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.

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