K: Hi, I’m Kyle Khachadurian and you’re listening to another episode of The Accessible Stall podcast. And you might be wondering where Emily is! She is visiting her family so I have to do the intro. Emily and I have something very cool for you guys. We just did an interview with the co-directors of the NYC Kids Project. The NYC Kids Project is an organization advocating empathy acceptance and inclusion through puppet shows. They sat down with us for an interview and told us all about what they do, and we have a really cool surprise for you at the end. So without further ado, here it is.
E: We’re talking about puppets.
K: Puppets are cool
E: Puppets are really cool. Look, you’re talking to someone who was on Sesame Street, so…
K: Oh that’s right, you like puppets
E: I’m a big fan of puppets. Anyway, you might also notice that we sound a little bit different. That is because it is a special occasion. We are here in person!!
K: That’s only ever happened once before!
E: Yeah we rarely ever do things in person when recording the Podcast but this is a pretty big deal for us because we are with two really cool people.
K: Who are we with?
E: We are with the Co-Directors and teaching artists, from the New York City Kids Project! They’re right here with us!
Both guests: Hello! Hi!
E: So we would love if you could both tell us who you are. Your names, anything you want people to know? I don’t know, a fun fact maybe! It’s totally up to you!
C: Oooh. Well my name is Cecelia Lastname. I’m really excited to be here, I’m Co-Director of the NYC Kids Project. And I would say I have been with my puppet friends for years and years and years, maybe 25 years. So I’m also a big fan of puppets. And a fun fact is that I am half Armenian and half Peruvian
E: We love Armenians
K: Yes. Armenians are the best people
C: Yes. Unite. Unite to the I-A-N!
M: One of my mother’s best friends growing up was Arnenian. Oh! Yes. I’m Mindy Lastname and I am the other co-director and teaching artist with the NYC Kids Project. I’ve also been with puppets and Cecelia for a very long time, years and years and years. And this isn’t a cool fact about me but this is just a fact that Kyle and Emily are really, really cool.
E: We think you guys are cool
K: This is just a love fest
E: It’s just a cool circle. We’re literally sitting in a little circle right now you guys. I feel like you should all be jealous of us right now.
K: It’s so badass right now
E: It’s so great
C: It’s like a Podcast Party
E: It is a Podcast Party. We have snacks and everything
M: The snacks are being quiet
K: They’re being very well behaved.
E: They are being quiet. The snacks are delicious
C: They’re still a little bubble happening with the seltzer, you just have to listen close.
E: We do have Bubbly but ot the champagne kind. Although this is a special occasion. So maybe champagne afterwards. Okay, so the reason why we wanted to have Mindy and Cecelia on the Podcast is because we got to see them in action with their super awesome puppets and we realized what’s better than educating kids about Disability in a way that’s totally fun and relatable to them? Puppets are totally fun and relatable. So this kind of sparked from a couple emails back and forth to going to their first benefit to sitting down to dinner with them right? We had dinner together. And now here we are podcasting. So it’s been a fun little journey
K: We’ve come a long way
C: I don’t even know if the puppets know what a podcast is yet to tell you the truth
E: We have to teach them! Oh my gosh, that would be so fun if we had a bit of a podcast lesson.
C: I think one or two of them would be ultra curious!
C: I get the impression
E: I mean, it’s a good learning experience right?
E: So..Okay, let’s go back to the beginning a little bit and get some background on NYC Kids Project.
K: Yeah tell us how the New York City Kids Project got started.
M: Well the NYC Kids Project was started as Kids Project many, many years ago and the State of New York started this program using puppets in schools because of the lack of awareness of people with disabilities. The state agency paid for the program, ran the program for many years. There were people doing it all over the state of New York. And then as happened with many programs, funding got cut completely in 2012.
E: I’m not surprised.
M: Yeah it’s not a surprise. And then in 2014 Cecelia and I being who we were felt like we couldn’t let it go.
C: We literally felt like if we closed the door then a lot of puppet voices inside of that little closet
M: In the closet, right!
C: Like, “Let me out! Let me out! I still got stories to tell don’t shit me down!
E: So you had been previously involved, this was well before the funding was cut?
M: Oh yeah, we were working together for about ten years as puppet partners
E and K: Wow…
C: And educators. And then prior to that we had other partners. And then prior to that we have been in this field of awareness and sensitivity training with the puppets for a long time. And I think Kids Project initially was started to reach audiences of kids who didn’t have disabilities and say, “What do you wanna know?”
M: “We’re just like you”
C: Mhmm. And initially it was people’s responses to group homes being set up in their neighborhoods and there was this sort of mentality like, “Not in my neighborhood, this is not gonna happen here!” And Kids Project was started so that the state could say, we’ve got a lot of friends and people that we are working with that are gonna be right next to you in your community, working with you, working side by side, living next to you and our puppet friends are gonna sort of help you understand each other a little bit better. And then the funding, once that disappeared, we said “Alright, let’s go non-profit.”
M: Cause we think it’s important to keep going
C: And so we’ve been a non-profit for about four years and the puppet characters have grown and changed a little bit but not much, They still have the same stories to tell, but we’re a little bit more contemporary. Like if ten years ago they were doing X, Y and Z now they’re doing A, B and C. It used to be inline skating, maybe that’s a little passe
K: Ya gotta keep up with the times.
E: So once you tell em what a podcast is, they’ll be totally up to date
M: They might already know
C: That’s true, well there are a lot of books on tape. Do they say books on tape anymore? No.
C: See, I’m way older than the puppets, let’s just put it that way
K: I woulda said books on tape.
E: Yeah no, books on tape are totally what I listen to
M: Even though it’s not really a tape
E: That’s true, it’s not even a cassette tape anymore. Book on CD now
K: What’s a CD?
E: Never heard of that either (laughs) So, now that we know a little bit about the background how you got here, what’s the Mission? What are you trying to do?
C: Kids Project really wants to really teach empathy and inclusion, period.
M: We have a couple of ways that we try to do that. We use puppets and theater in the schools, we use sign language, we use storytelling, we have programs for all different ages. Our mission is also to…the word empower might be a little dorky sounding but it’s also to empower kids of all abilities and to show kids that everybody wants the same things, whatever age they are, whatever ability they are or have.
E: I don’t think empowered is dorky
M: No it’s not
K: No it’s definitely not
C: And there’s also the word advocacy and self advocacy involved in our work, although we may not say it in every show, it’s present in the way that the characters, our friends, talk about their lives and also let their friends help them figure things out, because that’s what friends do, they take care of each other. We take care of ourselves and we take care of each other. And that’s a universal message.
K: I really remember being present in the show that we saw, even if you didn’t say it in words.
K: So you know, sometimes you don’t need to explicitly say something for it to be known that you do it.
C: Yeah, good.
M: We also really are passionate about inclusion of all kinds. All kinds of people, all kinds of abilities, all kinds of differences
C: And we found that has really, really sort of exploded for us in terms of being at the heart of what’s happening at the NYC Kids Project in the last couple of years. You know, cutting to the chase a lot has changed in our world and our New York City kids and all kids are feeling it. So when we bring the characters, when we bring our friends to schools to talk about how are we the same? How can we support each other? What lifts us up? It comes up. Where are you from, what do you look like, what do you sound like? How do you do things? Where was your family born? How do you identify? All those things are really at the heart of NYC Kids Project.
E: Yeah, and I mean, speaking as somebody who, and (To Kyle) I know this is different than your experience
K: No, go ahead
E: I was the disabled kid in the mainstream school. You know, I was surrounded by people who were “not like me” and I did the best that I could as Little Emily to try to diffuse whatever questions or tensions there might be. I mean, even today literally coming here I was on the train platform and she saw me, and she pointed at me and asked her mom, “Where is she going?” and her mom goes, “She’s going on the train like everybody else.” And then she goes, “Why?”
E: And her mom goes, “Because she’s going into the city!” And I was thinking to myself, if we could all just have these open and honest conversations and acknowledge our differences. I feel like that’s really beneficial, and so I would’ve loved to see something like this come to my school but instead I was sort of juggling being “a different kid” (to Kyle) whereas you were surrounded by…
K: I was surrounded by Disability but I was different in the other way. I was one of the only kids that could walk and so a lot of the services that my school offered I didn’t end up needing in retrospect, but at the time it was nice.
E: Yeah so I know that you told us a little bit about how you started the nonprofit but I’m curious how you get involved in the outset. What even drew to you to this in the first place all those years ago?
C: How did we end up with felt on our hands?
K: You could put it that way
M: I think we kind of started the same way. Both of us were actors and pursuing acting careers. And I met people who did the job. There were teams of two people in every borough and for me I met someone who did the job and it sounded really cool and I thought, “This is a good job! This is a good job, I’ll have fun, I’ll do something important.” And it morphed into something that was more than just a job. But at first I thought, “Oh this is a great day job for an actor!”
C: But also…Sorry I cut you off
E: We do that to each other all the time
C: Perfect.But in addition to that it feels like a lot of people who are artists, they come into their curiosity about art… What it does it mean to me, what do I want to create a character, why do I want to create a painting? For us, the idea of putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes…
M: As an actor that is what we do!
C: Yeah that’s the vision that every artist…”Are you moved by a story that’s told by someone else, or what you were bringing to the table? And I think there are plenty of artists out there like Anna Devere Smith, a lot of activists and artists who say, “All you need you to know is one story. One story is just as crucial and amazing as every other story, and so for me I felt like these characters were helping to tell stories. Were helping to bring kids closer to each other through the characters, through the stories that we share. And it happened to be that they’re puppets!
M: Something really interesting that you just said is an actor putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. So as someone performing it’s been great wonderful and fun, but also as a person running this organization, that’s what we want everybody to do.
M: That’s the root of empathy. It’s like two different things. And I also might say that growing up, I had a lot of people with differences in my family and in my world. So when I came to this it just felt like a natural thing to be doing.
C: I have a little bit opposite story. I grew up not knowing anyone with a disability. And I identified in my little Southern California life as being just like everybody else. And it wasn’t until I moved to New York and realized I was short and brown and round and everybody was looking at me saying, “Oh you’re from Southern California?” Expecting that I was Barbie. And on some level I thought I was. And then I thought, “Oh! You have to attach yourself on some level to your label and your identity. What is that? That was kind of important to me to say, “How do I want to present myself? Who am I? How does the world see me? And does that really matter?” I remember growing up in school growing up in school looking at People with Disabilities and thinking…there was an area in my high school and thinking “Oh, I think that I could probably help somebody with a disability.” And it kind of kills me when I look back at that memory and go, “Whoa what was I thinking that somebody needed that help?” But I don’t think that was the case. It was just my mind looking at life through a twelve or thirteen year old bubble of, “The world works this way. Does it work that way, I don’t know!” It’s just, I had no connection to it so I’m actually really happy that through this work with Kids Project and advocacy that I’ve had a chance to turn 360 inside.
E: I think that raises an interesting point that leads to our next question because I’m sure you have heard the hubbub at point or another about Disability Representation and whether it should be a person with a disability doing the representing or can an actor portray someone with a disability is a constant conversation.
M: Oh yeah
E: And we’ve explored that before on our podcast for sure and I don’t think we’ve come to a definitive answer because it’s complex and nuanced in a lot of ways. But we are curious to know…
K: Yeah. So how are you with disabilities? Do they help shape the work that you do are you involved with a few actual people with disabilities or…
E: Not to at all discredit the work that you’re doing but more to find out
K: Oh not in the least!
E: Who’s behind the scenes?
C: Well if you didn’t ask these questions, you wouldn’t be good at what you do! And if we weren’t ready to sit here and talk about it, we wouldn’t be good at what we do.
E: We’re the hard hitting journalist over here.
C: These are fair questions and we’ve been asked them before!
M: When the program started, it was very like, “I’m throwing a box in the air” But it was very much in a box. And there were these puppets and this model of going to a school and they hired people who were able-bodied because they could carry the puppets and they could carry the wheelchair and they could go all over the city. There was a lot of controversy about that, but I’m just saying that as a fact. That’s just the way it was. We inherited that model, we inherited those puppets and we’re trying really, and we are doing our best to incorporate more people with Disabilities into our organization. We are working with some actors that have disabilities, some writers…We’re looking at the model and seeing how we can expand it. Cause it isn’t my story or my story as it’s a kid. It’s not my story. It’s my relation to a story of a human, which everybody can get but it’s something we’re really investigating as we grow as an organization.
C: I feel we have some mentors and some champions who are consistently whispering in our ear, if not shouting, “Who’s on your board? Who’s writing your script? Who’s helping you formulate these stories if you have, ‘Story X’ about this character who’s blind? What happens if they try something? Where are you getting your information from?
M: And we do have friends who have disabilities and we do get a lot of stories from them.
C: And we do our research the same way that I think anyone would research something they’re passionate about. We talk to people, we ask people, we put ourselves as close to the situation as we can. Our stories are really for kids to understand kids. And we haven’t had to go so far into a medical model or a psychological model where we’re sort of at the Phd level having to pull it all apart.
C: And we do often say to the kids in our audiences like, “There are a million ways to approach this!” Like, there’s not just one question, and not just one answer. “When you meet this kid, what do you want to know?” It could also depend on what kind of day you’re having.
K: Oh yeah!
C: It could be a real crappy day. And sometimes kids ask us, “Well how does he feel about using a wheelchair?” And we say, “On a snow day, it sucks! You know, it’s not easy to get around.” This is the stuff they wanna know, “Is everyone the same?” And it’s like, “No.”
M: But we are committed to incorporating people with as many people different abilities as we can, both in front of the scenes and behind the scenes. We are still small, so some of it is an economic issue, honestly. We don’t make a lot of money from this, so some of it is financial. We can’t afford to hire a lot of new people but we are definitely determined to do that once we get a little bigger.
K: I mean, it sounds like you guys are doing a good job so far I mean you’re sitting here with us, obviously!
E: Yeah, “Movin’ on up!”
M: We said you were cool at the beginning. I meant that, I really meant that.
E: You know, here’s the thing. “We know how our audience functions at this point. And we know that if we didn’t address that question, someone was gonna come to us and be like, “But they do they have disabilities themselves? How do they feel about representation?” And the reality is, I never know how I feel because it changes every single moment depending on the situation.
K: And the type of media too
E: Right? It does!
M: We have puppets! We’re not actors, I mean we are actors but we’re using the puppets.
E: And it’s also the fact that you are working towards Disability inclusion in any possible way that you can, both behind the scenes and in your front facing work.
C: Can I add one other thing?
M: As we’re growing we’re also, because we’re two able bodied people, we’re looking at inclusion of all kinds. We are still definitely committed to the idea of Disability Awareness, but we’re also exploring other differences, other ways of inclusion that don’t only focus on Disability.
E: Well hey, intersectionality!
K: I mean, we’re all about that!
E: Buzzword for a reason
C: I was gonna say that another area that relieves me of my personal agita at night is that when we bring Kids Project to the school we never say that this is my story. It’s not Cecelia and Mindy’s story, we’re saying, “We’re here to help tell the story and bring some friends out, let them tell you what’s going on for them.” And that particular day for a character that might be using a wheelchair, you know we have friends, and has a bad day when something goes wrong, or you know, gets stuck in the elevator or the Subway doesn’t work. But the characters are the ones who are front and center. Their advocating and their stories are what’s important to us.
E: So actually, I’m going to throw a question at you that just came to my mind. It’s not a curveball at all. Sometimes I think about if someone talks about Disability in front of me when I was little I used to wanna go hide in a corner because I was like, “Now everybody knows that I’m in a wheelchair!” Like, they knew that before. So now, my question to you is: Have you ever actually done your presentation in a classroom where someone is visibily disabled or identifies as Disabled? How has that gone?
M: Oh yeah!
M: Yeah, a lot of times. And our favorite type of audience is a mixed audience.
C: Well it’s inclusive that way, that’s what we’re supposed to be!
M: We’ve done things in big groups, we’ve done things …One of the most heart-wrenching things we’ve done is we bought the puppets to very small classrooms in District 75 which is the City-wde district for kids with disabilities. Some of the kids are profoundly diasbled, some of the kids can’t speak. And one of the things I remember a number of years ago was one kid in a wheelchair saw a puppet in a wheelchair and smiled. I’m gonna start to cry! And afterwards the teacher said to us, “That’s the most we’ve ever seen him do!” This was like, in November. And to me, that says everything. I can educate kids, I can help kids learn about other people but I also really touch that kid! We touch that kid!
C: I think…There’s a really cool word that’s gonna slip my mind right now but that idea that you see yourself reflected.
C: And it’s about damn time! Like where’s the superheros?
K: Well that’s why representation is important.
M: We’ve also heard stories where it’s in a big school with a mixed group and some of the kids who’ve never spoken about their disabilities to their classmates will start talking afterwards about them. And that’s really important to us.
C: I think that’s the positive part of it for me is the, “Me too! Me too, me too! I know someone,” or “My sister!” or, “Me!” or “Sometimes I struggle with this,” or “My dad did this!” And everyone’s like, “We’re here together!” So I don’t know, I guess…
M: It’s good
E: Well that question really came to my mind because when I was younger I think the biggest compliment you probably could have paid me was that you forgot all about my wheelchair. And now, I don’t want you to forget about it, I just want you to see it as another part of who I am! And it took me a really long time to come to that. And I think that having the representation would have helped. I sound like a broken record, I say this all the time, but seeing yourself reflected back at you is the best possible thing.
K: Especially at such a young age, when you’re impressionable like that. Seeing yourself will help shape…it’s invaluable!
C: And when I think it’s also not an adult saying, “This is my friend and what she experiences is this!” It’s actually the puppet character saying, “ Yeah, of course I use a wheelchair and I also play baseball, and I also got mad at my brother this morning, and I also ate some marshmallows for breakfast. What about you?”
C: So it becomes like five things in a row that are vital and interesting, and that model is what really works for us. It’s part of our everyday life, it’s just part of who we are.
E: That’s a great segue into our next question
K: It’s actually pretty perfect!
M: We planned it!
K: So how do the two of you come up with stories for the shows that you put out?
K: Is that the Million Dollar Question?
M: We are telling stories of people we meet, we are using playwrights to write stories, we are coming up with things ourselves. We’re doing it many different ways.
C: We try to keep notes during the year. Moments that we’ve said, “Wow, this would be a good one to bring out. If not in the script, then in the question and answer period!” Because one thing that we haven’t mentioned yet is that it’s not a full puppet show where it’s not a full puppet show of beginning, middle and end with the theatrical the car drives in the middle and there’s glitter and confetti.
C: It’s not. It’s two educators who come out there, we introduce ourselves to the kids, then say “You’re gonna meet some friends, they’re gonna do their thing” And then there’s usually a scene, a dramatic, a play that happens, and that’s the event.
M: With the puppets!
C: Right. The puppets have something like a talent show or a competition, or they’re mad at their brother
M: We use stories from kids’ lives! We use stories that we hear of and stories that kids will relate to. And then after that story/scene/play whatever, the kids get to talk directly to the puppets. Which is the most fun part for them.
C: And the questions and answers are where everything comes alive for us…Or more alive. It’s improvisational. They can ask us anything, and we can answer anything.
M: And they do!
K: I remember in the show that we saw, I really remember being engrossed by the puppets! Like you were there obviously, but I wasn’t talking to you guys. You know what I mean? I was really like focusing on the puppets, truly! Like I was really was not expecting that!
E: No, I was super into it! And I’m glad you mentioned how it needs to be a little bit improvisational because of course it does! You don’t know what the kids are gonna ask. So, I’m very curious if you’ve ever got a question from a kid that just threw you so far for a loop that you were like, “I don’t even know what to do with this!” If you have an example of that for how you handled it. Whether it’s a question that you feel is kind of insulting or inappropriate because a kid just doesn’t know any better, or maybe there was another situation that you encountered?
M: Well this is more of a funny one?
E: We like funny!
K: Yeah, funny is good!
M: I occasionally will bring the puppets outside the city, go to small towns in the country if I’m visiting somebody to do a program there. And once I was doing a small group in a library… small town… And I was doing Ronaldo who is our puppet who is blind, and Ronaldo was in front of a bunch of maybe eight or ten ten-year-olds, and Ronaldo says, “Where’s the pool? ‘Cause my mom and dad are taking me there afterwards!” And of course, it’s Ronaldo, it’s a felt puppet. And the kids all go, “Oh it’s right around the corner! We’ll see you there later!” And I am behind the puppet trying not to laugh hysterically.
K: That’s precious.
M: That was really great. But we’ve also gotten much more…
C: Well we get the questions of like, “Does Ronaldo have a crush on Melody?” If there’s a boy/girl thing there’s often some sort of a like because they’re the same size.
E: Still a legitimate question!
C: And then we have had…
K: Well, does Ronaldo have a crush on Melody?
M: We’re not telling you!
C: Well, wait, you know what? After all the time they hang out in that bag together, I think something could happen, but we don’t say that to the kids!
M: Only the adults.
C: I think there was somebody who was curious about Mark and his ability to have kids. And that happened with like a 5th grade…I can’t remember if he said it in like a funny way
K: Like in a 5th grade way?
C: Well then that’s when you have to say, “Okay, around fifth and sixth grade, they’re curious!”
K: That’s when you sort of start learning.
C: A little bit of dating, a little bit of crush, a little bit of s-e-x- it’s all coming out there but we didn’t know how far we could go into in our teachable moments. So we pretty much answered with you know, “People find a way to work it out, and Mark is just like every other human being who wants the same things everyone else wants.
E: It’s good to recognize that the taboo questions are gonna come up in whatever form in whatever form a little kid is going to ask them, and be real about it. Because if you kind of cut those taboos off at the neck instead of perpetuating them, it just instills in them a sort of normalcy going forward I think
M: We’re nodding. Because that’s really important ot us also. Sometimes kids…Like Mark speaks a little differently, we have a puppet who has Down Syndrome, she behaves a little differently and sometimes will start laughing. And we don’t want to encourage them to laugh, but on the other hand, some of the teachers will go, “SHH! That’s not nice!” And that’s the last thing we want to happen because if you repress it, it becomes internal
E: This reminds me so much of all the parents who when they see me coming…
K: They would like scoop the kid out of the way?
E: Oh my Goshhhh
M: Or they say, “Don’t stare!” And you don’t want to stare at somebody, on the other hand, if you don’t actually get to engage with somebody you’ll never learn about them!
E: Yeah, or like the kid will come up and ask me questions and the parents will whisk them away like I’m a scary monster? And like no, I’d rather engage the kid so that they don’t think the next person in a wheelchair is scary!
K: Plus laughing is like a totally normal kid reaction!
M: Yeah, right!
E: To everything!
K: I’m not saying it’s appropriate to do, but if there’s ever a time in your ife where it’s the least inappropriate, it’s when you’re a child.
E: That’s when you learn!
K: Yeah, that’s exactly how you learn
C: I also think that for kids in the audience, once they sense that someone can’t ask anything that’s gonna throw us? Then it’s like, “We’re all in this together” It’s like a very normalizing, it’s a very important moment.
K: That’s a good point
C: Throw anything out at us, we are not going to reject you. You’re our audience, these are our kids, let’s connect!
M: And you won’t embarrass us, and we won’t embarrass you.
C: I mean, I think that’s a positive, especially on New York City kids. I mean c’mon you know they’re little wisecrackers!
E: New York City kids are I think different than other kids!
C: They are! And that’s okay, and that’s kind of wonderful, so let’s work with it, you know!
E & K: Absolutely!
C: We do try to have “Kids Project” sort of bounce off any energy we enter. So perhaps it’s a private school or it’s a parochial school or it’s a church…
M: And we’ve gone outside of the city to do programs too.
K: Can you tell us a secret?
M: A secret about…?
K: The Puppets!
E: Oh my God!
K: Do you have a favorite?
E: We’re not gonna tell them, but like, we really wanna know.
K: Just keep in mind, they are listening!
M: Sitting about fifteen feet away from us
E: (To puppets) Cover your ears, children!
C: I have to say that because my own kid has ADHD, and I have struggled as a mom trying to understand his point of view that it’s been really exciting to get to create a character that has ADHD. And sometimes I feel like I hit it out of the ballpark and then other times I go, “Oh, you know what? I’m still learning so much.” Which is goo because that’s my relationship with my kid! (chuckles).
K: You’re a good mom!
M: I..I don’t know if I have a favorite
E: That’s okay!
M: Although secretly…I think Mark might be my favorite!
C: I think you have a little crush on Mark
M: I think I have a crush on Mark!
E: It’s okay
K: We won’t tell anyone!
M: Don’t tell him!
K: We’ll just put this on the internet
M: He has his hands over his ears right now
C: Yeah he does
E: Good! And you mentioned something Cecelia, about learning from this experience which is a great segue into our next question which is, “What have you learned from this?” I mean, I feel like you’ve already shared so much insight but if there is a major thing you’ve both taken away from so many years of doing this, then what is it?
C: Well for me it would be that when my parents were raising me a million years ago an I guess asking me to make sort of loyal choices about what I’m made up of, I thought maybe they were having me miss out by not having let’s say a traditional spiritual practice or a religious practice. They were like, “We don’t do that, just follow The Golden Rule. Treat People the way you want to be treated.” And I thought long and hard about that as time has gone on, and it’s been something that’s helped me as a working actor, and it’s certainly been something that’s informed my work as a Kids Project Educator, and artist and advocate. This is the only mission I would like to continue doing with my everyday life until I… kick it..Is treat other people [the way I want to be treated.] I want that message to come through, and I keep learning it everyday by doing it.
M: I think I’ve learned as I’ve gotten a little bit older, not necessarily wiser, this is something from Kids Project and also just in life that I’m trying to practice…Everybody’s trying their best…Even if it seems like they’re not. You never know what’s going on in someone else’s life, in someone else’s world. You never know how someone sees what’s happening, and everyone is trying their best. And to try to be as non-judgemental as I can be. It’s not always easy, but it’s important.
K: I also think it’s important to recognize that it’s not always easy.
K: That takes a lot to admit.
M: I think one thing that’s interesting that I’ve learned more and more is that I’ve seen some of my own prejudgements pop up.
M: And that’s really a good thing because I can see where I might automatically react to someone or something or some situation and then I can choose, if it’s not something so helpful, to not do it. And I think the reason that we get to so many problems in the world today is that people aren’t aware of their own prejudices or judgments or anything like that, in so many ways.
E: Hundred percent
K: So Emily asked you what you guys take away from your work, I’m gonna ask you both: What do you hope the kids watching your shows take away from them? In a perfect world.
M: Hmm. That everyone’s the same.
C: And..and! That everyone is different.
E: Oh, my heart!
K: I know, right?
E: Did you feel that? I felt that.
K: Did you have that one prepared? ‘Cause that was good!
C: No! I mean I think that’s the nugget there. There’s so much of the world that’s like, “This, but that.” Uh-uh. It’s “And.” Everyone’s the same, and everyone’s different.
E: So quotable!
E: So quotable! So we usually ask Final Takeaways on our podcast but I’m gonna leave that as your Final Takeaways because I feel like I could not have said that any better myself. And Kyle, I don’t know if we dare give our own final takeaways.
K: No, not this time!
M: Oh, you could!
C: They can’t one up us on that one!
E: We cannot one up you on that one!
M: Ding! Ding! Ding!
K: But I will ask you a question. How can people support NYC KIds Project?
M: They can go to our website!
K: Go ahead
They will find out about our programs, they will find out about our board, they can read about our puppet characters. They can also donate and/or contact us to volunteer.
C: And if you’re one of those amazingly cool social media peeps you can go on Facebook. We have a Facebook Page: NYC Kids Project
M: Like us!
C: We have an Instagram it is also NYC Kids Project. And spread the word! Tell your friends, tell your family. If you know anyone that goes to school or that teaches in the schools, let them know that we’re out there to spread the mission of inclusion and empathy!
K: Emily and I wanna thank the Co-Directors of the NYC Kids Project Cecelia and Mindy for giving us the interview, and of course for giving us their time. And now, without ado the piece de resistance…A little puppet show, in podcast form!
NYC Kids Project Puppet Show!
K: So…We notice that you have some friends here!
(Mark and Ronaldo enter)
R: Oh sorry…Yeah uh, Mark are they talking about us?
M: Oh Ronaldo! My name is Mark, Emily…Kyle
K: Nice to meet you
M: That’s my friend, Ronaldo!
R: Hi, I’m Ronaldo!
M: And you know we’re at this big table, right?
R: So can you tell me what’s happening? ‘Cause I know that we were asked from Kids Project to come to this thing called a Cadpost?
M: Podcast! You know what a Podcast is, don’t you?
K: Don’t you?
R: I do not
M: Oh you haven’t? Wait Ronaldo…
M: (Clears throat) You haven’t heard about a podcast? Don’t you listen to them? I know you can’t read with your eyes but don’t you listen..Like, I know you read with your hands and I think you might like
R: Whoa, whoa, whoa..I gotta say something! Is a podcast that thing that old people do? Because my mom listens to them…
E: Oh, Hey! we’re not that old!
M: Ronaldo! Emily and Kyle are not that old! They’re cool.
R: Are you eleven?
K: We’re a little bit older than eleven
R: Okay that’s what I’m saying, ‘cause I’m only eleven and you know I listen to music, you know I listen to the sound of the pool table
M: Wait whoa whoa…Are people listening to this?
K: Yes, people are listening to this
E: A lot of people!
M: Okay so, Ronaldo is blind.
R: Wait, you have a live audience? Helloooo ?
E: Wait, not quite live, but we’re here right now.
M: Please don’t tell me you do this for dead people
K: No, they’re alive
R: Thank you Mark, you got me!
M: I’m almost gonna fall out of my wheelchair from laughing!
R: Sorry, Cecelia told me to behave, so I’m gonna try
M: Some kid make podcasts too
R: Well, maybe one day that will be me and you! So what does a podcast do? Like, I’m just a kid, I’m eleven, I work with Kids Project to talk about things.
K: Do kids still listen to the radio?
R: Oh yeah, sure!
M: What’s the radio?
E: Oh wait, Mark doesn’t know what the radio is
M: I’m joking! (laughs)
K: Of course, if you listen to the radio you must also be on the internet?
M: Duh! Yes!
K: A podcast is like a radio on the internet!
R: Shabam! Big Idea!
M: Ronaldo! Ronaldo! Kyle just did this really cool thing like pretending his hair was exploding!
R: Oooh! I love explosives, that’s the stuff!
R: (To Kyle) You must be eleven at heart
K: You’re a little pyromaniac aren’t ya?
M: What’s that?
R: That’s somebody who knows how to make a good fire!
M: I did that when we went camping over the summer!
R: Yeah, we’ve been camping before. Did you know that? Do you guys like camping?
E: Yeah, can we hear about what you guys like to do for fun?
R: Sure when we go talk to the kids at schools…
M: That’s fun!
R: … We tell them about stuff that we do in school or after school and Mark and me we’re the same age, and we got to go on a camping trip so we usually tell kids about that experience.
M: Yeah, and I like to play basketball, I like to play sled hockey, I like to eat as many chocolate chip cookies as I can get out of the kitchen without my mom seeing! …Oh wait, I did not say that!
E: Yeah, we can cut that part for you! Or we can not let your mom listen to it.
M: Good, cause if my mom…That’s not fair, cause my mom might want to listen to it!
E: Well then we’ll let your mom listen but she’ll just have to ignore the cookie part!
M: That’s okay! She knows I eat a lot of cookies!
R: I’m sorry, I got a little bit confused…What was the question? Once we start talking about food my stomach goes, “Whooo!”
E: So, what do you like to do for fun? Do you also steal cookies?
R: Um, I don’t have to steal them, but I make them! I’m pretty good in the kitchen
K: Ooh, you’re a baker!
R: A lot of times when kids hear that, because they know that I’m blind, and they wonder like “How I’m able to do that stuff?” And like, my parents don’t let me play with fire, I’m only eleven! But I do know, I have a routine, I have strategies, I know where things are, I can use my sense of touch, I can use my sense of smell. can read my recipes in Braille, some of them I have memorized! Besides cooking, I like to do music, I like to do swimming, I play beeper baseball. Well It’s not the season right now! You know what beeper ball is, right?
E: I do!
K: I don’t!
E: Oh, really? We would love to hear about it!
R: Well, I’m not an expert yet because I’m only eleven but there’s like three bases, not four, you know like home plate?
M: It’s like Baseball! It is baseball
R: Yeah! It is baseball, absolutely! And the ball has a beeper on the inside so I can hear the baseball instead of seeing the ball with my eyes.
R: And instead of there being three bases, there’s two, plus home. And you know I got the same things everyone else has. I got a coach that gives me encouragement and I got snacks before, during and after the game! You know, all the good stuff! (42:13)
M: Not during!
R: Oh yeah! Absolutely! When you’re waiting your turn you have to like have a little power up!
M: Whoa, you eat while you play baseball?
R: Well, not while I’m running well I eat while I’m paused!
M: Well, that’s okay. Sometimes when I’m playing sled hockey I eat gallons of ice cream!
R: I feel like we’re focusing a lot on food. Maybe we should get some dinner. What time is it?
E: I think it’s snack time!
R: I think so!
M: Me too! I see some chocolate cookies on the table too!
R: Can I ask a question?
R: So what do you Mr. Low Voice Person, and you Miss Higher Voice Person, what do you like to do for fun?
E: Good question
K: That is a good question. We make podcasts!
E: We make podcasts for fun! But that’s not all we do for fun. We like eating too!
M: Yeah. What’s you’re favorite food?
E: That’s a hard question…Pizza!
M: That’s my favorite food too!
E: I thought you said your favorite food was chocolate chip cookies!
M: Oh wait I did? Both! But you know what happens sometimes though because of my Cerebral Palsy? My mouth muscles are a little different (Pauses) So sometimes when I eat pizza, it’s messy, and sometimes kids like, they laugh.
K: Can I tell you a secret?
K: I also have Cerebral Palsy
M: You do?
K: I do
M: You don’t sound like me though
K: That’s because it comes in all different…
M: Yeah, I know it’s all different sizes!
M: So what…Fist bump for that too! All the radio people or people in Podcast World, we just fis bumped!
K: We did that before too!
E: Fist bumped over pizza!
R: I love it that you’re describing everything so that I can be like, in the loop too!
K: That’s why we’re doing it!
R: I appreciate you. You know what Mark, you’re voice sounded kind of sad.
K: Our listeners are a lot like you in this way, they can’t see us either.
M: Yeah I was a little sad before because um, you know… (Sighs) I’m just eating my pizza! It tastes the same, I have to cut it up in little pieces and sometimes…
E: Hey can I tell you something?
E: Let me tell you something, Mark. As long as you are getting the delicious pizza into your mouth, it doesn’t matter how you do it! Everybody does it differently!
M: Right on! Some of it ends up elsewhere but um…
K: That happens!
E: The floor also wants to enjoy the pizza!
M: Yeah, it does.
R: I think you’re doing the floor a service. I would say that’s a positive, man. And you know what? I’m glad you talked about it cause that’s kinda what we do with kids, we talk about our feelings and about like if we’re having a good day or not so good of a day or if something happens and we wanna like, just say what’s on our minds!
R: We gotta be there for each other. It’s not a big deal how you eat, how I eat how you look, how I look, how everyone does stuff. We’re all the same
M: And we’re also different!
E: You know what I’m feeling, guys? I’m feeling like we should all go get a slice of pizza!
M: I think that’s a good idea!
R: I love that idea! I thought you were gonna say let’s all burst out into song, because I also like to sing!
E: I love to sing, should we sing
E: Tell me your favorite song?
R: Ummm… It’s the one called
M: Hey Podcast people… Ronaldo is looking very serious!
R: Yeah I’m thinking about…. How ‘bout we make it up right now?
E: Can you guys sing us a song?
M: Yeah! Bu you have to sing with us a little bit. Okay I’ll start
E: Okay, you have to teach us what to sing.
R: Okay I’ll just dive in and go right from my heart (Singing) We are
M: “We’re in school”
R: “And friends rule!”
M: “Even if we drool!”
R: “Life is great!”
M: “When your eight!”
R: “Or eleven!”
M: “And you might feel like life is heaven!”
R: “So don’t forget that we’re NYC Kids Project and we love to talk to other kids and hang out with grownups and do Castingpods!”
K: That was beautiful
E: I’m sorry we didn’t sing with you but we were just so taken by
M: Okay, we can all sing The End
R: I’m really sorry, I left you out my friend!
E: Are we signing “The End!”
M: One, two, three!
All: (Off key, but in a charming way..)
K: We hope you enjoyed this special episode of The Accessible Stall, and we will see you next time! Goodnight everybody!