Kasia, one of New York City Children’s Theater’s amazing teaching artists, discusses the successes and challenges she has faced in the ARC classroom.
As Spring Break approached and many of my friends were departing on exotic getaways or visiting warmer climates, I was gearing up to start a five-day teaching artist residency in snowy Brooklyn during the first week of April. I was extremely excited to return to a site that I had worked at during the prior Fall semester and see some familiar faces that I had the pleasure of getting to know over the course of several weeks. Little did I know that I would walk into a room with seven new faces I had never met before, and we would quickly dive into “Tar Beach” by Faith Ringgold.
We were set to explore the book through different active theatre games and then create an original adaptation on the final day of the residency that would be shared with the community at the site. While most of the students came each day, we started with five students the first two days and the group grew to ten on the final day. One might wonder, how can you create a performance when you don’t have the same set of performers to work with each day? I remember one of the teachers was worried about including two of the new students who had just arrived on that Friday morning since they had not been there all week, but I assured her that we would find a place for them and that we did. They became part of the solid structures the students had created with their bodies to embody the skyscrapers and George Washington Bridge the protagonist flew over each night as she cruised through the Manhattan sky.
These are just some of the successes and challenges I have learned to navigate as a teaching artist and applied theatre practitioner in the ARC program. I have found that flexibility is key. I’m always reminded by James Thompson’s quote, “One of applied theatre’s strengths is its status as the outsider, the visitor and the guest.” Coming in and out of various communities requires building trust and community in a short amount of time, meeting participants where they are, and respecting the spaces we enter that may not be our own. Seeing the excitement of the students faces when I enter the room; the warm hugs they greet me with and share upon leaving; and the imaginative adventures we take with each and every book has revealed to me how powerful theatre can be and its importance beyond the stage.
Bringing the book to life shows them how much life their imaginations hold, and I am always impressed with how often students are willing to get up and act. It is a beautiful fusion of play and literacy, that has made me a better teaching artist and more present.
This past Spring I also worked in the ARC program at a site in Queens and each Friday I’ve chosen to explore a new book. Each book is different and carries with it a different message but what remains constant is the joy the students find in stepping into the shoes of the main character. Or taking a tour of the deep blue sea in “This is Sadie,” or seeing the sights and hearing the sounds of the “Subway Story.” Rather than simply reading the story out loud we follow the character’s path or improvise distinctive outcomes and endings. The students are afforded the opportunity to give the characters advice and share a voice of their own, creating their own version of the world they perceive inside the book.
Bringing the book to life shows them how much life their imaginations hold, and I am always impressed with how often students are willing to get up and act. It is a beautiful fusion of play and literacy, that has made me a better teaching artist and more present. I’ve gotten to take a peek into the minds of many brilliant children and young adults and my favorite part is being able to give them a chance to create something that is entirely their own.
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