Back-To-School: Why Developing Curriculum Matters with Teaching Artist Hassiem Muhammad

As a parent, prepping for back-to-school is a ton of work. There’s making sure your kiddo has colorful school supplies, the perfect first day outfit, or maybe an announcement board for those Instagram pictures. Meanwhile, teachers are setting up their classrooms, creating curriculum and thinking about how to make their new students feel welcome!

At the New Victory, back-to-school means creating a workshop curriculum for the shows we present on our stage. The New Victory Education Department designs classroom workshops to give students a well-rounded arts experience, allowing them to connect with a particular show before and after their visit to the theater.

Below, New Victory Teaching Artist Hassiem Muhammad unpacks the Curriculum Development process for one of our upcoming show’s: The Three Musketeers from The Acting Company.

Niki Cruz: What is the multi-day process like while you’re developing curriculum for the new year? How does Day 1 start?

Hassiem Muhammad: Each show has its own multi-day Curriculum Development process. These work sessions occur throughout the season. For example, The Acting Company’s Romeo and Juliet and The Three Musketeers will be on the New Victory stage in November, so we are developing a workshop curriculum for those shows now, whereas we have not yet begun crafting curriculum for our spring shows.

Day 1 is typically our research day. We are often developing curriculum for shows that have not yet been mounted, or that we haven’t seen before, so the first day is spent reviewing source material from the visiting theater company. Source material may include clips of past work, interviews or scripts. Days 2 and 3 are brainstorming days where we work together as a small group of Teaching Artists to bounce ideas off of one another, workshop activity ideas and determine an overview of the final workshop. Day 4 is writing day, where we take all of our juicy ideas and consolidate them into a written lesson plan.

Curriculum Development team posing for a photo
The entire The Three Musketeers Curriculum Development team
(L-R): P. Tyler Britt, Hassiem Muhammad, Lauren Sharpe, McKenna Kerrigan, Sam Jay Gold
Photo: Hassiem Muhammad

NC: Do you go in with a few ideas on Day 1 and take it from there? Is there a group brainstorm?

HM: I think both. For example, I am currently working on The Three Musketeers, and I was just in a production of this play myself a couple of months ago (albeit a different adaptation), so I had some ideas ready to go right when I walked in. In general, I think that Teaching Artists have a few ideas coming in if they are familiar with the company or show. But really the bulk of the content comes from our group brainstorming after we have reviewed source material specific to a particular show.

NC: What’s the best part about getting together and developing curriculum?

HM: The best part is that all of the Teaching Artists love what they do. There is never a dull moment during the Curriculum Development process. With multiple perspectives in the room, you may have one idea that gets built upon by another TA or sparks a new idea that you would have never thought of by yourself. It’s truly a team effort, and our staff does a great job at assembling each Curriculum Development team so that there are folks with varying experiences, art forms and backgrounds in the same room.

Curriculum Development team all looking at a laptop screen
Members of The Three Musketeers Curriculum Development team view show-specific media.
Standing (L to R): McKenna Kerrigan, Sam Jay Gold, P. Tyler Britt; sitting: Lauren Sharpe
Photo: Hassiem Muhammad

NC: Are there any overarching themes you’re thinking about as you create the curriculum?

HM: I think the main goal is always: what do we want the students to walk away with? What is the most important thing this show is saying, and how can we help the students to experience its message in a fun and engaging way? And of course, we have our New Victory “Guiding Pillars”—Play, Art Form, Create, Arts for All, Community and Discovery—which are a throughline in all of our lesson plans.

NC: How do you approach making your curriculum accessible for every student?

HM: The idea of “inclusivity” feels like it has recently become this polarizing issue or debate in our society. But here at the New Victory, we have always strived to make sure that each and every student feels seen and heard. As mentioned before, one of our guiding principles is “Arts for All,” and we try to make sure that our instruction is trauma-informed, physically accessible, gender inclusive, and culturally and racially sensitive. And to be honest, it’s not that hard. You just have to be willing to stand in someone else’s shoes for a moment.

NC: What’s the most surprising lesson you’ve learned from your peers in exploring curriculum together?

HM: As George Bernard Shaw said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” I remember being so shocked at how much energy, play and youthfulness was on display at my first Teaching Artist ensemble training three years ago. I think this energy makes our cohort so great at developing curriculum for students, who, though they are much younger than us, might have already forgotten how to play themselves.

To learn more about our New Victory Teaching Artists, click here!

Hassiem Muhammad

Hassiem Muhammad, a graduate of The University of North Carolina School of the Arts (BFA Acting), is a New York City-based actor, seen most recently on CBS’s Blue Bloods, Cleveland Playhouse’s The Three Musketeers, and General Motors’ EV Super Bowl commercial. Hassiem has been a New Victory Teaching Artist since 2019. He is represented by Red Letter Entertainment, HCKR and A3 Artists Agencies.