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Theatre at Davidson Middle School

By Mentor Artist Margaret Hee

Attending Davidson Middle was not easy for me. I moved to CA at age twelve after my parent’s divorce and became caught up with a rebellious crowd. The summer after my 7th grade year my mother stuck me in theatre camp and it quite literally saved me. This past year (a good 17 years later) when Youth in Arts reached out to me about teaching theatre at Davidson I jumped on the opportunity. I hoped that if theatre helped me in my pre teen years, certainly it could help some other young creative minds at Davidson Middle School.

A lot has changed since I attended Davidson: it is a much safer environment with a plethora of resources. I had the opportunity to teach 180 ELD students across 5 classes 3 days a week and what I came to realize is that students really want to be heard. My initial approach was to teach theatre in the way I know best: with warm up, games, generative theatre exercises and rehearsal. Within a week it became clear that the students were not remotely interested in what I was offering. Given that they did not know me and I did not know them, I began having group conversations focused on their interests and concerns. Many of the students felt a lot of pressure in their academic classes and relished the opportunity to simply “free draw” or voice their opinions about what was happening in the world.

Instead of forcing self conscious students  to act in from of one another, we created stories and utilized shadow puppets as a mode of performance. They all responded to visual art, so with the help of Suzanne Joyal the students created their own individual Italian Street Paintings inspired by the prompt “We Dream of a World”. As noted before I led several group discussions and from these I compiled a group narrative monologue and then taught the students how to do voice-over recording to document the piece.

The highlight of the semester was when I brought a group of students from Redwood High School to present a production I had directed them in. Following the performance the Redwood students played games with the Davidson students and taught them movement exercises and stage combat.

This was ultimately the most challenging teaching experience I have had, but rewarding on many levels. Upon reflection at the end of the semester the students commented the following:

What brought us joy
I enjoyed everything we did. Love you Ms. Margaret!
I enjoyed the Italian Street Painting
I enjoyed the Redwood High School students and the teachers
The movies we watched
The theatre games!
Taking pictures with the cameras
Using shadow puppets
Having some freedom!
Making a poster using magazines
Working on projects with friends
Meeting new people

What we learned
Art can make you happy
How to tell stories through creativity
How to not be shy
I learned how to be responsible, respectful and most importantly to laugh!
I learned about foreshadowing
How to take photos and how to edit
How to create shadow puppets. That was fun!
Picture is texture
I learned how to communicate with others
I learned cooperation, friendship and being respectful
How to take pictures from different angles
I learned about balance in pictures
I learned that we should all have equal rights
I learned about different light and shade in pictures
Art!
To be creative
How to play the game BANG
This year I learned that you should treat others the way you want to be treated because it does not feel good when people say bad things to you

Connecting to Story = Building Empathy

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By Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Hannah Gavagan

I love teaching the 3rd graders of Cornell Elementary about the stories of Civil Rights Leaders. The students build empathy by imagining what it would be like to live during that time.  It seems like such a long time ago to them. But it wasn’t. And many students express that racism is a thing of the past. But it isn’t.  Sometimes students think that protests and marches were things people did a long time ago to create change. But they are happening today.

The students of Cornell Elementary participated in a school-wide walk out and I was full of gratitude to be able to participate with them. When I walked into the school that morning, it was a sea of orange to honor the students of Parkland, Florida. They held signs that said “Schools Should be Safe” and “Students Stand United Against Hate.”

Students ran up to me expressing how it made them feel powerful to take a stand and make their voices heard. They realized they were change makers. That their voice matters. I was moved to tears as I witnessed lessons sink in and expand their personal power.

Courageous Conversations – Hannah Gavagan

The 4th and 5th graders at SRCS created some stellar short plays on issues they were passionate about changing.

5th graders collaborating on a play for LGBTQ rights

5th graders collaborating on a play for LGBTQ rights

 

4th graders discussing their play about homelessness

4th graders discussing their play about homelessness

I received so many thank you’s after their classes. So many questions about different issues. So many stories of how they are taking agency to create change in their lives.  They were fired up.

5th graders collaborating on their play about immigration rights

5th graders collaborating on their play about immigration rights

Then one day after a class, I received a different type of response to the work we were doing. “Can I talk to you Hannah, about something that happened to me that’s about racism?” one of my 5th grade students at SRCS asked me after class.

I nodded and we sat side by side on the edge of the stage. My student shared with me that he had been the target of racist words multiple times. His voice shook as he told me story after story. I listened. When he was done I thanked him for having the courage to share those stories with me. I asked if he had shared this story with anyone else.  He replied,

“No. I didn’t think it was ever OK to talk about racism until you taught us it was.”

My heart broke.  Some topics are really uncomfortable to talk about. Like racism and sexism. Especially because so much shame can be linked to those topics if we have personal experiences with them. I was beyond grateful to provide this student an opportunity to share his experiences. Though it might be painful, working through our negative experiences is how we heal. Not by covering them up and pushing them down.

After a lengthy conversation I walked this student to the counselor to help him process and get support. As I walked through the muddy field to my car, I was reminded that this is why I do this work. This is why I help young people create a sense of agency and power around making change in this world. This is why I work so hard to normalize having these uncomfortable conversations. So that through a safe-space, we as a community, we as Americans, we as human beings can hear each others stories with empathy. And find inspiration in the discomfort so that we may all heal, grow, and change.

Youth in Power through Youth in Arts

By YIA Mentor Artist Hannah Gavagan

The 6th-8th grade students at SRCS were amazing. They were able to discuss the issues in the world with a determination to create change. They exuded power by telling their stories. In short, they had something to say.

Menu prop for a 7th grade play on the food industry

Menu prop for a 7th grade play on the food industry

One group especially had something to say. And they worked harder than any group I have ever taught in my entire teaching career. That is a bold statement, I know. But these four 8th grade girls would pop their heads into the theatre at lunch, recess, and every break they had to ask me, “Is it ok if we rehearse on the stage?” OF COURSE was always my answer. The short play they devised was constantly growing and shifting. Every practice was an opportunity for them to make their message stronger. They knew they had something to say. The issue they chose to tackle was consent.

I am not writing about these girls because the play they performed was so well executed (it was), or because they were some of the most talented actors I have had the pleasure of teaching (they were), but because of their collaboration and determination to make there voices heard in the most creative, powerful ways possible.

The class before their final performance, they asked if it was alright if they wore shirts they made. OF COURSE was my answer. They showed up to their performance donning white shirts with black lettering across the front that said “You are not alone.” I loved them! However, they still surprised me. During the final moment of their play, one of the girls who dealt with someone who did not respect her lack of consent spoke to the audience. She said she felt so alone and did not understand why this happened to her. She turned her back on the audience and knelt, defeated. As she turned around, I saw the back of her shirt. It read,

#MeToo

Queens supporting Queens

Queens supporting Queens

I burst into tears. That moment was emanating with power. Then the three other girls in the cast came onstage and physically helped her up. All their shirts also read #MeToo on the back. Once they all stood with locked arms, they faced the audience and reminded us that no one is alone in dealing with our traumas.

These girls used every opportunity to strengthen their message. And the hundreds in the theater heard them loud and clear.  I was one proud director. But more importantly, they were incredibly proud of themselves.

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Visual Media and Theatre Arts at Davidson Middle School

by Mentor Artist Katie Issel Pitre

Greetings and welcome to an updateIf they knew me on the exciting partnership between Davidson Middle School in San Rafael and Youth in Arts!

As part of the new Strategic Vision of Youth in Arts to create model arts education programs K-8th grade, Mentor Artists Sophie Cooper and Katie Issel Pitre have been teaching New Media and Theatre Arts to 180 Davidson middle school students daily.

Beginning in late August Sophie and Katie have been working with 10 classes, grades 6th – 8th to provide arts enrichment for a student population that until this year had not received any elective classes. This year, Principal Bob Marcucci wanted to change this, partnering with Youth in Arts these students are half way through the first year of this pilot program and are getting in the swing of art making.

The project that the students have been working on has been cumulative – we’ve been building skills, teamwork, discussing and activating themes through play writing, college making, reflecting on values, watching many films – critiquing them and learning more about the way to use film to send a message.

In Ms Cooper’s New Media class students worked towards a photography project taking portraits of hands and also of eyes.  In Ms. Katie’s Theatre Arts class students composed collaborative poetry using the anaphora “With these hands we can…” and ” People think that I… But if they really knew me…”

If They Knew Me…

Pairing these two projects we used the photography from Ms. Cooper’s class, and recorded the audio from Ms. Katie’s classes and created two differently themed collections of films.  One collection pairs the photography of hands with the poetry “With these hands we can…”.  The other collection of films pairs photography of the eyes and the poetry “People think that I… but if they really knew me…”.

The final for their first semester was a film screening of both of these film collections.  Students observed all of the films, and then reflected on the process, the messages, considered what was missing and then brainstormed about what they want to make their next films about.  Some topics that were mentioned were making films about their lives, about kids who choose to be sober, about their friendships, about their immigrations stories, and more.

For students who have never had an arts residency like this Sophie and I are proud of what they were able to accomplish.  Their artistry has increased, as has their teamwork, self confidence, perspectives, and

 

Fir

Canal Alliance Speaks Out through Film

Canal Alliance - Winter Potluck 2017-7

Hannah and her student introducing their video to the audience at the Canal Alliance’s Winter Potluck

by Mentor Artist Hannah Gavagan

On my first day at Canal Alliance, I introduced myself and Devised Theatre – to the 8th grade students.  A few hands shot up with fear consuming their faces. “Wait. We HAVE to perform?” I assured the class that by the time the 10 week residency was completed, they would feel ready and excited to perform. I could see in their faces they were uncertain. None of the students had ever performed live or had any experience with theatre. They were terrified at the thought of having to perform.

The students excelled at “table work.” Anytime we were writing or having discussions about issues or social justice, they were engaged.

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Previewing the video in class

I created a plan to best support my students where they are at. Instead of creating an issues-based live performance, we created short films. The films showcase each student performing a monologue on an issue. Students selected images to go with their monologue. This format gave students  the freedom to express themselves and create art, while still operating in a safe space. Their films turned out beautifully and they were so proud of what they created.

We were able to show the finished film to friends, family and fellow students at the Canal Alliance’s Winter Potluck on December 15th.  It was wonderful to showcase what the students had learned, and contributed to in our 10 week residency.

These kids taught me that flexibility is an asset. Rigidity breeds rigidity.  I chose to listen to my students, recalibrate, and create something beautiful with them.

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Learning About Mentor Artist Hannah Gavagan

HGavaganSince Youth in Arts completed our new strategic plan this spring, we wanted to properly introduce our Mentor Artists to our more in-depth model, and to each other.  Our artists work directly in the classrooms, so they rarely have a chance to interact.  We hosted an “all artist meeting” in August, and it was wonderful to see them talk to, listen to, and learn from one another.  Our icebreaker activity was a worksheet that asked the artists to identify a problem in the world today, and how they would use their art form to solve it (using words and/or pictures).  The prompt was WITH MY ART I CAN…

Here is theater artist Hannah Gavagan’s thoughtful response and accompanying artwork:

“A problem I see in the world today is a cycle of hate spurred by fear of difference.  With my art I can…bring youth together from different backgrounds to share their experiences and stories.  I can create theatre with youth that teaches an adult audience how to step outside of their comfort zone to stop oppression.
Hannah Gavagan ArtworkI can create worlds where sexism and racism do not exist, and show what our world can look like with equity.  I can teach youth about oppression and how to be “upstanders” in their community.”

Hannah is doing wonderful work in two Youth in Arts residencies this fall: Devised Theater for an after school program at Canal Alliance, and Theater for Social Change at Santa Rosa Charter School for the Arts.  She will return to Cornell Elementary to teach her Civil Rights Storytelling & Theater residency this spring.

BIO: Hannah Gavagan is an actress, teacher, and mentor whose heart lies in social justice. She is passionate about devising issue-based theatre with youth so they may gain personal awareness and understanding of the issues in our world today. This awareness leads to students creating a positive impact through performances and social-action. Through her skills-based drama classes, she works to help unlock students’ personal power so that they may learn, grow, and thrive. Building trust with students, helping them trust each other, and practicing social-emotional skills through play are the foundation of her classes. She earned a BFA in theatre performance at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She is inspired by the teachings of Sanford Meisner and Michael Chekhov. She acts in plays and films, directs student-devised plays, creates films with a social-justice lens, and stars in a YouTube series called the Go-To Go Girl! which aims to inspire girls to be the change they wish to see in the world.

Get to Know Mentor Artist Katie Issel Pitre


Since Youth in Arts completed our new strategic plan this spring, we wanted to properly introduce our Mentor Artists to our more in-depth model, and to each other.  Our artists work directly in the classrooms, so they rarely have a chance to interact.  We hosted an “all artist meeting” in August, and it was wonderful to see them talk to, listen to, and learn from one another.  Our icebreaker activity was a worksheet that asked the artists to identify a problem in the world today, and how they would use their art form to solve it (using words and/or pictures).  The prompt was WITH MY ART I CAN…

Here is Mentor Artist, Katie Issel Pitre’s response and accompanying artwork:P1180036

“A problem I see in the world today, is many people being uncomfortable with their own emotions – escaping/avoiding difficult feelings, reactive disempowered people lacking a deep knowledge of self.  With my art I can…create a space to explore the self, face, dimensions of human experience and emotion, and gain confidence and compassion to build community.  I model moving through emotion using all my actor’s tools.  I craft experiences that ask students to step into others shoes, as actors for each other (classroom) and for communities (family).”

Katie teaches various forms of theater and creative movement for Youth in Arts, both in our Arts Unite Us and Artist in Schools programs.  She is currently teaching Devised Theater at Davidson Middle School, and at the Canal Alliance’s after school program.  Katie Issel Pitre Artwork

BIO: Katie Issel Pitre is a Berkeley native who recently returned to the Bay Area after 11 years based in Brooklyn.  There she worked as a teaching artist in spoken word, devised theatre, mural arts and playwriting throughout the boroughs of New York and New Jersey for Urban Word, Community Word Project, New Victory Theatre, BAM, and New Jersey Performing Arts Center.  Katie expresses her artistry as a facilitator as she works to bridge the gap between personal and cultural experiences by creating community-building opportunities via the creative process.  Her background in dance, voice, theatre and poetry shape her focus as an artist and educator.

Most recently she starred in two short films written and directed by Christopher Wells of Kaleidoscope Pictures called Cynthia and My Fondest which can be found on YouTube.  She also participated in an online writing course for women facilitated by Caits Meisner where she produced several new works of poetry.  Her writing was featured in a site-specific play series Play/Date, produced by Blake McCarty. As a devising actor she worked with the Trusty Sidekick company, and on two interview theatre pieces, The Class Project, directed by Joe Salvatore, and Layer Cake(actor and writer) performed at the Looking Glass theatre.  As a singer in Shell, she wrote and produced an EP.  Katie has also performed in multidisciplinary projects featuring her dance training.  She designs jewelry for City Seed.  Katie holds a MA in Educational Theatre in Colleges and Communities from NYU Steinhardt.