Friday, December 14, 2012

Staging Success - 9th Grade!

Nick Luckenbaugh here from Atlantic Theater Company in NYC! This year – with the help of the MetLife/TCG A-Ha! Program alongside other amazing supporters – we’ve been able to create a four-year arts education program called Staging Success. This is the largest arts education program in Atlantic’s history, and we’re thrilled to be working on it.

Just a quick overview of the program in case you’re unfamiliar: We’ve partnered with Park Slope Collegiate (a public high school in Brooklyn) to provide in-school theater classes to its entire student body of 300 teens. At each grade level, our teaching artists and administrators work with PSC faculty to create a curriculum that not only teaches theater but incorporates academic curriculum from students’ other classes. Beyond our work in the school, we also offer an intensive afterschool mentorship for select seniors – in which they form their own theater company and write and perform a new play at Atlantic.

Things have been going well with the program so far. Actually, we’ve already completed theater classes for the entire 9th grade. (110 students from four different periods!) Before even getting into acting exercises, students started by creating rules for their classroom ensemble. I really think they came up with some great stuff: “Stay open-minded and listen to others’ opinions.” “Act your age; not your shoe size.” “Take responsibility for your actions.”

I felt fortunate enough to see the culmination of each period’s work in their final presentations – in which each 9th grader performed a few lines of a personal narrative from their English class. They were totally memorized, and even when a few forgot their lines, their classmates jumped right in and started prompting them. It truly was an ensemble effort. I was also impressed that so many students voluntarily chose writing that was intensely personal – with many sharing moments about their loss of parents, bullying, or even mental illness. It really took a lot of courage on their part to share those stories.

After the presentation, 9th graders had a chance to discuss their thoughts on the program. This was the first exposure to theater for almost all of them, so it was heartening to hear so many talk about how they loved Staging Success and that they’re looking forward to working with Atlantic again next year. A few took this a step further, saying that they understood their theater work applied to other parts of their lives – from public speaking to day-to-day interactions with their classmates and teachers. In addition, many students talked about how they felt the program helped them bond with each other in new ways and showed them how “cool and awesome” their English teacher is.

For me, one of the most powerful moments of the day was seeing students who didn’t have mastery of the English language get up and share their personal stories. One of these students came to the United States not long before attending Park Slope Collegiate. At the beginning of the program, he refused to participate out of fear that his classmates would make fun of his accent. But teaching artists continued to encourage him, telling him that he was an important part of the ensemble and that he needed to be heard. It was difficult for him, but he finally began speaking up in class and even participated in the final presentation. What’s more, when other students spoke about their experiences, several (including some who had teased this particular young man in class) singled him out along with similar students – saying that they admired and “looked up to them” for their courage and confidence even when struggling with the language.

Thanks for taking the time to read! I’m looking forward to the next update on the program (10th grade and afterschool programs are already underway!) – but until then, feel free to contact me at if you’d like more information about Staging Success!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fancy digs!

This is my last blog for The Austin Scenic Co-op and I am really happy with what we have been able to accomplish in the past year, thanks to TCG and Metlife.

This year we have created some reliable and consistent systems for inventory and check-in/check-out processing. We have a website and a facebook page... but the most exciting new growth spurt happened in just the last two months with the opening of a Co-op Scene Shop at the Rude Mechs CenterCenter space. This scene shop will be available for low rent to the Austin theater community. Over the past year many artists complained about a lack of space to build their shows and we are so happy to be able to finally meet that need! Not only does it meet a community need but it also offers us opportunities to create systems of sustainability within the Co-op. With the rental fees for use of the shop we hope to continue to be able to employ at least one Co-op staff member after the Ah Ha grant has ended.

Here are a couple of pictures of our fancy new digs...

 Thank you once again TCG! This has been a really rewarding year and we hope to continue to grow and strengthen all of the foundations that have been laid.

Jenny Larson, The Austin Scenic Co-op/ Salvage Vanguard Theater

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mark your calendars! TEDxCalArts is official

Mark your calendars! We are pleased to announce that on March 9, 2013 the CalArts Center for New Performance will host TEDxCalArts. With the generous support of the MetLife/TCG A-ha! Do It Grant, this all-day event will gather together a diverse array of the world’s brightest minds to talk about the big ideas and innovations that are shaping our world.

Through a series of talks and performances, our conference will explore how new understandings of performance and liveness are radically changing the world we live in.

TEDxCalArts will be held at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT), CalArts’ downtown center for innovative visual, performing and media arts.

Visit our website,, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates and announcements about our line-up of speakers.

Who We Are

The Center for New Performance (CNP) is the professional producing arm of CalArts, established to provide a unique artist- and project-driven framework for the development and realization of innovative theater, music, dance and interdisciplinary projects. Extending the forward-looking work carried out at CalArts into a direct dialogue with professional communities at the local, national and international levels, CNP offers an alternative model for the support of emerging voices and directions in the performing arts.

About TEDx

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED- like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x=independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized. This independent TEDx event is operated under license from TED.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Who is using the Co-op?

For this months blog I wanted to share a few projects that have been using the Scenic Co-op for their set needs.

Currently running at the Salvage Vanguard Theater is local latino theater company Teatro Vivo’s production of Raul Garza’s CURA. Cura explores what happens when faith is tested to its limits. In 1938, in a small Texas bordertown, a humble, defeated woman of faith, Amparo, encounters both spiritual hope and crisis in a young man who may or may not be the legendary Curandero/Saint, El Niño Fidencio. The Spanish word “cura” means both “cure” and “priest.”

Last month Glass Half Full Theatre ran their production of FupDuck on SVT’s mainstage. FupDuck is a puppetry adaptation of the novela Fup, by Jim Dodge, an anti-authoritarian fable about whiskey, ducks, life, death, and the untamed spirit of the West. The Puppets: Granddaddy Jake is a foul-mouthed, back-woods octogenarian who receives unexpected custody of his grandson Tiny, a child as gentle as Jake is cantankerous. Fup is their ornery twenty-pound duck, who embodies both chaos and heartfelt wisdom. The story explores this non-traditional family’s diverse obsessions, namely whiskey-brewing, fence-building, checkers, and an enthusiasm for sitting still. Granddaddy Jake's memories of his conversations with Johnny Seven Moons, the local Medicine Man, and Tiny and Fup's ongoing feud with the wild boar, Lockjaw, lead to a wry examination of what it means to live and how it is to die.

7 Wonders of the World +1 by Tongue and Groove also used the Co-op this past month. The source material for this original comedy, directed and adapted by David Yeakle, is a 1940s-era suite of songs by the late record producer, Robert Scherman. The story follows a dreamer across time and space to various landmarks of both the ancient world and modern U.S., bouncing from then to now, from temple to skyscraper, classical drama to screwball romance. This production ran at the Long Center for the Performing Arts.

In the coming months the following companies will be using the Co-op library for their shows: Trouble Puppet Theater’s Toil and Trouble, an adaptation of Macbeth. The Exchange Artist’s The Man Who Planted Trees.

Jenny Larson, Salvage Vanguard Theater/ Austin Scenic Co-op

Monday, August 6, 2012

Meeting minutes...

This is not my most exciting blog ever but here are our meeting minutes from the partner meeting we held last month... The biggest and most exciting thing is that we are now moving forward with creating community shop space at the Rude Mechs venue and opening up community storage space at the SVT venue...

Co-op Partners Meeting, July 18th 2012
Present: Connor, Eliot, Thomas (Rude Mech), Joe (St Edwards University), Zac, Jenny

The goal of the meeting was to discuss with partners what would be useful to them in creating a relationship with the Co-op and exploring and discussing ways that the larger budget partners can help make the Co-op more sustainable. Are the bigger organizations interested in making an annual contribution to the Co-op and what would make that viable for them?

Joe from St Eds said that they are not interested in making an annual contribution or having a "membership" but that they are willing to let the Co-op manage the rentals of the St Eds stock and keep the profit. The details need to be worked out but Joe said he would be happy to get an Office Depot gift card back from the Co-op at the end of the year and the Co-op keep all profits from the rentals. For example, Joe would love for the Co-op to manage the rentals for their prop stock. Joe would also like to give the Co-op a lot of furniture that they no longer need or use. They need more storage space but for them to buy in to the Co-op storage it would need to be closed to St Eds.

Eliot, who also works at St Eds, is going to help complete the St Eds inventory at the same time that the Co-op inventory is being completed. Both inventories are due by August 31st.

The basic idea being that the Co-op would almost be a consignment shop for the St Eds inventory. Managing other peoples stock and rentals.

Thomas talked about Scott Guthries desire and intention to create a rentable and usable scene shop space out of the CenterCenter at the Rude Mechs space. The lease would be $300 a month. The talk started to revolve around the idea that SVT could become the main storage space and Rudes could house the shop space. The shop space could be rented out and companies could rent out parts of SVT for their storage, this can potentially create income for the Co-op right away. Scott would be the person in charge of managing the Shop. He wouldn't be paid by the Co-op but would be paid through his contract work and some money from scene shop rentals. The Co-op would cover 1/2 to 2/3 of the rent for this shop space.

The next steps are that Connor needs to talk to Scott about collaborating on this scene shop idea. We need to create a system of how the space and the rental rate of the space is shared. The Co-op also will approach Ia and Rupert and PaperChairs about their storage needs and interest in taking up some space at SVT.

The idea was discussed to use the remaining storage budget to pay for tool repair and rent at the CenterCenter for the new shop space.

Jenny Larson, Salvage Vanguard Theater and The Austin Scenic Co-op

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Myth of the Scarcity Economy?

The Myth of the Scarcity Economy?

This past weekend I was in Boston for the TCG National Conference called "Model the Movement." I loved Seth Godin. It was a liberating idea to turn an organizations marketing attention away from the masses and back to the tribe. I enjoyed DJ Spooky, he was very intelligent and I enjoyed listening to him nerd out about the “theater of molecules.” I also always have a great time reconnecting with friends new and old from around the country that I see only once a year, usually at the conference. That said there was one particular idea this year that stuck with me after the conference. The idea was that we must fight the myth of the scarcity economy, or simply, when we work together, and we put generosity first, we will find sustainability. Even more than finding sustainability, I think we can find that it is easier to roll with the punches, the ups and downs, when we approach things from a perspective of generosity instead of fear of depleting resources.

In line with this idea of “rolling with the punches” there is something about the word “sustain” that just frankly rings false. The world is in a constant state of flux, beginnings and transitions. So I guess the main point I come back to, is that holding on too tightly, is actually the thing that causes harm. We have this idea that change and letting go are failures. The meditation I am taking away from this conference is to trust that there is enough for everyone.  That may perhaps require a change in how one measures “enough”… Side note: I know that the world is overwhelmed by suffering. There is poverty, there is hunger, there is an abundance of violence and neglect. I am, for this essay, talking about our relationship to our everyday lives as artists creating work in America. 

I was reading a book last weekend at the conference that brought up the myth of the scarcity economy in ones day to day life. The last break out session I attended in Boston was an update conversation with the Creative Commons, created by David Dower, Polly Carl, Jamie Gahlon, and VJay Matthews. The Commons consists of a New Works Map, New Works TV, and HowlRound. The HowlRound online magazine has been very successful. There have been a lot of really powerful and intelligent essays posted that created really charged conversations. At the break-out Polly brought up the “myth of the scarcity economy.” 

When I talk about a scarcity economy I am referring to the idea that there are a small and finite number of things in the world, and they are rapidly running out. By “things” I mean success, love, inspiration etc etc, and I also mean good reviews, sold out houses, feature articles, you get the idea... I think we have a responsibility to really fight against that habit of thought in our work. The generosity that is the platform for the Creative Commons is the thing that inspires me. I think that the Scenic Co-op in Austin is trying to achieve and exemplify that principle of abundance and generosity.  

The business model we practice at Salvage Vanguard Theater (SVT) is also trying to exemplify this sharing and collaborative approach. The SVT hub contains the Co-op and SVTs theater productions, Trouble Puppet Theater, Gnap! Theater Collective, Scriptworks, SpankDance, Merlin Works improv classes, and Church of the Friendly Ghost experimental music curators. These groups make up a consortium of arts organizations that run the SVT hub as a family of sorts. It’s a co-op. Each organization takes an area of responsibility in running the hub. Trouble Puppet does small maintenance tasks, Church fields renter tech support calls for sound and light issues, Gnap! keeps the supply closet and concessions stocked. For participation in the consortium, they are given scheduling priority, free rehearsal space and workshop space, storage space, office space, cheaper rental fees, and full use of any tech in the space including our projectors. SVT, like most other companies with budgets under $500,000 does not have a very large staff, and will not be able to afford expanding or growing the staff any time soon (though we take small steps each year) but with this model, we are able to stay afloat. More than just staying afloat, we are thriving.

Often times, we can look around ourselves and become terrified by the shrinking budgets and growing competition for grants and foundation gifts, and yes we are in fact in a scarcity economy when you look at just the numbers, and just the dollar signs. Yes, we are in a recession. Yes, we are faced with a digital age and more and more people spend their entertainment dollars on movies and HBOGO. I believe however that perspective is everything. It is so important to remember that one success does not in fact deplete your chances for success. One brilliant idea does not mean there are less brilliant ideas to be had in the world. I think that the more we work together and pool our resources and move forward with a spirit of generosity in all areas of our craft, the more likely we are to see that generosity returned to us again and again. 

In the break-out group for artistic directors with budgets under $500,000 at the TCG Conference, the meeting became an information sharing session. At one point the moderator said "all this resource sharing, its spooky" and that lead to a really wonderful conversation about the fact that in times of recession, in times of scarcity, the only thing that we can do is lean on each other. Sharing is the only way forward. Generosity and collaboration are the things, ultimately, that will be able to sustain us, or, as I said earlier, even more than sustain us, working together will make it easier to let go and allow the inevitable changes that await us.

Jenny Larson, 
Salvage Vanguard Theater
The Austin Scenic Co-op

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hey, I’m Kate Valk, and this is an update on our “A-ha!” project at The Wooster Group. We are experimenting with several new formats for our proposed artist-interview dialogs. Below are some prototypes:

1. Investigative Profile: “Prince Wooster” follows one of the original artists still residing in our transformed SoHo neighborhood.

2. Casual Situation Interview: Upstairs at The Performing Garage in my dressing room, co-host Zigniew Bzymek (“Z”) and I conduct a “couch chat” with Wooster Group producer Cynthia Hedstrom. “sugar high episode 2” is a model we’d like to use with outside artists.

3. Phone Tap Interviews: Here Wooster Group director Elizabeth LeCompte talks to filmmaker Ken Kobland over a phone tap about his new film, THE TOY SUN.

4. Visiting Artist Profile: For koosil-ja/danceKUMIKO’s production of INVISIBLE/VISIBLE we sent Z to profile the artists. He investigated the title of their piece.

5. Guest Spots: We want to feature the work of other video artists on our new blog. This video is an experiment with public interface where we sent out an “open call” for guest artist videos...

6. Collaborations: We’re teaming up with Young Jean Lee on a new web series for the blog. This video presents “you are there” documentation of the artistic process at its inception.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Next Steps: The New Kid on CTG’s White Paper

“Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.” – Peter Drucker
Camille Schenkkan, Educational Programs Manager at Center Theatre Group
In December 2011, I received a copy of Center Theatre Group’s white paper on professional training programs for emerging theatre artists.
Here are possible reasons why they mailed me the report:
  • I serve on the National Emerging Leaders Council and have been a core member of Emerging Arts Leaders/LA since 2005; 
  • I am an alumnus of the Los Angeles County Arts Internship Program, have been a supervisor through the program six times and a Learning Community Hub leader twice; 
  • I still act as volunteer staff for the organization where I interned in 2004, Circle X Theatre Co., a small theatre company similar to many profiled in the white paper as potential intern placement organizations; 
  • I am an alumnus of Claremont Graduate University’s Arts Management program, whose students and faculty participated in the research process. 
It was like someone sent me a research paper about my life. Paging through the report, I saw familiar faces and quotations from friends. More importantly, I saw my career path reflected in the data and recommendations.

Four months later, I joined Center Theatre Group as the Educational Programs Manager, focused on the training, support and development of emerging, young artists and arts professionals. It is a distinct honor to build on the work done by Patricia and Leslie to provide professional training programs for Los Angeles’ next generation of theatre leaders.

Substantive, hands-on experience within a theatre company—large or small— provides theatre management students with a chance to take their knowledge from “page to stage.”
Working for a theatre company while pursuing my Masters allowed me to take what I learned on Monday and apply it to the real world on Tuesday… and then ask why it didn’t work on Wednesday.

Peter Drucker would be proud: CTG has already begun the “hard work” of implementing aspects of the white paper. This spring, two students from local arts management programs became the organization’s pilot class of Graduate Scholars.
In the program evaluation they created for CTG, Jessie Randall from CSU Long Beach’s Theatre Management program and Julia Baumgartener from CGU’s Arts Management program corroborated many of the ideas presented in the white paper:  

Nearly all the hypotheses presented are extremely accurate representations of the professional and curricular needs of graduate students in arts/theatre management […] The ideal internship would establish mutual benefit for the organization and the interns, so it is valuable to examine the two groups’ diverse needs – where they align and where they diverge.

Jessie and Julia’s recommendations included implementing a competitive application process, focusing on project-based learning opportunities, and integrating graduate scholars within their departments (literally and metaphorically, as a shortage of desk space often leaves our interns in odd locations). We’re taking their suggestions and looking ahead to future classes of Graduate Scholars.

Center Theatre Group will continue to use the data gathered through the MetLife/TCG Ah-Ha! Program to shape our professional training programs.
Thank you for the chance to think, to learn, and to grow. Now we’re rolling up our sleeves. Let the hard work begin!
Camille Schenkkan is the Educational Programs Manager at Center Theatre Group.  Email her at 
For more information about Center Theatre Group's Ah-Ha! research into what theatres can do to bridge school and work, please click here.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Why Not?

Why Not?

I had the pleasure of traveling to Baltimore this May (courtesy of the Center for International Theater Development). While I was there I went to a lot of arts venues and centers and talked to several area arts advocates. The big thing that I walked away with after this trip was that Baltimore has an arts scene that is very socially focused and justice conscious. These artists all seemed very passionately connected to community, and to improving their communities. I was particularly impressed with the space initiatives happening in Baltimore and wondered how we could transplant these ideas to Austin.

The non-profit service organization Jubilee was very inspiring. ( Their main focus was to create artist housing in artist neighborhoods as a means of stopping the rising wealth and interest in those communities from driving out the poor artists who created that very vibe that is attracting people. Every city in America deals with this gentrification and the results, the patterns, are always the same. Artists move to poor areas and start creating life and vibrancy. The market values go up, the rich move in, the artists are shuffled off to the next poor neighborhood. It was exciting to hear about and witness organizations actively trying to stop that tedious pattern.

The other space that really impressed me was the Creative Alliance. ( The space had a bar and restaurant, two galleries, a performance space, 6 artists studio apartments, and classroom space. This sort of multi-use arts facility is really exciting. It is such a beautiful example of how collaborative creative spaces can work and thrive in their communities.

After my week in Baltimore I feel much more compelled to push for deeper conversations and creative problem solving in terms of our own shared resource space. It feels like the right path to follow in terms of the Co-op and some of our ideas about a giant shared resource center, with shop space, storage space, classroom space etc etc. Last month I talked about dreaming big, this month I was inspired by the city of Baltimore to say “why not?” and really get organized about making these dig dreams happen.

Jenny Larson, Salvage Vanguard Theater/ Austin Scenic Co-op

Friday, April 27, 2012

A co-op can dream, can't they?

This month has been full of exciting conversations with lots of creative dreamers.

I met with one of the leaders of the Austin Creative Re-use. ACR is basically the same sort of program as the Austin Scenic Co-p but its for visual artists. I also had a conversation with a few film industry folks discussing ways and interest in creating a film centric re-use center. The conversations all sort of melded into lots of big dreams about creating a giant creative re-use facility with storage space as well as shop space, studio space, and classroom space. In the next few months I am planning on coordinating a large meeting with the visual arts, theater, and film communities about how we can start to work together to make Austin a greener city with an emphasis on the arts and arts education. Lots of day dreaming and scheming...

The other energizing conversation that we had this month was with the theater companies that currently use the Co-op. We had a meeting to talk about implementing a membership and what that would mean, what it would cost, what the benefits would be, and if people would be willing to pay a membership. The consensus was that people would be willing to pay a membership if our services expanded. People really need shop space and storage space. They want a place for their extra set pieces and they want a place where they can paint and build. The plan as it stands now is to continue with a piece by piece rental structure, and then hopefully implement a membership in the fall, recognizing that most folks will not want to be members until we have additional space to meet their other needs.

With all of this dreaming and scheming the main thing that we have learned is that we need more space. We need a larger shop, we need more storage, we need studio space. There is not enough room at SVTs facilities alone to create the Co-op we want and the community needs... so the next steps are taking a long hard look at what steps we need to take as a community to creating this kind of giant re-use complex that we are all dreaming about...

Jenny Larson
Austin Scenic Co-op
Salvage Vanguard Theater

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A note from Fairview's Principal on collaborating with a theatre

Our relationship with Northlight has come at a good time because I have very open teachers who see the value of having studentsparticipate in theatre workshops and attend professional theatricalperformances. Without buy-in from theteachers who will be asked to coordinate events and miss students for normalclasses, the success of our program would not have been as great. I think that it was critical to be involvedas the Principal to select lead teachers who I knew would be receptive to thistype of experience and would view it as a great opportunity for the studentsrather than an encumbrance on their curriculum.

The students at Fairview have greatly enjoyed the chance to be creative in a purposeful way when the artists have come on-site to discuss the plays and play several acting games. Each time, the kids are very active and I am surprised by the students who step up in this setting. Some times this has been the student who behaves timidly in the classroom, but can open up in a more creative environment. Each time our students have gone to see a production at Northlight, they are not only experiencing professional theatre, but building etiquette skills on how to purport themselves in this type of environment. Hopefully, events such as these, early on in their education life will spur a life-long appreciation for the theatre.

Finally, Fairview has a tremendous auditorium facility with updated sound and lighting systems. For the previous 15 years, the space had been dormant when it came to developing a middle school theatre production. This was viewed as a gaping hole in our otherwise robust extracurricular offerings. With the help of Northlight,we are in the second year of Northlight on Campus. This group has opened up a vehicle of school participation for an entire new sub-group of students and we are anxiously awaiting their second production in April of this year. The artists who have led this group have been wonderful to work with and have developed high quality experiences for the students. We have been extremely pleased with the relationships formed with students and the type of training received by participants.

-David Russo
Middle School Principal
Fairview South School, Skokie, IL

Friday, March 30, 2012


This month is all about sustainability.

We are having a meeting with the companies that use the co-op the most frequently to discuss membership fees. Currently we have two tiers of Co-op users. The big money pants institutions and then the smaller non-profit or individual artists and arts organizations.

The big money guys have always paid for the use of the Co-op stock and the Co-op crew. The smaller organizations have been getting access to the stock mostly for free. They sometimes pay a small piece by piece rental fee and if they want Co-op crews assistance in construction they sometimes pay a small fee... but mostly, these groups have been using our services for free for the past four years. It may be a hard thing for them to swallow the idea of paying a membership fee. The bottom line is however that without creating some sort of revenue stream for the Co-op we will not be able to sustain. So next week, we meet with these smaller organizations to talk to them about what they think is reasonable...

We are currently applying to several foundations for support, in hopes of keeping the fees low as well. We are also trying to cultivate more relationships with larger institutions. Currently we have four of those relationships- two universities, one private high school, and one regional theater.

The TCG Ah Ha Do It grant has been invaluable in helping us take steps to grow the Co-op effectively but that funding is going to run out. We would hate to take a step backwards with this program. The goal right now is to do anything we can to prevent that step backwards... I am also meeting with other area re-use services to ask them about their funding, their membership fees, and their overall structures. We have been playing with the idea of expanding our tool share service to the city to get a larger membership pool as well and we are investigating that as a possibility.

Time will tell what solutions we find... Wish us luck!

Jenny Larson, Salvage Vanguard Theater and The Austin Scenic Co-op

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Student challenges

I’m teaching mainly fifth graders this year for YO NOLA, which has been an incredibly fun age; the kids are still young enough to be playful, but also have a level of humor and sophistication that fourth graders don’t have. However, as we get further into the second half of the year I’m noticing some changes in two or three students (as are teachers in their other classes). Mostly it has to do with attitude, a willingness to participate, and a real joy for the material. This joy, clear and present in the first semester is now hidden behind a veil of aloofness. Ah yes, a veil of aloofness popularly called “adolescence”.

However I hesitate to distill such a complex set of behaviors into one word. The truth is these students are going through a lot in their lives beyond hormonal changes. A few of the students have very difficult and erratic home lives, some of them have anger issues, and some of them just have trouble resolving social differences with their peers. I don’t mean to exaggerate; I have a great group of students who love to perform. But the factors I just mentioned make it difficult to figure out how to both support a positive class atmosphere while ensuring that the students who are having trouble stay in the class.

I’ll give an example.

I have a student who I’ll call Stephanie. Stephanie is a brilliant writer, a poet, a great performer, and an intelligent thinker…when she wants to be. Depending on the week, Stephanie will either be my star pupil or my biggest pouter. On bad days Stephanie refuses to participate in activities and sulks in the corner. If I correct her, she sulks more; if we talk about strategies to get her more involved, she shuts down. So, we (I mean my co-teacher and I) took action. We sat down with Stephanie and reminded her of the contract that she and her mother had signed to be in the class. We asked her to stay out of the class for one week in order to think about whether she really wanted to be a part of the program. So she did. Stephanie took it seriously and came back to the class and seemed to really jump in with two feet. And yet… I’ve noticed that some of those bad days are creeping back into our routine.

The problem with all of this is that I have no intention of actually letting Stephanie ever get ‘kicked out’ of the class. Not only is she incredibly talented and funny, I strongly believe that this performance outlet for her is a rare opportunity and an important part of her day (even though she might never admit it). Some of her writing was performed as part of our first semester celebration, and I know how much it meant to her. Stephanie comes from a tough home and she needs every positive outlet for her creative energies possible. It does make it difficult to give “shape up or else” threats when, in reality, I have no intention of getting to the “or else.”

So we continue. I try to put her in as many positive situations in class as possible, while making sure that her attitude on the bad days doesn’t effect the entire class. We’re going to perform some more of her writing as part of our final performance, so I’m hoping that this will be a motivating factor in the last part of the year. The joy in all of this, of course, is that performance and creativity can be truly healing and nurturing for a student like Stephanie.

Chris Kaminstein

YO NOLA Instructor

Southern Rep

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Proof is in the pudding...

This month I wanted to share some photos of Salvage Vanguard's set for our current production, CIVILIZATION (all you can eat). This set was built for a total of $275 smackers. I am not even exaggerating. We gave Connor (who designed) a bigger budget than that, but through the use of the co-op he was able to save the company ALOT of dough! The proof is in the pudding.

These images are from load-in, tech, and opening weekend performances... The build images are not the highest quality, but hopefully it gives you at least an idea... Check it out...

(production photos by Erica Nix, Jude Hickey and Florinda Bryant pictured)

Jenny Larson, Salvage Vanguard Theater/ Scenic Co-op

Friday, February 3, 2012

Thoughts from a Playwright writing for Kids

One of the many lessons I’ve learned as a Teacher is that Ido just as much homework as my students (if not more); I want them to passtheir tests every bit as much as they do, and I’m constantly worried about myperformance in class… only from the front of it instead of crammed behind asingle-seater desk. I’ve also learned there’sno way to prove these truths to my students, and that’s probably for thebetter.
What I didn’t knowuntil this week is that all those nervous jitters I got as an aspiring middleschool thespian during the first table readings of a new play are all still therewhen you’re the adult who wrote the play (only even more nervousy and morejittery.). Attending the firstread-through of the play I wrote specifically for the talented kids at Fairview,I was a big blob of anxiety.
What if they don’t like it?
What if they don’t like me?
Why didn’t anyone laugh at that line?
Who wrote this trash?
That kid is super talented, I hope I wrote a good enoughpart for her.
As we all sat in a circle and took turns reading line byline, with everyone getting equal opportunity to speak (Socialists!), I became hyperaware of what in the script was working and what wasn’t. It reminded me of atime that Devon (Northlight's Director of Education) commissioned me to write a play for her theater company, Dogand Pony. Due to circumstances outsideof the control of the Theatre Gods, they needed a playwright, and needed onefast. I was hired last minute, andturned in a first act in just under seven days, a second act in three. At thatfirst read through, with seasoned professionals, I was nervous, sure (thescript hadn’t even been spell checked), but I knew if the whole thing fellapart on the table, everyone there would understand and have the tools to helpme put it back together. They were,after all, “lifers” who understood the often crazy nature of the business. Everyone at the table that night was fluentin a theater vernacular that would allow me to verbally sand over any of theiranxieties about the hurried outline I’d dropped in front of them and said“Okay, perform this!” I could explain itaway. I could say, “Don’t worry, thatpart’ll beef up in act two.” Or “Thatmonologue is really short-handed now. It’s more of an outline for what I wantit to be after I’ve spent more time with it,” and all would nod knowingly andtrustingly.
But kids, on the other hand, are not fools. And especially not these kids. And they’ve not yet developed the theatervernacular that allows me to explain away any of the textual issues they mayhave with the script. If somethingdoesn’t work on the page, I’m going to hear about it. Immediately. With my old bones sat on the floor in a spirit circle, every kid’s eyestrained on this thing they’d been anticipating since the beginning of theschool year, I wondered how I might explain away any issues with the story, orcharacter arc, or lack of poetic plasticity. I mean, the best I could say would maybe be “This is gonna be fun. Trustme.”
But, at the end of the read through, they did trust me. And they did have fun. Many were excited, already talking with theirfriends about who wanted which parts and which were their favorite lines. I could have been there or not. The play’s the thing! And every young actor in that circle found atleast one character that she or he wanted to bring to life.
The students are going to have fun because they aredetermined to have fun. Almost as muchfun as this grumpy old playwright will have watching them bring it tolife. But, of course, there’s no tellingthem that.

by: Philip Dawkins - Playwright of Rodeo, a commissioned play for the Northlight On Campus program at Fairview South Middle School

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Is the world going to end in 2012?

I woke up this morning knowing exactly what I wanted to blog about this month. Was I motivated by last night’s zombie dreams? Or was it the apocalyptic play I watched a couple of days ago? Maybe the looming fears that the Mayans were right? Or was it yesterday’s rehearsal for the show about the hopeless and inevitable collapse of civilization that motivated me? Well, it is probably all of those things a little bit, and then some more…

Is the world going to end in 2012?

I don’t know, and frankly I don’t really think so. The world will change, definitely. But end? And honestly I guess I am less curious about that question and more curious about how that looming thought, idea, and nightmare changes the ways we interact with one another.

Where am I going with this? Okay so I woke up this morning thinking about the goodness of mankind, and the kindness, and these almost revolutionary actions that are springing up from our current political and social climate on a national and international scale. There are grand and obvious actions like the Occupy Movement, but there are also these small ways, in our theater communities, that we are becoming less competitive and more harmonious. Across the country I see individuals and organizations making movements towards a more amicable and sustainable theater environment. The Scenic Co-op is obviously one example of this sort of movement. We share set pieces with companies who can’t afford to purchase everything new. We recycle set pieces so we can make some small difference on the growing landfills. But we are certainly not the only ones taking these revolutionary steps.

Just a couple of examples include: Polly Carl’s HOWLROUND. The HOWLROUND is all about conversation across the nation across budgets, across race, across aesthetic. Because of HOWLROUND our community is talking to each other more than they ever have before. Another example is Vjay Matthews and Jamie Gahlon’s New Play Map, which is a map of the country and all the new work happening across the fifty states. It’s another attempt at keeping us connected and talking to each other, supporting each other. There is also Austin New Works community, a collective of Austin theater makers researching sustainability and community. Instead of fighting for a piece of the pie, lets share the pie. There are really enough slices for everyone. The list of theater makers and artists taking these actions goes on and on with TCG Exchange, The Center for Sustainability in the Arts in LA, Materials for the Arts in New York City, MECCA in Oregon to name a few… I am thrilled by these actions being taken to do away with the idea of “haves and have not’s”. People are questioning hierarchy and actively trying to support each other.

This makes me wonder, if our imminent doom weren’t right around the corner would we be playing nice? I don’t know. I don’t even know if the why matters. My suspicion is, that hard times do drive people to the next best thing. I think these difficult circumstances do motivate beautiful transitions and transformations. It’s thrilling. We are actively researching and instituting these revolutionary ideas that all focus on a “coming together.” It is beautiful, and inspiring, and it gives me hope.

Jenny Larson, Salvage Vanguard Theater/ Austin Scenic Co-op

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Building Confidence Through Mini-Performances

Post By: Kristyn Hegner, Northlight Teaching Artist
It is a delight to return to Fairview South Schoolfor the second year as a “NOC” teaching artist. Currently, we have just finished the first half of our yearlongresidency and are about to hold auditions for Philip Dawkins’s original play, Rodeo.

In our second year, NOC’s programming is continuing toevolve and grow in an effort to best serve Fairview’s students. Prior to our first class, fellow teaching artistMatt Farabee, intern Mara Stern, and myself met with Northlight’s Director ofEducation, Devon de Mayo to assess the strengths and weaknesses of last year’sprogram.

Through this dialogue, wetailored the curriculum, building upon previous experiences. Last year, we felt the students lackedself-confidence. This was demonstratedthrough struggles with projection, articulation and stage presence. WhenMatt and I revamped the curriculum, we decided that by having the students doat least one mini-performance each week we could fortify performance based skillswhile strengthening each student’s overall confidence. Throughout the course of the semester, we didjust that. Weekly, the students wroteand performed original scenes, improvised short plays, and as a culminatingactivity performed a fully memorized monologue. During the weekly classes, students were given the challenge to act aspeer directors, modeling and applying their knowledge and growing skill set inan effort to encourage their fellow students. Throughout each performance, peers were encouraged to watch for specificnotes that were then administered through constructive feedback and reflection.

It has been inspiring to watch our veteran students act asleaders, demonstrating their growing theatricality, and in turn, it is equallyas thrilling to watch our newest members take on new challenges. I am looking forward to working withour students as we embark together on Rodeo. Fairview students are very proud to bemembers of NOC. I know they are readilyawaiting auditions, rehearsals, and finally, sharing the culminatingperformances with their friends and family.

Kristyn Hegner has spent four summers teaching at Northlight’sPerforming Arts Camp. She is in her second year as the lead teachingartist to pilot Northlight On Campus at Fairview South School. Agraduate of Indiana University, Kristyn studied Theatre with minors in Englishand Psychology. Kristyn also teaches with Dream Big Performing ArtsWorkshop, American Theatre Company and has assistant directed and choreographedmultiple children’s productions, and lead several dance and movement intensiveworkshops.