I’ll be at a dinner party and people will ask what I do. ARC is always one of the first things I bring up. I tell them I work in afterschool programs with housing insecure kids, teaching literacy through theatre and picture books. It’s the most direct way I’ve found to talk about the nuts and bolts of the experience, but it doesn’t even begin to touch on what it is I do.
I walk into a classroom or a community room to a group of students who have faced a reality I’ve never experienced. They are excited to work. They are excited to play. They are excited to create.
Our sessions are never the same. There are so many variables at play. The books can connect deeply, or can feel distant. It can be a hard day for an individual, or a brilliant day for the group. Someone shows up late or leaves early, and the existing dynamic is turned on its head. The light changes outside, the weather shifts, and a room of personalities are impacted by the change in seasons, a trick of the light.
Not everyone is always joyful and enthusiastic, nor do I expect them to be. But I haven’t had a single session where there hasn’t been a small breakthrough, a shift in agreement, a step forward in growth.
I don’t just show up with a book and some theatre games. I bend and flow, responding to what they’re bringing at that moment. I look for the sparks in their eyes that are looking for more and try to provide the fuel they need. Some days it means we play huge games that consume the entire space, using up all the excess energy of a day spent pinned to a chair. Some days it’s focused games of deliberate character and situational construction, opening up discussions of philosophy, society, and intention.
They retain an incredible amount. Remembering and referencing stories from earlier in the semester, games we played, explorations we undertook. After many semesters of this work, I find myself always more humbled. These are brave and creative individuals who show up with such passion. Not everyone is always joyful and enthusiastic, nor do I expect them to be. But I haven’t had a single session where there hasn’t been a small breakthrough, a shift in agreement, a step forward in growth.
Even with all of this, it still only scratches the surface of what we do. We are astronauts, musicians, animals. We plant, we flourish, we expand. We create. And we find there’s always more.
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