NYCCT Highlights: We Build Empathy

Nov 30, 2023 | NYCCT Highlights, Posts

In 2009 New York City Children’s Theater premiered an interactive touring production for K-2nd grade students called ALICE’S STORY. The play follows Alice and Deanna, a pair of friends who fall out after a bullying incident in which Deana calls Alice names, pushes her, threatens her, and steals her homework. Throughout the play, the Teaching Artists performing it come out of character to ask the audience questions and seek their help recapping scenes, defining bullying, and building empathy by imagining themselves in Alice’s place. Towards the end of the piece, a third character, who witnessed the bullying, but wasn’t sure what to do, asks the audience to advise both her and Alice on what to do next and help process the loss of friendship. The play was instantly recognized as useful and relevant to the young children for whom it was created.

A few years later we came out with FAIR & SQUARE, created for 3rd – 5th grade students. This interactive play follows a similar structure of audience engagement and goes deeper into navigating and processing feelings and conflict.

Alice's Story - NYCCT Anti-Bullying Program

New York City Children’s Theater has engaged over 50,000 students with these two anti-bullying programs since ALICE’S STORY premiered in 2009. Surprisingly the programs still apply to the young audience whom they were created to serve. New generations of students still need guidance to navigate bullying incidents, remove themselves from or renegotiate troubling relationships, and process hurt. We use interactive theater to help them practice.

How do we keep these programs relevant despite 14 years of intervening cultural trends and societal shifts? To start with, we connect to the young people we serve. Sometime we change a few things. References to American Idol are gone from FAIR & SQUARE. ALICE’S STORY now features an opening activity designed to help young students acclimatize themselves to full participation. And this year we made revisions to both scripts to make the experience more inclusive.

ALICE’S STORY was written with all female characters and FAIR & SQUARE had one male and two female characters. New York City Children’s Theater prides itself on creating work that allows all children to see themselves in a story, and we realized we needed to do better for the male and non-binary students we encounter. After all it isn’t only female identifying students who perpetuate or experience bullying behavior. Over the summer we updated both scripts using gender-neutral names for all characters and setting up varied pronoun usage. Schools have embraced the revamped AVERY’S STORY and FAIR & SQUARE, and while the change was small for us, it is significant to our audience members and helps make the underpinning tool of empathy, which drives both of the programs, much easier for them to access.

Fair and Square - Anti-Bullying WorkshopBecause while we change some of the details embedded within these scripts, the overriding structure and interactive nature, which help students practice strategies for handling bullying situations, remain the programs’ strength. By inviting students participation into the bulk of conflict navigation and boundary setting work that happens in the plays, our highly trained teaching artists are able to engage young people and address what they find most relevant in the story. By asking students to imagine character experience we build empathetic connection. By reviewing definitions and strategies we build shared vocabulary. And schools are listening. 100% of the schools we served this year were repeat customers. Principals and Teachers recognize the value our programs to their student body, and students recognize themselves and their needs in the stories.

After all school is a place where young people learn how to interact with one another, and we’ll keep working with our partner schools to provide programs that create kinder, more creative, more empathetic children, one program at a time.

Thank you for all the ways you help us serve New York City’s children. We cannot do it without you.

Upcoming Performances




Date March 23, 2024Time 11:00 am – 12:00 pmVenue Theatre Row, a program of Building for the Arts NY



Date March 24, 2024Time 11:00 am – 12:00 pmVenue Theatre Row, a program of Building for the Arts NY

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