Monday I start a new chapter in my graduate school education. I will be starting the educational theatre program at the Steinhardt school at New York University.
The NYU program emphasizes the applications of theatre in a range of community and educational settings, with concentrated study in drama education, applied theatre, and play production for artists and educators. The program is recognized as a national and global leader in theatre and drama education; artist-in-residence strategies; theatre for and by young people. They produce plays year-round with accompanying workshops and applied theatre projects in the Black Box Studio, the Provincetown Playhouse, and community venues. The program has recently committed to a prison theatre project in New York where our students have opportunities to devise and implement work in the most challenging of environments.
The program offers teacher certification degrees at the B.S. and M.A. levels. Here, students are trained as theatre educators and are placed in field settings with cooperating mentors. As well, students can take the M.A. and Ph.D (Educational Theatre for Colleges and Communities) where they explore and research the power of theatre in a range of contexts. I will be taking the MA course for Colleges and Communities. This means that I will only have to take 36 units (three semesters) of classes verses the two year program in which the second year is spent on a working towards a teaching credential.
As I plan to still work full time during these three semesters, most of the classes I will be taking will be at night. The two night classes offered during the summer are Problems in Play Production: The Development of New Plays and Drama Education I. Each run for three weeks Monday through Thursday. I will also be taking a one unit two day course entitled Exploring Social Issues and Conflict Resolution through Drama.
Problems in Play Production: The Development of New Plays is the first class I will be taking. The course is described as studying theories and methods of play development including script analysis, rehearsals and presentation of works-in-progress. Development of student written scenes through in class performances and an overview of recent scripts and new trends in theatre for young audiences. This class follows the rehearsal process of staged readings of the New Plays for Young Audiences. Three plays will each rehearse for a week and then performed for the public that weekend.
At first I was precarious taking a class in “Children’s Theater”. I have not seen a lot of children’s theater and what I have seen did not interest me too much. Reading through the assigned articles for the first class I came across an article by Maja Ardal that I really enjoyed. In it she describes that there should not be “Children’s Theater”, but plays that can interest adults and tell stories that young audiences can relate and connect with. In describing the play of I Claudia by Kristen Thompson she says,
Thompson created a work from the depths of her passion and imagination that happened to connect with a broad range of ages. She did not plan the production for young people, and so her material was never tailored or compromised to attract and suit students and families. It simply did. That is the perfect scenario, yet I believe it is almost impossible to achieve in a theatre that only has a relationship with parents and teachers, because the TYA [Theatre for Young Audiences] theatre is utterly dependent on the attendance of young people.
She goes on to explain about a show that was written for a children’s theater in Toronto. It was recognized by colleagues and with awards, but since it started at a children’s theater people did not come to see it. It moved to an adult theater and the audiences showed up. The adults would either bring their children or once they saw it realize their kids would enjoy it as much as they did and would come back with their familes. “The city of Calgary was represented at the theatre! This was, in my opinion, the perfect theatre experience. The play was successful because it was produced by adult theatre companies. It became a ‘Theatre’ and not an ‘Educational’ experience.”
Ardal sees a clear reason for this. She goes on to explain that a mixed audience is the perfect atmosphere for children to learn and that the play does not need to control all the details of work on stage in fear that the children’s moral lives are at stake.
Children are not literal-minded as many would have us believe. They understand metaphor and they understand imagery. They understand that theatre is an experience to reflect upon, not to obey, that theatre is an imagery world of ‘what if’ and not the ‘only world’. We need to show children the messy aspects of life. As artists we are not here to answer. We are here to question, and to invite our audience to question with us.
This article gave me hope that this class will be something that I will enjoy. If the discussions are anything like this article than I think I will fit right in.