project Participant 2017
Produced by Libby Mislan, Zoe Rappaport and Yo-E Ryou
The Neighbors: John Pena, Anara Myrzaly, Sahadev Poudel, Sherel Brown, Erin Pastrana, Anthony Pena, Marta Danielewicz, Vanessa Vargas, Aziz Jumash, Tami Gatta, Laurie Bennett
The Dancers: Keenen Thomas, Dominique Robinson, Zeehan Wazed
Music by Zaquan
Anthology designed by Yo-E Ryou
Creative Writing Workshops facilitated by Libby Mislan Artistic Direction/Choreography by Zoe Rappaport with dancers
Filmed by Fanny Texier, Lilli Janney and Anastasia Warren
Photography by Harry Spencer
“Inside Norman Street” was made possible by a community arts grant from the Queens Council on the Arts. Performed in the Fall 2015 at Outpost Artist Resources on Norman Street.