Mentor Artist Thomas Arndt reports on his theater residency this Spring at Cornell Elementary in Albany.
Youth in Arts new program at Cornell Elementary resulted in 8 story adaptions performed by 2nd and 3rd Grade students in just 8 weeks!
Weekly classes with the 2nd and 3rd Graders covered the basics of acting skills and then quickly plugged those skills into fun and challenging plays put on by the whole class. We worked on creating Stage Pictures, showing emotion with the body, movement and most of all STRONG, CLEAR VOICES! All of the students really loved the Vocal Resonator warm-up, which I learned from my teaching artist friend Mariah Castle a couple of years ago, which was a great way to balance big, wild expression with complete focus. I watched as the groups got stronger each week as ensembles and as every single individual grew as a performer.
In the 2nd Grade, we had “The Little Monkey and the Garbanzo Bean” from Cuba, “Anansi and the Strange Moss-Covered Rock” from West Africa, “Zomo the Rabbit” from Nigeria, and “NO DINNER!” from Southeast Asia. The 2nd Graders really impressed me with remembering where to be at all times and by staying in their characters throughout each performance.
The 3rd Graders had the challenge of doing curriculum-based Civil Rights plays which dealt with serious matters. They did an excellent job of enjoying the process while bringing maturity to the hardships that African-Americans faced in these stories. We performed “Martin’s Big Words,” “Ruby Bridges,” “I Am Rosa Parks,” and “Richard Wright and the Library Card.” These were all adapted from children’s books.
After each performance, we had a “Talk-Back” session with the audience (each show had family members and another Cornell class visiting us). The audience gave appreciations, and in every single session we hear how impressed they were by the loud, clear voices on-stage. I believe that whether or not these students go on to be actors, learning to speak in front of a crowd with confidence is an incredibly important skill. They also spoke to learning a lot of history from the shows and many audience members said that they were able to feel what it was like for people in the Civil Rights Era. We talked about this being the power of theater- that it’s not just facts, it is emotions. Many of the actors reported feeling nervous before the show and proud and happy after the show, especially upon hearing the responses from the audience. One actor said she felt it was “respectful” to hear such praise.
We are so excited to be at Cornell, creating a new, powerful theater program that we hope will continue for many years! Thank you to the amazing teachers, parents, families and kids!
In Kindergarten Art, our work will build on Art Fundamentals for kindergarteners. We start with LINES. Students practiced vocabulary like:
TThe Walker Rezaian Creative Hearts Fund offers Kindergarteners from a title one school in Marin a wonderful opportunity to learn to use art to explore the ideas of friendship. This year we worked with every kindergartener at Bahia Vista School for 12 weeks!
We start with an easy assessment: SHOW us your family: Who are they? What do you like to do together? Where do you like to go? Students use colored pencils to draw as many details as possible. Teachers can see a student’s knowledge of:
In only six weeks, First graders at San Ramon School worked with Mentor Artist Julia James to create very personal masterpieces.
PLAYGROUND DESIGN: Magical play spaces
Students were given the opportunity to design and build a model of a new playground for the first grade. Students began with sharing ideas about what is important for a playground.
CREATING ANIMALS AND HABITATS
Students researched any animal and its habitat. They collaborated by sharing ideas, supplies, tools and art. The final habitats were amazing!
Families from Harding Elementary School in El Cerrito joined Youth in Arts Mentor Artists in traveling the world last week! Upon arrival, our travelers received a passport to carry with them as they visited Mexico, Africa, Hawaii, and created a mural.
Outside the multipurpose room, we danced, played and sang traditional songs from various regions of Mexico with YIA Mentor Artists Nydia Gonzalez and Dolores Garcia. Travelers learned various rhythms to play on panderos (tamborines), quijadas (donkey jaws) and wooden frogs. Dancers tapped these rhythms out with their feet on tarimas (wooden platforms) and imitated various animals including colorful guacamayas (macaws), ducks, and vultures. We also learned about many of the traditional stringed instruments from Mexico including the vihuela, jarana huasteca, jarana jarocha, and guitarra de son.
Inspired by African Adinkra symbols and their meanings, YIA Mentor Artist Beth Krebs lead families in creating original prints that represent their family’s beliefs and values. Travelers also designed their own original symbols. Travelers began by quickly sketching three ideas for stamp designs. Next, they chose their favorite, drew it again on sticky-backed foam. Travelers then considered positive and negative space as they cut out their shapes, and stuck it to squares of cardboard. They used brayers to roll out their ink and spread it on their plates before then stamping their shapes on to a community wall hanging.
We also sailed to the Hawaiian islands with YIA Mentor Artist Shawna Alapa’i, swaying hips to traditional hula dances, chanting and playing instruments. Boys wore traditional kukui nut leis and everyone learned to play the ipu (gourd percussion instrument) and learn about ancient beliefs and stories of the Hawaiian people. Travelers learned traditional chants and hand gestures while dancing to the music of the ukelele.
Young artists joined YIA Mentor Artist Julia James in creating a beautiful mural of birds from around the world flying together. Students looked at birds from around the world and created paper birds using oil pastels, markers and water colors. All of the birds were added to the collaborative mural to represent the beautiful diversity of Harding Elementary.
Thank you to the Thomas J Long Foundation and the Green Foundation for their continued support and making this program possible.
By YIA Mentor Artist Thomas Arndt
“I’m BORED. BORED, BORED, BORED!!!” exclaimed the king, slouched in his throne with his chin on his fist. And what a grumpy face he had! The other actors worked very hard to fool him, and finally it was the little girl who saved the day! “Fooling the King” was one of many new short plays that my two Harding classes worked with for the past several weeks, and they did a wonderful job.
In the first weeks, we built trust and basic acting skills – especially focusing on using strong, clear voices and using one’s body to express emotion. We also declared our classes a “Judgment-Free Zone” and had some great discussions about what is so scary in 6th Grade about performing in front of others. Once we had that discussion, we were able to check in every day with how the class was doing at supporting each other. We had a great day with “Building a Machine,” in which we eventually built a machine full of noise and movement using every single person in the room. In this case, no one had to worry about being watched because they were all busy acting.
My goal for each class is always to have each student grow in some way at their own level. Especially in the last 3 weeks while we worked on our short plays, I saw each kid finding more strength in their voice and more expression in their character. One student had the most stage fright I’ve ever seen. We got him to take small steps. First, he decided to be the Stage Manager. Then, he rehearsed but didn’t perform. And finally, he performed off stage, using a microphone as the Narrator. I think it was a huge success. I also saw many students who struggled with reading growing stronger as they did the same short play 3 weeks in a row- once they knew their lines, they really opened up!
And overall, we just had a great time performing Fooling the King, My Teacher Ate My Homework, Wayne the Stegosaurus, Sometimes Arthur Is Choosy, Hershele Gets a Meal, and I Call First!