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Saturday, October 12, 2019

Saturday Special - An Interview with Janine Nina Trevens, Producing Artistic Director/Executive Director of TADA! Youth Theater and Breat Cancer Survivor

This month in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we bring you a very special edition of our Working in Theater series, an interview with Janine Nina Trevens  (JNT) of TADA! Youth Theater. Since 1984, TADA!’s mission is to inspire NYC youth of all different backgrounds to be creative, learn, and think differently through original musical theater productions and education programs. A unique Drama Desk award-winning nonprofit youth theater, TADA!’s Ensemble Program is free to over 70 youth and teens each year who perform in the productions and receive positive youth development programming which increase their social and emotional learning as well as musical theater skills.  When TADA! Alumni such as Academy Award Winner Jordan Peele reflect on their experiences with Nina and TADA!, they describe the nonprofit organization as Home, Love and Fun and feel it has been inspirational, memorable and life-changing. Nina works hands-on with the young actors, and she has inspired alumni to reach for the stars.

Nina is also a recent breast cancer survivor.


What is your job title? 

JNT: Producing Artistic Director/Executive Director 

How would you describe what you do?

 JNT:  I lead and oversee the organization both administratively and artistically.  I work with the Directors of all departments (Education, Marketing, Fundraising, Finance, Production and Ensemble) to create the plans and budgets for the programs and the organization and work closely with TADA!'s Board of Directors. 

I work with TADA! Resident Youth Ensemble Members and direct many of our mainstage productions. I am the producer of all productions, in addition to working with the playwrights, composers and lyricists as they develop new musicals for the company. I love writing and have written a handful of musicals for TADA!.  

How did you come to be doing the job that you do? 

JNT: I co-founded TADA! in 1984 because I wanted to direct and create original musical theater and help make growing up easier for children and teens. 

Did you have to get any special training for your job?

 JNT: I grew up in and around the theater. I took some directing classes in college but I majored in psychology and education. I worked as a Stage Manager for many years and was the Associate to the Producer/Artistic Director at a youth theater before I started TADA!. I learned how to do my job and continue to learn every day by working with different people.  

What is the best part of your job? 

JNT: Creating and working with the Ensemble Members and writers on new musicals.  

What is the worst part of your job? 

JNT: Constantly having to think about money and how to raise more so that we can continue to do the different programs TADA! provides for NYC kids and teens.  

What are some of your favorite shows that you have worked on? 

JNT: BOTCH, The History Mystery, Odd Day Rain and Up To You. 

What show if any would you loved to have worked on? 

JNT: Matilda and Les Miserables.  

Who are some other people in your field that you admire? 

JNT: Harold Prince, Marsha Norman, Lynn Ahrens, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Rachel Chavkin, Susan Stroman and Daryl Roth. 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to do what you do? 

JNT: If you want to work in theater, I think you just have to go for it. You have to want it more than anything else. Volunteer at a theater or with someone that you want to work with. Continue to learn. Network. Don't let "no" stop you.

Nina is a four time cancer survivor. In her 20s, she had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma twice and underwent chemotherapy and radiation. Her first diagnosis came a year after she co-founded TADA!. In 2017, she was diagnosed with Breast Cancer and had a double mastectomy with direct implants.  However, she had an infection that wouldn't clear up so she had to have her right breast implant removed. She had to let her body heal and then had a tissue expander put in. In September 2018, she underwent surgery again to put in the right implant and reduce the size of the left implant because the implant was much bigger than she wanted but a size her male doctor thought was good. She was also diagnosed with Lung Cancer and had an operation in February 2018 to remove a section of her lung. She is now considered cancer-free but needs to be tested every six months for her lungs.  

Below, Nina shares her perspective about courage, determination, wit and wisdom and following your heart to support children’s artistic spirit and energy.  

How has being a cancer survivor impacted your work? 

JNT: I want to make the world a better place, and I know that's so big and lofty, but I feel that's why we're all put here on earth. I think the cancer just makes me want to work harder to accomplish good things in whatever time I have. I believe that I have many, many years to come. My work with children is of the utmost of importance to me. I want to inspire them to be true to themselves, to have a positive voice in the world and to care about each other. Also, the shows that I am currently commissioning and writing myself are dealing with topics that I really feel strongly about that deal with topics for adolescents rather than our youngest audiences such as anxiety in youth and teens, immigrant teens in America today, and a show entitled “Because We’re Girls.”

How do the TADA! youth theater children and Alumni inspire you…especially when you are feeling down? 

JNT: I love the TADA! Ensemble Members and the Alumni. I love feeling like I'm doing something to help make their lives better by giving them a place to do what they love through musical theater and with like-minded people. I love seeing that Alumni are still friends with people they met as children.

I am so proud of our Alumni. I have had the privilege of watching them grow up on our stage to become successful and productive adults.  Alumni are working in a wide range of careers including the performing arts such as TADA! Board member Jordan PeeleMizuo PeckJosh PeckAdam and Ryan of the Band AJR, members of Blac Rabbit BandAmar Ramasar, Sasha Allen, Ricardo Zayas, Sheldon Henry, Hale Appleman, Christina Franklin and so many more.  Our Ensemble members have also gone on to become doctors, teachers, photographers, musicians and journalists.

When I am working directly with the kids, I like that they keep on going and don't let my illness affect them or their work. It's a place where I don't feel "different" which sometimes is hard with adults.

What advice would you give to women facing these challenges long-term and day to day, since you are a four-time cancer survivor?

JNT:  I find it helpful to do something just for me every day.  (I don't always do this every day but it's a goal). I used to go to the Central Park Zoo and watch the penguins or the polar bear and just zone out watching. I like TV and I'll watch a comforting show which helped me to not think. I tend to be a thinker and someone who worries so I needed to find ways to stop the thinking - stop the feelings for a while so watching movies, TV shows, reading books was good for me. I think the most important advice is to listen to yourself and what you need and want. A year out from operations, I now realize that there are layers or stages that I went through physically, mentally and emotionally. There’s still time it affects me emotionally and I just need to let myself be sad or tired or scared. I’m still dealing with the fact that my body is different. I’m not sure how to start dating again so although I do have advice, I also need advice.

What’s the best way to ask for and find help?  

JNT: Tell your friends what you need and let them help you.  Accept gifts of kindness from people and really let them do things for you, especially if you are a person who finds it difficult to ask for and receive help.  Try to be specific with people about what you need. They want to help but don't always know what to do.  You can say I need prepared food, someone to go with me to appointments, make a drug store run, help with laundry, help with insurance forms, whatever YOU need. I can be very independent and want to be in charge, but I can’t always be that way with cancer. 

What advice would you give women who are newly-diagnosed with breast cancer? 

JNT: Fighting cancer is so hard that it’s important to find your own support.  With Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I attended a cancer support group at Cancer Care in New York City and also found a private therapist.  With breast and lung cancer, I relied on my friends and family.  I had someone come with me to doctor appointments, tests and procedures.  I needed to talk about my appointments to fully understand what the doctors were saying. You need to ask as many questions as you have and don’t feel badly about repeating questions, if you don’t understand or can’t remember the answers. Ask if there is anything that can make you more comfortable during the tests, at home and in the hospital.  You have to be your own advocate and trust your feelings.

What do you feel is the most important perspective to keep in mind when faced with breast cancer? 

JNT: I tried to find something positive in the breast cancer. At first, when I heard I needed a double mastectomy, I was shocked. I mean they caught the breast cancer early and got it all out with the first operation but why did I need a double mastectomy? I was advised by a number of doctors that to be on the safe side, I should do it. (Don't be scared to hurt a doctor’s feeling by getting a second or third opinion, if that's what you need). I had very big breasts so I decided to look at this as a way to have breast reduction surgery. I always wanted smaller breasts, and now I would have them. I have a daughter, and I want to be here for her, so I remember that the fighting is important for me - I want to live. 

We thank Janine Nina Trevens for taking the time to answer out our questions.

For more about TADA Youth Theater or to sign your child up for one of their programs or purchase tickets for an upcoming show, visit https://www.tadatheater.com.

For resources and information regarding breast cancer, visit https://www.breatheknowgo.com.

Tune in tomorrow for this week's Sunday Scoop.

2 comments:

  1. I know soon I will have to go for my testing , and I am always nervous, scared really.. But I would rather lose what ever to be here for my 4 daughters and my 10 grandchildren. I am so sorry that you have and had to go through this But I am very Thankful that you are around. Life is so precious!! Nice to meet you..
    @tisonlyme143

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