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Theater Arts and Play at Vallecito


The students in Ms. Stuart’s class for 3-5th grade students with special needs have something in common: they love to play.  What is it about play that makes it such a powerful learning tool for youth? In my theatre residency at Vallecito, they have exercised their ability to play well while cultivating imagination, focus skills, body and vocal expressiveness, and the ability to work together as a team.


At the start of our 10 week residency, Ms. Stuart’s students were very enthusiastic about drama, and eagerly “played” with each other using theatre games such as move and freeze, pantomime and the group mirror game.  Students moved as their favorite animals, portraying cats, dolphins, birds, elephants and others, and then told and acted out stories about these animals.  They told stories of animals who wanted to make friends, animals who needed help, animals who were happy, and animals who loved their families.

By the middle of the residency, after students had some practice with storytelling, we chose puppetry as a way to deepen their storytelling and story enactment skills.  Each of the youth created his/her own puppet that embodied an animal or a hero/heroine that he/she wanted to portray.  Puppet interviews followed, and during these interviews we learned lots about these puppet characters!  For example, one student, Carl, created a puppet with a magic eye that could see into the minds of all creatures.  Another student, Amber, created a bird puppet with many wings that could fly animals who were hurt to any hospital in the world so that they could get help.

In the end of the residency, students playfully enacted scenes with their puppets.  As so often happens, these scenes were full of real-life themes and lessons.  In one of those scenes, an elephant puppet named Ray was sad that his friends had left town, and asked for help from a monkey puppet named Chris.  The monkey puppet offered to help cheer Ray up by sharing his snack and inviting him to play a game of catch.  In the puppet world, as in the human world, the power of play to help us solve problems is an invaluable tool.  It is certainly a tool used and cherished by the youth I worked with at Vallecito, and a tool whose value will continue with every new child born on our planet.  Thanks to the youth who remind us about the power of play!


YIA Mentor Artist: Suraya Keating

Theatre Arts Residency Spring 2013

Shakespeare at Davidson Middle!

Seventh grade students at Davidson Middle School enjoyed a fun theatre workshop with Mentor Artist Melissa Briggs.

Students in the Shakespeare Workshop with Melissa

During the Renaissance curriculum, history teachers Mr. Snow and Mr. Cosgriff invited Melissa to reinforce their lessons with an emphasis on the role of William Shakespeare in the cultural ‘rebirth‘ that reinvented Europe and England in the 14th-17th centuries.  Students explored the Bard’s role in the Renaissance.  They discussed how the timing was perfect for Will because of the growing popularization of theatre as wealthy merchants became patrons of the arts at the same time that the feudal order broke down allowing peasants leisure time to spend as they pleased – watching plays!  Kids examined the vernacular language of the era and made many connections to their own generation’s commonly spoken language.  Up on their feet, the young actors played an exciting games that mined the rich material of Shakespeare’s many plays.

A famous Shakespearean death scene

Lessons highlighted Shakespeare’s history plays and reviewed curriculum key words and dates.  Melissa demystified the “weird and old fashioned” language of the late 1500 and early 1600′s by encouraging thoughtful group analysis that drew thematic parallels to the students appreciation of their own contemporary lyric artists, from Lauren Hill to Kanye West.  Finally, students performed a key scene from each act of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet; the young actors and directors staged the whole play in tableaux, a dramatic technique (popular in the Renaissance) that tells an action story through a still (or frozen) picture.

Davidson student practices her "tableaux" pose

As you can tell by these images, it was a joy to work with the students and teachers and Davidson!

Seeking Young Artists with Disabilities

Youth in Arts is offering three professional-level apprenticeships for young artists who would like to gain experience as a teaching artist and work as an apprentice.  Apprentices must be enrolled in college or an equivalent educational program, have a documented disability and be of ages 18-25.
Apprentices will assist Mentor Artists (some of whom are also individuals with disabilities) in teaching dance, theater or visual art through “Arts Unite Us,” an innovative project at Harding Elementary in El Cerrito, California,  that brings K-5 students with and without disabilities together to create original art side-by-side.

“Arts Unite Us” Apprentices will have a unique opportunity to acquire direct experience teaching the arts, while also serving as role models for children participating in the Harding project.  Apprentices will also attend workshops in classroom management, arts teaching techniques, working with learners of all abilities, documenting student learning in the arts and developing a professional portfolio.

The project will take place from February to August of 2012.

We are offering 3 apprenticeship positions in Dance and Theater.  These apprenticeships are offered by Youth in Arts through the Rosemary Kennedy Internship Initiative. A stipend will be provided for each apprentice selected for the program.

Application Deadline: April 5th, 2012


  • Performing artists, active in the arts field.
  • Enrolled in college or an equivalent educational program; or an artistic training program.
  • Have a documented disability.
  • 18-25 years of age.
  • Available to attend professional development workshops and teach during some school days.

If you would like to apply for this apprenticeship, you may do so by filling out our online form.

Contact: Nydia Gonzalez at ngonzalez@youthinarts.org

The Super Sensational Nine!

“We can work together!” wrote the students, and work together they did!

Mr. Lovejoy’s Special Day Class at Mt. Tam High School devised, wrote, directed and performed an original play called The Super Sensational Nine with guidance from VSA arts YIA Mentor Artist Melissa Briggs.

LEARN – About Theatre
The adapted Drama course began with theatre games through which they learned the elements of performance and playwriting. Students loved warming up their bodies, voices and imaginations every session and remained enthusiastic and flexible throughout this intensive and fast-moving residency.

IMAGINE – The Message
Together they chose the message, or central dramatic theme, for their piece, “its important to be a good son/daughter & role model.” The class was excited to voice how we all “get mad and stressed” but that “we can grow”. Sometimes we are influenced by constraints placed on us, and sometimes by those we place on ourselves but we have to “work together” to be “role models” for each other, our families and our own selves.

WRITE – The Play
In their play, this class of dynamic teens of different abilities confronted those constraints and created a story about seven superheroes who work together to show two supervillians how to “look inside” for the “good inside” them.

Students learned about character development by analyzing their own strengths as well as their unique personality and physical traits. They created superhero Alter Egos built on those strengths.  See the Mt Tam Heroes Student Worksheets.

The two supervillians emerged from the story’s need for conflict, the defining element of dramatic playwriting. In the resolution of this short play, the supervillians choose to stop using their “powers for bad” and begin “using them for good” becoming Superheroes! Take a look at the Super Sensational Nine script.

DESIGN – The Production
After crafting detailed character descriptions and awesome names for their superheroes, the Mt. Tam High students chose music and choreographed an energetic superhero movement dance to introduce each character.

A student in the class who is a gifted artist created a cape template; his classmates used this drawing as the foundation of their costume design. With more resources these detailed sketches could have become actual costumes!

The actors blocked their play, with Melissa’s direction, and memorized their lines, created props and chose clothes to wear that matched their superhero colors. Mr.Lovejoy is an amazing teacher and his help throughout was integral to the project. He connected us with Ben Cleveland in the Drama Department at the school who allowed us to perform at the campus main stage, the Daniel Caldwell Performing Arts Center.

The Super Sensational Nine was a huge hit! Every student was committed and participatory. This group of teenagers with diverse abilities brought passion and patience to their collaboration, ultimately encouraging us all through their play to “Look again. Look again. See the good. Inside you.”

As amazing as this experience was… it is just the beginning!  Next year, this class of talented young artists will be working with the Tam High School theater department to create a collaborative theater peice through our Arts Unite Us program.  Stay tuned!!

Something out of Nothing!

Mentor Artist Eliot Fintushel worked with second graders at San Ramon Elementary School to explore and expand the very depths of their imaginations. Following are just a few of the wonderful theater games introduced to the students by Eliot in his six weeks of workshops with them.

And now it’s a tail!

In the game of GA!, as I kneel to even my head with everybody else’s, we go around faster and faster, nearly turning to pudding.

Just like that, the broom, once a hat, has become a sword.

Now the broom has become a hat of high fashion.
In this game of Prop Rounds, the broom has become a horse.

Circle story--each says a sentence, and all unfolds.

This was Eliot’s seventh year with the second graders at San Ramon.