Tag: teaching artist nyc

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.

Screenshots from Quarantine

By Chaya Babu

Posted on Tuesday, June 9, 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.

The days are all the same but I’ve never been good at time any way. I take walks around the neighborhood to punctuate things, stopping sometimes to sit on the grassy medium along Albermarle under the trees. Yesterday I journaled about how the leaves look translucent when the sunlight pierces them — distinct from the glassy look of a fish, more like gossamer, ready to come apart at the slightest touch. The day before that, about Venus stationing retrograde in Gemini. This is my universe right now: the ten-block radius around my apartment and, in turns, a more galactic drawing of my borders. 

 

“All I learn on Zoom is pig latin.”

 

And a new rhythm of conversation with my almost-nine-year-old nephew. The days have this now too. His face bright with his bad homemade haircut on a screen in my Brooklyn studio, sometimes right after the school day ends too but always for a bedtime story. Between 6:30 and 7pm he FaceTimes me. 

He has on occasion given me the courtesy of informing me that he’s about to do so. It’s not a heads-up as he doesn’t leave time in between the message and the call for me to let him know if I’m free; it’s more just an announcement of himself.

 

“Abu-bay,” he says. “That’s what your last name would be in pig latin.” As if I wasn’t well versed myself thirty years ago. I let him teach me. 

 

 

Vihan is my sister’s child. I always thought he would be 11 or 12 before he had his own device with messaging capabilities. Like so many other changes, COVID-19 sped that up. I’ve relished this development. He’s old enough now for us to laugh at the same jokes (sometimes), and to agree on whether a story is actually scary or not (yes I have cultivated in him a strong inclination toward art about ghosts and maybe killers and baby spiders crawling out of human faces). When I got that first “hey” two weeks ago from an email address that was his first and last name plus a 2011 tacked onto the end, I felt a soft heart-blooming that is so much more palpable now that the earth is quiet. A minute later, he was blowing up my FaceTime. We haven’t missed a story night yet. 

 

I’m reading Dear Mr. Henshaw to him. I never read it as a girl, but a friend gifted it to me recently with his own fanmail in the form of a note tucked into the front cover about his high hopes for my book publishing future. Vihan is taken with Leigh Botts’ transition from writing letters to Mr. Henshaw to writing in a diary with each entry addressed to Mr. Pretend Henshaw. He tells me from his little rectangle world on my iPhone that he can understand why it’s hard to write in a diary because he likes to write but doesn’t always see the point in writing to himself.

 

 

I’m not writing at all. Not beyond my slips of noticing the light, catching the way an ant crawls across my knee, the way my hair has grown wild or my whether my breath goes in deep or shallow. As my brain tries to make sense of what’s happening around us, even as I don’t think about it consciously, it feels that it has nothing left to make sense of anything else. It has nothing else to make sense of through language. I think about stories I might like to tell, essays ideas that had been swirling before, my manuscript draft that is waiting for my discernment and hand with red pen, and the fact that I now have all the free, open, boundless time an artist could have dreamed of. But the days blur together in a way that collapses the clock, and I can’t remember why I once believed there was a purpose in putting these thoughts on paper. I can’t remember why I once believed I knew how. 

 

 

I get good morning and what are you doing now? messages from him at 7am. I’m still asleep then. His good morning emoji game is on point though.  

Sometimes he sends me dispatches from the middle of his day.  

If I tell Vihan I’ll call him back in five minutes but I take seven minutes instead, I get back to my phone with three missed FaceTime calls and a message asking why I’m not picking up. I have to explain to him that if a grownup says five minutes, they usually mean fifteen or twenty. He thinks about that and decides it’s absolutely true. 

 

 

Vihan knows that I’m “a writer,” but only in the abstract. Sometimes he asks me questions about the publication process, but he doesn’t know what kinds of pieces I write, about what, why I do it as my work when it means I live in inside a 500 square foot perimeter while his life happens in the expanse between an Upper East Side townhouse and five acres of green and shadow and crisp air in Westchester. Usually he’s only up north on the weekends but now he’s been there for two months. One day on our FaceTime, after we read a few entries from The Diary of Leigh Botts, I show him my quarantine journal. 

 

“You wrote ALL that just since quarantine started?” he asks. 

 

It’s a soft bound book with a white cover. A gold bee is etched into the front. Vihan requests that I read a page to him. This feels hard. I open to lines and lines documenting my emotional state and the roots of my tendency toward somatic dispersion; somewhere there’s a missive about the direction the dandelion seeds danced in the wind on Ocean Parkway, somewhere else a bulleted list of numbers counting death. 

 

I find something remotely legible and not entirely inappropriate, even if beyond his level of reading comprehension. It’s dated May 5. I read: 

 

“I have lost my way and I know it. I used to know, just from the pulsing within, what came now, and next, and next. Now I trust nothing, always monitoring the okayness, measured by — not me. It has been so sad. This place. Thinking that the current and flow of my own body could be so wrong. An error. Carved into the bed of my feelings place. I’m wondering now if something about now is taking me back. I hope so. I need this time to hold a return. It seems so desperate and urgent a need. And yet, the urgency requires a sustaining force of slowness. Once it was true that the writing came easily. It did. I know it. I was there, that was me. Now it feels like I know nothing, think nothing, without stopping to check for the making sense to the gaze of some other. It never does. What happened? Who said I was such an aberration, and why did they matter?”

Vihan thinks about that. 

 

“Does that mean you think you’re getting less smart?”

 

“Yeah…” I say. “Yeah, it does.”

 

“Me too,” he offers. 

 

“Really? Why? Because you’re not getting much from remote learning?” 

 

And then he explains that all he learns on Zoom is pig latin. 

 

I laugh. 

 

 

The days are marked by our chats. 

A ritual that repeats, but nonetheless allows me to plot the passage of days and ephemeral shifts aside from my own regression. 

 

 

On a pretend Monday, February 5, Leigh Botts writes:

 

Dear Mr. Henshaw, 

I don’t have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of a paper. 

 

 

On a real Thursday, May 14, Vihan writes: 

 

(Because I’m annoying and I asked him to think about ways he might be growing that are not exactly related to what he’s learning academically. I decide after receiving the message that it wasn’t the worst exercise.)

 

 

I’ve been thinking about pig latin. How there is a point in our young lives when we are unburdened by whether or not we are understood beyond the scope of those whom we have let in. How having a secret language is sometimes what makes us feel safe. I think about how there are going to be moments, and they may stretch on in a way that causes time to fold in on itself and spiral out and back again, when talking only to ourselves and to those who intuitively grasp the words we use when we’re separating out the strands of our thoughts is what we need to get through the unraveling weeks of unknowing, whole. 

 

 

It’s the first day that I feel a hopeful warmth on my skin outdoors and I can mark the seasons turning, at last. The leaves are glowing everywhere; I try to figure out the name of a fragrant purple flower on a Stratford Road bush. It’s Friday — I know that much because Vihan goes to bed later and so I haven’t heard from him yet even as the 7pm hour creeps to its halfway point. Then my phone buzzes.

 

 

It’s story time.

*****

Chaya Babu is a South Asian American writer, journalist, artist, and educator based in Brooklyn. Her work focuses on power and oppression, cities, the body, foolishness, individual and collective healing, and more, and has been featured in or at The Margins, BuzzFeed, VICE, Open City, the Porter Gulch Review, GO HOME!, and Project for Empty Space, amongst others. She teaches classes on personal narrative, poetry, and reporting through Community Word Project and the School of the New York Times while she works on her first book, a memoir about the intergenerational trauma of exile and the impossibility of return post diaspora. For more, visit www.fobbysnob.com.

 

The Importance of Art in Trying Times

By Topaz Rodriguez

Posted on Friday, June 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.

Hello there! I see you’ve landed here from your journey, and I’m glad to see you alive and well in these changing times my good friend. Now that I have the privilege of your time and attention; I’d like to talk to you about an observation, or rather a perspective that has been around longer than you can imagine. This perspective is the flippant conversation of pursuing, creating, and dissecting art- society seems to have with artists of all mediums- claiming that our careers are phases, or they’re gaudy precursors to what we are ‘supposed’ to do. This conversation leads in with condescending tones, then follows up with the pressure of living in a capitalist society where if your work doesn’t bring in money it shouldn’t exist. If you’re lucky it ends there, but most times you’re not so lucky and the person or group of people ask you what you’re going to do with your life, why do a career that leaves you in poverty, etc. One of the best examples I can show you of this attitude seeping into an artist’s life, or how pervasive this attitude can be comes from the late Kurt Vonnegut, writer of Slaughterhouse Five, and A Man Without a Country. In this book (A Man Without a Country) Vonnegut (or his character)- is shown to have said:


If you really want to hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”  

 

This observation itself speaks volumes of the attitude towards art both in the times of Walt Whitman’s journey as a writer (some may even argue as a person) and to today’s 21st century.  To many people of the past and the audiences of the present, art is a waste of time- it doesn’t do much, and pursuing it is a disappointment to both you and the people before you.  To some it may be hard to believe nowadays – artists of many mediums have sprung from all walks of life.  We even have  more representation (of people who are marganlized or left in the background) in media such as Black Panther (2018), Steven Universe & it’s epilogue Steven Universe Future, to even revived specials such as Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling where one of the main characters is transgender.  However it is hard to keep art alive where one is in a society where it is neglected, disengaged, or even destroyed for capitalistic gains in it’s society. Below this are my two main arguments, and some advice for your troubles, dear reader.


1 (One): Capitalism is (More) Insidious than you think.

I know what you’re thinking: “Gee, next you’re gonna tell us water isn’t wet, and moonlight is technically still sunlight, wowee” but sarcasm aside it just seems I’m stating what you know to be your reality. However, I’d like you to take a moment, and think of the last film, t.v show, or even youtube series you’ve binged at 2 am and ask yourself if there were any jabs, commentary, at the providers of the show, or the network companies. Now add any implications of characters without a job being portrayed as annoying, antagonistic, etc. Once you’ve got those two ruminating in your brainspace, ask yourself: “How come (insert character name here) is seen as a useless person if they don’t work? How did that jab at (Insert network provider/company) fly past the executives?” Isn’t a little weird that you may feel odd for thinking that’s not fair to the character, or that you might bite a nail, inhale a sharp breath, or even laugh at the creators jabbing at the people that left them behind? Now, I’d like to direct your attention to the idea that people are inherently good but capitalism prevents actual good being done. I know, it sounds a bit radical (and pro-communism if you want to bring in the ideologies of economic systems) but hear me out for a second. I’d like to introduce you to a show title I hold dear and near to my heart called One Day at A Time (2017). This series was inspired by the 1975 sitcom with the same name, but this version follows a Cuban-American  family led by Penelope who starts the series off as a newly single veteran who divorced her partner who was also in the military, and she takes care of her two children and her mother in an apartment owned by a white landlord who’s a really really rich and aloof hipster. Already, this is a major field of representation for people who immigrate to America from Latino, and Hispanic countries, for those who are veterans, and for those who may have the same familial setup or culture- where there’s a matriarch in charge or in the picture. This series is both light-hearted, sweet, and also heart-wrenching at times from the days the family goes through, from Penelope’s daughter coming out as lesbian, to Penelope dealing with the seperation of her marriage, and her youngest son dealing with bigotry from the groups around him at school. To many people’s dismay, the show was dropped by Netflix after it’s 3rd season but was saved by Pop TV, another streaming tv service. In the 4th season’s premiere, there’s a jab done at Netflix where there’s nothing good on it anymore since they cancelled the show itself before. This series brings the inherent goodness idea to light by the representation the show gives, but since Netflix was not gaining the viewership it wanted it was dropped outright. Due to the influence of needing to see profit, cultural growth in television/media was stunted, and many creators that we need may have just given up. We also constantly see characters (in other shows) who don’t have jobs being portrayed as annoying to the main characters who do have jobs, an example would be Jack McFarland from Will and Grace (both the 1993 version, and the 2020 epilogue season) where in the beginning seasons he’s seen as a hindrance/annoyance to Will (his best friend) since he doesn’t work and is often asking for Will to spend some money on him or get him some services- and Will is patted on the back for being a good friend, or he just exchanges jabs to get Jack to quit. This may be a small facet into how capitalism can show it’s ugly rear in art but it’s important to spot it- since it’s a good foundation to bring up the debate or theorization of capitalism’s evil nature, and that it changes the way art is made in the 21st century, and how art will continue to be made in the 21st century. Final point-Keep your eyes open for shows being cancelled even when they do social good, or shows being threatened to be shut down due to its international viewership not sharing the same ideologies as the shows creator/s, money is paper but it affects us like poetry.

2 (Two): Culture is also at Fault.

Now, before you throw me out of a window or commit defenestration, please listen for just a second. I am not blaming any cultures who are at the short end of the stick ie: those who need the money to live, and survive/ need the bread and milk before they can buy the flowers to keep their soul alive. I am specifically coming for the culture in charge of artistic prowess, development, and survival, and I’ll be addressing them directly for this portion so please be prepared…

 

 HI! Are you a white upper-middle class to high- middle class individual who cares about art as a concept, and as a way of life? Do you enjoy seeing really cool things made by people not like you?  Do you go outside and interact with people who are not like you? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, I’d like to introduce you to the state of the art, first of its kind, just for you-brand new tool to make sure art survives, and continues to thrive so we can all have the things we want if you want us to contribute to your wealth. For just a small price of donating to centers, donating to systematic organizations, to cities, and local towns, villages frequently and consistently – you can acquire the tool of understanding that Art should be treated and supported as a necessary part of a capitalistic society that prides itself on earning the right to live, and  just maybe-live happily.

 

People need art to live- we don’t just live for clean food and water, or just shelter, we need things to sustain our minds, our hearts, and our way of knowing each other- including ourselves. People who work get through it through music or videos, or writing or drawing, etc if we’re going to have to work the rest of our lives we have to make it worth something besides material things. Because of you all, we have to work more than you do,  and the things we enjoy come at a price. We can’t work without pay, and we shouldn’t have to work without pay, and representation if you want to enjoy what we’ve made for ourselves. When you give us money we make great things happen. People grow and change, there’s hope for newcomers from the next generations, or those who look for solace here from worlds of tragedy beyond where we are now. 

Treating artists as people who do work for monetary gain is not only a good thing to do, it’s an insurance of humanity. If you feel isolated from what you have, you can start getting to be w/ people if you support the things they love, not just once but consistently- the love will always be there, you just gotta water it from time to time. Be a person with money who cares and the world will thank you for it. Thanks for tuning in.

 

3 (Three): “Art is the revolution that keeps reviving.”


Heya, you’ve reached the epilogue of your journey with me, thank you for sticking with me, here’s the advice you were promised. Art is a reaction to change, a lack of change. It flows through many, changes worlds, changes hearts, it survives, it is the inertia of humanity when it’s at its most powerful, and it is the small shimmer of light in the darkness of uncertainty, war, famine, and times where death seems to be a neighbor- rather than a force. It is what it means to be human, and find humanity again. When this is over, artists will have to seize the limelight of being a foundation of sanity when we were all locked down from the inaction of the government until it was to/too late, and having what I said in mind can be the difference between us as artists, creators, and supporters being lifted into higher places from now and us biting the dust. If we win, then know that art will be the reason we rise day after day, after day. If we lose, art will never die so long as we live to see tomorrow. Remember that in every human the ability to change, or react is instilled in us- art will follow suit. Thank you for making it to the end, for taking the time to read all of this, for creating, supporting the creativity, and for existing as yourself. Best Wishes- Topaz.

 

*****

Topaz Rodriguez is a Trans and Queer poet from NYC who’s writing starts from different mediums of poetry, to original stories that will be published in the near future! User of He/Him and They/Them pronouns, Topaz is also an advocate for Trans Rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, and the right for teachers, educators, and non-profits across the nation to continue their pay for the right price. Feel free to follow their instagram or tumblr under the handle: honeygemtrashbag

From Cardboard to iPads: Teaching Theatre Before, During, and After the Pandemic

By Hayley Sherwood

Posted on Friday, May 8, 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. 

A few weeks ago, I was checking in with a few friends who all work in the community engagement department of their respective theatres. Many of them manage teaching artists across the country and many of their departments have seen devastating lay-offs and furloughs in the past few months, not to mention a sobering shift in the landscape of their entire organization. We were reporting on what has changed and how all of our plans for the future were foiled. The air of this Zoom call somehow felt warmer, which was an imagined experience we were all happy to indulge. In one report, a friend not-so-jokingly said that he felt like he suddenly worked for a media company. As he said this, visions of my first couple days working from home hit: googling “how to edit a video” and trying to recover my password from a dusty Skype account. I agreed—I was suddenly performing a job that no one had trained me to do and so were all of my peers. 

This, of course, was no fault of the organizations I work for. For decades, all of the theatre organizations I work for had been dedicated to make having no screens (live theatre) even remotely as exciting as having screens. In order to do this, these organizations, my community of fellow teaching artists, community-engaged theatre practitioners, and I all became experts in in-the-moment relationship building. I work amongst some of the best fast friends in the world. These people can read a room in a second. 

Give us a piece of cardboard?  We’ll have a three-act play in 15 minutes. 

Give us a bunch of iPads? First of all, I would have been amazed the theatre department had the budget for that but I probably wouldn’t have known where to start. 

My imagination around technology is at a deficit because the departments I work in have been forced to operate in a deficit. Inside of this, though, we have created magical tools from scratch, fashioned entire operations out of thin air and we’re very proud.

During my first attempt at lesson planning for my first online workshop, I felt like someone had emptied out my toolbox. No cardboard in sight and a whole bunch of iPads. Even as a wave of webinars on how to operate Zoom hit my inbox, I still felt lost. How could I convince my students that I’m there for them in these circumstances? I’m not. 

Suddenly, I was a brand new Teaching Artist trying to figure out how to do this. I hearkened back to my first Teaching Artist gig. A staff member at my university asked me to teach some theatre classes at an arts festival at her child’s elementary school. I lost sleep over my lesson plan (something I had never written before). The chaos of the school’s arts festival was invigorating but with each step closer to my classroom, I felt like a bigger impostor – “they definitely will not think I’m cool” I thought. When I got to the room, there was a big sweeping set of stairs and my fear dissolved. A tool, I thought. I’ll be fine, I thought. I’ll just guide them toward turning that staircase into a volcano.

“I go into a room expecting one thing and suddenly I realize that a beautiful surprise gift was waiting for me all along.”

My career as a teaching artist so far has been a lot of building volcanoes – I go into a room expecting one thing and suddenly I realize that a beautiful surprise gift was waiting for me all along, whether that’s in the form of the number of desks in the room or in the mind of one of the students. becoming a teaching artist in NYC has really been about trust. If I trust my own knowledge, my co-teaching artists’ knowledge and the boundless knowledge of my students, my plan will move swiftly and seamlessly and all of our personalities will shine. Teaching artistry is about letting the brightest thing in the room shine – most of the time that is the improvisation games I planned but sometimes it’s the horrible day one of my students had.

So, what do I do when I can’t rely on the movement of the room? Well, I had to reach so deeeeeep into my toolbox that I became a student again. A student of this moment, a student of theatre arts and a student of my students –wherever they were, I would go…digitally, of course.

“I became interested in the ways that the work Teaching Artists are doing now could be sustainable, not simply Band-Aids on the work we wish we were doing.”

I’ve learned a few things so far. The first is that when presenting online, in that now very familiar “webinar” setting on Zoom: I had to write a script. A great lesson plan often includes a script – make sure to highlight this concept or definitely model with example—but that’s nothing compared to the full-on classical text I prepared for my first webinar. I was convinced something technical would go wrong so, in collaboration with my co-facilitator, we mapped out every word, every screen share, and every word we needed to spell out after we said it. It was through this that I remembered how, first of all, every teaching artist training I’d ever taken had encouraged me to ban scripts from my toolbox and, second of all, that relying on a script was actually my closest ally in my work as an actor. I’m not about to walk back into the first day of school 202….0(?) with a script in hand but maybe there are parts of my teaching that would be served by this kind of prep. With this discovery I became interested in the ways that the work Teaching Artists are doing now could be sustainable, not simply Band-Aids on the work we wish we were doing.

When one of the organizations I work for told us we were converting our weekly programming online, my co-teaching artist and I began texting up a storm—trying our best to get in contact with our students in a way they recognized and, most importantly, in a way that would be easy for them. The boundary I had once tried to maintain as an adult in their life vanished. Suddenly, as I was in contact with my students on a more regular basis, thanking them for signing into our Google Hangout with a simple text here or there, I began to question why that boundary was there in the first place. Through this questioning I emerged in deeper commitment to my students and less committed to any authority I may implicitly and explicitly have over them. I welcome their friendship and am honored anytime they seek my company. Of course, plenty of the people that I previously saw on a regular basis have let me know that they cannot prioritize our theatre class and must focus on other things, whether that’s celebrating a quarantine birthday or taking care of a sick relative. Setting these kinds of boundaries, rather than trying not to text their teacher, are the skills that I’m grateful to practice with my students and I know they will continue doing this into so many parts of their life.

“Organizations have built the structure for these relationships to begin but it is the work of us all that will sustain them.”

Learning how to navigate this new world of teaching has taught me a lot and I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to be made a student of my students. I’ve learned, finally and most importantly, that the people I “work with” are some of my dearest peers. Many of the people I’ve met through my work in community engaged-theatre or teaching artistry are the people that reached out first to see how I’m doing. They are showing me the care and attention I hope they feel from me. These organizations have built the structure for these relationships to begin but it is the work of us all that will sustain them. I am confident that the work we do in educational spaces will only be strengthened by this test, eventually. We will add video editing, online workshop facilitation, and Zoom expertise to our resumes and work together with our friends to find the services we all need. I hope theatre has a place in that collective decision.

 

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Hayley Sherwood is an NYC-based theatre artist who believes theatre belongs to everyone and activates this mission as an educator, administrator, producer, and actor. This has led her to teach K-12 students with organizations such Story Pirates and Opening Act, teach and manage programming with CO/LAB, an organization that creates a social and creative outlet for individuals with developmental disabilities, and produce COMMUNITY WORKS, a community-engaged theatre program at Williamstown Theatre Festival that casts local residents of all ages, socio-economic, veteran and disability statuses in a giant, world-premiere musical that is performed for thousands on the mainstage of the festival. She holds her BFA in Theatre Arts from Boston University and her MA in Educational Theatre for Colleges and Communities from NYU. She is a member of Middle Voice at Rattlestick Theatre Company and tutors the coolest family in Staten Island.