Friday, March 30, 2012

MCT's collaboration with UW-Parkside

MCT’S "University Collaboration Series" continues with BUS STOP

BUS STOP is the third production in Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s University Collaboration Series. As a part of MCT’s mission to nurture young artists, the theatre committed to producing a mainstage show in partnership with a different local university for three consecutive seasons. Previous productions in the series were PICNIC, in collaboration with UW-Milwaukee (Fall 2009) and THE LION IN WINTER, in collaboration with Marquette University (Spring 2011). For BUS STOP, we have partnered with UW-Parkside in Kenosha, Wisconsin for a unique multi-faceted collaboration including over 25 students, alumni and faculty serving as actors, understudies, designers and production personnel. See the list of all UW-Parkside artists below and stay tuned for blog posts from some of the students involved!

UW-Parkside students involved:
Alecia Annacchino (Assistant Director)
Brittany Lee Arndt (u/s Cherie)
Brittany Boeche (u/s Grace)
Kara Foster (Hair & Makeup Designer)
Ethan Hall (Bo)
Bobby Johnson (Assistant Director, u/s Bo)
Brenna Kempf (Elma)
Kenjamin Thomas Lafayette (u/s Will)
Tiffany Lutz (Assistant Stage Manager)
Alex Metalsky (u/s Dr. Lyman)
Abby Miller (Properties Master)
Michael Pfeiffer (u/s Carl)
Rachel Sandlin (u/s Elma)
Holly Thompson (Sound Assistant)
Madeline Wakley (Stage Manager for Understudies)
Anne Walaszek (Cherie)

UW-Parkside alumni involved:
Karl Gfall (u/s Virgil)
Kevin Nelson (Scenic Design Assistant)
Phil Wooding (Sound Designer)

UW-Parkside faculty/staff involved:
Misti Bradford (Costume Designer)
Jake Bray (UWP Technical Director)
Jamie Cheatham (Dr. Gerald Lyman, Fight Choreographer)
Gale Childs-Daly (Dialects)
Michael Clickner (UWP Scene Shop Foreman)
Darice DaMata-Geiger (UWP Costume Shop Manager)
Keith Harris (Scenic Designer)
Lisa Kornetsky (Director)
Skelly Warren (Lighting Designer)

Friday, March 2, 2012

Educational Outreach and A THOUSAND WORDS - An Interview with Jacque Troy

If you have seen our current production, A Thousand Words (Feb. 16- March 11), you may have noticed an exhibit in our lobby featuring the product of our current educational outreach program. Jacque Troy, Education Director and Literary Manager for MCT, has been working with Milwaukee Public School (MPS) eighth graders in a program to link their Depression Era studies through exercises in photography, playwriting, and theatre games. Using a combination of A Thousand Words, artistic expression, and a traditional curriculum, Jacque has been making strides in bringing historical perspective to young minds in a creative venue.
I recently had the chance to talk with Jacque about the program and the way it has affected these eighth graders and their teachers.

How many programs have you done with MPS students in the past? What makes this one unique?

Photo By Jeremy Crump, Story Scool Teacher, Loretta O'Campo
It would be difficult to estimate exactly how many programs I’ve done in the past, because it’s a lot!!  I can tell you that I work primarily with 4th graders and up.  I typically lead classes in basic acting technique, playwriting (Young Playwrights Festival) or offer pre-show workshops when high school students are coming to see one of our matinees.  Regular program sites include Story School, Cooper School and Hartford University School when I’m working with the younger kids.  High schools I regularly visit include Rufus King, Reagan, Muskego and Messmer.

How have the students and teachers responded to the Depression Era educational theatre programming so far?

I’ve been amazed by how much the students have retained given the unique way the curriculum is being delivered.  The teachers are thrilled too.  I’ve had some shy performers, certainly, but they’ve all ultimately been willing to act out or write down their creative ideas.  And they continue to integrate historical facts into their performance work. 

Could you walk me through an example of one of the theatre games you used in this process?

Photo by Brandi Shands, Hartford University School Teacher, Rick Clark
I started the process of curriculum creation by contacting the MPS Curriculum Specialist for Social Studies and getting copies of the 8th and 11th grade textbooks.  Those are the two grades where the Depression Era is given a great deal of focus.  I wanted to connect what I was doing and the play’s focus to concepts the students were required to learn.  As a way to bridge history and performance on the very first day of workshops, I prepared what I called an oral history timeline.  I combined relevant historical facts with quotes from young people that I got from this great book called, Dear Mrs. Roosevelt: Letters from Children of the Great Depression, edited by Robert Cohen, 2002.  For this activity, the students were just required to stand at their desks and loudly and clearly share the fact or quote on their card.  It was a great basic history review and allowed them to know that young people just like them were struggling during this time. They also got their first taste of “performance” in a safe context.  Later the students did improvisations based on poems written by high school students during this era and ultimately wrote scenes based on Walker Evans photographs.  It was thrilling to see how they grew in their bravery, their creativity and their information retention through the 8 workshops. 

What about the process of theatre education do you think reaches young students or students with special needs? Why is the Depression Era a good focus point for this type of education?

Many of the students who experienced this programming have pretty severe emotional, behavioral disorders.  Theatre education allows a more creative, interactive approach to curriculum, which helps them succeed.  The focus of this curriculum was the Depression Era and specifically photographer, Walker Evans, to tie it directly to our production of A THOUSAND WORDS by Gwendolyn Rice.  But I’ve found over 20+ years of doing this that most topics can be taught using these techniques. 

What basic applications of drama education are teachers able to weave through their respective course subjects?

There are different universal benefits based on the curriculum or experience I’m sharing with them. 

1.      (Acting Classes) Effective communication skills are central to any theatre-based performance activity.  Many of the performance challenges require students to pool their creative ideas and determine a means for integrating everyone's input.  This can only be done through productive discussion.  The instructor also leads reflections on work done previously as a means to identify and replicate successful performance tactics.  Integrating dialogue into improvised scene work requires both an awareness of language that is classroom appropriate and that successfully articulates the vocal style of the character being portrayed. Additionally, students are always encouraged to provide responses appropriate to the viewpoint of the characters they choose to play and not simply those reflective of their own opinions. 
2.      (Student Matinees) When attending a production, students discuss and then witness the artistic interpretation of literary material depicting a variety of cultures during different periods of history.
3.      (Young Playwrights Festival)  Dialogue created for characters requires a grasp of the manner in which the person would speak based on cultural, educational and geographical influences. This form of written expression has also proven completely unfamiliar for most students.  Short in-class writing assignments require student feedback.  The crafting of their own play also requires several rewrites of their original text.  Since characters struggling to achieve a goal in a play employ a variety of tactics, through the playwriting process, students will be asked to engage a variety of communication intents and determine whether or not their script does so with both truthfulness and dramatic success. A "winning" script requires scrutiny by the playwright's classmates, the classroom teacher and the visiting artist.  Feedback received from any of these sources encourages the student playwright to re-examine the goals and effectiveness of their written work.

Photo by Brandi Shands, Hartford University School Teacher, Rick Clark
What would be your ultimate goal in this process? What is your wish for programs like this in the future?

I want students to know that theatre is for everyone.  It’s not just for grown-ups or for kids who have the “right kind of nice clothes” to wear to the theatre.  I want them to know that they can succeed in learning something new if they are willing to engage in a non-traditional way.  I want them to understand how art forms have influenced culture, politics and society throughout time.  That’s why I always try to include visual arts and literary arts when I’m creating this kind of programming.  I would love to be able to create the same kind of depth and connection to curriculum in future programming.  It was so rewarding to get to spend so much time with students, know that I was helping their teachers share core academic concepts, and having the luxury of really seeing them grow and understand over time.