Tag: #artsed

The Lost Art of Boredom

By Melissa Shaw

Posted on Thursday, June 11, 2020

This blog is a part of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable’s new blog series, “Teaching Artists Speak Out: Blogs from Quarantine.” As schools remain closed, we’ve invited some “Teaching Artists of the Roundtable” to help us curate a series of blog posts written for and by NYC teaching artists.

Novelists are geniuses at staying still and seeing what comes next. I am most likely to be engaged in is staring. If staring ever becomes an Olympic event I am bringing home the gold. While other people go to work, I stare out the window, and then for a while I stare at my dog. I stare at blank pieces of paper and paragraphs and I stare at sentences and a buzzing computer screen. While others are doing things with their lives, hours and hours of my days are spent with my eyes glazed over, waiting, trying to figure things out. 

– Ann Patchett

 

When I was younger it was a lot easier to have nothing to do. There was less to watch on TV, fewer places to go, FOMO didn’t have a name yet, and although there was a rudimentary Internet around in the 90’s, I was not from a family that ever had a computer and the ear splitting dial-up connection of yore. AOL chat rooms, one of the only ways to chat on the internet then, was a stolen pleasure in other people’s homes. Through all of this, I was given a gift that is so much harder to find and embrace these days: boredom. 

 

For many of us, through Quarantine, there is a new air of and potential for boredom around us. Most of us are in our homes wondering what’s next? What do I do now? In this time to have an opportunity you should not miss- to do nothing for a while and see what comes of it. 

 

Think back to when you were a kid. I know when I think back to having a lack of things to do, my sister and friends and I would come up with original games, and fantastical romps through made-up worlds of our own devising. We were monsters and fairies and ran off of storm doors pretending we could fly. Even through high school, when I went to the haven of my room and shut the door I would listen to music, lip sync, dance alone, collage, journal, play dress up and dream of what might come in my future. This was a fertile time for my mind and creativity. If only we had Tik Tok then, I would have been a star. 

 

My personal space to create was born from these nighttimes and weekends unfilled with school, or other people’s voices, or demands on my time. 

 

To this day, I come up with my best plans or ideas when I stare off into space or when I’m stuck in my car singing to whatever song comes on the radio. 

 

Your boredom can be a gift -you just have to let it be. From the Void of Boredom will come your great idea, invention, piece of writing, drawing, or video.  You just have to open the space to let it in. 

 

The problem with most of us these days is that at the very hint of boredom, we move to strike too quickly to fill the void. We check our phones and wonder what other people are doing or thinking. Don’t worry about it sweetheart. You’re where the party is, always.

My advice. Be bored. Be with yourself. Sit on that mountain and the lightning bolt will come. Give it a try. 

 

Think, if you will, of a pimple (stay with me). When you first get a pimple, you are most likely bummed. Drat. This is inconvenient. This is not what I want! I do not want a pimple. You don’t, but there is nothing you can do. You must wait. That pimple is your boredom.  Oh sure you can try. You can fuss, and muss, and apply creams, and wash your face a million times, but you know the rules of a pimple quite well by now. You can’t rush a pimple, you have to give it time, because you know there is going to come the Great Pimple Moment. Slowly, surely, the moment to pop the pimple will arrive. The ugly pimple of boredom will be ready, and so will you. You will get the satisfying moment of release (don’t pretend there aren’t entire youtube channels dedicated to this.) This Great Pimple Moment holds the release to the next phase of healing and the inspiration that something good (the pimple fading!) is at hand. From your angsty patience will come the revelation. 

 

 A lot of research has been done about boredom and creativity. In this article, Clive Thompson writes for Wired that “Boredom might spark creativity because a restless mind hungers for stimulation. Maybe traversing an expanse of tedium creates a sort of cognitive forward motion. “Boredom becomes a seeking state,” says Texas A&M University psychologist Heather Lench. “What you’re doing now is not satisfying. So you’re seeking, you’re engaged.” A bored mind moves into a “daydreaming” state, says Sandi Mann, the psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire who ran the experiment with the cups. Parents will tell you that kids with “nothing to do” will eventually invent some weird, fun game to play—with a cardboard box, a light switch, whatever. Philosophers have intuited this for centuries; Kierkegaard described boredom as a prequel to creation: “The gods were bored; therefore they created human beings.” 

 

Pace around your room, listen to songs and fall in love with the images in the lyrics, flip through magazines, put down your phone, stare into space. Give your brain time to rewire. 

 

 

As Ann Patchett says in her graduation speech from Sarah Lawrence College the year I received my MFA in Theatre, Say still. See what comes next.

 

*****

Melissa Shaw is a writer, theater artist, and facilitator living in Brooklyn.  Her work has appeared in Hey Alma, Litrony, The Writer’s Rock Quarterly, and in the forthcoming Lyrics, Lit and Liquor anthology. Melissa was a member of the 2018 Writers in-Performance Lab at Tribeca Performing Arts Center in 2018 and is an associate artist with Falconworks Artist Group. She holds an MFA in Theatre from Sarah Lawrence College.

An Open Call to Board of Directors of Arts Education Programs

Posted on June 8, 2020

The following open letter to board members of arts organizations was written by marcus d harvey. This blog originally appeared as an article in the Spring 2020 edition of the Teaching Artist Guild’s TAG Quarterly on Friday, June 5.

June 1, 2020

 

Hello Board of Directors—

 

I am writing to you at 3:40am because I can’t sleep.   

 

Many of you don’t know me and probably will never have any interaction with me beyond this point but I wanted to introduce myself.

 

I am marcus d. harvey (all lowercase letters) and I have been a teaching artist at YOUR ORGANIZATION for over 11 years now. Maybe you know my name as I have worked with one of the signature programs pretty much exclusively since my time at YOUR ORGANIZATION.

 

I hold my undergraduate degree from UNC-Chapel Hill, a graduate degree from NYU and a graduate degree from Brooklyn College.  I am an actor. I am a director. I am a writer. I am a college professor. I am a mentor. I have been stopped by the cops, racially profiled, called the N word. I have been overlooked by jobs not because I didn’t have the qualifications but merely because my blackness makes white people feel uncomfortable (I have been told that by people “off the record”). You wouldn’t know anything of that by looking at me. What you will know by seeing me is that I am black and male and there is nothing any of you can do about it.

 

For years, I have worked at YOUR ORGANIZATION with a smile on my face and my head held high because I believed in the work of YOUR ORGANIZATION, or at least I used to. I have survived YOUR ORGANIZATION through many transitions and yet I am only part-time. I am asked about students who have been through your program by grant writers and others, but yet I am not on staff full-time. I watched someone who worked under me as a teaching artist, a white man, get a position where all of a sudden I had to report to him and seek his approval for even being in the room. Within YOUR ORGANIZATION, there is systemic racism.

 

YOUR ORGANIZATION, like most arts nonprofits, will romanticize the struggle of black and brown children to donors and sponsors while many of the staff in the office of these organizations are white. Do you recognize this as a problem?  I, a black man, have always had to report to someone white about a program dealing with a black playwright. Think about that for a minute. My blackness has to be approved by white supervisors. That is systemic racism. I, a black man, have had to sit in training sessions led usually by non-black people on how to deal with black and brown youth. That is systemic racism.  My entire existence within YOUR ORGANIZATION is on the approval of the white people who “approve” my work and my timesheet. That is systemic racism.

 

If you are uncomfortable with this email, imagine being me, I have been uncomfortable for some time now and afraid to say a word out of fear. Fear that the whiteness around me will see me as problematic and I would be let go. That is systemic racism. 

 

I am NOT asking you to make room for me at the table where you currently sit. I am asking you to examine who’s at the table, dismantle the table and build a new table that will make room for people like myself to sit.  

 

As the board of directors, I imagine part of your obligation is to guide and direct the organization towards growth but how can an organization grow when it doesn’t examine itself internally. When I say internally, I don’t mean hiring an outside organization run by white people to take a look at the systemic racism within YOUR ORGANIZATION; I mean by inviting black people at YOUR ORGANIZATION into the room to be heard and seen. If there are not black people at YOUR ORGANIZATION, ask yourself WHY?

 

It appears black lives only matter when it’s time to raise money but otherwise black lives are erased and black voices are muted. 

 

What is the action plan of YOUR ORGANIZATION going forward?

How will YOUR ORGANIZATION make room for voices that are black and male in the room?

When will black lives matter?

 

Here’s the reality, at any point, my black maleness can be seen as a threat and I could be taken at the hands of the cops simply by existing.  At any point I can become a hashtag.

 

What will YOUR ORGANIZATION do to ensure the safety and growth of black people who are on the frontlines doing the work stated in the mission statement?

 

It is no longer acceptable to sit in silence, while you have the power to examine yourselves and impact the change needed within the organization. 

 

In the arts,

In education,

 

marcus d. harvey

— 

Update:

As a board member responded to my email, the response reminded me how much systemic racism in rooted in who sits on these boards and who nurtures and guides these organizations to higher heights. It was clear my voice was heard and email wasn’t read. I have to ask: When will there be a new wave of leadership? When will black lives and black voices matter in arts education?  To board members everywhere….What are you willing to sacrifice for my freedom?

 

*****

marcus d harvey is an award-winning actorvist, director and writer. He holds degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill, New York University and Brooklyn College. He’s a teaching artist at various organizations, mentor and an adjunct professor of Acting. Website: www.themarcusdharvey.com Twitter: @marcusdharvey

Performance as Time Travel: Reindigenizing Movement, Decolonizing Time

By Moréna Espiritual

Posted on Friday, May 22, 2020

This blog is a part of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable’s new blog series, “Teaching Artists Speak Out: Blogs from Quarantine.” As schools remain closed, we’ve invited some “Teaching Artists of the Roundtable” to help us curate a series of blog posts written for and by NYC teaching artists. We’ll be posting new blogs each Tuesday and Thursday for the next several weeks.

if as the older i get the more wisdom i gain– wisdom defined as the acquiring of information that is grounded, ancient–  then isn’t time going backwards?

in “Dismantling the Master(s) Clockwork Universe)”  Rasheedah Phillips shares that “early recordings of an abstract sense of time as a continuous duration arose in the 14th century, while the word ‘time’ itself derives from the word ‘tide’ or ‘tidz.’…”

this written work continues on to explain that before the establishment of the western world and its technological, political, and religious shifts that stressed a linear sense of time which finishes in a “chaotic end,” there were other ways that people conceptualized and interacted with “time.” so the re-imagining of it’s structure that my opening sentence does is in reality, nothing new. the fluidity of time can be seen in how, depending on where you are in the world, it might be a completely different “time”/season right now. or you might use a different calendar system, like the U.S. and China. 

the truth is,those who work with and are connected to the land have always known about this expansive nature of time. and they have used it wisely –take the Africans who fought for and won their freedom in the most successful emancipatory uprising in human history as an example– the Haitan Revolutionaries. they won this war because they were connected to their ancestral religions of ancient wisdom, and hence did not believe in linear time – they fought utilizing gorilla warfare tactics based on their knowledge of the land, and were fueled by a fearlessness of death that came from understanding that existence did not end with physical life on earth; there are other timelines where our spirits go and roam. so maybe, COVID-19s ability to bring everything to a halt with quarantine isn’t some unique, inaccessible magic after all.

i say all of this to propose: maybe we have been able to time travel all along. haven’t you felt it?

when you meditate, and are able to see “past” versions of yourself, or scenarios which have not yet existed (in this timeline). the nostalgia in singing a song. the distortion of experience in the dreamworld. i’d argue that the healing we are capable of unlocking in those moments is proof that these are not imaginary trips. we’ve just been so trained to perceive this one pattern of numbers as our main orientation and organization of life flow that perhaps we invalidate the legitimacy of these experiences in other realms. 

taking all of this into consideration, i propose my second point: to perform is to set an intention. a prayer, a ritual.

 to say: “i will walk over there,” and then walk.

 to say: “i will imagine a new world,” and then create it.

 to say: “i will revisit this occurrence of the past,” and then recreate it. 

performance is also time travel. time travel that uses our body as a vehicle. amend it all. create it all.

through being intentional with this time travel, we can bring so much healing to our communities and ourselves. when we do it alone, it is a private ceremony. but when we do it for others, perhaps its true purpose is to be a culturally/genealogically informed ritual that considers the positionality of the audience. this is what separates it from just “healing.”

the courageous will ask themselves: “who is my audience and why do i want them to witness my time travel? what truths do i need to reveal to them, and from where can i access these truths? where should they be positioned in relation to my trip?”

*uses this clarity to set up the camera phone* 

*commencing ig live in “3.. 2..”*

*****

Moréna Espiritual is a cuir Afro-Taíno teaching artist, performer, and organizer based in NYC. Their work focuses on ancestral healing, re-imagining societal structures to create black/brown utopias, & inquiring about all emotional bodies that can live through the “self.”
 
For inquiries contact them at morenaespiritual@gmail.com
 
Find more work and contact listed here: https://linktr.ee/morenaespiritual

Thoughts on Teaching and Connecting and Change

By Alex La Torre

Posted on Friday, May 15, 2020

This blog is a part of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable’s new blog series, “Teaching Artists Speak Out: Blogs from Quarantine.” As schools remain closed, we’ve invited some “Teaching Artists of the Roundtable” to help us curate a series of blog posts written for and by NYC teaching artists. We’ll be posting new blogs each Tuesday and Thursday for the next several weeks. 

Starting a class now means clicking “start meeting” and then staring at my own face for a little while. There’s this moment in that silence that I can only compare to the sensation of being a kid and fearing that no one will show up to my birthday party.

I make sure my lighting is okay. I glance over at my windows to make sure they’re all the way shut so I don’t have to deal with unexpected background noise. My brilliant co-teachers log on and we chat the way we would before any class, I suppose: making sure the flow of our lesson plan still feels right, looking over the roster of students, etc.

Our very normal conversation makes me forget how different everything is for a few seconds. Of course, we also have to talk through the Zoom-version of our theatre game and wonder if it really will work on screen. I never thought I’d miss asking students to make a standing circle in the middle of the room so much. And then names start appearing in the waiting room. Another reminder of how so much has changed.

 

Things that aren’t the same:

  • I’m never really sure if I’ll see these students again. I don’t have the luxury of long-term curriculum planning and the knowledge that I’ll watch them grow through a whole semester or the full length of a class. Old models have gone out the window.
  • I can’t check in with students in the same way. I may notice someone seems distracted but there’s no discreet way of having a one-on-one conversation with them to see how they’re doing. I can’t use the chat function to connect with one student and continue to lead class for everyone at the same time – I am not that skilled a multi-tasker.
  • It takes an entirely new type of focus. Breakout rooms are cool. But I can’t stand in the middle of all the small groups and soft focus and go in and out of all of their conversations and ideas; hearing one group deciding they’re creating a hero with the “super power of silent farts that can paralyze a villain in their tracks,” another dreaming up a “magical gemstone that will grant their wishes.” Instead, I have to figure out whose mic is making that noise so I can mute them and keep an eye on the chat for questions.
  • I don’t know how to care for students in an individualized way when I’m staring at 20 faces on one screen. In those same breakout rooms, I can’t keep an eye on the student who has a hard time speaking up and pop into the group to make sure they feel safe. I can’t remind the idea person with one knowing glance to make sure they’re leaving space for other people’s thoughts.
  • I can’t casually assess how students interact with each other during drop off and pick up or transition moments. It feels impossible to get a feel for their comfort with each other in the same way. 
  • I can’t high five them. I can’t have a student come up and ask for a hug on the last day of class. I can’t take a moment to walk a student to their car and tell their parent or caregiver that they came up with some brilliant ideas in class that day.

 

Things that are the same:

  • I can look around the “room” and try to discern where my students are at. The information I receive is different, sure. But it’s there. How are they feeling? What does it mean to them to have a space in which they get to be creative? Is it an escape? Is it a release? Is it a way to get the sillies out? I can still meet them where they are to the best of my ability.
  • We can find common ground. Someone makes a Harry Potter reference (I adore that this has not changed since my own childhood), everyone laughs, they ask to know what house I’m in. (Hufflepuff, and proud of it.) 
  • Students support each other. If one student struggles with their lines as they adjust to Shakespearian language, then another chimes in with words of encouragement. 
  • We can create a true ensemble. One that is committed to working together and cheering on each member. A kid tries out a funny accent they’ve created for a character. The Zoom room gets filled with thumbs up and applause emojis, some kids unmute themselves so we can hear their laughter. It’s different, sure. But it’s also the same. It’s kids showing up for each other in whatever way they can. 
  • It gets messy. Sometimes you try out a new warm up or game and it’s a dud. I still invite kids into the process, “Listen, they can’t all be winners! Thank you for trying that experiment with me.”
  • There’s still emails from parents. They still include both heartwarming thank yous for the class and the more banal questions about registration and can my kid have more lines in the next class and so on. 
  • We still reflect. I still linger at the end of classes to check in with my fellow teaching artists. How did that feel for you? Should we try something different next time? Did so-and-so seem quieter to you today?
  • Personal expression shines. There is still seemingly always a student rocking something with a unicorn on it. Or a cat ear headband. Now there’s the bonus of seeing that they’ve got a matching rainbow bedspread or an actual pet cat. They are the coolest kiddos in my eyes.
  • We make art. There’s still characters to be created, stories to be told, and laughter to be had.

 

I miss so much. My heart physically aches for all the things that have changed. It is a terrible lump in my throat, welling up of feelings that doesn’t seem to go away no matter what I do.

But I see names fill up the waiting room. I look at my co-teachers faces, we take a deep breath together. I hit “admit all.”

 

*****

Alex La Torre is a bilingual teaching artist, arts administrator, and stage manager. Her various hats have allowed her to teach, create, and supervise programs at McCarter Theatre Center and throughout a variety of school districts in central New Jersey, working with students of all ages. She holds her BA in Secondary Education, English, and Educational Theatre from Boston College.

The Click

By Renata Townsend

Posted on Tuesday, May 5, 2020

This blog is a part of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable’s new blog series, “Teaching Artists Speak Out: Blogs from Quarantine.” As schools remain closed, we’ve invited some “Teaching Artists of the Roundtable” to help us curate a series of blog posts written for and by NYC teaching artists. We’ll be posting new blogs each Tuesday and Thursday for the next several weeks. 

I miss the click. Do you know what I’m referring to? The feeling in a room when the game clicks in – the energy shifts and the focus is palpable. The feeling where the circle gets tighter, participants’ posture starts to lean in, faces start to change, protective shields start to melt away. There may be laughter or impenetrable silence or nonsense words being said in a quick order. 

I miss this – this is one of the reasons I became a teaching artist. 

I have always loved games. So much so, that I facilitated a session at the 2017 NYC Arts in Education Roundtable Face to Face Conference sourcing and sharing games that we know in our arts education community (shout out to my co-facilitator Paul Brewster). Facilitating a game to build ensemble, reflect on the world around us, break up the day for students, build SEL skills, have fun – is my jam. I love it. I’m fascinated by it. But now that we are living in a digital world, how does this transfer? How do we play games online that were originally created to connect people in space? How do we create the click, digitally? 

Like the majority of teaching artists I know, my work has been significantly cut. I have been able to maintain an afterschool gig teaching middle school students in Brooklyn (now dispersed all over the city/state/country). Parents at the school shared that more than anything else, they believe their kids need to connect to their friends. The kids are bored, scared and lonely. A few weeks ago the normally boisterous, giggly, sassy 6th and 7th graders revealed to us during a check-in that on a scale from 1-5 they were feeling like 2’s and 3’s, using words like sad and tired to describe their moods. They were shells of themselves. It broke my heart but didn’t surprise me. After that experience my co-teachers and I decided that we were throwing the previously decided on curriculum out the window and were going to focus on three things: 

  1. Fun 
  2. Connection 
  3. Play  

This past week I facilitated a session comprised of games. I modified tried and true theater education games that I have played countless times in the classroom, to the digital space. I was nervous to try them and was transparent in the beginning of class that I have never played these games in this way and they might completely fail. I introduced the first game verbally and put the instructions in the chat. At first it was clunky and I had to repeat the rules. But then something magical happened. The game started working and I started to see smiles, students leaning into their computer cameras and bright eyes. At the end of class one student said, “Can we please do this again?”. The click happened. 

I’m re-ignited to find the joy in teaching online and discuss the pedagogy of arts education in the digital space. Here are the games that I played:

Facilitator Note: All of the games take significantly more time to introduce in the digital space. Be patient. I also modeled all of them with a student, wrote the instructions in the chat box and checked in that everyone understood the rules with a thumbs up to ensure that everyone is on the same page before starting. 

 

3 Differences (adapted from the Boal Game, taught to me by Helen White) 

  • I partnered students up and wrote their names into the chat. (ie. Maria, John)
  • I told students to pin their partner so their partner’s box/window could always be seen. 
  • I set a timer for 30 seconds and told students to observe everything about their partner’s box/window (what they’re wearing, how they’re sitting, what is in their space)
  • After the timer was up I told the students whose name I typed first in the chat that they would be turning off their cameras first. I repeated the student’s names that were in the first round. When their cameras were off they had to change three things about themselves or their environments. They had 1 minute to make the changes. 
  • After the minute was up everyone turned their cameras back on and they had to write their three guesses into the chat. Partners communicated using the chat function. 
  • At the end of the round we reflected full group on the experience. 
  • After reflection, switch partners for round 2. 

Facilitator Note: Students were changing clothes, bringing siblings and pets into their screens and running around their homes in the minute’s time – I was shocked by how fun this game became! 

 

Story Seedlings (adapted from Story Words, taught to me by Ben Johnson)

  • This game is done with two people. 
  • One person will be the storyteller and one is the gardener. The storyteller’s job is to begin a story using the phrase “Once upon a time”. While the storyteller is telling their story the gardener is writing words into the chat box. It is the storyteller’s job to incorporate the words into their story. 
  • This is a great exercise in flexibility and collaboration. 
  • It is a lot of fun for audience members (other students in the class) to watch how the storyteller incorporates the words. 

Facilitator Note: Depending on how many students you have participating you may want to set a limit on how many words the gardener types and/ give a countdown when the student should end their story.  

 

15 Crosses (adapted from 4 corners, taught to me by Peter Musante)

  • This is a physical game! Encourage students to stand during this game, if they are able. 
  • The goal of the game is to cross the screen in 15 unique ways. Do not over think it! 
  • When you are finished with your 15 crosses, sit and watch as people finish up. 

Facilitator Note: There is no wrong way to play this game! The goal is to get out of your head and move your body. It is fun to record the game while playing and then watch it back. 

 

For even more ideas of games that particularly work well in the digital space check out the previously recorded TYA/USA webinar: Zoom Zap Zop: Virtual Theater Game Slam  and please share games that are working well for you!

 

*****

Renata Townsend is a teaching artist, theater maker and content creator for young people. She has performed and taught with The New Victory Theater, Lincoln Center Theater, St. Ann’s Warehouse, The Park Avenue Armory, CENTERSTAGE, Co/LAB, Marquis Studios, Opening Act and Circle in the Square Theatre School. She works with the World Science Festival on finding ways to engage families while they are waiting in lines and writes Teacher Resource Guides for Broadway shows. She is the Head of Enrichment for Trusty Sidekick Theater Company, a theater for young audiences company that creates immersive experiences that encourage kids and adults to imagine and play together and has served on the Teaching Artist Affairs Committee and Face to Face Panels Committee of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable. Renata is a SUcasa Grant recipient and New Victory Theater Labworks Artist in Residence and is currently working on an original show that will push into early-childhood classrooms. She holds a BFA in Acting from UMBC and a Master’s Degree in Applied Theater from City University of New York, SPS.