Thursday, March 20, 2014

View our photos from the trip!

Photos have been posted to our Shutterfly share site! No need to sign up for Shutterfly or become a member. View our photos here,

Saturday, March 15, 2014


Not too long ago was I sitting in Café Du Monde, New Orleans, sharing laughs with my teammates over cafe-au-lait and beignets (so-OH many beignets!), and now, as I sit here on the plane ride back to NYC this early Wednesday morning, I have become aware of the fact that Spring Break is nearing an end and "real life" is drawing near.  However, before I begin to wrap my mind around the concept of rehearsals for Spring Dances starting back up in a day, there are many thoughts permeating my mind about my week spent in New Orleans.  Although I (along with the rest of the team), am running on few hours of sleep, my brain is buzzing, and I feel compelled to get my thoughts down while they're still fresh.

This was my third trip to New Orleans via Juilliard's ARTreach New Orleans Service Project. I have been involved as a team member since my freshman year at school, and this year was my first time serving as one of three student leaders.  I freely admit that it is no easy feat making this project happen and I have an even greater appreciation for past team leaders, now having experienced what that means.  

Coordinating logistics for a sizable group of students, including but not limited to, finding creative and lucrative ways of fundraising $17,000, coming up with agendas for our weekly three hour meetings leading up to the trip, as well as deciding on and solidifying our agenda while in NOLA, coming up with a performance program, rehearsing the program, teaching and learning team-building games, etc.  Mind you, all of this is thought through and discussed with the team advisors and student leaders either at 8 am on weekdays before school starts or in between classes on our lunch break, as well as through a multitude of emails.  At times I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of work that needed to be done, and money that needed to be raised in a relatively short amount of time, compounded by everyone's crazy school schedule.  However, I had faith that our team would find a way to pull it together and make it happen - and, we did!

It is incredible how much work can get done when each person on the team is fully committed. This commitment held true throughout the week in New Orleans in each new task we took on, whether it was someone laying wood panels on the muddy ground of the Habitat site so that no one would slip, grilling paninis for our team dinner even though it was not their designated night to cook, doing dishes after a long day of laborious work, giving massages (which proved to be very necessary), or putting coffee on, first thing in the morning. Needless to say, the teamwork was palpable.

Practicalities aside, something I shared at last night's final team meeting is that this project represents the essence of Juilliard.  Spending just one week with only a fraction of the students at school, I feel more in touch with my art form and the direct effect art has on those around me, and, most importantly, why I wanted to come to Juilliard in the first place.  I crave to be around artists who can't help but perform and entertain, who break out into song and dance because the music overtakes them. It comes from somewhere deep inside and cannot be taught, even in the hallowed halls of a famed conservatory.

Although Juilliard certainly attracts artists of high caliber, the unadulturated, organic qualities that make us who we are as performers and as people, is sometimes overshadowed by the desire to be "perfect" and better than the next one. While technique is absolutely necessary (and a little healthy competition is sometimes needed), it can also be a hindrance.  I have learned specifically from this project to not always harp on the details or allow others define who I am, but to let go and be myself.

Every single team member oozes with talent, and seeing these talents put to use, sometimes in their most bare-bones state, is the most inspiring.  For instance, performing on a grassy, untamed lawn at Habitat, with no marley floor rolled out for the dancers, a lack of proper acoustics and music stands for the musicians, no lighting and set design to inform the actors' monologues, or piano to give us our "A" to keep Ain't No Mountain High Enough in tune, was extraordinarily liberating.  As a result, it allowed us to simply love what we were doing while doing it, and our audience responded.

A special moment for me was after our performance at Trinity Episcopal Church when a young girl whom I have taught for the past two years in New Orleans, both at Dryades YMCA and through the Shalom Zone, came up to me and give me a big hug.  She knew I was a dancer, but this was the first time she had seen me in my element. She smiled and looked at at me wide-eyed, and could not stop hugging me. In this moment, I realized that although our time in New Orleans is fleeting, the impressions we leave are lasting, and this warmed my heart.

I am forever grateful that this project has been a part of my life and a truly defining experience in my Juilliard career.  It is important to venture away from New York and from 60 Lincoln Center Plaza to gain perspective and other life experiences, and to make genuine connections with those you may not otherwise find the time to meet and get to know. Make that time, prioritize it, because art is meant for bringing people together.  Who are we in this world if we cease to make connections with other people?

-Kelsey Connolly

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Last Day in NOLA

Today on our last day, Tuesday, March 11, we started off at the Lusher Charter school. We performed three shows for students from kindergarten to fifth grade. In this performance we took a twist on the tale of Alice in Wonderland.
Here are some thoughts on the Lusher performances from John, Austin, and myself:

John: What we did at Lusher today was nothing short of magic. It was an epic, famous, but original tale that was made possible.

Tiffany: It was really cool for everyone to be able to come together with their respective disciplines and create such a great show.

John: Everything came together so quickly. Everyone was so energetic and proactive in trying to contribute as much as they could to the show but at the same time being respectful with the demands of producing the show. It was a great demonstration of generosity.  Generosity is a combination of both giving space and taking it.

Tiffany: It was just as fun for us as it was for the kids because we were also entertained through the performances of each other.

John: The exhaustion after each show dissipated as we heard the cheers of the students.

Austin: Even from show to show, the energy and excitement of the students seemed to increase which brought us even more energy. Being able to interact with the kids during the performances was another element that made these performances nothing like the ones previous. The direct connection really allowed us to see how much joy and fun we were bringing to the audience.

After the Lusher performances and a brief lunch we visited the house that the team from last year worked on. It was truly amazing seeing the faces of returners who saw the fruits of their hard labor.

Then we headed to Kipps Central Academy to teach middle schoolers. Here are some of our thoughts on Kipps.

John: Our best teaching experience. The kids were very focused so we were able to share many exercises and concepts with them without the room becoming too wild. I saw miles of improvement within the students. Although there were a few students that didn't want to participate, by the end, everyone was participating and having fun. One highlight from today was when a girl received a letter from her mother at the end of the workshop; enclosed was an acceptance letter to NOCCA. She mentioned that she aspires to both sing and act, so this acceptance brought such excitement that she started to cry with joy.

Austin: The number was even. 6 dancers 6 students. The kids were easy to let go right from the get-go with "Show Me How You Get Down". Writing names with different body parts in the ground, walls, ceiling, etc... Through the exploration of fundamental joint movements and every member of the class contributing their favorite movement combinations, at the end of the 90 minute workshop the 12 were set and ready with a beautiful performance consisting of completely collaboratively conceived choreography.

Tiffany: We started off with games to get to know more about the students in our group. We saw Jimmy, from Shalom Zone, again today. It was really great to see him with his trombone and so interested in learning about music. In our music group, we had students from the band that learned to improvise along with our team members.

We ended the day with a group dinner at the French Market Restaurant. It was a wonderful but bittersweet time. This past week felt like a dream. We have so many memories, moments, inside jokes, and quotes to last a lifetime.

John, Austin, & Tiffany

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Day 6: NOCCA Day!

It saddens me that we have almost reached the end of the trip, but I have never felt more fulfilled and energized. It truly has been a wonderful trip and after individually expressing our reflections from the day, I realized how thankful I am to be able to share music with such a generous and hospitable community.

Before reaching NOCCA (The New Orleans Center for Creative Arts) for our performance and workshops, we drove through the ninth ward; the neighborhood that was most affected by Hurricane Katrina. The returning members of the group were shocked by the number of houses that have surfaced over the past year, which only enhanced the impact of working with Habitat for Humanity on building the foundation of a house. This greatly encourages me to continue volunteering to help rebuild the neighborhoods that still haven't been fully restored.

March 10: "Juilliard Day at NOCCA"

We were greeted with a delicious home-cooked meal consisting of jambalaya and bread pudding. We can't get enough of this cajun cuisine! Following lunch, we were taken on a tour around the beautiful facilities and referred to our respective divisions for workshops. Being the only trombonist in the group, I was conveniently placed with the only jazz trombonist at the school. Naturally, it became a private lesson and a jam; something we both had a lot of fun with.

After our various workshops, we reported to the school's main performance space for an afternoon show. The students were so engaged and responsive to every piece performed by each group member. We even had a few screaming fans in the audience! Overall, it was an extremely successful performance and I think for all of us, it was the most fun we've had performing in a really long time.

For dinner we were invited by Mr. and Mrs. Schrenk for a night of more authentic New Orleans food and spontaneous performances. Red beans and rice is traditionally known as a Monday night staple, so it was served in a plentiful amount. After dinner, everyone congregated in the living room for solos and duets performed by the musicians, then brought to the backyard where John and Victoria performed the balcony scene from Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet,"Jasminn presented an original monologue, and the dancers improvised to a Bach cello piece arranged and played by Stephanie. It turned out to be one of the most unique and intimate performances we've experienced all week. A big thank you to Mr. and Mrs. Schrenk for hosting us, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Shreves and Mr. and Mrs. Guarisco for your support.

It has been an incredibly inspiring week and I look forward to a full day of performances and workshops tomorrow!


Monday, March 10, 2014

Exploring and performing...

Hey everyone!

Yesterday was an amazing day of adventure, exploring, and performing. We started off the day with a group of us going to Fetish - Spatique in the Garden District. Ms. Joanna from Shalom Zone had told the owners (a lovely mother-daughter team) about our team and what we're doing down here, so amazingly they wanted to offer us some breakfast and kind words. One of my favorite inspirational comments from them was "if you all keep giving like this, the universe will always give back to you".

Afterwards we headed into the van and drove to the French Quarter for the rest of our morning off! The weather was incredible, the sky was blue, and we of course were laughing our heads off in the car all the way to the Mississipi River. I don't think I've ever laughed so much in five days as I have here. It's been so wonderful getting to know my teammates and keeping each other lively by laughing until our muscles ache, no matter what crazy circumstances surround us.

Some of us split up to do some shopping, but a group of us wanted a New Orleans breakfast so we headed to the Corner Oyster Bar and Grill for some Po'boys, eggs, and caffeine. We wandered Jackson Square and found some cute boutiques and beautiful artwork, but most importantly a street poet named David Blanton. For a donation, you can give him a subject and he will write you a poem in 20 minutes. Since our theme on this trip has been "Art Nurtures" we gave him that as our subject and explained a little about who we were and what we were doing in New Orleans.

20 minutes later, we return to a beautiful poem that we were so stunned by, we wanted to share it with our audience at our Trinity Church performance later that day (which we did).

"Art Nurtures

There is nothing more powerful
than full self expression,
the cosmic realization that you are
exactly you and sharing that
through art, drama, or dance
is a never ending joy.
The truth is loving the tension
within and without, whispering
or screaming it out, turning
your heart inside out
to those willing to listen with
an open ear to expressions
that may not always be clear.
The Muse is found in the struggle,
in the tension of muscle and mind,
and words that almost say enough.
Artists aren't so tough, they just know
how to bleed the demons within
and make something beautiful in the end."

After receiving the gift of this poem, we headed back to HONO for a team meeting, sandwiches, and a quick prep for our performance. The house was soon filled with music and text in every room-- it was a great reminder of all of our strengths and excitement to perform. Actors were on the porch, dancers were in the kitchen, and musicians roamed through every common area and bedroom they could find. Nothing is cooler than hearing a house booming with art and creativity!

We head to the Trinity Church and after a run-through of the program we give a 60 minute performance to the community. It was wonderful seeing so many familiar faces! After our finale of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough", we had the whole church on their feet clapping and singing along! A lot of kids from the Shalom Zone were there and afterward rushed up to us on the stage. The musicians generously helped some of them hold and play their instruments, which was adorable to watch.

We said our goodbyes and headed to the Praline Connection for our team dinner! After all the tastiness the group got to dance to some amazing jazz music played by very talented street musicians out front and then peruse the art fair where chalk drawing ensued.

And of course, it was a delicious end to a delicious day.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Day 4!

Today was a huge day for the team, and it started bright (yes, the sun finally came out!) and early as the team ate breakfast, showered, and prepared to leave HONO at 7:30 for our last day at the Habitat site, which included our first performance of the week (but more on that in a bit).

Upon arrival at the site, we were informed that we had to redo a few of the cinderblock stacks that we had built up yesterday, a revelation that might seem discouraging were it not for the amazing energy that the team brought forth to breaking down and building up the concrete (I had particular fun in chipping away the old mortar - a great way to let out excess tension!).

After a couple hours of working, we began to prepare for our afternoon performance - preparation which included setting up instruments in the van, dancing in the street, and rehearsing poetry in the grass near the site.

After lunch and some more cement mixing, it was time to get to our performance venue (an empty grass lot across the street from our site). The performance was well attended by a group of other college-age Habitat volunteers, as well as Habitat site supervisors and people from the nearby neighborhood. The energy was so amazing to witness - since we were outside, there was no piano (and thus instead of playing I worked the "backstage" duties of keeping the program running smoothly), but I was so moved by the amazing talent on display by my peers. The team's dancers, actors, and musicians all worked together beautifully, and with very little rehearsal time pulled together a great show.

Our rousing rendition of this year's group song, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"!

But after the show we weren't done working yet - there was still concrete to be poured, so we returned to our site and finished the project that three days ago seemed daunting. Needless to say, our dinner from Cafe Pontalba by the Mississippi River was very satisfying.

Oh, and during the day some of the team (including myself) was interviewed by a journalist from the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and put together a wonderful article (with some epic pictures) that you can check out by clicking right HERE.

It's hard to believe we're halfway through the week, but after today I know that there is so much more excitement and inspiration to be had in these next few days. For now I'm off to go explore the French Quarter with the team!


Thoughts on Day 3

Day 3 begins at 6 AM. Lunches are packed, breakfasts are served, and the team is headed out the door for a long day at Habitat for Humanity. We arrive around 7:30 and get straight to work; Lumber is moved and cinder blocks are stacked. Our amazing teamwork this week has really paid off- the foundation of the house we're working on is finally finished!

At noon, we leave the Habitat for Humanity site and arrive at a nearby park, where we split up into groups and disperse throughout the neighborhood. Collaborating with a few other student groups from around the country, we cleaned up yards, streets, and sidewalks. The combination of a sunny day and the gratitude that was shown from residents and passersby put us all in a great mood. 

We said goodbye to the friends we made at the park and headed over to the Trinity Church for Shalom Zone. Just as we had expected, we arrived to an auditorium full of kids aged 5-14 bouncing off the walls. Our games and team-building activities were as successful as they were tiring! I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say I wish we could've spent more time with the group of kids we just met, but I'm so glad we were able to meet some of our teaching goals and we all had such a great time. 

Finally, back to HONO. Homemade dinner is delicious after a tiring day, and we re-energize as we prepare for the rest of the week. Can't wait to perform at the Habitat site tomorrow!
Kara leading a warm up on our first day with Habitat for Humanity.

Day 2 Recap: Mud, children and laughter!

March 6, 2014

6:00am - Wake up call! After much needed rest from our long day of travels yesterday, our NOLA team was up bright and early making breakfast, preparing for our first day of building and construction at the habitat site.

7:15am - Arrived at the habitat site ready to get started on building a house! After getting acquainted with our habitat site supervisors and having a quick safety orientation, we began cleaning-up one of the sites, bringing wet cardboard, scraps of wood, and clearing garbage to the dumpster. Then, while some of us spent the rest of the morning lifting and transporting piles of lumber, the rest of us built the foundation of the house, stacking cinder blocks meticulously on top of layers of mortar.

11:30am - Lunch time! Never before have I been so excited to get into a van for the sake of warmth. Food, heat, and a reenergizing nap was a nice way to break up our day.

12:30pm - Returned to work and continued with our morning tasks on site; however, this time there was more rain and gusts of wind. Although the weather was not ideal, the cold and wet weather did not stop us from continuing our work and having a good time. Team work, good laughs, and spontaneous warm-up sessions throughout the day kept us warm and made the weather conditions all the more bearable.

3:15pm - Left the habitat site and made our way to the Trinity Church for our first teaching session!

4:00pm - We were greeted by our high-energy students at the church and began promptly with our planned lesson plans and teaching groups. Through interactive games and fun activities, we cultivated a positive, empowering environment for the students to break out of their comfort zones. Although the students challenged our own energy levels, I think we all accomplished and got through to the students with our teaching goals.

6:30pm - Arrived back at Hands On New Orleans (HONO), the accommodations where we are staying for this week. The dinner crew #2 immediately started cooking our "Grains, Greens and Grill" dinner theme night to feed the rest of our hungry team.

8:00pm - Dinner is served! The menu included kale chips, quinoa salad, sautéed squash, grilled shrimp (on the BBQ!) and pesto pasta. It was such a nice treat to be in the kitchen cooking homemade food again :).

9:30pm - We had our team meeting, reflected on the day's activities, and prepared for our next day of habitat building.

11:00pm - Lights out and bed time! We were all tired from our first day at the habitat site, but we are all looking forward to being back tomorrow and making more progress on the house!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Day 1 Video Recap

We have had an incredibly long, exhausting day of travel. Somehow, the team laughed our way through the entire day.

This is what our first day in New Orleans looked like.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Day 1: Hello NOLA!

After an early start - 4 a.m. for our New York crew - everyone made it to New Orleans! Our first order of business involved fueling up on beignets and coffee at Morning Call. Then we took our sugared and caffeinated selves to the HandsOn New Orleans house where we were welcomed by fellow volunteers.

Today presented us with many opportunities to acknowledge the everyday luxuries in our own lives, like hot water, heat, and especially electricity. While attempting to heat our home we overwhelmed the circuit breaker and lost power. This "Day 1 Power Outage" during dinner inspired some creative cooking on the grill. Huge thanks to our team members who held up cell phone flashlights to keep an eye on our charcoal cooked meals! We really do have an incredibly generous team.

While driving through the city, we also witnessed the contrast between areas of the city that have rebounded beautifully, and neighborhoods that are still tremendously dilapidated. Observing this contrast up close makes us even more eager to serve New Orleans this week and eternally grateful to all those who have supported us in this endeavor.

Best get to bed now- we have a busy day building with Habitat for Humanity and teaching New Orleans students tomorrow!


Monday, March 3, 2014

We're on our way!

The 2014 team will be headed to New Orleans in the wee hours of Wednesday, March 5! We want to thank everyone who helped us by sharing blog posts, Facebook posts, bought baked goods at our bake sales, donated flowers, bought flowers at our flower sale, bought raffle tickets, donated raffle prizes, gave us places to sell raffle tickets, donated space for our benefit performance, made donations, fed us breakfast and supported us in so many ways! We couldn't have done it without you!

Please continue to follow our blog so you can see the good work your support has made happen! The team also invites you to follow us on Twitter, @NOLAProject 2014 and to like our Facebook page, The ARTreach New Orleans Service Project 2014.

Thank you and we hope to make you proud!