Treehouse Shakers

Treehouse Shakers
Hatched, BAM Fisher, Hillman Studio

Thursday, December 28, 2017

My New Year's Commitment: Doing the Most Good

This has been a truly fulfilling year for Treehouse Shakers. We accomplished 20 years as a performing arts company in New York City. We were selected as the recipients artists of New York State Presenters Network, helping us reach audiences in rural parts of the state who normally wouldn't have the opportunity to see live performances. We grew our arts in education residencies, hired more teaching artists, and developed new partnerships in the schools. We premiered a new piece for the very young, Olive & Pearl, a story that has been living with me for nearly ten years, which finally came to fruition. We also announced our inclusion of *Relaxed Performances for the 2018 season, and had the opportunity to train with Include Arts, the leader in the Relaxed Performance model from England.

Olive & Pearl Premiere (For ages 2-5)
It will never be easy to run a non-profit company, let alone an arts non-profit company. There have been days when I am stuck in New York City traffic, with a van full of puppets, and a family I desperately want to see after being on the road, when I think, "Is this still worth it?" Or while families are spending their July on the beach, and I am stuck at a computer writing grants, I ask again, "Is this worth it?" Or when I have to ask, yet again, for donations, I think, "Is this crazy life fulfilling?" Or the many times I have gone without my own income, to make sure a program is paid for, "Is this worth it?" 

Audience at Treehouse Shakers' Hatched (For ages 0-6)
Student following a Storytelling Performance at F.I.T writing a story of their own

And my continual response to my own doubts, is a resounding "Yes! This is worth it." There is unmeasurable joy in watching young people experience a performance for the first time. A performance that was created specifically for them over years of trial and exploration. When parents write to us to tell us that their children haven't stopped playing Treehouse Shakers at home, or a grandparent leaves us a voicemail to tell us this was one of the most memorable experiences they have shared with their grandchild, I know our work is meaningful. This work is worth it when I am working in a school of primarily ESL students, and their teachers tell me that their English has improved since I began visiting. Or seeing a theater filled with children who have never left their NYC neighborhood take a school bus for the first time to see Treehouse Shakers. Seeing delight, wonder, creativity, joy experienced by young people, IS the good in the world. And I am so grateful that I experience this daily.

So with the New Year fast approaching, I am still committed both as an artist, and as the founding Artistic Director of Treehouse Shakers, to do the most good I can through the invaluable gifts the arts bring to young people. I promise to myself to make this a year of less doubt and much more of, "Yes! Let's make this happen."

*Relaxed Performances will be part of Treehouse Shakers' commitment to making our work accessible to all. Relaxed Performances are designed to welcome audience members who will benefit from a less restrictive audience environment, including (but not limited to) those with sensory processing conditions, Autism, and learning or intellectual disabilities. Everyone is invited to these performances.

To make a year-end tax-deductible contribution to Treehouse Shakers and support our programs you can make a secure online donation HERE or by mailing us a contribution to:

Treehouse Shakers
Radio City Station
P.O. Box 186

New York, NY 10101-0186

Friday, December 8, 2017

Meet Our Company Members: Ashley Chavonne

Ashley Chavonne (Center) Under the Tangle, photo by Christopher Duggan

As many of you know, Treehouse Shakers is currently celebrating our 20th Anniversary Season. 20 Years as a New York City arts company truly takes a village to survive. Over the next several months, I will be highlighting some of our current company members who make Treehouse Shakers the unique, beautiful and sustainable company that it is. This month, featuring Ashley Chavonne who has been a member of Treehouse Shakers since 2010. Ashley is featured in Under the Tangle as well as Coyote's Dance, Let's Talk About IT!, Animal Rhythms and Desert Travels. She will also be in our newest piece, The Boy Who Grew Flowers, which is set to open in 2019. 

Under the Tangle, Photo Credit Christopher Duggan (Featured Ashley Chavonne & Trey Coates-Mitchell

Tell us about yourself and how did you become a part of Treehouse Shakers? How long have you been with the company? What is your role(s) with the company?

I am a dancer turned actress with the company and have been a member for 7 years (I think…wow). I was introduced to the Treehouse Shakers by a former company member after a conversation we had at work. We both worked at a restaurant in the Meatpacking district. I was curious about a teaching residency she had and found out that it was through Treehouse Shakers, which led to a conversation about how they were looking for dancers. I attended an open rehearsal soon after and the rest is history.

What has been your favorite role to play?
Little Girl Lost, my character in Under The Tangle. It’s a challenging role because she evolves so much throughout the show. So much so, that I feel like three different girls in the show. There’s girl 1, who lives outside the labyrinth and is thrown into this strange place. Girl 2, who is trying to navigate this strange place with these other quite strange characters. And Girl 3, who has accepted her new surroundings and has learned to push through her fears to…well, you will just have to see the show.

Tell us about a special audience moment you’ve had as a performer.

My favorite on stage moment was during a performance of Under The Tangle. There is a moment where the little girl falls asleep in the middle of the labyrinth and her friend leaves her to rest. A very concerned audience member, sitting front and center, gasps as the Queen of the Lost approaches the little girl and loudly whispers, “Wake up…wake up!”

My favorite off stage moment happened after a performance in Cincinnati. As a woman and her daughter were leaving the theater, the little girl ran up to me to say, “You were my favorite on stage!” She pointed to her hand, holding it next to mine and said, “You’re my same skin tone.” It was a really special moment for the three of us. 
Under the Tangle, photo credit Christopher Duggan

What makes Treehouse Shakers work unique or different than other companies you have worked with?

The creative approach to the marriage of dance and theater. Also the expectations they have for the creative and intellectual capacity of young audiences are appropriate and admirable. The stories are brilliantly crafted without the messages being watered down or the lessons feeling contrived.

What does it mean to celebrate 20 years with Treehouse Shakers?

It means that for 20 years, there has been an understanding of the impact that early exposure to arts and culture can have on young minds and a generous outpour of support for it. To be a part and product of that mission is truly exciting!
Post-Show Coyote's Dance at Ailey Citigroup Theater

Anything Else You would like us to know?

I love Mara and Emily. They are two of the most creative, inspiring and encouraging women I know. Relentless in pursuit of creating quality art for young audiences and creating space for the company to be our best selves.

More About Ashley 
Ashley Chavonne was born and raised in Detroit, MI. She received her B.A. in Strategic Communication and B.F.A in dance from Ohio State University where she studied with such notable choreographers as Rennie Harris, Luam, and Sheryl Murakami. In addition to being a principal company member of Treehouse Shakers, she is also a dancer for SoulRebel Dance Company founded and directed by a former member of Rennie Harris Pure Movement. As a dancer with diverse training, hip-hop influences her movement choices across all genres.  She also performs with numerous other New York City choreographers and teaches around the city.