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New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York’s theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we’re passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.

Thanks to the generosity of The Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation, we've created New Victory SPARK, or "Schools with the Performing Arts Reach Kids," an innovative and robust multi-year arts program specifically designed for schools underserved in the arts. With the esteemed research firm WolfBrown, we're also measuring and analyzing the "intrinsic impact" of this program. The following piece is the second in a four-part story about our initial findings. 
 
Contributed by Jamie Roach, New Victory Teaching Artist

 

New Victory Teaching Artist New Victory Teaching Artist Melana Lloyd works with a SPARK school
Two years ago, New Victory asked its teaching artists about joining the research team. The offer was a little mysterious—some of my colleagues joked about putting on "white coats over their plaid pants"—but the chance to stay engaged and gain new skills was intriguing. For many teaching artists, the only chance you get to "grow" is to add more gigs or become an administrator. But this unconventional investment in human capital has turned out to be beneficial to the research and to my own professional development.

What I realized is that, as a theatre teaching artist, I have many of the traits that make for an effective researcher. Specialized expertise in the field—check. Keen observation skills—check. The ability to make sense of complex human interactions unfolding—check. The habit of showing up on time, with props, ready to dive in—check. For example, one of my jobs as a researcher was to ask students to improvise the end to a short story they had seen on video. Right away, my theater instincts told me that students were overwhelmed by the task and not able to engage fully. Drawing on my teaching artistry, I knew that if I gave them clear one-step directions on becoming the character (e.g.,"Okay, get in his last position, start moving like he did"), students would be able to take off. I kept it neutral (after all, I was the researcher not a fellow actor), but I found a way to launch their performances—possibly in a way that few PhDs would have hit upon.

 

New Victory Teaching Artist A SPARK school in action with Melana
 
And the consequences flowed the other way as well: being a researcher informed my teaching artistry. As a researcher, I had the luxury to witness all the nuances and micro-narratives unfolding in a classroom. I can see a lesson starting to implode: a broken pencil, a boy with no way to sharpen it, frustrated, who then distracts another student, who then throws the unsharpened pencil at a third student and ka-boom, the theater lesson is over. I feel like I've developed a sixth sense for that first moment and ways to dive in and turn it around—for myself and for my colleagues. One day a fellow teaching artist opened up about feeling disheartened: "I don’t know what happened today—one of the most focused students was totally checked out!" As the observer, I saw tiny behaviors he missed among the 35 children. That student had been following closely the whole while, whispering responses to the friend with his head down on the table recovering from an earlier incident.

This chance to become a researcher has also changed my understanding of how impact actually happens. Getting the chance to witness a particular student over the course of a year illuminated the way that progress occurs: two steps forward, one step back and less linear than it is layered. I now think and respond with that developmental map in mind.

With the SPARK project, the New Vic invested in developing a new kind of human capital: teaching-artist-researchers. We got the rare chance to dig deep. The theater got a trove of insights. We are both like miners who get to keep all the gold we've discovered.

Learn more about the SPARK program here
 
 
Jamie Roach A graduate of Circle In the Square and New York University (MA in Educational Theatre), Jamie Roach has appeared on stages at Playwrights' Horizons, New York Theatre Workshop, New World Stages and this year will reprise his role as a vaudevillian clown at the Metropolitan Opera House. As a playwright, Jamie has had three plays produced in New York City, and as company member of Accomplice Theatre Company, has helped design and act in site-specific theater for clients such as Facebook, Google and Goldman Sachs. Jamie loves to use theater as a tool for human development. He's helped corporations train their employees with improv, and worked with New York City's most dynamic theater companies in the public school system. He is proud to work as a Teaching Artist with The New Victory Theater.

Thanks to the generosity of The Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation, we've created New Victory SPARK, or "Schools with the Performing Arts Reach Kids," an innovative and robust multi-year arts program specifically designed for schools underserved in the arts. With the esteemed research firm WolfBrown, we're also measuring and analyzing the "intrinsic impact" of this program. The following piece is the first in a four-part story about our initial findings. 
 
Contributed by Courtney J. Boddie, Director of Education/School Engagement

PS 138You might say that the New Victory has a "thing" for raising the stakes. Who else puts wild, urban circuses on the beautifully restored stage of a turn-of-the-century theater? Who else would perform X: Or, Betty Shabazz v. The Nation—a courtroom drama focused on the assassination of Malcolm X—for young audiences? The New Vic's SPARK program is no different – it raised the stakes by entering into intensive and sustained relationships with a set of New York schools that serve some of the city's poorest children. The intensity of the partnership brought the entire organization face-to-face with the consequences of trauma—young people, teachers and schools all of whom live daily with the inequalities that are New York. The work has taught us not just to believe in the power of the arts, but also to live out that commitment in ways that have re-defined our comfort zone. Three examples make this clear:

Agency: Many of the schools that have no arts serve students with high needs, spending their discretionary dollars on tutoring and other support services, pushing to meet standards. In SPARK, we wanted to turn this around by calling on principals' and teachers' agency. Instead of selecting sites, we asked interested schools to apply as the first step in identifying schools who wanted to partner in building an arts program. From the start, we wanted their ownership and vision as full partners.

PS 138Acknowledgement: SPARK schools operate under constant stress: in addition to being classrooms, they operate as clinics, safe zones and community centers. Teachers triple as mediators, social workers and diagnosticians. They can appear angry or disinterested. But rather than grumble, we had to act collectively. We would never be able to enliven curriculum or change school climate without teachers' buy-in. We realized quickly that we had to redesign our professional development sessions to acknowledge what teachers were carrying. Every session called out the (sometimes hidden) performer in each teacher, offering humor, relaxation and collaboration. In addition, teaching artists doubled down on showing how theater skills could build literacy and numeracy. Finally, we re-directed one of each school's teaching artist advisors to focus wholly on working with individual teachers to think through how theater could make a difference in focus, behavior and peer interactions.

And not least, theater as love: Many SPARK students live with personal traumas: homelessness, domestic violence, or forced migration. Especially in middle school this often translated into withdrawal and apathy or eruptive bullying and fighting. To respond to the students fully—with love rather than with disappointment or frustration—teaching artists needed a whole new set of skills. We invited behavioral counselors to observe and critique how teaching artists addressed conflict, and we worked with experts like Shawn Ginwright to explore concrete strategies for working respectfully with youth with trauma. We realized that teaching artists have to build, not assume, safe spaces for creative learning. (For instance, we learned that a low-stakes final rehearsal might be a much better culminating event than a full-blown show). The final rehearsal can be about growth and persistence, rather than perfect performances where "messing up" can ignite anger or sadness.

In our fourth year, the successes outweigh the challenges but only because we have spent three years mapping out the consequences of raising the stakes on how we work.

Learn more about the SPARK program here
 
 
Courtney Boddie Courtney J. Boddie, New Victory Director of Education / School Engagement, oversees the New Victory Education Partnership program and professional development training in the performing arts for teachers. Ms. Boddie is currently President of the Board of Directors for the Association of Teaching Artists (ATA). Additionally, she serves on the Teaching Artist Committee and Diversity Task Force of the NYC Arts-in-Education Roundtable and is a member of the National Teaching Artist Collective in association with the National Guild for Community Arts Education. Prior to joining The New Victory Theater in 2003, Ms. Boddie was Program Associate for Empire State Partnerships (NYSCA) and a teaching artist for Roundabout Theatre Company. She received her Master’s degree from the Educational Theatre Graduate Program at New York University, where she is also adjunct faculty.
Posted by Beth Henderson
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