Five Things I Learned Teaching Creative Drama

and Directing Musical Theatre as a Teaching Artist Intern

By Eric Gelb

“Can I get a drumroll please?”, I would ask. Students would use their hands to drum on the floor. This would lead into the following dialogue – “today’s question of the day is…” and on this day, the question was ’why is musical theatre important to the world?’”

“Musical theatre is important to me because I don’t have a lot of friends at school and when I come here, I feel accepted”, one student said. Another sitting nearby leaned in for a hug. “It doesn’t matter what kind of day you’re having because once you get onstage you get to be another person and live in their world”. Some students “snapped” to show their agreement.*

Doing the “question of the day” warm-up was one of the rewarding parts of my summer as a teaching artist intern at The Rose Theater in Omaha, Nebraska. Working at The Rose was an experience I could never have been perfectly prepared for.

The Rose Theater is committed to enriching the lives of children through theater and arts education, home to the Omaha Theater Company – one of the largest professional children’s theater in the country! Accessible to all, no child is turned away for economic reasons. Live performances are shared from two stages: the main stage and the Hitchcock Theater. Professional actor/educators offer classes in theater, directing, musical theater and more.

As a summer intern, I co-taught creative drama camps and assistant-directed a production of XANADU. With almost 40 hours of contact time with students every week, I had opportunities to lead classes, observe and lead lunch and before/after class activities. Sitting in on weekly education meetings, intern meetings and participating in lesson planning was part of my weekly schedule as an intern to gain a better understanding about how an education department at a professional theatre company works.

“How was Omaha???”, people asked when I returned. “I bet Omaha was like, super different than NYC”, some would say, almost sympathetically. So here are five things I learned…

1. Students will always meet your expectations if you give them the tools to succeed.

When I was assigned XANADU for the summer, it became my goal to make the show GREAT. I purposefully asked students to dig deeper into their roles than I knew they ever have been in the past. My co-workers often reminded me not to push them too hard, that they’re only 13. I was 13 when I co-produced my first musical. I knew they were capable of performing like professionals. And to be clear, performing like a professional doesn’t mean hitting all the notes or acting like Meryl Streep. It’s being a responsible actor and a team player. During the run, I was told by multiple people that the show was “the most prepared show of the summer” or “the best show in a LONG time”. Seeing their faces after opening night and hearing the applause confirmed my theory that we CAN test kids. They can handle it.

2. If you don’t do it, the kids won’t do it.

Teaching creative drama was particularly tricky because it asks students to be silly and LOOK silly in front of their peers. Part of our creative drama courses was spending part of the morning in-role as characters from the story we were studying. Of course we had students who suddenly “had a stomach ache” or “felt sick” as soon as we got in-role. In one class, we were pirates looking for Peter Pan! I didn’t dare step back and watch them act out the story – I was right there with them. If I didn’t join in, I wouldn’t be able to have gotten THEM to do it either.

3. Everyone teaches differently.

I am a tough teacher. I want my students to be the best they can be. When I am in charge, students do not sit out. They do not pass, and they do not skip. Everyone has to attempt or try the activity before they decide they don’t like it. Why? Because this is a theatre. We instill the concept of speaking in front of others, being a team player and taking responsibility. So if I let a student skip because they’re scared, or quit because their team isn’t winning… I’m not letting them learn those lessons. I often say “we don’t quit things because they’re hard”. Not everyone agrees with me – some have a softer, gentler approach. And that’s okay! We all approach students differently.

4. Your lessons will never go as planned.

I spent, probably, at least ten man-hours on the two lesson plans I presented solely by myself in classes at The Rose. I’d say we actually did about 60% of both of them. The truth is, no matter how hard we try, as artists, we can never really accurately estimate how long something is going to take in class. Sometimes inspiration strikes and we think of a fun medication to a game and it takes longer. Sometimes a new game doesn’t land well with the students, and it’s clear that you have to move on earlier than you expected. And that’s okay.

5. Everyone has a story.

No one teaches to be rich. People teach because they simply cannot live if they are not impacting the lives of young people, so those that do choose to work inside of a children’s theatre have some sort of passion for it. The people that work in the costume rental shop, those that work upstairs in accounting and even the teaching artist you may teach with daily – they all have a very heavy tie to the arts. Stopping to listen and hear their stories are fascinating.

In the winter, I will be joining the team at WICKED on Broadway in the stage management department as an intern. Broadway has always been the dream, and although not too similar to the work I did at The Rose, I am POSITIVE I will, probably without knowing it, allow all I learned at The Rose into my work at WICKED, which leads me into bonus number 6 – once you’re a teaching artist, you’ll never shake all you learn.

Eric is a published author; you can buy his book “Growing Up in the Wings” on Amazon at www.bit.ly/GUITWBUY or at the NYU Bookstore. Follow him on Twitter (@DirectorGelb) or visit his website www.bit.ly/ericgelbofficial for more content.

* Answers have been fabricated to be generic and protect students’ identities.

 

Announcing ArtsPraxis Volume 4 Issue 1

ArtsPraxis Volume 4 Issue  1 has been published.

I am proud to present this new issue of ArtsPraxis, featuring articles in response to the guiding questions and themes established for the NYU Forum on Educational Theatre in April 2016, which included applied theatre, drama in education, and theatre for young audiences. As a number of authors submitted articles under the heading of youth theatre, I curated a stand-alone section for this topic as well as I felt it wise to highlight the breadth of research in this area at this time.

A great asset of the 2016 Forum on Educational Theatre was the degree to which the NYU Program in Educational Theatre was able to reconnect with our global community. In large part, this was due to the efforts of Philip Taylor following his experience at the International Drama in Education Research Institute in Singapore in 2015. Under the direction of Prue Wales, it became evident at that event that even in this time of inescapable electronic connections, there is nothing that can take the place of face-to-face fellowship. Just this week, we are coming off of our latest international conference, the NYU Forum on Ethnodrama, looking at the intersection between theatre art and arts-based research paradigms. After many months of political duress, we communed. We shared art, research, and activism.

In the spirit of maintaining our international dialogue in these troubled times, this issue of ArtsPraxis continues the conversation. Our contributors present scholarship from Africa, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. I hope that you find this work as inspirational as I have and that you consider joining us next spring at the 2018 NYU Forum on Performance as Activism.

Volume 3, Issue 1 of ArtsPraxis is available for download here.

ArtsPraxis Volume 4, Issue 1

ISSN: 1552-5236

Editorial

JONATHAN JONES

 

Responsivity in Applied Theatre Practitioner Expertise: Introducing Identifying Patterns and Names

KAY HEPPLEWHITE

ABSTRACT

This article outlines a research project investigating the expertise of applied theatre practitioners. Summarising some of the research approaches and findings, a conceptualization of ‘responsivity’ is proposed to encapsulate the blended expertise of those artists that work in community, participatory and applied settings. The ‘practice responsive’ research methodology utilizing ‘reflective dialogues’ with practitioners is explained and the resulting artists’ commentaries are embedded throughout. I outline how reflection and response thread through a conceptualization of applied theatre in literatures, and discuss how these themes informed both the method and the findings of my research. Whilst offering namings for patterns found common to practitioners operating across diverse contexts, the article also acknowledges how naming can close down understanding of the complex operations and qualities of the practitioner. I suggest a theoretical proposition of ‘__’ (underscore) to open up understanding of the workers and the work of applied theatre, in order to allow further insight to their expertise. The proposal concludes by arguing how the practitioners’ developmental response to the work enhances applied theatre’s beneficial objectives for participants.

 

Making Theatre in Communities: A Search for Identify, Coherence, and Cohesion

JOHN SOMERS

ABSTRACT

Traditionally, theatre was created and performed in communities to celebrate religious and other significant aspects of shared community life. Many such customs possessed a quasi-religious identity in which theatre depictions were thought to appease those spiritual forces which controlled the lives and fortunes of mere humans. In the UK and the Western world more generally, the cohesiveness of community life has lessened as families become more self-sufficient. Until relatively recently, rural communities in South West England were dominated by the farming industry. The land of many farms has been merged and the farmhouses sold to relatively well-off incomers. They often operate a self-sufficient life, sending their children to private schools outside the community and engaging in leisure pursuits which take them out of the community in which they live. Thus, community cohesion is weakened and the opportunities for cooperative and communal action lessened. Theatre has the potential to bring disparate members of a community together in common purpose, providing a forum in which new and lasting relationships can be formed. If the dramatised stories have their roots in the identity and history of the community in which they are made, long-term residents have ways of sharing their knowledge with the ‘newcomers’.

 

The Long Game: Progressing the Work from Thesis to Practice

LINDEN WILKINSON

ABSTRACT

This paper discusses the evolution of significant findings made within the context of a doctoral research project and the structures that developed to share these findings through workshops for students and teachers. As the research concerned an 1838 Australian Aboriginal massacre and the construction of a memorial to commemorate this event one hundred and sixty-two years later, the aim of the project was to locate a reconciliation narrative. The project failed to do so, because ultimately in the words of the participants the memorial was seen as a beginning and not an ending.

Nevertheless this understanding did deliver powerful insights into the complex nature of reconciliation within a dominant settler culture. And it was felt that sharing these insights was worth pursuing. 

Central to the doctoral research was the creation of a verbatim theatre play, therefore the workshops relied on drama techniques to establish through affect new ways of knowing shared history. However the execution of the content proved challenging. Because of the way settler history continues to be understood, engagement with the intellect via political correctness as opposed to the imagination was problematic. The necessity of prioritizing the imagination became as much of a learning curve for workshop facilitators as workshop participants.

 

Discovering a Planet of Inclusion: Drama for Life-Skills in Nigeria

KAITLIN O. K. JASKOLSKI

ABSTRACT

This paper explores the on-going development of a Drama for Life-Skills project in Lagos, Nigeria, which embraces aspects of applied & educational theatre practices. Using neurodevelopmental disability assessments and standards, the project creates a simultaneous balance of teaching and learning life skills in the disability community. It focuses on work currently being done with students of the Children’s Development Centre Lagos, incorporating theatre practices into the daily living activities of adolescents with disabilities with the goal of gaining increased life skills. In developing their most recent production, Discovering a Planet of Inclusion, members of the Centre team up with teaching artists, therapists and community members to teach, learn, practice and incorporate life skills with theatrical performances designed for schools and community centers throughout Nigeria.  Company members with disabilities (including autism, cerebral palsy, and various genetic disorders) perform with the hope of showcasing their abilities, ending stigma, and inspiring opportunities for the disability community throughout the nation. The paper will include anecdotes and analyzation from the performance praxis, development of advocacy and vocationally-based theatre performances, and ways to incorporate disability therapies (occupational, physical, multisensory, communication) into theatrical performances. The paper also discusses the importance of inclusion in destigmatizing disability and the cognitive benefits of applied theatre within communities.

 

The Evolution of Monologue as an Education

SCOTT WELSH

ABSTRACT

Performance is social theory, or it can become so, when we use it as a means to understand social phenomena rather than merely viewing it as a spectacle or for entertainment (Brook, 1972). Theatre that explores domestic violence (Welsh, 2014), homelessness (Welsh, 2014) or the plight of refugees (Robinson, 2015) are all examples of dramatic processes  becoming social theory. There are many more examples such as the work of Lloyd Jones or Pina Bausch, both of whom use experimental theatre as a means of educating, understanding and criticising society (Marshall, 2002; Pendergast, 2001). This article explores the relationship between theatre and education in three somewhat diverse contexts. Firstly, the autobiographical monologue, The Outcaste Weakly Poet Stage Show, describes experience in a conversational style. Experience and conversation are inevitably educational, that is, being is learning and listening is learning. Secondly, I explore the practice of monologue writing with a sample group of Australian school students on the subject of social labelling, reinforcing the idea that theatre practice is education by applying it to a classroom setting. Finally, I examine a monologue writing workshop conducted with a group of teachers-in-training, revealing the potential of monologues to foster empathy among teachers and their most difficult students. Theatre then becomes a source of learning and philosophical reflection for audiences, a way of practising social learning in a school setting and increasing emotional intelligence, empathy and communication between teachers in training and their students.

 

Noise as Queer Dramaturgy: Towards a Reflexive Dramaturgy-as-Research Praxis in Devised Theatre for Young Audiences

JESSICA M.  KAUFMAN

ABSTRACT

Dramaturgy is often considered the work of the ‘neutral outside eye’, but in devised theatre, the dramaturg is embedded within. This requires creative solutions for how a devising dramaturg might navigate engagement with the totality of their work—the piece, the devising process, and the context—from their own position within all three. In this article, I will recount and re-examine my work as dramaturg-researcher devising Martha and the Event Horizon. The research inquiry suggests a praxis of dramaturgy-as-research inspired by Home-Cook’s model of noise as a function of attention and Sullivan’s (2003) poststructuralist analysis of queerness as both being and doing, wherein the devising dramaturg embodies the queer doing to take an external perspective on their work via the critical context. Examinations of the devisor’s relationship to spectators by practitioner-researchers Goode (2011) and Reason (2010) respond to the research question and suggest a non-linear model within which the audience experiences meaning through Boenisch’s (2010) reflexive parallax. Placing these research outcomes within Bryon’s (2014) ‘active aesthetic’ and Nelson’s (2013) practice as research model, I propose the dramaturgy-as-research praxis as the key to a rigorous, flexible framework for constructing diverse avenues for meaning-making in devised theatre, particularly applicable to audience-driven work.

 

Children’s Theatre: A Brief Pedagogical Approach

DENNIS ELUYEFA

ABSTRACT

There are several theories as to what constitutes children’s theatre. This diversity exists because the term is used as a literal description of theatre that involves children in one way or the other – theatre for children, theatre with children, and theatre by children. This complexity means there is a need to specify the sense in which the term is being used. There is no universal agreement within academic discourse on the parameters in which the term should be defined. While some scholars suggest age as a defining factor, others think it should be decided by the performers who design a piece of theatre based on their knowledge of the children audience. What is children’s theatre? What should be the level of involvement for children? This paper is not a systematic review of the discipline and it is not an attempt to re/define children’s theatre. Rather, it is about a pedagogical approach to creating a piece of theatre for children between the age of 4 and 10 that can enable them to learn and be morally developed while being entertained at the same time. In this paper children’s theatre is the term that will be used throughout.

 

Feeling Blue: An Investigative Apparatus

CLARE HAMMOOR

ABSTRACT

This auto-ethnographic inquiry explores found and constructed apparatuses in the production of a devised clown show with 3rd-6th grade children at Blue School in New York City. Through a playful negotiation between artifacts, theory, and memory, this essay works to untangle the production of meaning and the possibilities of children’s theatre. Drawing from Agamben’s theorizations of apparatus, Hammoor writes into knowing and understanding the frameworks he built and discovered in directing a sad clown show with children.

 

Participatory Aesthetics: Youth Performance as Encounter

PAMELA BAER

ABSTRACT

In this paper the notion of a participatory aesthetic is developed by exploring how a collaborative and creative process provides opportunities for young people to engage in an act of becoming in relation to one another, building powerful and affective art work that is not bound by the conventions of traditional forms of theatre and art making. The paper begins with a discussion on the role of affect and participation in applied theatre, offering a theoretical framework that is used to analyze two case studies. The first is a project in Accra, Ghana that resulted in a youth-led documentary film about HIV/AIDS and gender relationships. The second is a YouTube based applied theatre project with LGBTQ youth in Toronto, Canada. In both case studies the paper demonstrates the power of dialogue in building a participant driven aesthetic rendering of theatre for social change. The paper concludes stating that a participatory aesthetic is a deeply visceral and vulnerable encounter that builds important pedagogy through affective artistic engagement.

 

From Les Mis to Annie, Jr.: A Discussion of Dramaturgical Adaptation for Musical Theatre in Education and Accessibility of Musical Theatre to Youth

SEAN MAYES

ABSTRACT

As an arts educator, it is inspiring to have access to the spoils of the art of musical theatre to engage and captivate young minds and artistic hearts. In providing an artistic output, one affords both the satisfaction of involvement in a collaborative art coupled with the lasting gift of community and artistic inspiration. Regrettably, the endeavour towards providing an accessible dramatic medium can prove challenging for the best of theatre & music pedagogues and artists alike. Musical theatre becomes increasingly more difficult as both musical and dramatic requirements needed for its execution modify.

With these constraints, youth face obstacles in exploring many works of the genre they love faithfully. As educators, the responsibility in maintaining accessibility is tremendous. Improper attention to the usage of the vocal instrument without regard of these developments can cause irreparable damage. Limited access to works for youth and negligible adaptation risk staleness and disinterest.

How might the educating artist continually provide an accessible medium of musical theatre to the young performer? From a dramatic & musical lens, this paper discusses the responsibility of the educator in identifying and addressing the unique challenges confronting young performers via the art of musical theatre.

——————————-

ArtsPraxis Volume 4, Issue 1 looks to engage members of the global Educational Theatre community in the ongoing dialogue about where we have been and where we are going. This call for papers was released concurrently with ArtsPraxis Volume 3 and the submission deadline for Volume 4, Issue 1 was February 1, 2017.

Dr. Jonathan Jones, New York University
Editor
jonathan.jones@nyu.edu
steinhardt.nyu.edu/music/artspraxis

Editorial Board:

Amy Cordileone, New York University, USA
Norifumi Hida,
 Toho Gakuen College of Drama and Music, Japan
Byoung-joo Kim,
 Seoul National University of Education, South Korea
Ross Prior,
 University of Wolverhampton, UK
Nisha Sajnani,
 New York University, USA
Daphnie Sicre,
 Borough of Manhattan Community College, USA
Prudence Wales,
 Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, Hong Kong
James Webb,
 Bronx Community College, USA

TYA@NYU Update

Jeff Church, Producing Artistic Director of The Coterie in Kansas City, Missouri, “is pleased to be back with New Plays for Young Audiences in the Steinhardt’s terrific Program in Educational Theatre at NYU.”   Jeff directed for NYPA in its very first year (1998) and continued for the next seven years though 2005.  “Lowell Swortzell was leading the summer developmental festival at the time, and he was one of the greats.  One of The Coterie’s most important commissions, The Wrestling Season, by Laurie Brooks, was developed here in 1999,” said Jeff.  Jeff used the NPYA program to work on some experimental scripts as well, such as a transgender-themed play, The 12:07, also by Laurie Brooks.

Edward Albee, 1928 – 2016

“You’ll read about it in the papers tomorrow, if you don’t see it on your TV tonight.” – Edward Albee has passed away.

On the death of Tony-Award winning playwright Edward Albee, the Program in Educational Theatre salutes this giant of the American Theatre who last spoke at the historic Provincetown Playhouse (now owned and run by NYU) in 2010 just after a multi-million dollar refurbishment. Albee had a long history with the Provincetown, as it was the site of the long running production of his first success, The Zoo Story, in 1960 when it appeared on a double-bill with Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape.

Edward Albee, photographed outside of the Provincetown Playhouse during the run of his play, "The Zoo Story," in 1960

Video from the 2010 re-opening of the Provincetown Playhouse event, which featured Albee along with Obie Award winner and founder of the Living Theatre Judith Malina, and director of the archives of La Mama Experimental Theater Ozzie Rodriguez, in discussion with Village Voice theatre critic Michael Feingold can be accessed here:

http://www.nyu.edu/about/news-publications/news/2010/december/edward-albee-judith-malina-ozzie-rodriguez-in-conversation-with-michael-feingold-sun-dec-19-7pm-at-provincetown-playhouse.html

NYU Forum on Ethnodrama: The Aesthetics of Research and Playmaking / April 21-22, 2017

NYU Forum on Ethnodrama:

The Aesthetics of Research and Playmaking

April 21-22, 2017

Join us for next year’s NYU Educational Theatre Forum for a robust conversation about the aesthetics of ethnodrama. How do artist-researchers engage audiences with the presentation of data? Theatre artists and academic researchers will come together to share ideas, vocabularies, and techniques.
Save the dates: April 21 & 22, 2017

If you’re interested in participating, please email Joe Salvatore at:

js1655@nyu.edu

Website to be posted soon at: http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/music/edtheatre/forum

 

 

** Image from Towards the Fear: An Exploration of Bullying, Social Combat, and Aggression, produced in spring 2014

Fall 2016 Main Stage: “The Miracle Worker”

The Program is excited to announce that the fall show will be The Miracle Worker by William Gibson based on Helen Keller’s autobiography The Story of My Life. The Miracle Worker is a three-act play about Helen Keller, a girl who is blind, deaf, and mute who learns to communicate through the help of her teacher, Annie Sullivan. The original production of the play premiered on Broadway in 1959 and was subsequently adapted into a film featuring original Broadway cast members Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke, both of whom won Academy Awards for acting in the film.

Educational Theatre faculty member David Montgomery is excited to be directing this show in the Blackbox Theatre. All students are welcome to audition and audition announcements will be made soon.

 

 

 

From Soup to Nuts: Choosing a TYA Play Development Season

By Teresa Fisher

New Plays for Young Audiences is an annual play development series focused on developing work for young audiences, ages three to twenty-one. For three weeks each June, we develop three new scripts—one each week, Sunday through Sunday—in the historic Provincetown Playhouse. The plays must be unpublished and unproduced. We receive the scripts between July and October. We read them in November and then meet in early December to select our season. Between January and the start of the series in June, we are busy arranging housing, transportation, marketing, auditions, and selecting the rest of the creative teams. As we are housed in an education institution—NYU Steinhardt—our series has an educational component not found in other play development programs, including having a graduate class taught by Joe Salvatore that accompanies the series.

The challenge in choosing the scripts is creating a balanced season in which we:

  • Select scripts that still need development and are potentially interesting to young audiences, including the classrooms with which we collaborate.
  • Select playwrights who are invested in the development process and able to utilize it to improve their scripts. One way we tell this is through the goals they articulate with their submission.
  • Bring in scripts that will give our graduate class something to talk and learn about TYA.
  • Provide opportunities for our student actors to participate in an engaging process.
  • Recognize the diversity in our TYA audiences and support the continuing development of the field.
One of the topics of conversation amongst the team this year was the question of whether to pick a script that is already strong, but may not need as much development, or to take a chance on a script that may be a hot mess, but with the possibility of greatness, or with a known playwright.

Although you might think the script is the most important piece of the submission, the goals for development that we ask each playwright to submit are equally if not more important. Unless we have worked with the playwright before, we don’t know how the playwright will fare in our specific development process. Most of the time we don’t know who these playwrights are beyond what we can find online and/or they provide with their submission. We don’t know where the script is in its development, what the playwright wants to see happen with the script, or how well-suited for a development process the playwright will be. The goals clarify this for us. If a playwright, for example, is interested in how the technical elements will enhance the script, we know that we won’t be a good fit, as we are very low-tech. On the other hand, a playwright who identifies clear areas that need developing in their script—especially if we’ve also noticed those same areas—is more credible to us than one who provides essentially clichéd ones (i.e. “I want to work on the characters, seeing if they are well-developed” or “I am looking to see if the story flows”) or, worse yet, no goals at all.

One of the challenges for a play development series focused on TYA is determining what is TYA and what isn’t. Some of this is a matter of taste. According to the New Victory Theater staff (as noted online in the TDF Theatre Dictionary), TYA “includes any performance taking place in the presence of young audiences.” That is a pretty wide definition, so the question becomes, “what do youth want to see?” As our team has discussed at length, opinions differ on what makes a play TYA. If a play has no youth characters, does that mean it can’t be TYA? Not necessarily, but that is certainly a question to explore—“What makes this story appealing to young audiences?” On the flipside, just because a play has youth characters doesn’t mean it is TYA. Many plays with young characters appeal to a wide audience.

Mario and the Comet that Stopped the World. Book and Lyrics by Gabriel Jason Dean, Music and Lyrics by David Dabbon, directed by Courtney Sale.

When we—the production team consisting of me (Producer/Administrator), Dr. David Montgomery (Artistic Director), Gina Grandi (Artistic Associate for School Collaboration), and Jim DeVivo (Artistic Associate) —choose the scripts for our season, we read each submission. We then respond to a series of questions from the practical (genre, age group) to the more subjective (writing, story, concerns, strengths). Those responses are compiled so we can see side-by-side how each script spoke to us. Then we meet to discuss our options. Any script that received a strong “yes” is automatically considered, even if only one member of the team said “yes.” Scripts that received multiple “maybe” replies are also included. Plays with across the board “no” responses are reviewed at the end of the discussion to make sure we didn’t miss something.

After that discussion, we have whittled our options down. This year we had seventy in the “no” column and twenty-seven in the combined “maybe” and “yes” column. From those twenty-seven, we narrowed down to thirteen. In choosing from those thirteen, we moved from discussing the script and playwright goals to talking about the potential audiences, the graduate class, and the larger TYA field. As producer, I am also looking at the budget.

Forever Poppy by José Cruz González, directed by Laurie Woolery.

One consideration late in the process this year was realizing we had the potential to choose all female playwrights. As we’ve had years with all male playwrights, being able to reverse that trend—especially with scripts which featured more than one strong female protagonist—was appealing. We were finally down to six scripts. We weighed the goals, storylines, intended audiences, and other such factors as we made our final decisions. In the end, we had three pairs of scripts essentially competing against each other due to similar elements of story, audience, character, and/or approach. With each pair, we reviewed the playwrights’ goals as well as our goals for the upcoming season. In the end, we were able to choose three female playwrights each with an intriguing script, each intended for a different audience demographic (one high school, one middle school, and one elementary).

Interestingly, one of the topics of conversation amongst the team this year was the question of whether to pick a script that is already strong, but may not need as much development, or to take a chance on a script that may be a hot mess, but with the possibility of greatness, or with a known playwright. That conversation prompted me to wonder if one could designate an entire play development series or, in our case, individual weeks within a particular season, for scripts that are early in their development and others for scripts that are close to being stage-ready.

There is no question that from beginning to end, play development is a challenging process. Each year, we wonder where the three weeks will take us, but by carefully crafting a season that advances the TYA field while also providing a powerful experience for our graduate students and student actors, we strive to create a place where playwrights can devote a week to their craft working in an historic theatre built on a foundation of nurturing and evaluating new plays. That goal is what guided our co-founders, the late Lowell and Nancy Swortzell, to create New Plays for Young Audiences and it continues to inspire us almost two decades later.

– See more at: http://howlround.com/from-soup-to-nuts-choosing-a-tya-play-development-season#sthash.sHNYLVbA.dpuf

Originally posted at HowlRound at the following site: http://howlround.com/from-soup-to-nuts-choosing-a-tya-play-development-season

 

Applied Theatre in Prisons

RTA Performance at Bedford Hills Maximum Security Prison for Women (Ashley Hamilton – 1st row, center; Clare Hammoor – 2nd row, far right); Photo courtesy of RTA

By Ashley Hamilton

“When I am doing this work, creating art, for just a little while I get to forget that I am in prison” (Bedford Hills Maximum Security Prison Devising Theatre Participant). My work found me, before I found it. My first introduction to working in the prison system, using the arts as a rehabilitative tool, came prior to even starting my master’s degree in Educational Theatre (EDTC) at NYU, long before I understood what the field of “applied theatre” was. Through a serendipitous chain of events, I secured my first teaching artist gig using writing and theatre inside the New York City juvenile jail system. I had no real training, but I felt deeply drawn to the work of being inside of the walls with folks who were yearning for expression, I knew even then that something transformative was occurring.

As you may know, the Educational Theatre program has a long standing, collaborative relationship with Rehabilitation through the Arts (RTA) – an organization that uses arts practices in various New York State Prisons in order to work toward the rehabilitation of incarcerated folks. In the first year of the PhD program, I had the opportunity to assist Dr. Nancy Smithner in teaching a Physical Theatre class, along with master’s student Melissa Sonia (now an alumni) at Bedford Hills Maximum Security Prison for Women. Soon after, I had the opportunity to co-teach a six-month long Devising Theatre course, alongside Clare Hammoor (an EDTC alumni) at Bedford Hills. Clare and I created the class to explore various socially minded themes through movement and writing. Then, after a particularly salient theme emerged from our exploration, we continued on to write a play through a physical and writing based devising process. The class culminated with a performance of the mounted play for the remaining prison population. After months of writing, devising, and rehearsing we had created a play about the contradictions of womanhood inside prison walls. The play interrogated themes of body image, beauty, motherhood, self-sustainment, sexuality and gender.

The women wrote from raw and deep places, clearly craving an opportunity to tell their stories. Throughout the course, Clare and I found ourselves constantly reflecting on several themes but specifically; our roles as facilitators, boundaries, the role of therapy in applied theatre, and emotional safety and wellness. The deeper we went into the work, the more questions and contradictions emerged. The women’s final performance was met with compassion and grace by the prison population as they echoed that they shared very similar experiences and deeply appreciated the vulnerability of their peers. And, Clare and I walked away from that experience stretched emotionally, mentally, and physically, but with so many more questions than when we began.

RTA Performance at Bedford Hills Maximum Security Prison for Women; Photo courtesy of RTA

Currently, Clare and I are co-facilitating a “Life Skills through Acting” class at Fishkill Correctional Facility for Men, a very different yet just as complex experience. We are only a few weeks into the class, and I am already finding that my questions, thoughts and general reflective practice is just as prevalent, but is more centered on questions of gender and aesthetic distance. I am fascinated by the immediate difference I have found in working with men versus women, and by the way I find myself (as a white, cis-gendered woman) performing gender and race in this hyper-masculine, racialized space.