Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Sound of Education

Posted by Bruce Miller
Chase Kniffen (director and choreographer of The Sound of Music [TSOM]), Brian Barker (set designer, TSOM), Janine Serresseque (Barksdale's liaison with Richmond Public Schools [RPS]), and I had the wonderful opportunity of conducting an after-school Educator Training Workshop last week with a dozen or so teachers from RPS. The workshop was organized and facilitated by Susan Damron, theatre resource teacher in the RPS Arts & Humanities Center.

For the last eleven years, Theatre IV and RPS have partnered as Central Virginia's only affiliate of the Kennedy Center's prestigious Performing Arts Centers and Schools program. Through this national arts-in-education initiative, we present workshops that train teachers how to use the arts to enhance instruction across the curriculum at all grade levels. Teachers receive continuing education credits for their participation.

About half of the workshops involve master educators from the Kennedy Center's roster of the nation's best arts-in-education specialists. These days, about half of the workshops are developed here in Richmond by Susan Damron and various artists and educators from Theatre IV.

Earlier this year, we created a workshop entitled Beyond the Wiz. In response to teacher requests, the goal was to enable educators with no expertise in theatre--with the exception of George Wythe, RPS middle and high schools have no drama teachers--to learn where and how to look for plays that feature African American casts and themes but have little name recognition among the general public.

We assembled a panel comprised of Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates from VCU (director, The Grapes of Wrath), April Jones - guest theatre artist at the University of Richmond, Derome Scott Smith - Artistic Director, African American Repertory Theatre (director, Black Nativity), and me. Together we discussed the history of African American theatre in the United States, and explored a large number of plays that have had successful revivals with African American casts even if they were not originally written from an African American perspective.

Each participating teacher left with a new appreciation for the wealth of material out there, an expanded knowledge of where to search for new titles, and an understanding of how to obtain reading copies of less well known scripts.

The subject of last week's workshop was Creating the Team Needed to Produce a Musical. Using The Sound of Music as our case study, I spoke about assembling the lead artists, Chase talked about how the director works with the stage manager and designers to move the process forward, Janine (who works overhire in our costume department) spoke about the various steps followed to create the costumes for a show, and Brian dazzled the crowd with his models and computer work, ably revealing how a designer in 2010 can use technology to more effectively communicate with the rest of the production team.

Throughout the entire workshop, we provided tips on how to create a musical on a budget--a subject near and dear to the educators' hearts and pocketbooks.

This afternoon, I will be accompanying the teachers on a tour of the Holocaust Museum. Again we will use TSOM as our case study, and discuss how to use theatre to enhance instruction across the curriculum by showing how TSOM is being used throughout Greater Richmond's school systems to teach the history of WWII.

This Friday evening, the teachers who have been participating in this workshop series will all come to see The Sound of Music, and take a behind-the-scenes tour after the show.

For decades, education has been at the heart of our work at Theatre IV and Barksdale. As early winners of the Excellence in Arts Instruction Award from the Virginia Dept of Education and the Virginia Commission for the Arts, we're proud to be a valued partner with public and private school systems throughout the Commonwealth.

Hope to see you (and the students in your life) at the theatre!

--Bruce Miller

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