Educational Theater

Epic Theater Citizen Artist Conference

I attended an amazing and inspiring workshop few weeks ago at the Citizen Artist Conference hosted by the Epic Theater Ensemble. I appreciate Epic Theater’s approach to working with kids is their work with community through Augusto Boal’s Exercises. These exercises empower the students to connect to community and to feel responsible for change.

We opened with Boal’s The Great Game of Power. After the game, four students who have been part of Epic’s summer workshop entered and read scenes from their adaptations of Ibsen’s Enemy of the People. It was great to see well-crafted scenes about current topics based on the themes of Enemy of the People of course, but even more inspiring, these were young people in high school who were just crafting their playwriting skill. What I didn’t know at the time was that these were the type of plays that we would be creating over the course of the weekend. Epic has many curriculum. The Enemy of the People curriculum is just one.

On the second day of the Conference, we had the chance to create our own works based on Ibsen’s Enemy of the People, just as we had seen from the students the previous day. As one of the Epic Theater member’s explained, to be able to give this lesson, a person has to really know the play. The class was divided up into four groups. There were five categories that we used in order to create our own idea for a new play. The main idea was that the play had to have a main character that would be an enemy of the people in some way. For example, an owner of a hotel who was covering up health issues like eroding pipes that were of real danger to the guests. The next step was that all four groups had to pitch the ideas to the class. Then we had to vote as to which story was the strongest. The idea that was the strongest was the one that we would write scenes about.

What was important was the reactions from people as the group did not accept their ideas. We talked about this afterwards. This was a lesson for all of us in the room. It is hard to produce artistic projects. Really hard. Things do get… complicated.

The following exercises we created characters and did improvs on the main idea for the story that we chose. In our case it was a school meeting where there was a debate about the use of styrofome plates and the health of students who use those plates. Afterwards, we broke up into groups and wrote individual scenes using a very simple format that the Epic Theater uses. After that we shared our improvs that were based on the checklist each group produced.

How I Hope To Use These Exercises

I would like to have my own classroom one day and I’d like to include the study of various forms of historical drama. I am sure that I will find my own way of teaching, of course, but I admire the use of Boal’s exercises and Critical Thinking exercises of classic plays in the way that Epic teaches. I would like to borrow these ideas and techniques for my future students.

And I know that Epic is happy to pass on their ideas, as at the end of the conference, we received a Curriculum Guide.

Integrating Epic’s Techniques To My Teaching Artist Work

I have taught techniques to kids to play and understand Shakespeare’s words. Epic’s lesson plans teach students to put stories into the present day and empowers them to create their own stories while they are learning a story that is very removed from them. Using these techniques would ultimately help me, to help students understand and gain a world of knowledge about the story that they are working on. It would also help me ,to help students create their own stories and learn more about their own world.

I hope that you will all get to experience the workshop the next time around.

Also, be sure to check out Epic Theater Ensembles upcoming production: Mahilda’s Extra Key To Heaven by Russell Davis and directed by Will Pomerantz, September 16-October 11.

Carrie Edel Isaacman is a regular guest blogger, look for her monthly posts to come out on the 27th of the month. She is currently working as an Adjunct Lecturer through CUNY and substitute teaching in the NYC Public Schools while she pursues her MS in Educational Theater at City College. She is also involved in TA 101 with New York State Alliance for Arts in Education.

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Theater Heals

Yesterday I went to a teaching artist observation as part of my class in Special Topics with the Manhattan Theater Club. The company has a playwriting/acting residency where students write on themes from current plays they have seen. I visited a school where the students have very advanced life experiences for their age. Some of the students have been in jail and some have just had really rough lives. The writing that the students produce is so full of feeling. As the teaching artist observed, “They get conflict really fast”. That day a situation came up where in a writing exercise that the students prepared, a scene between two characters on the theme of betrayal, a female student wrote on some serious issues involving suicide. The theme of betrayal came from the recent viewing of the MTC’s production of American Plan. The teaching artist and the two visiting actors handled the situation with such sensitivity. During class, they discussed the scene by asking the female student how serious the character is about the violence? After the students were dismissed the teaching artist, actors and our class instructor discussed the student’s writing and the possible issues behind it. Apparently the teacher had already talked with the student at the end of class and there were further plans to talk with the school about it. At that point I said my goodbyes and thanked the teaching artist. I asked if it would be alright to come back. (Technically in the Special Topics class we visit twice for field observation for each play.) He invited me to visit for the culminating event. I will do this, so that I can see the very rich plays that the kids produce, but also to see how that student that I mentioned is doing.

I left the field observation having felt great concern for the student, but also relieved that she will get the help that she needs. In a way, healing took place through the fact that the girl revealed something that she needed: help. And because she asked for help via the writing she may just get that. In this case Theater may have just saved a life.

Carrie Edel Isaacman is a regular guest blogger who is currently working as an Adjunct Lecturer through CUNY and substitute teaching in the NYC Public Schools while she pursues her MS in Educational Theater at City College. She is also involved in TA 101 with New York State Alliance for Arts in Education.

Living Underneath the Hyphen

On one of the first days of class with Jennifer Strycharz at City College of New York in the Drama in Education, the first course in the MS in Educational Theater, she stated, and I regretfully do not remember who she was quoting, but she was quoting someone who talked about being a teaching artist as “living underneath the hyphen”. I really liked this saying about teaching artists and what they do. We are artists who teach.

I hate to sound too over the top but it is just the truth when anyone says the arts will inspire and motivate in a way that traditional learning may miss. In today’s economy where arts are being threatened it occurs to me that to make a commitment to work as a certified teacher in the arts and as a teaching artist it is not enough just to teach, but I have to be an arts advocate.

Some areas that I have taken a real interest in towards including in my work and education is Disabilities in the Arts. During the Teaching Artist 101 course I was so inspired by the representatives that talked about the organization of VSArts.org. I am thinking about purchasing the diversity kit from VSArts.org site. I was so inspired by all that I found there. They even have forms that can help a teaching artist to adjust lesson plans to the particular population that they are working with. I also love all of the informative articles there as well.

I also love to work in any grade level including college age students. I am really enjoying being in education again.

FOLLOW UP: It is Jonathan Neelands is the one who started the term “live beneath the hyphen” . He has several books with wonderful games and exercises that we use in class. Enjoy!

Carrie Edel Isaacman is a regular guest blogger who is currently working as an Adjunct Lecturer through CUNY and substitute teaching in the NYC Public Schools while she pursues her MS in Educational Theater at City College. She is also involved in TA 101 with New York State Alliance for Arts in Education.