Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Year of Teaching Abroad

A Year of Teaching Abroad

My name is Hayley Wright. I am a current candidate for a MS in Educational Theatre with Initial Certification at the City College of New York. Last February, I was given the opportunity to teach English in Israel for a year through the program TALMA. After much consideration and Jennifer telling me there is no better time than the present, I packed my bags and set off for the unexpected. And when I say unexpected, I mean it. I moved to Mitzpe Ramon, Israel. If you are unsure of where that is, find Tel Aviv or Jerusalem on a map and go south. Keep going. Keep going. Yep, there is Mitzpe. In the middle of nowhere. In the desert. This city girl was becoming a desert girl and no one could predict what was going to happen.

 At this point, I have been in Israel for 7 months and my experience thus far can be summed up using the three pillars our program uses daily; pedagogy, advocacy, and artistry.

Pedagogy. I can't even begin to describe how my pedagogy has been affected by my time here. Because the education system in Israel is much different than in the States, I have had to learn to adapt my teaching methods. We are taught to be culturally relevant, assimilate while still holding true to ourselves. Let's just say, this is easier said than done. An Israeli classroom is loud, chaotic, and for the lack of a better word, passionate while at the same time frozen. Students are in their seats the entire lesson, occasionally getting up to write on the board. My theatre background deemed this as unacceptable and wanted to push all the desks and chairs to the side and get these kids moving. However, my teacher/Jennifer/Sobha voice told me to take a step back, observe, and see how things operate. The word for slowly in Hebrew is “layat” , so I told myself, layat, layat . As I started teaching my own groups, I began to move them around the room. I quickly realized the kids don't know how to behave when they are not at their desks. Chaos breaks out and the room goes from a medium level of noise to through the roof within seconds and let’s just say there is an explosion of passion. The disorganization and lack of routine in the classroom is difficult to fathom being the type A personality I am. This became extremely relevant while trying to visit other classrooms in order to do my research. My observations and interviews got pushed back at least twice. The pedagogy I had developed over the past 2 years at CCNY came in handy. You can't dive head first into a pool full of sharks, you must stick your big toe in to test the waters. And when I say sharks I mean Israeli students...I needed to meet the students where they were not only academically but physically, spacially, and emotionally while also understanding where they are coming from culturally.

Advocacy. I don't think I have ever had to advocate for myself and for my students as much as I have done this year. When I began teaching on September 1, I started just observing in the classroom. I needed and wanted to see the level of the kids and how the other English teacher worked. I also wanted to see how the kids responded to her, what worked, what didn't work, etc. After the first day, I pretty much had seen enough. I could see what the students needed and I
wanted to help. I told the other English teacher, I felt comfortable taking students and she would give me 2 or 3 to go teach them a lesson or review the alphabet or read with them. By doing this, I could see the level of English varied among the entire class. Some of these kids were not keeping up with the rest. It was not fair for them to be sitting through a lesson that went over their head. I told the other English teacher my thoughts but she thought it would be too much work to separate the weak and strong students because “it is very difficult to only teach the weak students.” This blew my mind. One of our jobs as educators is to make sure each child is getting an equal education, I could see this was not happening. So I met with the principal. I told her what was going on and if we couldn't share the responsibility of teaching the weaker students, I would do it. I wanted to. These kids need to learn to read and they are not going to advance sitting in a classroom where they can't even read the words they are writing down. I told the principal, we have the teachers and the classroom resources to do this, so why not? I was giving my students a voice while also standing up for myself and asking for more responsibility. I soon began to take larger groups and was able to slow down the lessons for them. I could instantly see progress through retention and their positivity.

Artistry. Over the past 7 months, my artistry was lost. I had to rediscover it and find it in Israel. I was trying to incorporate my artistry in the classroom, some days more successful than others but I still felt like something was missing. Over the fall semester, myself along with my cohort of teachers took a class at Ben Gurion University in Be’er Sheva called, “Minorities in Israel.” While this class was informative and helped me to understand the social dynamics in Israel and my classroom, I felt somewhat empty. I was not doing anything that was feeding my work and passions. When we were told for this coming semester we didn’t have to take a class and could find something else to do, I jumped at the opportunity to do so. I contacted The Goodman Acting School and Theatre of the Negev, one of the most known acting schools in Israel outside of Tel Aviv. I did not hear back from so I did something people would say here is “very Israeli.” I marched myself over to the school and introduced myself asking to volunteer with them once a week. I was lucky enough to meet with the artistic director. It took a while to create a job for me but now once a week I work at the school, translating contracts, helping with their English website while also socializing with teachers, students, and administrators all serving the artistic community of the Negev (southern part of Israel). But most importantly I get to see theatre! As I am writing this, I have only worked there four times but I already feel apart of the family and my artistry being served.
The thing about Israelis is they mean what they say. It is extremely refreshing, for example, when an Israeli says “come stay with me anytime,” they mean it. When an American says it, they are secretly hoping to never hear from you again. One of the dance teachers at the school told me to come take his class and I went, no questions asked. As I continue my journey teaching abroad, I need to be more culturally relevant, not just in my teaching but especially in my day to day life.

I have to remember the New Yorker in me, while also embracing my Israeli traits. I know if it wasn’t for the skills I learned teaching and living here I would not have gotten the opportunity to work at Goodman. In New York, we are told to follow a certain formality but sometimes if you are truly passionate about an opportunity, go for it. Take a risk. The worst thing they could say is no. And then what? Onto the next, but still you can say you tried. You are enough. Trust that.

To sum it all up, my year of teaching abroad has showed me how to firsthand advocate for myself and my students, reaffirmed my love for the arts, and altered my pedagogy, in the end ultimately making me a stronger more effective teacher, learner, artist, and human. 

Friday, March 17, 2017


Naomi Avadanei

Going into this year I had one thing on my mind: Research. The course. The process. How do I do it? What will I do it on? Who will I work with? The list goes on.

 Research 1 began with many discussions around the question, “What are you interested in?” I started the course with three main interests:

1. Theatre for Young Audiences and anything that involved TYA
2. Creating and performing intergenerational theatre
3. Using theatre as a tool to teach history and current events

Every few classes we would go around in class and discuss our interests and after a few weeks, we began to see sparks of possible connection between our individual interests.

I first connected with Anna who was also interested in exploring historical events through theatre and wondered if there was a possibility of integrating a component intergenerational theatre—an interest that was sparked, for both of us, by Sobha’s devising class last summer. Anna reached out to me and expressed her interest in using the stories and histories of New Yorkers as a catalyst for live theatre. Shortly after Anna reached out to me, Jess also reached out to me regarding my interest in Theatre for Young Audiences and how it connected with her interest in the 30,000-word gap and infant language development. I was interested in both topics (not to mention working with both ladies,) and I wondered if and how the two topics could be combined. During the next few weeks Anna, Jess and I agreed to work together and somehow combine our ideas. Along the way Angelique and Amanda joined our group. We were 5 strong!

 Upon returning back to our next research class, we began the daunting process of creating a research question that encapsulated all of our interests. After much deliberation and brainpower we came up with the following:

What impact does immersive inter-generational TYA have on families?

With four additional sub-questions:

  • How does a theatrical experience focused around familial stories help preserve family stories and cultures?  
  • How do shared arts experiences help increase communication and understanding within intergenerational relationships?
  • How do the arts experiences vary for different socioeconomic communities(groups)?
  • How can TYA foster communication strategies and skills?

Now came the hard part: beginning our research and finding the gap in the current research available. We decided to divide our research into five topics:

   1.      Storytelling traditions across cultures
    2.      Parenting communication strategies
    3.      Impact of arts on socioeconomic status
    4.      Achievement gap and language development
    5.      Intergenerational Theatre/Art

Hundreds of pages of peer reviewed articles, dozens of emails, and way too many cups of coffee later, we submitted our first draft of our literature review (which was 100+ pages—holy cow!) I’ll spare you having to read our literature review and summarize our findings:

Most, if not all, cultures and communities have some sort of tradition of storytelling and more specifically storytelling as a means to preserve history and teach. We found some fascinating research on the impact of parental communication with their infants and the correlation between language acquisition as well as speech patterns (tone, pitch, cadence, speed) between adults and children across cultures that impact a child’s ability to acquire, learn, and use language. While we had some difficulty at first, we eventually found that there is indeed research that shows that arts experiences have a positive impact on those living in a low income area or attending a Title 1 school. Finally, we found that there are many arts programs aimed at creating and developing intergenerational theatre (dance and artistic programming) however none of the programs that currently exist create or develop work specifically for intergenerational familial relationships and even more specifically, between grandparents/great grandparents and infants 3-18 months. There was definitely a need for our research in the field.

After some final citation clarifications we submitted our final literature review.

Now came the fun part: creating the piece of intergenerational, interactive baby theatre that we would use to gather our research. We decided that in order to conduct our research, we would create a piece of intergenerational baby theatre that we would perform in three different settings to access three different socio-economic areas: high, middle, and low.

 In the end, I think we had one rehearsal with all of our members present before our performance opened—but we made it work! We created a piece structured around the idea of a family tree. Since our piece was intended for babies aged 3-18 months and their parents/grandparents/great grandparents, we needed something for everyone. We decided to divide the piece into four different stations, each with sensory components for the youngest members of our audience and conversation starters, images, and objects to spark stories from of our oldest audience members.

The piece begins with the families exploring the space as ambient forest sounds are played. Once all audience members have arrived, the ensemble brings the audience together with a song accompanied by ASL, which introduces the audience to the structure of the piece. Audience members are then asked to create living pictures, or tableaux of their families after which they are given the opportunity to explore the forest, visit the “converse-stations,” and interact with the Family Forest Rangers at each station. Each family can choose to visit as many, or as few converse-stations as they please. There are four stations, each created to elicit different types of memories. All the questions and prompts at each station were developed from the perspective of the child asking the question and listening to the story.

1.      Family Tree-“Tell me the story of my name.”
2.      Maps-“Tell me about where we come from.”
3.      Music- “What sounds do you remember from our first moments together?”
4.      Food- “What meals and dishes do you hope I’ll remember?”

Adults are encouraged to follow their little one’s lead through the piece, allowing their interests to lead the stories. After some time of exploration and story telling families are brought back together to lie under the forest canopy, and listen to the same song that started the piece integrated with pieces of the stories they’ve shared spoken aloud.

Over the course of a weekend, we performed the piece four times. First at Steinway library in Astoria (this covered our middle class SES), next at Bend and Bloom, a yoga studio in Park Slope (this performance covered our upper class SES), and finally, we finished off the weekend with two performances at Kensington House, a homeless shelter in Kensington (these performances covered our lower class SES.) Each performance was unique in its own way and each audience brought their own stories to share. While the piece was certainly different each time it was performed, there were certain elements that didn’t change; for example, audience members were always excited to share the story of their child’s name and discussions of food always seemed to bring people together. Over the course of the weekend we heard many beautiful stories of family, love, loss, and hope.

Now, since our marathon weekend of performances we have been given the task to take our raw research data and turn it into an ethnodrama. In order to gather more, varied research, each group member interviewed professionals in the field and individuals we thought would be able to offer some information, opinion and further insight in regards to our research. I interviewed Alexander Santiago-Jirau about New York Theatre Workshop’s Mind the Gap program and together, Anna and I interviewed Pauline, Anneros, and Stanley, participants in Sobah’s devising class last summer. Additionally, we’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to refer back to our experiences seeing Anna Deveare Smith’s, Notes from the Field as well as the new Broadway musical, Come from Away. We have been working in class with Amanda Gronich of Tectonic Theatre Company to transform our research into an ethnodrama; deciding on story tropes, identifying conflict, and creating characters.

Our piece has since come to be called, Tales from the Tree, and our company, we’ve decided, is called Family Tree Theatre. As a company, we have submitted our performance model and piece for development and presentation through several different theatre companies and conferences.

Needless to say, the research process is a long one, not without its bumps and bruises. However, while we aren’t there yet, I must say, it has been an incredible gift to have the opportunity to work with four intelligent, talented and tenacious women on this research journey. I can’t wait to see what our final ethnodrama will turn out to be!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Song of Myself:Student Teaching Experience

Song of Myself:Student Teaching Experience
Janet Girardeau

   When I entered Graduate School in Educational Theatre at City College, it was for several reasons. I had worked as a teaching artist in many settings (schools, camps, prisons, senior centers, after school settings) and felt a graduate degree would help strengthen my skills and weight in the job market. I was in need of  training in more current practices, deep and thoughtful stimulation from leaders in the current field and exposure to in-school practises by dedicated in-school Theatre Teachers. I was ready to commit to teaching in a deeper way while still keeping the acting career I have always loved a part of my life as well.  

City College Educational Theatre Program has been everything I have wanted it to be and more. I have gone through the program slowly, juggling a family and work responsibilities. I have tried to savor each and every experience, watched many colleagues go before and start after me and exultantly watched them graduate taking notes and wringing our collective time together dry for meaning, experience and learning. When it came time for student teaching, I have given it a considerable amount of thought. I wanted to spend my time with two people whom I admire, respect and who I could also pump for wisdom, inspiration  and advice,

Jennifer Katona, our fearless leader in Stream A, advised us to put together a “dream list” of teachers we might like to student teach with. Consideration based on contacts, friends’ experiences, job experience and a lot of field work in the schools already has been helpful. Honestly, any experience would be helpful experience but I wanted to use careful consideration so I could feel (when I’m slowly paying off my loan for years to come!) that I really made the most of the experience.

 I’m ecstatic to report that my first semester has been nothing short of amazingly fulfilling and everything I hoped it would be. My friend Jenny Lombard had invited me to see her Shakespeare work with her fourth graders and I had ended up staying and seeing her storytelling classes with third and second grades also. This led me to conclude that she has a firm grasp on how to get the most potential out of each child, how to really and truly enrich the creative environment of the school with her creative endeavors and how to stimulate the intellectual curiosity of the students. I asked her if I could student teach with her when the time came, and she said “Sure!”.

    Planning my schedule when this Fall approached involved turning it upside down. I’m an older student. I consider myself pretty loose and flexible, but the time commitment involved in student teaching(even part time) is HUGE. It’s also delightful- the very best part of my week hands down. Jenny felt I would get the most out of the experience if I came there on Thursdays and Fridays, two heavy workdays for me, so I changed my work schedule and lost some income, but she was right. I got a chance to see and help her do the same lesson more or less FIVE times on Thursdays. This meant I could lead a different part of the lesson each time, as I learned it, and then a full lesson as well. Then she could give me notes and I could practise again on Friday with her last third grade storytellers class of the week. This repetition proved to be incredibly helpful to me.

      What I have enjoyed most is her calm, steady, no nonsense approach. Yes, she gets sleep deprived, tired and cranky, just as I seem to do way too often. But what I am most impressed with is that year after year, day after day, I have witnessed her being present 110% and bringing her all to the kids. She is constantly revising her lessons, going over them to make sure she is presenting the lesson in the best, most effective way possible. She is constantly challenging the kids to do the same, to bring their best selves to the work. What I admire MOST is that she challenges the kids to step UP in terms of performance. She breaks down her subject, be it fairy tale theatre, shadow puppetry, improvisational games, storytelling skills or Shakespeare, Then, she doesn’t talk down to them. She talks UP. Everyone in the room sits a little higher and feels a little richer after the first five minutes. They listen attentively and are challenged and stimulated. She enhances their intelligence. The boys and girls laugh at the romantic language but then they leap up to become a soldier, woodsman or King and cannot wait to try out the exercise, story or language. In a matter of minutes she has 30 kids in the palm of her hand.

     Jenny Lombard has given me step by step instructions for how to become a successful classroom teacher. I tend to have way too many ideas and a hard time harnessing them into a workable approach. She has consistently and patiently shown me how to break those ideas down and organize them into a workable, manageable series of meal-sized lessons that again, improve literacy, socio-emotional skills, writing and reading comprehension, following directions, creative writing and speaking, and links her lessons effortlessly into the Common Core. I see her students walk out refreshed and excited by learning. I see Jenny tired but energized at the end of the day.

     She has likened teaching in this way to acting in that visualizing and focusing on an objective is the key. Getting yourself and your students to another place by the end of the lesson, and focusing from the get-go on where you want them to be by the end of the lesson, at a new and different destination, is the aim and goal. Everyone is changed by this artistic endeavor. As Maxine Green(Philosopher in Residence at Columbia and Lincoln Center Institute) has stated, “Imagination is the capacity to open spaces, to see the world differently, to be transformed.” Jenny is one of Theatre Education’s foot soldiers.

  What we’re trying to do in this noble profession on most days is just survive but occasionally enrich. To give the children back to themselves. To play.To quote Maxine Green, to “live in ambiguity”. To expose the children’s artist souls to themselves for them to rediscover, explore, enjoy and then do with as they can and as they wish. I have been so lucky to study by the side of some of these gifted comrades. To quote Jenny, “While student teaching can be inspiring, your first few years of teaching will be hard, hard and harder,” so the enrichment is a gift that comes back to reward both student and  teacher.

            Have you reckoned a thousand acres much? Have you reckoned the earth much?
            Have you practised so long to learn to read?
            Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

            Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the meaning of all poems,
            You shall possess the good of the earth and sun -- there are millions of suns left,
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
            You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
            You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.

                                                            Walt Whitman

                                                            From “Song of Myself”

Monday, November 14, 2016


Ryan Scoble

When I saw the posting on the CCNY Program for Educational Theatre Listserv looking for a drama instructor to teach high school theatre in a charter school system in  Canarsie, Brooklyn, I knew there was no way I would get the job. After all, I was in my first semester of graduate school. Sure…I’d taught as a teaching artist in public schools, and I had directed/choreographed some camp shows in upstate New York, but I was nowhere near qualified for the job. But after reading the post, I figured…what the heck! Why not go for it? I wanted to see if I would at least be granted an interview. So, I applied.
 About two weeks later, I got asked to do a phone interview. In my head I thought this is exactly what I expected. I’ll get an initial interview, but they’ll never put me through to the next round. However, a week after my phone interview, I got an email asking me to come do a demo-lesson for a classroom of students and three observers. So I prepared a lesson based on Uta Hagen’s Nine Questions For The Actor and shot for the stars. A few weeks later, I got the call that I had gotten the job. What started as a whim, actually happened. In only one semester, the program in Educational Theatre helped give me the confidence in my abilities and the language and terminology to impress the people that interviewed me.
To say that this job teaching theatre at Uncommon Prep Charter High School has been a piece of cake would be an absolute lie. It’s been hard. Incredibly hard! Harder than anything I could have ever imagined. Planning a year’s worth of curriculum = hard. Managing a classroom of thirty students = hard. Finding a balance between work, grad school, and life = hard. This job has pushed me, challenged me, made me cry, and been so overwhelming that I almost quite after 6 months.
However, the tools that I have learned in the program in Educational Theatre have empowered me to meet the challenges head on. If I need help coming up with ideas for lessons, navigating the Blueprint Standards for the Arts, or finding creative ways to approach a lesson, I need only turn to my peers and the amazing faculty. Each person in the program has helped me SO much! In all of our classes, we talk about what how theatre is such a collaborative art form. Teaching is exactly the same. Without the help of my peers, our in-depth class discussions, the activities and facilitations we see on a weekly basis, and the guidance of instructors like Sobha and Jennifer, I simply would not be able to navigate this job.

What I have really noticed in my time at Uncommon Prep Charter High School is that our work is important. Young scholars need to be free to explore creative outlets. They needed a moment or two in their day that isn’t filled with quadratic equations, lab experiments, Cornell notes, and essay writing. They need a place where there is no right or wrong answer. When they can challenge themselves creatively and find their artistic voices. Kids need us. Kids need theatre. That is what I have learned. 

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!!!