Tuesday, July 5, 2016

#BraveSpace: Theatre and the Path to Self-Identity

#BraveSpace: Theatre and the Path to Self-Identity
 By Elizabeth Harvey, Jeff Seabaugh, Meredith Smart, Michael Kevin Baldwin, Patrick McGee,
Robin Cannon Colwell

As educators, researchers, and artists, we noticed that today identity is being discussed in a variety of ways in the news, classrooms, and communities. Throughout their youth, all students face the giant task of understanding themselves and how they fit into the world around them. Different students face different challenges when it comes to identity. We noticed that one of the major challenges lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth face is developing a positive sexual identity due to social stigma and homophobia. Also, as teachers and administrators continue to create classrooms that are inclusive of all types of student profiles, it is important to find ways to encourage students with disabilities to participate in activities that will support their social and emotional growth. Finally, there is a current national discussion concerning the rights of those who are transgender and/or gender non-conforming. Often students who are are transgender/gender non-conforming face ridicule and find coming out to be a struggle.  Even when friends and family claim to be open minded, making this shift is often difficult.

Inspired by these communities, we set out to discover ways in which youth theatre programs successfully empower students and allow them to explore who they are and further cultivate their identities. We examined and explored the impact that theatre has on youth identity for three populations of students. Through observations of youth participating in workshops and theatrical performances and interviews with teachers, administrators, adults, and students in the greater New York City area and Western Massachusetts, our research explored the impact that theatre has on the development of identity in connection to students with disabilities, LGB youth, and youth who question their assigned gender. 

What we found through our interviews and observations was that theatre can impact the development of sexual identity by offering a safe space, a familial experience and exploration of body. Theatre proved to be a socially and culturally acceptable medium for young people to explore those aspects of their identity that society does not consider normal. Also, theatre was a place where youth could explore the spectral nature of their gender with safety, support, encouragement, and even reward. Theatre offered students with disabilities an inclusive setting to explore and cultivate life skills that assist in the development of their identity and social/emotional skills.  Finally, while many people explained that theatre offered a safe space, we uncovered the fact that theatre offers participants a brave space where participants can take risks towards self exploration and identity.

It is our hope that this research will help teachers, administrators and parents understand the important role that theatre can play in the lives of their students. Our schools must strive to create inclusive communities that honor and respect all types of students.  Going forward, it will be necessary to continue to educate and train teachers and administrators in various ways to understand how to best meet the needs of students who are questioning their gender identity, students who already identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, and students who have been labeled as having a disability.  We want all students to know that theatre really can provide them with a “Brave Space” where they can simply and fully be who they are, wherever they are in the path to discovering their identities.

Monday, June 20, 2016

How To Be An Artist-Educator and Impact Communities More Than Ever

How To Be An Artist-Educator and Impact Communities More Than Ever
These four CUNY City College graduate students in the Educational Theatre program researched this subject for their graduate thesis. Their answers may surprise you.  Keeping your life as an artist, not throwing out the baby with the bathwater, gives you even more value as a teacher, these four researchers found.  They realized through their research, teaching keeps you honest as an artist and reinforces what you do to make art.  It may be challenging and a lot of hard work to continue to do both but it is well worth it; and many studies show students’ academic learning is enhanced.  Read their stories below which shed light on the subject.

The day I realized that being an artist-educator is a “holy” thing
by Brigitte Barnett

I have been a teaching artist for many years and recently started to become disillusioned and maybe even a little burned out. I was finding it increasingly hard to balance both acting and teaching but I loved them both. I began to question if I should continue acting or if I should give up acting and be a teacher? In case you are wondering what a teaching artist is, it is a professional artist who uses their artistic skills (e.g., acting, dancing, singing, directing, writing, etc.) to integrate and teach their artform into a wide range of settings.  So I asked my colleagues such questions as, “How would you describe an artist/educator.”  One artist/educator, Godfrey Simmons, Jr., said, “Being an artist/educator is a ‘holy’ act.”  He goes on to compare being an artist/educator to being a Grio.  A Grio is a storyteller from West Africa that passes down stories and traditions. He continued, “When art and teaching are at its best, it is a spiritual experience.”  This lifted my teaching artist spirit.  Another artist/educator Nilaja Sun said, “I don’t know if I would be an educator if I was not also an artist. This work has to coincide with each other or one will…you will hate yourself. You will hate everything you’re doing like if I was just teaching and not acting. I would want to kill the kids, if I was acting and not teaching (which I have done). There was a whole part of me that was missing. Once you get into this work it’s like your DNA comes alive. It’s like something inside of you just says, yes yes, yes, yes.”  She continued, “We have our own lane and that lane…that lane is not titled yet. So, it's kinda like we’re driving, driving, then we went off the road and everyone says well, what are the directions to get to you? And you say, well, uhm…there’s no name on my exit. You can take a spacecraft... You could use your mind but there’s no actual way…there’s not one way to get to me because I’m not just one thing.”  When I heard these words from two of the top artist/educators in our field it gave me hope.
So if you are a teaching artist or an artist/educator and you are thinking about going into the business, or if you are already in the business and need some inspiration, I hope these words of wisdom inspire and motivate you as they did me.

How One First Grade Teacher Impacts Young Lives with His “Can-Do” Approach to Theatre Study
by Janet Girardeau

     When Bryan Andes, then a student teacher in Chinatown, was assigned to the Children’s Workshop Elementary School, what impressed him immediately was a tradition instituted there of visiting each kindergartener’s home in a study of community. This served not only to bond the class and educate them on the diversity and cultural motivations of those in their classroom community, but it was also a way to engage the students in hands-on learning. This study set the foundation for the style of learning that would serve as Mr. Andes’ hallmark teaching style going forward, a springboard for all the amazing educational ideas to follow in his classroom.
     “When I interviewed for the job at Midtown West (MTW), a Bank Street School of Education based school using social studies as the core subject each grade built lessons around, I suggested “Home Visits” as a bridge between home and kindergarten as the social studies subject focus was Community,” he remarked, “I think I got the job based on this suggestion; and MTW now uses the Home Visit as the core for all kindergarten learning.”
MTW structures its school so that kids stay with a teacher for two years in a two year loop.  Bryan has his kids for Kindergarten and First Grade.  He had this to say about how his Theatre Study was born:
The first grade teachers were developing a study of the community and I
thought it was so powerful.  And right away I thought, ”Well, if I ever do this study,
I should do a study of the theatre community because… why not?!! It’s all around
our school! That’s what I’m interested in!”
His theatre study is a model of arts integration at its best and is a successful example of bringing together the school’s community with the community the school is in, the heart of the Broadway theater. Using experts in the field as teaching artists, his kids learn every job in the theatre then take on the jobs and put on a show. Their show is based on fairy tales they have studied, they co-write the script and the songs are always by a musical theatre individual or team that they have studied. The arts integration involves illustrating the program, making their own paper mache puppets, set and props, having a child conductor for a parent-staffed orchestra and a child Stage Manager on headset calling the show.
This study is so rich and full and the children’s academic skills in vocabulary, literacy, music, art, math and critical thinking grows exponentially in a hands-on way.  As arts educators know, sometimes persuading teachers to see the value in blending arts, and especially theatre arts, into the classroom, can be intimidating for teachers not comfortable with theatre arts, scary for those concerned about time management and challenging for those not inclined to try this for a multitude of other reasons. The model of what Bryan Andes does in his classroom could be used in any setting (e.g., community senior settings, schools, prisons, etc).  He happens to be in the Broadway theatre district so has taken full advantage of his proximity to hundreds of experts in the field, but even one guest artist in any setting would be enough.
Here’s what parents and kids in Bryan’s study have to say:
Jeremy, Parent, Understudy for The Phantom of the Opera
Well, I love it because… that’s our life. I do theatre, I’m an actor, Ashley was a rockette, and… this IS his neighborhood. These are his friends, this is his community, this is his neighborhood. And this teacher not only does this study but he uses the community to help.

Ralph Buckley, Actor, Teacher
Every child in that loop knows what every job is in the theatre. And so when they go and see a show they have a depth and a density when seeing the show that other kids probably don’t have. It’s a great advantage for Ava.

Maria Postigo, Photographer, Parent
The theatre study allows the kids to dream. To imagine all these possibilities outside of reading, writing, mathematics. And the way they study it, through fairy tales, it’s really fascinating. Bryan stimulates them so much by talking about and reading fairy tales, and then showing them illustrators of fairy tales, taking them to a performance of a fairy tale, and then they want to write their own, and then put on their own play, so it grows and grows and is so exciting and makes them want to know more and more. And I think making it fun, other than you have to read this, you have to write this, … that way they’re learning and they don’t know they’re learning. They’re just enjoying the time.

Noa, first grade student
It’s great. My job is the House Manager.  So a house manager does like… talk to people. And try to enjoy them. I like helping my community. And if someone gets hurt- like if someone needs a bandaid- I’m the one who’s in charge of that! No one else. No one else can do my job!

       Bryan ties so much together with his use of the arts in the classroom that to me, his study paves the way for future artists, future arts appreciators, and more literate and open human beings aware of their place in this magical world full of creativity we all share.  Bryan sums up his purpose:
The arts help us make sense of the world. So it gives them a reason to read, to write, to do math, to critically think. It starts with the family study and fairy tales and grandparents and cousins and aunts and the stories we pass down from generations and how they evolve. It gives also a common thread for generations to connect to.
Finding Artistry in All Things
                                                       by Hollis Heath

After interviewing several teaching artists, I recognized that it’s important to recognize that your life as an artist doesn't end or begin with the stage. It's present in every area of your life. As middle school principal, Zora Johnson stated, "'my acting remains with me always. Whether I'm doing a read-a-loud in a kindergarten classroom or leading morning inspiration for our scholars. I'm using my acting skills to make these moments dynamic for our students and that's my artistry."
From dancers to actors to visual artists, they all reiterated the same idea. There is no need to feel insecure or that your idea is less than when you are not being paid to make art. The way we approach cooking or laundry or even our process in facilitating in a classroom is a direct result of our artistic life and should not be ignored.  In fact, it is our rich and diverse artistic life that makes us attractive candidates in fields that may not be related to the stage.  As Zora Johnson said, "No one can give feedback like me. When I walk in classrooms and observe teachers, I look at it like a character study. What's my environment, who's in the room, who are these characters? I notice and observe everything; and so educators on my team benefit from my feedback greatly, because I observe like an actor would, preparing for a role.  My detailed observations are a major reason I was asked to be principal at this school."
We learned from Britney Young, a High School teacher, that staying connected to her artistry is vital to her role in the classroom, "I started to get bored, and I realized it was because I wasn't acting and performing myself. So I started to make sure I perform for my students and on the outside, we perform for each other so that is a back and forth exchange."  
In closing, the goal isn't to land a Broadway role or necessarily train the next Broadway stars. The goal is to keep an active artistic life, an honor that in whatever way that takes form, whether it is in the classroom, the kitchen, a garden or on stage.

The Pros and Cons of Being an Artist-Educator
by Kristina Caprio
I interviewed quite a few theatre artist-educators both on the college and K-12 levels regarding the impact they feel they have had on their communities of both their student bodies and their audiences (from the shows they have taken part in professionally as well as scholastically).  One university professor from my alma mater, Stefan Novinski, posed the question to our group, “Can you make room in your teaching for your artistry?”  This one question summed up the quest of our piece as we are all trying to balance our day jobs, be it teaching or otherwise, with our artistic work while keeping up with the day-to-day responsibilities our personal lives demand.  The struggle is real, we found, to no surprise honestly.  The intensity of the struggle, however, was surprising.  Based on collective observations, it seems balancing artistic endeavors with work-life is somewhat “easier” for college level teachers; whereas, for K-12 teachers, it is far more challenging.  It seems that on the latter level, teaching theatre is more all consuming of one’s time and measures have to be carefully made and set aside to achieve an artistic life.
That said, it seems, however, talking to these teachers on both sides of the table, the level of satisfaction for K-12 teachers is more palpable knowing when they have broken through and reached their students.  Students on this level are usually coming to the table with no prior experience (or interest) so whenever there is a breakthrough of curiosity or even fascination, the payoff is significant.  These teachers know many of their students have had an epiphany for something with substantive appeal (and sometimes even an awakening).  The college professors, by and large, have students that are already interested in theatre (though some take a class as an elective, this case is in the minority) and, therefore, know going in, their students have a predilection for the stage and oftentimes even actual theatrical experience.  The classes are, in that regard, easier to teach because they have a rapt audience, in this case, a class of students.  Though it is easier for the college professors to have more of a fleshed out professional theatrical career (i.e., acting, writing and directing), and it seems from all the research that it is difficult to engage fully in both teaching and a professional theatre life as a K-12 teacher, the takeaway for me is that the payoff is greater for the latter.  K-12 artist-educators are able to have even more of a dramatic impact on these students who have little to no prior interest or experience with theatre, and even sometimes these students alter their lives and futures into new directions of not only acting but writing, directing, designing and devising theatre and even producing.  These same students also impact their school communities by working hard together on projects (some tried and true plays, some newly devised works written by themselves) and showing collectively the power of collaboration, working hard and presenting creative and ofttimes impressive pieces.  This is teamwork at its best and allows students to shine for their audience: their family, friends, each other and the student body at large.  
As we learned from our many interviews, though, however much “easier” it is to endeavor in your art while teaching at the college level, the reward for touching and affecting young lives might be even greater as the impact has potential to be greater.  We also learned by speaking to a select few teachers, that it is indeed possible to be a K-12 teacher or teaching artist of children and youth while still finding the time for your art.  We learned you must absolutely make time for your art, even if it is with the understanding that directing the school play is indeed fulfilling those needs!  Helping kids devise theatre, directing scenes and plays, and/or writing plays for kids for summer festivals all count as pursuing and “doing” your art.  So the short answer is: yes, we can (and will) make room in our teaching for our art!  Whether it is in school or outside school, it counts.  It is all deeply relevant.


    We hope through our research into some of the best and brightest stars of education and the arts today we have convinced you to:

  • Try it!  Bring literature to life in your classroom. Paint a theme from your poetry unit. Dance the mathematics lesson for a day.  Fail, and try again! The effort is worth it!

  • Invite a teaching artist program into your school. Open your classroom to adventure and surprise. It will be worth the effort!

  • Artist Educators--Know the artistic spirit inside you lives always.  The flame burns bright whether in the classroom or on the stage. JUST DO IT!!

In the words of Anna Deavere Smith, the penultimate Artist-Educator alive in the U.S. today:
This is an urgent moment. Wake up and DO SOMETHING. Whatever happens in your life to get you to get up, and DO something, stop thinking, stop ruminating… there are a lot of trains leaving from a lot of stations. GET ON!!!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Harlem Children’s Theatre Festival

Harlem Children’s Theatre Festival
By Robin Cannon Colwell

I love creating new shows for families that challenge young people, provoke dialogue, and inspire possibility. For me, that is what the Harlem Children's Theatre Festival is all about.

My journey with TYA in the Ed Theatre graduate program at CCNY began two years ago when Sobha invited me to direct a piece I co-wrote in her Theatre for Young Audiences course. I was honored that our play, Yuki and the Elephant was chosen to premiere at the graduate program's Family Arts Day that year. It was a rewarding experience working on such a creative piece of theatre with talented members of my Ed Theatre cohort. The piece Yuki and the Elephant was a huge success, and went on to tour in two area schools that fall!

YUKI pic.jpeg
2014 Family Arts Day performance of Yuki and the Elephant

Fast forward two years (and a lot of lesson plans and teacher certification exams later)...
I knew my time as a graduate student would soon be coming to an end and I wanted to make the most of it. Our program stresses the importance of staying close to your artistry, and for me that is producing and directing exciting Theatre For Young Audiences. Family Arts Day was now called the Harlem Children's Theatre Festival, and consisted of 3 staged theatrical productions. What a great opportunity for grad students to practice the skills we learn in class!

I was given the chance to work alongside Sobha as Artistic Director of the theatre festival's 3 shows. It was such a fun process! For TOMMY CAN'T STOP: THE MUSICAL, we had the unique opportunity to cast a student from PS161 as well as two students from Repertory High School (both of which have strong partnerships with CCNY's Ed Theatre Program). For the adaptation of OUT OF THE MIND, it was important to us that we find a wheelchair user for the play, and we were lucky enough to find a young talented actor named Tom Ellenson to play the part. For GOODNIGHT BALLOON, the process of developing a piece of Theatre for the Very Young was lovely to watch unfold. The actors in that piece struck a beautiful balance of play, visuals, and structure that captivated young audience members.

Tommy Rehearsal pic.jpeg
PS 161 student Herbert Espinol in rehearsal for TOMMY CAN'T STOP: THE MUSICAL!

OOMM rehearsal pic.jpeg
Gianna Cioffi, Tom Ellenson, Jan Valle, and Bridid Warnke  in rehearsal for OUT OF MY MIND.

Melissa Volpe, Naomi Avadanei, and Angelique Castro in rehearsal for Goodnight Balloon.

I especially enjoyed directing TOMMY CAN'T STOP: THE MUSICAL. It was a pleasure to work with current grad students as well as an alum of our program. Maggie Lalley and Amanda Grundy wrote a fun script and melodies for the piece,  and we worked with a fantastic production team to create the world of Tommy. The performance was a hit, and I was proud of our actors for doing such a wonderful job sharing this story with our audience at the festival.
TOMMY show pic.jpg
Performance of Tommy Can’t Stop at HCTF. Pictured are students Mariah Morales and Herbert Espinol
and grad students Jim Kroener and Erica Hill.

Because of my experiences with TYA in the Ed Theatre Program at CCNY, I have discovered a love for creating shows for young audiences. Sobha's expertise and guidance in developing a festival for new TYA work has inspired me to take my own career in TYA to the next level. After 3 years in the grad program, I am inspired to continue creating innovative new theatre for families. I'm looking forward to the next adventure!

Robin Cannon Colwell is a 3rd year candidate in the Graduate Program in Educational Theatre at The City College of New York. She has been a Teaching Artist for over 12 years and currently teaches for Arts For All and PlayOn! Studios in NYC. As Director of Education for Infinity Theatre Company, she has produced TYA works such as THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES, PINOCCHIO, TALL TALES OF ENOCH, STORIES LIVE AND IN PERSON, JACK VS RAPUNZEL THE MUSICAL, and ELEPHANT AND PIGGIE’S “WE ARE IN PLAY”.  

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Student Teaching Blog

Student Teaching Blog
Jeff Seabaugh 

When I first began my journey in the CCNY Educational Theatre Department I remember hearing other students further along in the process talking about their student teaching experiences.  I hung on their every word and relished hearing about the highs and lows of teaching.  I entered this program at a pivotal time in my life.  I was beginning a new chapter as theatre artist, a father, and an educator.   I often wondered if I really had it in me to make this transition and to see this dream come true.  The past two and a half years have raced by and I can’t believe that my dream of actually teaching real live students has become a reality.
Student teaching is an amazing experience and it calls on me to seize every moment of every day.  In a concentrated amount of time I have been immersed in the nitty gritty, day-to-day world of teaching.  Student teaching is the ultimate immersive theatre experience and I accept my role as teacher proudly.   Over the past two and a half years I have rehearsed being a classroom teacher in front of my colleagues and professors.  I’ve written lesson plans.  I’ve read about Piaget, Gardner, and Greene.  I’ve learned about creating an inclusive classroom.  I’ve taught residencies in schools to prepare me for the role of classroom teacher.  I’ve written more lesson plans.  I’ve revised lesson plans.  I’ve observed and reflected more than I thought humanly possible.  All of these tasks and lessons have been in preparation for the day when I would step through a classroom door and begin this new life as a teacher.  As a student teacher the crystal ball starts to become clearer. The teacher I want to be is coming into focus.  I had always assumed I would only want to teach high school students and if it wasn’t for my exposure to middle school students and elementary students during my student teaching experience I wouldn’t have had my mind opened to new possibilities. 

I am currently doing both my student teaching placements simultaneously and have the unique opportunity to be experiencing life in both public and private schools.   I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity to peek inside two very different schools as I prepare to hit the job market and search for a school that is a great fit for me and the talents I can bring to my drama students. 
I am currently working with middle and high school students in suburban Dobbs Ferry, New York and I’m working at the lower school of the Riverdale Country Day School in the Bronx.  I spend the mornings at one school and the afternoons at the other.  I use the twenty minute commute time between schools to decompress, switch hats, and yes, reflect.   Over the past two months I have seen with my own eyes the magic of what we learn at CCNY come true.  I know now that 5th graders can devise original theatre pieces based on their social studies curriculum.  I’ve seen 2nd graders learn how to improv and use physicality to create characters. 

I’ve learned that high school students can participate in really thought provoking conversations when they put down their phones.  I have developed compassion for middle school students who are full of attitude and angst as they are just beginning to figure out who they are.  I have seen how valuable teacher collaboration across disciplines can be.  I’ve also seen how the community that a school can create is important to the happiness of teachers and students.  I’ve learned that being nimble and flexible with a schedule can help keep me sane.  I’ve learned that a smile can help a bad day get better.  In short, I am using EVERYTHING I ever learned over these last two years.  I have lost count of how many times I’ve gone back over my notes, searched for lesson plans I wrote two years ago, looked for a handout I received in a class, or consulted my book of curriculum maps!

In one month I will end my student teaching experience and I am eager to see what new door will open for me.  My best advice for my colleagues who have yet to begin student teaching is don’t throw away anything and always be a source of positive energy even if you are surrounded by negativity.  You’d be surprised how far that will take you.  Immerse yourself in the experience and remain open to possibilities it will offer.     

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The last 5 years….

The last 5 years….
Lisanne Shaffer

When I think back to my earliest moments in the program at City College, one class sticks out so vividly in my mind. I remember being in Drama in Education one night when Sobha invited alumni guests into the classroom to answer questions and give advice.  I had only one question, which I abruptly blurted out.  “Has your life changed since graduating from this program?”  As I asked this question I remember feeling such anxiety, it was like a pit in my stomach.  I had joined the program at a time in my life when I felt so discontented with my own choices and desperately needed some sort of a game changer.  I knew I loved theater, but I wasn’t happy auditioning and doing regional theater and tours anymore.  I actually hated it.  What the heck was I going to do?  I decided to get my graduate degree in an effort to become a theater teacher one particularly difficult and disheartening night.  It all began so quickly, one minute I was contemplating this step in my life and the next I was sitting in Sobha’s class terrified to write a paper!  

So on alumni night, I sat wide- eyed and anxiety ridden as the alumni panel answered my question.  I remember one of them saying she opened her own theater company and another loved his job as a high school theater teacher and yet another was freelancing as a teaching artist and loving life.  In that moment I actually remember thinking, “I could probably never do that”.  Jeez, if future me could have had a talk with that girl who obviously didn’t know how to believe in herself!  If I could have told myself even one of the many amazing things that has happened since becoming a part of this program and after graduation, I might have passed out right there in the NAC building.  Getting my graduate degree from City College of New York in Educational Theater is the absolute best thing I have ever done to date.

Since graduating from the program, I got hired as a theater teacher at Brooklyn High School of the Arts.  It was a tumultuous entry into the NYC DOE to say the least.  I was hired two months into my student teaching and if the paperwork alone and pressure to pass the EDTPA wasn’t enough to make me want to quit, the way I was treated at first should have completely killed me!  I didn’t realize at that point however that Sobha and Jenn had literally armed me with an arsenal of tools labeled pedagogy, artistry and advocacy because there were so many other obstacles to get around. 

A lot of my students hated me when I first started.  Like, hated me and told me to my face on numerous occasions.  This is fairly common (hindsight being 20/20) when a teacher starts mid-year.  The students did not have a teacher at all until I arrived in late October.  (a sub just sat in the classroom with them) So, they used their theater class period as a goof off zone and a chance to gossip with friends.  Then in walks Ms. Shaffer, little miss Educational Theater asking for a circle and writing the words “Ensemble Building” on the board.  I am sure you can only imagine what the teenage reaction to that was.  I really don’t know how I got through those first few weeks, but something inside me kept me strong.  I like to think there is some sort of secret voodoo magic that Jenn and Sobha do to us over time that allows us to hear their voices in our head telling us to keep at it and that everything will be all right.  Because as it turns out, I did keep at it and everything is all right.  Everything is more than all right! The students started to gel with me after a couple of excruciating months.  I stayed very steadfast to everything I learned in the program and by the time June came and it was time to say goodbye we had built a very tight ensemble.  I was proud but also tired and broken. 

I thought about quitting or transferring incessantly over the summer before my second year.  But, I didn’t and I am so glad I walked back into the school for my second year.  The kids were happy to see me, fellow teachers were happy to see me and I felt like I could do this!  It was very helpful to start on day one and establish norms and rituals and also comforting to see familiar student faces that didn’t hate me anymore and were starting to respect me as a teacher.  If you are a first year teacher reading this, it does get better believe it or not! I really started to love theater again this year (my second year) and love teaching it!  I got into a total groove in the start of the school year and realized that my pedagogy was really good. I can plan a boss lesson because I truly know my subject. (thank you CCNY program in Educational Theater)  However, the pillars of artistry and advocacy were slipping into the abyss a little.  

 So, I did something that no one thought could be done because my artistic heart wanted to do it.  I decided to direct “A Raisin in the Sun” in all of its 3-hour glory!  I am a teacher but just like we learned in Artistic Lab, I knew I needed to feed my artistry of acting and directing so I did despite the warnings from others that high school students can’t handle this play and that it may be too much of an undertaking for my first production. I have always loved this play and have always wanted to direct it! I armed myself with the artistry tools that CCNY taught me never to let go of and decided to give it a shot!  It was challenging at first but I got to be more of an artist than a teacher in those after school rehearsals.  We worked on objective, tactics and motivation and the kids really took to this amazing story and the artistry of putting on a play. We worked like a professional ensemble and my artistic heart loved being a part of the magic of putting together a theater piece again.  We pulled it together just in time to be adjudicated for the Shubert High School Theater Festival.  I was hesitant to enter with my first production as a high school theater teacher but I knew we had done good work. We got in!  It was the proudest moment of my life!  My students got to perform on Broadway in the festival alongside some of the top arts schools in NYC!  I cried, my students cried, my AP cried, it was beautiful! The festival was amazing and I knew then just how connected my
teaching and artistry had become.

 Advocacy started to come very naturally as I grew into my position this year.  I fight for every arts program I can get my hands on!  I have successfully been able to save the TDF open doors program at my school, implement a new Improv Troupe with the support of UCB, gain technical theater support from parents and organize a field trip to Broadway that includes 350 students! Though I find it incomprehensible that I still have to fight for arts programs and field trips I try to remember that the field of Educational Theater is still growing and maturing.  I feel lucky to be a part of the struggle and the education of my colleagues as they see the theater program in the school growing strong. 

It has been 5 years since I asked that question in Drama in Education class.  Looking back, I was looking for an answer that the alumni could not give me.  I really wanted to know how my life would change.  We never know how things are going to pan out when we choose to take a small step or giant leap in a different direction.  I am so glad that I took a step in the right direction by getting my Masters in Educational Theater at CCNY.  So now it is my turn to be an inspirational alumnus of the program. For those of you who may be wondering the same thing I questioned 5 years ago I will say this…I do not know how your life is going to change by completing this program but I do know that it will change.  My life is completely different now.  I see Broadway shows all the time through DOE teacher nights and field trips with my students (something that fulfills me as an artist and is also educational for my students), I go to bed at 8:30pm every night, I come home happy and fulfilled most of the time, I have 200 theater kids who call me Mama Shaffer, I get a paycheck every two weeks, my directorial debut in high school theater went to Broadway for one magnificent and magical night and my heart is finally full.  Teaching is what was missing from my life and I am so glad I took the time to get the priceless training I needed at City College of New York.