Monday, February 28, 2011

NOC Teaching Artists weigh in on their experience so far

Here are two reflections from our teaching artists, Kristyn Hegner and Josh Lesser, leading the way at Fairview's Northlight On Campus (NOC) program. They have 23 students participating in their 16-week, Monday, 2-hour weekly after school program.

Like many teaching artists, I spend my days bustling throughout Chicago and its suburbs, traveling from school to school for an hour at a time to teach theatre. Rarely, do I make contact with fellow teachers, let alone the school’s administration. You are a freelance artist, often left to fend for yourself. However, at Fairview, even in the program’s earliest stages, Northlight On Campus (NOC) was a completely different story.

Led by Principal David Russo, Fairview’s team of teachers and administration welcomed Northlight to their school with open arms. From Music to Visual Arts to English, all of Fairview’s teachers have gone above and beyond to provide welcoming support. Regularly, Fairview teachers drop by the auditorium simply to watch and observe as the students delve into this fresh, new project.

Fairview seems to have every element working in its favor: a gorgeous auditorium, a two-hour weekly practice schedule, a highly supportive staff and administration, and most importantly, exceptional students. For most, NOC provides Fairview students with their first exposure to theatre.

Each student continues to gain confidence as they work together. The kids are fueled by the added support of their teachers and become exceedingly excited about NOC, launching an intoxicating buzz throughout the school.

From the moment I set foot on campus at Fairview South, I could tell that this residency was going to be a different experience from other residencies I have taught. I have had some fantastic experiences at schools in the past, but often that was because of the students and maybe the classroom teacher, but often it was in spite of the administration or support staff. Fairview had a supportive administration, kids who were excited about the program, and teacher's who, rather than seeing us as an imposition, wanted to be involved and support their students.

What makes or breaks any residency though, at the end of the day, is the students. Kristyn and I have eager, inquisitive, creative and hilarious middle schoolers. There was some attrition at the beginning, we started with 5 or 6 more students than we currently have, but in my opinion that is actually the optimal situation. Because we are new at the school, and because we came in with certain expectations that were backed by both Northlight and Mr. Russo, we were able to weed out the students who decided NOC wasn't for them, and though some of our remaining students still balk a bit at the commitment, all the remaining ones are in it for the long haul, which is essential in creating an ensemble. The work has been quite varied...we had blank canvases to work with, so everything we introduced was new. And while not everything we tried worked, we found a great balance that has led us to a creative process for the upcoming showcase that is new and different and calibrated by the students, rather than being imposed on them. We are trying to give our students as much ownership over the work as possible, and though that sometimes is a harder row to hoe, I think it will result in a pretty satisfying experience.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Learning From Our Predecessors

Next on our journey we decided to go straight to someone who has seen it all in the internship world.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors established the Arts Internship Program (which provides internships for nonprofit performing, presenting, literary and municipal arts organizations). The purpose of the County's program is to provide undergraduate students with meaningful on-the-job training and experience in working in nonprofit arts organizations, while assisting arts organizations to develop future arts leaders.

Some of the stated goals of their program are that students:
•Develop a deeper understanding of the work involved in nonprofit arts administration;
•Better understand the role of the arts in a community;
•Develop "real life" business skills that can be put to use in their future careers.

During the ten-week course of the summer internships, participating organizations gain the assistance of extra staff to help with special or seasonal projects. Participating organizations also play an important role in molding and shaping potential new workers in the arts sector who may go on to arts leadership positions on staffs or boards.

It was very helpful to hear what challenges there are in placing students in various organizations including:
•Each student has highly personalized career learning needs and interests;
•Organizations are at varied levels of readiness to create an intern experience that is rich and satisfying to both sides;
•Students and participating organizations need a high level of ongoing support to ensure placements are successful.

Angela specifically mentioned the outcry from graduate students desiring this type of formal internship since currently their program is only open to undergraduate students. It seems our assertion could be correct that graduate students are craving this type of placement internship.

We hope to have past LA County interns in our focus group because they have uniquely experienced a successful internship placement and we want to get their input on how that experience affected where they are now.

The LA County Arts Commission fosters excellence, diversity, vitality, understanding and accessibility of the arts in Los Angeles County. The Commission provides leadership in cultural services for the County, including information and resources for the community, artists, educators, arts organizations and municipalities.
There are over 2,800 arts organizations and 150,000 working artists in the County of Los Angeles, creating the largest concentration of arts activity in the United States.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Spreading the Word

This month's post is coming a little late because I wanted to confirm the details of what I have to report. I am happy to say that Childsplay has been invited to speak about our sustainability initiative this March at the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT)  conference in Charlotte, NC. Childsplay’s technical director, Jeff Lemire, and I will be speaking on a panel along with Charles Deull from the Broadway Green Alliance and Richard Cuthbert of Global Design Solutions in the UK. It’s the beginning of taking our Think It! initiative to a wider audience and hopefully the start of a movement in our industry to be more thoughtful about how our work impacts our environment.
The following day, I will be attending the Production Manager’s Forum spring meeting. Coincidentally, the PMF has decided to invite technical directors to this spring’s meeting in an attempt to foster a network among TDs the same way that the production manager’s and prop master’s groups have grown. It’s also a great opportunity for Jeff and I to speak with representatives from both professional and academic theatres from across the country and share what we’ve learned.
In the meantime, we’re aiming to hold one more sustainable stagecraft summit that will focus on network building among the theatres here in the Phoenix area. I’ll be back next month to let you know how it went.
-Anthony Runfola, Childsplay