Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Education and Ensemble

Well, we’re done with our first week of classes as part of our YO NOLA (Youth Onstage New Orleans) program down here in the Big Easy and I feel invigorated about the 4th and 5th grade students we have in class. They seem to be imaginative, thoughtful, interested in theater, and totally insanely fun people.

This year YO NOLA is working with Success Preparatory Academy, which is in the Treme-Lafitte area of the city. Like so many charter schools in New Orleans, Success has taken on as its mission to improve student achievement, test scores, school behavior, intellectual ability, nutrition, world outlook, etc. etc. And in fact they’ve been having a tremendous amount of (ahem) success; the students are thriving in the school environment. However, partly because of budget limitations, there is only so much art that can be offered, and here’s where YO NOLA comes in: a theater program, run by a local professional theater, for a school that lacks one.

The usual craziness of the first week happened here: setting up norms, figuring out where to go for class (the room we thought we were going to use is no longer available for said use which means now we need to use a different room, namely the cafeteria), giving students a (super) basic understanding of the history and tradition of theater, and making sure they don’t eat their cheetos during class. By the way, a real life exchange:

Me: “Lionel, stop eating cheetos out of your pocket. Save them for later.”

Lionel: (holding up his orange-tipped fingers in protest) “I’m not eating cheetos.”

The nice thing is that I have students with incredibly active imaginations. Wednesday, they all made tableauxs with their bodies of a pirate ship; all of the groups interesting, all of them different. Kaytlin’s group decided they would stand over her as if she were the prow of the boat. Potential titles for this tableaux: “The Pirates Three”, “Redbeard takes over the world”, and “The KB’s” (so named for Kaitlyn’s initials).

Perhaps most importantly, I want to give the students an understanding of what it means to be part of an ensemble. How do yoau work together? How do you decide on one idea when there are many ideas in the room? How do you gracefully allow someone else to shine? These are difficult concepts, and yet key parts of being in a theater group. Scratch that. These are key parts of being human.

Looking forward to continuing to update you all on my adventures in the land of YO NOLA.

-chris kaminstein, YO NOLA leader, Southern Rep Theater

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