Listen to this great interview with ArtStream’s Natalie Zanin and Vadim Baryshev on “Washington Report” a public affairs show airing on CBS radio stations.
They talk about ArtStream and the upcoming Cabaret Company performance. Natalie directs the company and Vadim will be performing onstage.
And don’t miss the Cabaret performance: Winter Wonderland, February 12 at 7:30 pm at AMP by Strathmore.
Voiceover: This is the Washington Report. Here’s your host, Stevie Bridgewaters:
Stevie Bridgewater: It’s the new year and wonderful things will continue to happen within our communities. And there is something that’s very exciting that I am so excited to share with all of you, and that’s ArtStream. Now, what is that? That’s an organization that provides opportunities for individuals with different abilities. So joining me today is Natalie Zanin. She is the director of the winter cabaret that they are putting on. And I have Vadim Baryshev. Am I saying that right, Vadim?
Vadim Baryshev: You can say BAR-y-shev. You can say BARE-y-shev.
SB: Thank you both very much for joining me today. What is ArtStream?
VB: Let me explain what is it. It’s a theatre. Improvisational theatre. What we do is we put a play which actors create as themselves.
SB: Oh wonderful.
VB: Let me tell you a little bit about it.
VB: I did for quite some time there. Each year what we do is we come up with the idea. What kind of play we’re going to create. And we usually do a little vote. And vote which play we do.
SB: Okay. That sounds fun. Now who comes up with the topics and the ideas?
VB: Usually the director comes up with the main topic. And the members of the group such as myself we come up specifically with what we are going to do for the audience.
SB: Go ahead. What were you going to say, Natalie?
Natalie Zanin: Well, we start by asking them what would they like to do this year. They come in with ideas…for example, when we had started rehearsing two years ago they were showing previews for the new Star Wars movie which came out last year. But six months earlier they were showing the preview. So everyone came in and they were talking about Star Wars. We wanna do this. We wanna do Star Wars…whatever is currently popular. And we’ll start by asking them, “Well, what time period do you wanna do this show in? Do you want to do it in ancient times? Do you want to do it in the future?” And then we talk to them about, “What type of character do you want to play?” Sometimes actors will come in with a list of characters that they’ve over the summer since the last show that they have written down a list of what they want to choose from. And then we try to narrow it down to a topic, a time-period, a setting. Then we ask them to vote on what’s the most popular. And then we start improvising. Sort of brainstorming about that topic. Two years ago also they were talking about Central Park in New York City. But when they voted they voted for not Central Park, but Rock Creek Park here in Washington. Which made it easier for us because it’s five minutes by car so I could actually go over there and talk to the park rangers and ask them questions, whereas, I guess I could’ve gotten myself a trip to New York out of this, but I wasn’t thinking of it that way. So then we’ll also go on to improvise. And we have mentor actors that will improvise with them. And while they improvise, we’re taking notes. We’re writing it down. We’re videotaping it. So that when we put the script together we have, sometimes we’ll have whole scenes that come out of an improvisation and you just type it on the page and that’s the scene. You don’t have to do anything to it. Which is great. And for the cabaret I asked them, “What kind of cabaret do you want to do?” Now it comes very close to Valentine’s Day. Did they want to do Valentines Day? We talked about that. We talked about Valentine’s Day a lot. And some of the actors were very sensitive and they said, “Y’know not everybody celebrates Valentine’s Day. Not everybody is going to be going out talking about Valentines Day. What if it’s more about winter?” Which was great. Winter. It will be winter in February. People will be talking about the weather. And so our composer Keith started thinking about songs that reflect winter weather. And then we started talking about do we want to hang snowflakes in the air? Do we want to be dressed as snowflakes? What do we want to look like? What do we want to sound like? And then Vadim can tell you how he chose his song. He’s singing a very wintery song in the Cabaret.
SB: How did that happen Vadim?
VB: Oh, well to tell you the truth, to be honest with you I like that song very much, y’know, that’s why I decided to pick that song because it’s so much like, not just good words. The melody’s very good. The very sounds very like love. It’s a very Valentine’s Day topic, y’know. So to tell you the truth, I’d like to celebrate Valentine’s Day, but I don’t have the opportunity. I just don’t have that special person, who I can sing it to y’know.
SB: Well, you can sing it out in the universe and it will make a lot of people feel very loved and appreciated.
VB: I hope whoever’s going to listen to me is going to enjoy it.
SB: Absolutely. Now I would like to know a little bit about the organization ArtStream itself. What is ArtStream and which community members do you serve?
NZ: I think we serve a great number of groups. What I deal with in particular are people with acting and singing abilities who also have maybe cognitive disabilities or physical disabilities, but their abilities outshine their disabilities. And so they have the desire to perform and through ArtStream they are given that window into the stage. They also…there’s so many programs. When I started with ArtStream, I knew them only as Inclusive Theatre Companies, but they’ve branched out. They do a lot more than that. I deal with the Inclusive Theatre Companies and the classes, with people with abilities and disabilities. It’s the best thing. I can’t even express how great it is for someone to be able to perform and entertain people and it opens people’s eyes to what their friend, their coworker, their child, their sibling can do. You might know somebody…for example, Vadim is very caring and thoughtful. He’s volunteered with organizations. And people may know him that way, but if they see him onstage singing “Winter Wonderland” with Annetta, our Assistant Director and Choreographer, when they see him dancing they’ll see him in a whole new light and they’ll say “Oh my gosh, I didn’t know he had this talent.” He’s very funny too. He has amazing comic timing, which you probably have gathered.
SB: Yes. Yes.
NZ: Y’know I frequently hear that after a show or program, people will say to me, “Oh my gosh, I work with this guy or girl. I work with this woman. I know she’s really dedicated. She’s always the first person in the office in the morning. But she’s funny. She’s funny. She sings. She dances. What is going on?”
SB: Oh, that’s absolutely wonderful. And that’s what I want our listeners to know is that, y’know, having differences makes us all the same in ways. We have aspirations, desires, and to be able to act upon it makes it even more fun (no pun intended). Vadim, what is one of the things that keeps you being a part of ArtStream?
VB: I have quite a few things. The most important, I think ArtStream should have like a teamwork, y’know. Now, what does it mean? Every member should support each other, y’know. To perform in front of audiences can be scary for some people, y’know. People are different. Some people may like audiences. Some people may not. Unfortunately, some people understand art. Others don’t understand art. People are different. So what we should do is to be more kind of together.
SB: Yes. Absolutely. Y’know when I was growing up I loved the theatre as well and I did not pursue it at the collegiate level, but I do remember getting nervous and scared when we had to compete. But I still liked the art of theatre. I liked performing, but I was terrible at remembering my lines, so improvisation is right up my alley.
NZ: Well that’s the great thing about how we do it at ArtStream. We really acknowledge that they are doing the most challenging thing in the world. And I always say to them, “You are doing something that some people may never be able to do. They will never be able to get onstage and get up in front of people. And you are doing that. Get up in the morning. Look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘I’m doing something that a lot of people cannot do.’” We start with a warm-up. We do energy circles where you take people’s hands and one person squeezes and you send the squeeze around the energy circle. We warm-up with a song such as “Do Re Mi.” We do vocal exercises. We’ll do a little bit of stretching. We kind of shake out the burdens of the week. And we support each other. We talk about encouraging each other. And that’s the best thing. It’s a really great space to come to each week and not just as a student, as a teacher, because you shed the week as you step through this room. People smiling at you. They’re excited to be there and you want everybody to succeed. And it’s just the best energy. It really is. I think the audiences can feel that too. It’s great.
SB: Now where are you located? And how can people not only get involved, but reach out, volunteer. How can we get our listeners involved with you.
NZ: Well, the headquarters just moved to Chevy Chase, so they can contact ArtStream at the new Chevy Chase location, which is great. We were in Silver Spring for years and now we have air conditioning. We are at 8401 Connecticut Avenue, Suite 1230 in Chevy Chase, Maryland. We have a website. It’s art-stream.org and they can go to the website. They can also call ArtStream at 301-565-4657. If you go to the website, you’ll see our beautiful new website. It’s gorgeous. And right at the top there’s a donate button – as there should be. It’s a great place to donate to because every theatre company, every program is operated on a shoestring budget and no money is ever wasted. I can tell you in the next couple of weeks I will be going through a giant box of bowties looking for red bowties for Cabaret. I have one bowtie already and so please if you have shiny red bowtie at your home and you think “Hmm…I’m not using this.” But seriously there are ways to volunteer by working with the show. Say if you don’t want to be on stage. Maybe you’re not comfortable doing that. You might be a person that sells concessions in the lobby before the show. Or show people to their seats. Or hand out programs. That’s a great way to volunteer. You might be a person that is good at building something. You might be a person who is really good at going through the costumes and organizing them by color.
SB: That would be me!
NZ: Somewhere out there there’s a clutterbuster who says, “I got a little extra time. I’m going to go and clutterbuster the ArtStream costume closet.” But there’s ways. Even going to see a show and supporting it. Coming to see it. Coming to see the Cabaret in February. It’s February 12 and it’s at the AMP by Strathmore. This is a new venue for us and we are so excited about the AMP. Y’know when I told the actors we’re going to be at the AMP by Strathmore they were just overwhelmed with excitement. Because a lot of them had been to shows there already. It’s a beautiful space. So February 12 you say to yourself, “Valentine’s Day is coming up, but I really don’t care about Valentine’s Day, I really want to go see a winter wonderland show.” It’s not just all winter songs in the Cabaret. The actors and company members of Cabaret have each chosen their own songs to sing in addition to the group songs. We have one person who has created a dance to a Coldplay song. We have one person who wanted to do a parody of the TV show Fuller House. So with his input, I wrote that and he will be performing it. I had never seen Fuller House before, but I’ve watched an awful lot of it now and I can tell you I’m a fan! ArtStream they have, oh there are so many different programs where we could use volunteers. You could volunteer at a Super Social Saturday. You could volunteer stuffing envelopes, which is exciting. It’s like an old-fashioned quilting bee. You sit around the table. You stuff the envelopes. It’s great. Your teenager, if they are in Montgomery County and I think in the rest of Maryland as well, needs service learning hours to graduate from high school. They can get those SSL hours by volunteering with ArtStream. We’ve had students who are in the National Honor’s Society who have volunteered and gotten so many hours that they got a special tassel at graduation because of the hundreds of hours that they’ve gotten with ArtStream.
SB: I love it. I love it. I like that community partnership. I think that’s really, really important. Now Vadim, how did you get involved with ArtStream?
VB: Oh, what I did is that, well it’s been a long time since I wanted to be on the stage, y’know. Unfortunately, when I started drama I was a little bit too big. I started at Imagination Stage, which is in Bethesda. Then they divided us to kids to adults. So I’ve been in ArtStream since the very beginning. So I feel…sometimes I feel like I’m the oldest member, maybe. (Laughter) But I’m not proud of that. I feel kind of jealous of those who are younger than me.
SB: No. No. Oh, Vadim, you don’t understand the importance of being a mentor to those who are younger than you. They look up to you and can see all of the great work and the dedication that you have provided.
NZ: Yes. And it’s true. That’s so true. When new company members come in to a program, for instance we have people in Cabaret who have never done anything with ArtStream. One of our new members said to me, “Oh when I see people that have been doing it for years like Vadim I don’t know that I can come up to his level.” And I said, “That shows you that you can, if you stay with it, you can you can grow with it.” She was in awe of Vadim and I said, “Talk to him and get some kernels of wisdom from him about how it is to stay with the program and grow with it.” So, Vadim, you don’t know, but you’ve inspired at least two new members.
SB: Wow. See. There you go. You never know. So what does the staff look like? I mean, what are the artists, the teaching artists, what are their backgrounds to be able to work with –
NZ: We’re all absolutely stunning. We’re gorgeous. (laughter)
VB: As far as I know, some are professional teachers themselves. Some of them teach in schools. Some of them I don’t know, but all of them are very wonderful teachers. What I mean by that is they make a lot of effort to kind of put ourselves into the art. For example, I know it’s hard to play on stage one person, but in real life be another person. But I am fine with that. For me when I go onstage, I don’t think of how people look at me, I just perform.
SB: Exactly. And that’s the brilliance and the beauty of being onstage. You become something else and portray a different image and that’s just fun.
VB: Now, I’m not a professional, but I’m acting like a professional actor.
SB: Of course you are, Vadim.
VB: A professional actor plays a negative characters, but in real life he or she is a positive person.
SB: Now I’m noticing on your website, there is a thing about military hospitals. Are you as familiar with that program as well through ArtStream?
NZ: I do know people that have worked with that, the Allies in the Arts program. They bring programs to Walter Reed. It’s just the best program. It really is. We have people that specialize in drama therapy and…It’s a really great thing. It’s something that you might not think would fit with someone who has served and now is recovering from an injury, but it really does. It really allows them to express themselves. And we also have programs for caregivers as well. Art retreats and things like that. Drama therapy allows people, and art therapy allows people, to express themselves in ways that they could not verbally. So that’s just a beautiful thing. Sometimes in the theatre companies you’ll have someone who has gone through a figurative or a terrible loss and when we do the improvising that we’re using to create the program, sometimes things will come out and then I’ll refer them to talk to their parents or counselors and say that this has happened. You just never know what art or drama is going to bring out. It doesn’t always happen. But it allows them to express something. It’s very freeing. It really is.
SB: And I think that’s what I was kind of leaning towards without actually saying it. How does being a part of this organization help individuals? And I guess it could be freeing if you will to get away from that stress. To express oneself through art, whether it be in print or vocal or coming up with our own play and improvising and sharing. So are all of the individuals who are part of ArtStream who are the performers are they all individuals with differing abilities or do we have individuals from all walks of life participating?
NZ: In the Inclusive Theatre Companies we have people with differing abilities. And that’s been a great thing about this program as well. I’ve had students who, not Vadim, the first time I met Vadim he was very talkative to me and I thought, “Okay, this guy is a comic genius and he’s not shy.” But I’ve had people who were so shy that they’ve said to me, “I don’t think that I can get onstage and talk in front of people. I cannot. I don’t feel comfortable doing it.” They audition for different programs when they’re going to perform. But if they’re taking a class they don’t have to audition. So I’ve had people come into classes and say, “I will never do the theatre company. I will never do anything like Cabaret. I’m just here to take a class because my counselor or my guardian or my parent said, ‘You really need to do this.’” And after one class they’ll say to me, “Well, that wasn’t so horrible. I will take another class.” And I had a student say to me after three classes, “Y’know what, I’m going to audition for the theatre company.” Okay. And this is the person who was not super verbal. She did not want to get up in front of people. Did not really want to look at people when she was onstage. And he came in and he auditioned. He performed in the theatre company and in the second year he said to me, “I’d like to be the president of the United States in the next show.” And I said, “…okay.”
SB: That’s pretty cool.
NZ: You just never know where it will lead. You never know what it will open up for someone. It really is a freedom of a kind to say, “Okay.” Other people have said to me, “Well, it’s really helping me at work.” Or “It’s helping me in my volunteer opportunity because I’m able to say to my supervisor now, ‘I’m not really comfortable with this, but I’m going to try it.’” Or, “I think I can get more responsibility now because I’m more confident.” The ability to get up in front of people does give you confidence in other areas of your life. I think Vadim would definitely agree with that.
SB: Does that give you more confidence, Vadim?
VB: Yes, but like, I would suggest if a person is really shy to get in front of people. That person should get, not a star role, but maybe a minor role.
SB: And work at it.
VB: Then they can work up to major roles.
SB: And your website is art-stream.org. If there are parents out there who have young adult children, if you will, who have differing abilities looking for something to do that is different to stretch those brain muscles. To interact with a group. To get involved. To learn something new. This is something you definitely want to check out. There’s also an opportunity to donate as Natalie was saying. That’s the big thing. And if you have some red bows do share. (laughter) Bow-ties that is. Just really quick, I don’t have much time. Natalie, tell our listeners what else that you do. Not just with ArtStream.
NZ: Oh. Okay. I just wanted to quickly say that ArtStream can come to your community. So that is something that can happen as well. In addition to this, I teach drama at the Lowell School. I provide historical characters to organizations like the Air and Space Museum and the National Archives. I am a fake spy for the International Spy Museum on an interactive bus tour.
SB: Neat. So you’re really involved with this acting stuff and enjoying it.
SB: I love it. And what else do you do, Vadim.
VB: You mean besides acting?
SB: Yes. What do you like to do?
VB: Oh, well, outside of acting.
VB: I like to read all sorts of books.
VB: I also like to read magazines as long as it’s interesting.
VB: And I also like to imagine, pretend to be somebody else. Not really who I am.
SB: Wonderful. And you know what, Vadim after reading all those wonderful things you can become quite the character, I’m sure.
VB: Yes, that’s why members of my family say, the stage is the place for acting. Real life is for being yourself.
SB: Yes, it is Vadim.
VB: Unfortunately, I get so carried away that I act out in life.
NZ: The comedian Vadim. Vadim and I are sometimes in class the two of us will burst into song together. It’s like some old black and white movie. (laughter)
SB: That’s awesome. And I’ve run out of time, but I really want to thank you both very much for taking the time to speak with me today about ArtStream, it’s outreach into the community, ways for people to get involved and to explore and learn something new. And families giving your children and your family members different opportunities to explore and expand their minds. Thank you both for joining me today.
NZ: You’re welcome.
VB: You’re welcome, it’s been a pleasure talking to you.
SB: Thank you, Vadim.
VB: What’s your name?
SB: I’m Stevie, Vadim, and I’m getting ready to close the show. But don’t hang up yet, okay. But, you just have to be really quiet after I say this. As I always say to our listeners before wrapping up: staying in touch to keep you in touch here on Intercomm Communications Radio DC