“How Do I Explain What I Do?”…ugh…do I have to Ms.? By Heleya de Barros

I didn’t want to write this blog.  I tried to back out when a colleague approached me about it using time as an excuse (which is a completely legitimate excuse for any artist/teaching artist…but that’s another post).  But really, it wasn’t about the time. It was because I was afraid.  Afraid of writing it, afraid of not getting it right, afraid of talking about myself, afraid my voice wasn’t worth hearing.

Funny how those lessons you spend your days trying to get across to your students don’t seem to make it through your own thick ego—er–skull sometimes, huh?

So, here goes.

I use theatre for things other than putting on plays. 

I love theatre.  I love making theatre, I love seeing theatre, but what I love the most is when I see theatre’s inherent skills making guest appearances in other areas of people’s lives.  That is what I try to share with students; that theatre can be a useful tool for more than just thespian nerds.  I try to show students that the classroom—any place really—can be a space for play, and experimentation, and for exploration, and where mistakes are not just okay, but celebrated.  That’s not always easy.

In the majority of the programs I work for, students are not electing to be there.  They’ve been required to participate.  Sometimes my “cooperating” classroom teachers have not elected to have me there either.  I am most often met with apprehension, confusion, anxiety, sometimes resentment.  But, there is also curiosity and excitement.  The look of astonishment when you ask them to stand up from their chairs.  The even more astonished face when you ask them to push the desks to the side of the room.  “What is this crazy lady gonna have us do?”  I try to hone in on that curiosity and excitement.

“Try” being the operative word.  This is a job of celebrating the little victories.  Maybe these aren’t the show-stopping moments other youth theatre programs strive for, but they’re the kind of theatre skill guest appearance I love.  So, when I can get an entire class to stand in a circle in actor’s neutral (no, not leaning on the wall, or sitting on the desk, or with your arms crossed) and make eye contact with each other, I celebrate.  I celebrate because just making a circle can be a difficult task.  I celebrate because we don’t give students opportunities to look their peers in the eyes.  They look at phones, at Smart Boards, at worksheets, at text books, or computer screens, but not at the people sitting next to them.  I celebrate because of what might happen when they do look at each other.  Because I can see that standing in neutral is curious and exciting for them.  The room becomes, at once, both still and alive.

Because theatre is alive.  It doesn’t sit on the page in a textbook.  Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to explain what I do.  “I try to get students to stand in a circle and look at each other” doesn’t quite get at the point.

So, Ms., could we stand up?  Can I show you what I do?  I think that will work much better.

 

1 Comment

Susan Ryan says:

Thank you Heleya! My thesis was/is called “Theatre,the Ultimate Face-Time Arts Discipline” (aka “Why Theatre Education is Important in the Digital Age”) I totally get what you are saying and I appreciate it. It can be so challenging to explain how we can do Theatre if we’re not putting on a play. I’m going through that now. Actually making appropriate eye contact is actually in the Common Core ELA (Speaking & Listening). Technology has so many wonderful things to offer however it can also have a negative effect on children’s social/emotional skills. Emotional Literacy is also a 21st Century Skill. Keep making circles – keep making eye contact.

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