Friday, May 30, 2014

Reflections on the Spring 2014 Semester

Reflections on the Spring 2014 Semester
Faculty, Sobha Kavanakudiyil

Maya Angelou said, “Whatever you want to do, if you want to be great at it, you have to love it and be able to make sacrifices for it.” And boy did we do that this semester! 

We saw diligence and hard work, we saw laughter, sacrificing time that could be spent doing something easier, something less time consuming but probably less fulfilling. We are artists with passion, we are educators with strength, we are people who inspire.

Looking back, we began the semester watching Master Theatre Practitioner on Process Drama, Cecily O’Neill work with students from Repertory High School, deepening their understanding of The Inspector General.  Not only an amazing experience to have our candidates work with Cecily but to watch Cecily work with students was so valuable.

Candidates challenged themselves in classes to learn about how to present research, work with inclusive populations, discuss best practices in teaching English Language Learners or Emergent Bilinguals, and learn how to teach technical theatre and the history of theatre. For example in the History of Theatre class, candidates were asked to read the play, understand the history of the play, deepen understanding by making connections with why the play is relevant today, consider why it might be a good choice to produce in a school today, and what challenges producing the play would present.

Candidates were popping up at conferences this semester, as conference coordinators, as volunteers, as learners, as facilitators, as advocates, networking with emerging practitioners as well as experienced ones at events such as the NYU TA Forum, The New York City Arts in Education Roundtable’s Face to Face Conference (held at The City College of New York), and at TIOS in March.

We noticed that many of our candidates have been working in the field as teachers, teaching artists, and administrators; balancing artistry and education as well as school work and life!

We kicked off the end of the semester strong as well!  Family Art Saturdays classes mostly serving children under the age of 4 years; Family Arts Day premiered the Readings on the Road Performances, “Yuki and the Elephant; Hosting a special workshop sponsored by the Office of Arts and Special Projects with International Theatre Practitioners: Michael Finneran and Michael Anderson, open to not only CCNY Ed Theatre, but also the NYU Ed Theatre Community; And of course our Research/Artistic Share – presenting the research in various forms, including ethnodrama and documentary style!

This semester we also honored two of our students, Elizabeth Simmons with The Frances Blumenthal Award in Research and Stacey Bone with the Howard Wexler Scholarship, as well as Program Director, Jennifer Katona receiving the City College President’s Award for Outstanding Faculty Service in the School of Education!

We were reminded this semester of the strength of ensemble, the power of artistry in the joy of the work we do, and that the most inspired educators are those who are life long learners.  As we say goodbye to the semester and to our graduates, we also say goodbye to an inspiring practitioner and so I leave you with this quote from In Releasing the Imagination: Essays on Education, the Arts, and Social Change Maxine Greene said, “In my view, the classroom situation most provocative of thoughtfulness and critical consciousness is one in which teachers and learners find themselves conducting a kind of collaborative search, each from his or her own lived situation.”

To our Spring 2014 Graduates, may you have as strong an ensemble with your students as you have here in the CCNY Ed Theatre Program!
Happy Summer!


**to read about any of the above mentioned events, please go to our blogs: http://www.ccny.cuny.edu/edtheatre/news_and_events.cfm***

Friday, May 16, 2014

Professional Development Reflection

Professional Development Reflection
Meredith Akins

I grew up during the age of milk cartons with missing children on the backside.  There had been a couple of tragic stories in the news of kidnappings of innocent boys and girls.  Out of nowhere, my community was shedding light on the terrible things that our innocent lives were too young to understand.  We were being told by our parents and teachers to not speak to strangers.  It was drilled into our heads, and rightfully so.  Times were changing and our safety was paramount, but I noticed that sharing stories with others was not encouraged anymore.  I found myself becoming silent.  I was reminded of these memories when I volunteered at NYU’s Teaching Artist Forum and I attended the session called, Telling True Stories:  The Moth and Personal Narrative Performance in the Classroom.  I walked away reflecting on why I love to talk and ask questions.  I walked away knowing that people find that making connections with others gives us meaning.  As an educator and graduate student studying theater pedagogy, it is clear that connective stories allow students to share their “artful voice”.  And I believe, more than ever, that making connections and speaking to strangers actually sets us up for success and new possibilities.

 At some point growing up, I started speaking to strangers again.  It unnerved people when I would strike up a conversation and share so much about myself.  I loved talking about race, gender, and relationships. I had performed for many years in several shows and inevitably, someone would ask why I would talk about the uncomfortable issues going on in the world.  Many of them would have rather discussed who was up for this or that Tony Award.  I would always rather sit down with a glass of wine and talk about life.   That is why I enjoyed Sobha’s Kavankudiyil’s class in Conflict Resolution last fall at City College. It was fulfilling to take a class that provided a space to create theatre based on real stories and real thoughts.  The class had sociological themes at its core.  I was also able to make new connections after the NYU Teaching Artist Forum when I learned that there are artists that share their stories in monologue form.  Unlike a play where someone does a monologue of a character, MOTH has students tell stories from their experiences.  Wait, I love telling stories and I love listening to other people’s stories!  The conference session reminded me of an acting teacher who had me write my own monologue about being betrayed by someone because I had a tendency to “clean my characters up”, by not allowing myself to get messy. I wanted to be the perfect acting student, which prevented me from letting go as a performer.  It was memorable moment when I did my personal monologue.  I was completely and utterly vulnerable.  I had done it in front of a room of working actors I did not know well.  Although they were strangers, everyone in the room was moved and inspired.  I walked back to my seat a different person because I told my story.

The students that work with MOTH Teaching Artists are so fortunate to have ownership of their stories.  They get to reflect about their perspective continually and isn’t that the true measurement for growth?  As a participant of the workshop, I once again got the chance to share a story after being given several prompts, such as “a time I took a big risk”.  In a safe space, we were encouraged to share our feelings and be moved by others.  I took the train home in an excited state.  I told Catherine McCarthy and Michaela Blei, the presenters of the session, that I was ready to take a big risk and sign up for an Open Mic at their StorySlam.  Attending their session made me become bold.  That is the positive of attending conferences.  If you are lucky, you get to hear a different worldview.  Worldviews and perspectives are at the core of making choices as an actor and they are the ingredients to a successful pedagogy.




Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Classroom Curtain Call



Classroom Curtain Call
By Michael Kevin Baldwin

I am writing from my desk at Hunter College High School where I am currently a full-time Drama teacher.  The clock reads 4:02pm.  The school day is officially done.  I am the only faculty member left in my 8-person office.  The hustle and bustle of students in the hallway has been replaced by the mellow bellow of the custodial staff.  I pull a Chewy granola bar from my desk and reflect.  Reflect on my day.  Reflect on my week.  Reflect on my first experience as a classroom teacher.
            I started at Hunter a little over five months ago.  I am the replacement for a woman on maternity leave.  I was supposed to start on December 9, 2013.  Before that date, I subbed at Hunter four times.  This proved to be a great opportunity to get to know the crazy schedule, the incredible cast of characters with whom I’d be working (a.k.a. the faculty), and some of the high-achieving students.  On Monday, November 25th I arrived to sub for the day at 7:30am, and the English and C/T (Communications and Theater) Department Chair stopped me in the hallway and said, “Michael!  She is in labor.  Can you start tomorrow?”    
Stage fright set in.  What could I say, “Tell her not to push?”  
Game on: Mr. Baldwin reporting for duty.
            The faculty at Hunter was unbelievably welcoming and supportive.  They were always there to answer questions and offer guidance.  They truly set me up for success.  Additionally, my predecessor and I had previously met and discussed the units I should cover.  She offered me some broad strokes on what her curricula might look like were she to remain in the building.  In essence, she told me what to teach, but not how to teach it.  The how was up to me.  This struck me with both fear and excitement.  I was a professional actor for 8 years.  I’ve been a teaching artist for two and a half years.  I’m roughly halfway through my coursework as a graduate student at CCNY.  But this gig at Hunter was to be my first full-time teaching experience and it felt like my big break.  Here’s my chance!
“You’re on in five, Ms. Minnelli!”
            “Places!  Places, please.  Places.”
            Deep breath.  Make your entrance.
I plunged head first into five different classes: three sections of 7th grade Communications and Theater, one section of 8th grade Communications and Theater, and an upperclassman elective, Advanced Public Speaking.  My first week was a whirlwind.  Mostly I just wanted to be in the right place at the right time.  And names…….oh, the names!  I had 123 new students.  They all knew my name as soon as I wrote it in my sleek cursive on the chalkboard.  The odds were certainly stacked in their favor.  However, I was able to learn the students’ names quicker than I initially anticipated.  This is possibly because as a teaching artist you often don’t see your students more than once or twice a week.  As a classroom teacher, when interacting with students on a daily basis, you get to know them quickly.  If you don’t, the third time you point to a 7th grader named Minerva and call her Matilda, she will look at you with an expression that says, “How dumb is this guy?  He’s probably from Jersey.”  Minerva.  Got it.
            The 7th graders at Hunter are the eager, immature frosh.  It is their first year at the school and they are still getting to know each other and their surroundings.  This empowers them with a shameless sense of naiveté, and a never-waning eagerness to play.  They are sweet and savage all in the same breath, and I love them for it.  Just the other day I walked into class and a 7th grade boy said to me, “Hey Mr. Baldwin, what do you call a snobby criminal walking down stairs?”  I paused.  “I don’t know, what?”  With perfect delivery: “A condescending con descending.”  I guffawed and then beamed with pride.  Five months ago this student wouldn’t speak to me, let alone tell a joke.  
This year in 7th grade each student wrote an original 10-minute play including unity of time, place, and action, with 4-5 characters.  I did a play selection process that concluded with 4 plays being chosen per class to be produced.  Next up we hurtled head first into play production, mounting these four original plays, with students acting as directors, actors, and designer/stage managers. Ultimately, one play from each class was chosen to be performed in the 7th Grade New Play Festival on the main stage in the Hunter Auditorium.  Since the festival, I have done units on physical theater, improvisation, and storytelling.  The 7th grade year in Communications and Theater is all about building skills in concentration, cooperation, commitment, and collaboration.
The seeming gap between 7th grade and 8th grade is mind-boggling.  One would think that three years exists between the current class of 2018 and the current class of 2019.  Puberty probably has a lot to do with it, but there’s also the fact that the 8th graders cusp on sophomoric. They know each other, they know the school, and yet they still don’t know themselves.  The 8th graders are too cool for school. Lately, I’ve been getting many requests to take selfies with them.  They are taking notice of each other but still don’t know what to do with this heightened awareness.  What a wonderful age to spend a semester playing.  With the 8th graders I started with ensemble work and group play.  We then went into a unit on Shakespeare, including a field trip to see Fiasco Theater Company’s Measure for Measure at The New Victory Theater.  We then did an in-depth exploration of improvisation through Viola Spolin Technique.  We are now knee deep in contemporary monologue performance, with an eye toward auditions.
Then there are the 12th graders.  The 12 graders are basically people.  Wait, that came out wrong.  But seriously, the 12th graders are adults.  Most of them are 18 or almost 18, and some, if not all of them, are already accepted to college.  Thus, the Advanced Public Speaking Class was probably the most challenging class for me to prep.  It required me to revisit many content areas that I hadn’t encountered since college.  I got out my Freeing the Natural Voice text by Kristin Linklater and re-read it, cover to cover.  I scoured not only what noteworthy public speakers have said, but also how they said it.  I watched every Ted Talk that I could stomach.  This class was a wonderful opportunity to really explore and practice vocal effectiveness.  We had potent discussions and powerful workshops (some ending with the Latin teacher from upstairs asking if we could stop sending vocal vibrations into the ceiling).         
Well, that’s the tip of my reflection iceberg.  I could truly go on and on.  But “Brevity is the soul of wit” said Shakespeare (ironic that this line comes from Hamlet, his longest play).  Now it is 4:48pm.  The gentlemanly custodian just came in and emptied the trash cans.  He said, “Late night.”  I said, “Yep.”  He said, “Can I have some of your hand sanitizer?”  I said, “Absolutely.”  
I feel really good about our chat.
So, I’ve reflected.  I’ve reflected on my day.  I’ve reflected on my week.  I’ve reflected on the last 5 and a half months.   I’ve come to acknowledge something that I already knew: I love it here.  I love my job, I love the students, I love the faculty, and I love teaching drama.  I believe in the importance of teaching drama.  
However, what I have failed to mention thus far in this blog is that one week from today will be my last day at Hunter.  The woman who I am replacing returns from her maternity leave next Friday.  
“Places for the curtain call.  Places, please.  Time for your final bow, Mr. Baldwin.”
I don’t know how to say goodbye.  I don’t have a clue.  I feel paralyzed.  How do I leave a building that has come to feel like home?  How do I cheers colleagues whom I adore and respect but with whom I may never work again?  How do I say goodbye to students that have been a part of my daily life for nearly half a year and of whom I am so fond?  If I were at least teaching until the end of the year, but not returning in the fall, I could count on the summer as a buffer to soften the blow. However, next Thursday I will be their teacher and on Friday I will not.  There’s no weekend intensive course at CCNY called Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow that schools us on how to do this.  I’m nervous that I’m going to cry.  I’m nervous that the students are going to cry.  I’m nervous that the students aren’t going to cry.  
So far I’ve got one solution: I will focus on the luxury of not having to set my alarm for 5:43am Friday morning.
In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy my final week as Drama Teacher at Hunter College High School.  It’s been an incredible ride and I am so thankful for this opportunity.  As the week progresses and comes to an end, I will focus on one very satisfying reality: if I care this much, I’m right where I should be. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Finding the Balance

Finding the Balance by Sarah Malone Kenny

When Sobha asked me to write a blog post about work/life/school balance, I honestly laughed out loud. At first thought, I didn't think it was something I was managing all that well. In the past 6 months, I have started a new job, started grad school, gotten married, and co-chaired AATE's Theatre in Our Schools conference! 





When I talk about it all with my family and friends, they tell me I'm crazy and that they don't know how I'm doing it all. But in truth, it's really not all that hard! Every one of the things I listed has provided me with a lot of joy and satisfaction. Sure it's a lot, but it's all related (well, maybe not the getting married part), I have passion for what I'm doing, and each of these things feeds the others.

When I'm in class, I'm thinking about how everything I'm learning can help me do my job every day. And when I'm at work, I'm practicing what I'm learning. And co-chairing the Theatre In Our Schools conference beautifully tied it all together; TIOS was the first event where my work life and my school life truly intersected. It was so great to see colleagues I know from work and colleagues I know from school interacting with and learning from each other. And as a current graduate student, I was able to bring the perspective of another area of AATE's reach (and of course, score some field work hours!) to the conference.




Ultimately, what I've learned about balance in the past 6 months, is that it's all about joy, passion, and loving what you're doing. When you love coming to work each day and you love learning from your peers and teachers in the glamorous classrooms at CCNY, it all becomes a lot more manageable, productive, and, of course, joyful.