The Liberation Series: ICE by Jesus Morales Sanchez

Note from Kristianna: At a recent workshop we led a group of young community organizers through a guided writing exercise. The Liberation Series is the result of their passion and creativity. Enjoy.


ICE by Jesus Morales Sanchez

Governmental department
Families separated
Militarization
Detention
Fear
Tears
Hate
Xenophobia
Racism
Target
Police

Tall man uniform helmet with weapons.
Cold stare, looking around. Not moving. Ready to attack.

Fear. Smells like nothing, yet its presence, its distinctive smell is there. Hard to explain.

Cold. like metal. Cold metal that doesn’t warm up. It feels hard, it feels painful, as it reaches out to grab, to detain, to hurt, to separate, to violate my space.

Bitter. Not like coffee or anything like that, but rather extremely bitter taste with a nauseating after taste.

Heavy boots stepping on a fragile wooden floor. Slow steps, metal hitting metal, my heartbeat and outside of that, dead silence.

Fuck you.

Moms, dads, sisters, brothers, all of their blood, tears and suffering lie in your hands. You inhumane piece of shit. How dare you treat us like that. Can’t you see we just want to live? Can’t you see we just want that you’ll come back to once you clock out of your job. Fuck you. Can’t you understand we hurt? Can’t you find it within yourself to learn to love, to learn how to feel compassion? Can't you learn how to do what is right? No you can’t. I can see that now.

Go ahead. Do as you please. In the end history will be the one to judge and I know my fault will be forgiven.


Liberation Series: History by Amani Richardson

Note from Kristianna: At a recent workshop we led a group of young community organizers through a guided writing exercise. The Liberation Series is the result of their passion and creativity. Enjoy.


History By Amani Richardson

My History is deeply rooted. No one I really know feels connected. I want to learn more, but whom/where can I find exactly what I’m looking for? 
This is critical for the Black community.

Deep. It looks strong. It looks challenging, with a bunch of knots.
It smells fresh, but also spoiled.
It has a new book smell, but also the smell of raw eggs.

It feels engraved with so many names and dates. It feels ready. It feels ran over with footprints and tire streaks. It feels bruised but also smooth because of the lack of care and touching of the books.

It tastes bloody. It tastes like grapefruit. It tastes like very strong mouthwash. But- It also tastes like red grapes.

It sounds like chains dangling.
It sounds like calls for help.
It sounds like hymns in unison with one another.
It sounds like birds chirping in the cold winter day.

Why can’t you teach me?
Why won’t you help me learn along the way?
Why can’t you be alive and here today to express your thoughts with me.
Why can’t you help me fight this fight?

I can’t do this alone.
I want to learn you.
But, I don’t want to learn you alone.
I want to learn you together with my people who care too.

Why don’t our own people care?
Why are you constantly trying to be erased?
I love you.
I need you.
I want to share you.
But, I want you all to myself.

 

Come alive!
Show me your paths.
Show me your beginnings.
Show me the truth.
Speak to me forever
And never leave.

 


The Power of Collaboration

Over the past year we, Via Arts, have collaborated with educators, students, citizens, artists, and organizers all over the state of Connecticut. In an age where most of our communication is done through a keyboard and screen, we have found that the power of presence is the most transformative of all tools.

In a recent partnership, we brought a group of students from Achievement First in New Haven to work with a group of residents of Tower One/Tower East assisted living community. The students were learning about the importance of identity through investigating the identity of a senior citizen. On the way to one visit, a student remarked he did not want to go because his elder was, "The opposite of everything I am, and everything I want to be." 

We have created a world in which those who are different from us do not hold value. This is not a liberal or conservative view- this is a view of division. There is no doubt that there are people who intently believe that those who do not share their identity or view do not hold value- and spread hateful ideals into our world. Yet, there is also a more corrosive and silent belief, one that this young person had obviously learned- that the only people to value are people who are like us- or like we want to be. At some point, each of us have thought this and have acted upon it. 

After our visit with the elders, the young man was aglow, he told me all about his senior partner; about his life, his accomplishments, children and marriage. The student still knew that they were not similar, but found worth and wonder in the story of this man's life.

That is the power of collaboration.  We must take the time to acknowledge that each of us has an innate worth, and that this worth can cross political, racial, economic, lingual, gender, age, and identity lines. Together, we can accomplish tasks that alone seem insurmountable. Via Arts is here to forge and sustain those collaborations, between individuals, organizations, or movements. We believe that even if you are opposite of everything we are, there is a value in our collective work.

Why Devise?

This Martin Luther King Day I facilitated a Devising Workshop. I posted on my personal Facebook how excited I was that the workshop was on the day commemorating the late Dr. MLK Jr. How better to celebrate the man who wanted us to build a better world- than by giving a group of people the tools with which to do so.

If you don't know what I mean by devise then let me define it for you.

Devised Theatre is any piece born out of group collaboration 

Devised theatre comes in many forms but each form yields the same results.

Devising Creates Team Players

Creating original work is an incredibly grueling task. You start with nothing and in the best circumstance have a vague outline of what you would like to create. The kicker is that every individual involved in the process has filled in that outline in a completely different way. The devising process helps train collaborative minds. Enza and I enjoy the phrase, "Step up, step back." If you've been talking and sharing, step back. If you haven't said a word, step up. This give and take happens in all workplaces, relationships, and car rides you can think of.

Devising Creates Intelligent Individuals

Devising only works if everyone chips in. Remember "Step up, step back." This type of check in makes sure that each person has to form their own opinion. Collaborative work produces a space where every voice is needed so every voice is valued.

Devising Creates Confidence

No matter how often I do it- I'm amazed that devising pieces works. I stop and think to myself, "How did this group make something out of nothing?!" The truth is that we as people are enough. We have enough in our singular being to create something beautiful. Experiencing one's enough-ness builds confidence in oneself and in others. (Yeah, enough-ness. That's a thing) 

Devising Creates Compassion

When you create with a group of people you don't only have to listen to what they say- you have to open yourself to understanding their point of view. Every person you meet has an experience unique to themselves- this is what makes the world so diverse. While in every day life it is easy to villainize "the other" in devising you have to accept "the other" as your partner. You have to learn and embrace their truth as a truth. As you embrace the truth of others you begin to abolish ignorance in yourself.

Devising Creates Our Future

Our world is broken and imperfect. There will always be multiple views on how to solve each problem. We will get no where if we just all stand shouting at one another or if we all rush to fix up the world on our own. We have to build anew. Devising a theatre piece is a practical and way to replicate the process of building a better world. HECK! We can devise the process by which our world improves. We each have an idea of how to fill in the outline- we just have to do it together. It might be theatre work- but it's still work.

As Dr. MLK Jr. Would Say...

No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.

 

A tableau from Direct. Act. Devise. with one of our pieces of inspiration.

A tableau from Direct. Act. Devise. with one of our pieces of inspiration.


Respect Through Actions

respectthroughactions.png

In my first acting class in college my professor declared,

“One cannot be sad, be happy, be angry. You cannot act a state of being. You can only act actions.”

She went onto to describe act as,

“Behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances.”

Most theatre people I know were also taught some version of this credo. The idea is- you cannot perform a being because states of being (happiness, sadness, anger) are results of actions and circumstances around you.

Frustration is caused by attempting to do something and having it fail. Frustration is the by product- not the formula. When you act you have to be able to do the formula, and formulas are made of actions.

The other day I was walking through an elementary school. I was looking at the artwork displayed on the walls and the slogans the school created.

“Don’t be a bully.”
“Be Respectful”
“Be Kind”

There are many of these plastered around all schools. My high school’s chant is still, “We are BE!”

But then I thought of the fabulous Deborah Kinghorn and wondered,

“Why aren’t we teaching the actions of respect. Wait- what does that even mean?”

The definition of respect is

“ esteem for or sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability.”

In other words an incredibly complex idea.

Instead of trying to teach concepts why don’t we teach the actions that show respect? Also why don’t we as educators hold ourselves to the same standards? I find being honest about why you do an activity or exercise yields more positive results than say, “Because I said so.”

Below is a list of actions I thought of along with a wonderful daily activity I found with a quick Google search. These all seem geared towards young children.

What are some ideas you have for middle/high schoolers? What about us as educators?

Please add to the comments below!

Actions of Respect

  • Speak with kind words
  • Say it in private
  • Listen with your whole body
  • Share the space
  • Ask for clarity
  • Speak in a calm voice

What I Learned from ESPN STEAMfest

  1. I love my my job!

  2. It never hurts to start from the basics

  3. People know the arts are important- they are just scared to jump in.

  4. Some people have been taught that the arts are just for "those people"

  5. No matter your job STORYTELLING is at the core of the human experience

Being surrounded by hundreds of kids and many brilliant minds- I think it is abundantly clear that being able to tell a story is important. That's what theatre and the arts teach us to do. Whether we make it up, witness it, or discover it the only way we share what we do with the person sitting next to us it through stories.

So we need the arts!

Let the arts tell the story of elements bonding into molecules.

Let the arts show us the big win!

Let the arts open our imagination so we can build anything.

Let the arts be a part of your life.

 

FULL STEAM AHEAD!

 

Listening vs. Reacting

This is much easier said than done. It applies not only to your students, but to yourself.

 

Listening To Yourself

You can’t teach and deny that you are a person with feelings. As an educator we constantly have to deal with negative emotions that we don’t often talk about. Confusion, frustration, failure, anger. We live in a world that undervalues how intense it can be to go through an entire work day and never have a conversation with someone over the age of 18. While the work is incredibly rewarding, there are toils.

 

Now I’m not trying to dwell in the negatives, but energy cannot be created or destroyed- just transferred. If you aren’t acknowledging those negative aspects they are seeping through into your life- and probable into your teaching.

 

So what to do? Take time in your day to say aloud or write the difficult things that have happened. I use my car ride home. Taking the time to just give notice to those annoyances means you aren’t holding onto them. WATCH OUT FOR CYCLING. Not the bikes. Sometimes we can’t solve a problem- such is life- so make sure that you acknowledging and releasing frustrations, not adding fuel to the fire.

 

Listening To Your Students

Just as life is happening constantly for you, it is also happening for your students. While they are dealing with problems large and small-- there will be times that a student cannot focus their attention in the room. It’s easy to take this personally, you’ve prepared a lesson, you’re doing your best, you are probably performing an incredible feat- and someone in the room is spacing out, talking, or trying to throw a wrench into your plan.

Our gut response is to shut it down. Shut down the conversation, reroute the attention, pull every single person’s focus to you. If they should dare tell us they don’t get it or don’t like what we are doing? WATCH OUT!

As in all things you have to balance.

Balance may mean re-routing your plan. Find as many ways to explain the same thing as you can! You never know which one of those explanations is going to land the right way.

Balance might mean giving everyone 3 minutes to discuss what you just learned with their table or a partner. Sometimes learning from a peer is less intimidating.

Balance might mean asking someone to leave the room. Or allowing a student to space out.

Sometimes a student won’t be able to be in the room. Don’t lose the rest of the class to focus in on one person.

 

What's Reacting?

You react when you speak out of anger. When you scold a kid for not understanding a simple concept, or asking a silly question. When you allow the negatives you are feeling or even the negatives they are feeling to influence how you teach.

Don't take it personallyYou will not reach every student with one lesson. That’s like getting a Grand Slam every hit. Just because someone didn’t get it- doesn’t mean you failed. Just take another swing.


 

Creating a Learning Environment vs. Managing Behavior

 

Whether it’s through common sense or Howard Gardener one of the first things we learn as educators is that everyone takes in information differently. While it’s a “duh” moment for most of us it is an idea that is sometimes difficult to implement in planning. When I was in school I rarely was allowed to get up from my desk or converse with other classmates. The majority of my in-school learning was verbal, written, and sometimes a visual (with a lot of writing). As I work with teachers today I see the same thing. I have been told,

“I know kinesthetic learning is important, but I don’t like when students get up from their desks.”
 

This, my friends, is the crux of the problem!

Most of us currently teaching were taught with pencil, pen, book, and powerpoint. We all know it doesn’t work for everyone- but there has been a long-standing tradition of the following equation:

 

Quiet Class + Obedient Students = Great Teacher = Amazing Education

In a quiet classroom students might be “under control”, but “under control” means they are following orders.

Educate: to develop the faculties and powers of (a person) by teaching, instruction, or schooling.

Whether it is a kid or a plant nothing can develop by pruning along. Just because a student isn’t speaking or moving doesn’t mean they are learning. And just because they are moving and speaking doesn’t mean they aren’t taking in every word you say!

The following is a brief scene based on true events.

Setting: I’m explaining a game to a room full of 15 middle school students. One student, Larry(not his real name), is moving around dancing, and singing the Little Mermaid. I have asked him to “Listen” several times.

(while Larry sings ‘Under The Sea’ in a whisper)

Me: So that’s how we play the game. Three things are important: You have to be safe, you have fun, and if you don’t listen you can’t play.

Larry(still whispering the song) Under the sea, under the sea

Me: Larry. What did I just say?

Larry: We have to be safe, we have to have fun, and if you don’t listen you can’t play.

(I stand completely stunned for about 10 seconds)

Me: Larry, when I am speaking can you try not to speak?

Larry: Sure!

He was hanging on every word I said, he just didn’t need to be silent to listen and learn. However, he was often not in our class because his activity made him an easy target to get sent to the office.

So everyone can’t be silent and everyone can’t be talking all of the time- how do you create a classroom that’s inclusive to all learners without removing kids like Larry?

 

“The Theory Organized Chaos”

1.     In order to learn all students must be given an opportunity to engage in a physical or interactive way.

2.     Physical and interactive methods will create non-quiet classrooms

3.     It is okay to have a classroom of students moving and speaking as long as the following remains true:

a.     I can assess what students learned

b.     I have an effective focus check

c.     I am comfortable setting boundaries

The Theory of Organized Chaos controls two things: your students and you.

It isn’t working if:

  • If you are focus checking more than once in 15 minutes.
  • If you are letting people run, scream, talk about parties, throw things around the room, or text.
  • You have to scream or raise you voice- EVER.
  • When you go to assess no one understands what has just happened

We all have the quiet classroom equation in mind. The world is not quiet- it is bustling, it is busy, it is physical and interactive. We as educators have to embrace that. We also have to make sure they we are setting boundaries in our classroom so that when we do an activity the students are getting what they are supposed to get from it- not using it as free time.  This means being vocal and present- an activity is not time to “get something done” it is time to be in the trenches asking questions- assisting and giving every student a few seconds of focused attention. If you are walking around the room no one is spacing out- they are getting things done. If someone steps over the boundaries then keep your boundaries intact by asking them to leave the classroom. The goal of Organized Chaos is to parse out vocal learners from disrupters. Disrupters still exist and you have to be ready to deal with them whether it is during silent reading or an activity.

WRAP UP

 

  • REPLACE

This: Quiet Class + Obedient Students = Great Teacher = Amazing Education

With this: The Theory of Organized Chaos

  • Keep your boundaries
  • Diversify learning
  • Know the difference between being in control and controlling your students

 

A Side Thought on Raising Your Voice

Raising your voice is the biggest indicator that you are not in control. I don’t believe in teaching by fear. I believe in teaching by respect. A focus check should be calm, repeatable, and simple. It should take no more than 30 seconds to get everyone’s attention- but it might take 30 seconds. When you yell or scream- it is because you have not built structure in your room. I have been the screamer, and every time it makes me feel icky- because I feel like I haven’t done my work. Screaming is not a choice. Screaming is a reaction.

Well I hope you enjoyed this first installation of Am I Educating? Until next week!

NEXT WEEK: Obstacle 2: Listening vs. Reacting

Am I Educating? : A Self-Checklist

Experienced or new there are a lot of obstacles for educators to navigate. After 10 years as an educator, these are the top 5 things I seek to balance in my craft and the questions I ask myself.

 

1. Creating a Learning Environment vs. Managing Behavior

            Are my students learning their material or following my orders?

2. Listening vs. Reacting

            Am I paying attention to my students needs or am I responding because I’m upset?

3. Engaging vs. Performing

            I’ve planned an awesome lesson! Am I just doing it by rote- or am I making sure they are with me?

4. Moving Forward vs. Stepping Away

            There’s a conflict in my classroom am I engaging and disengaging at the right time? Am I escalating bad behavior or pushing a student through a struggle?

5. Career vs. A Gig

            I’m an educator. Am I in this all the way- or am I just treading water?

 

Update from the Road: Abolition Movement in Farmington

Hey Everyone!

We’ve been hard at work on an exciting new project with the Stanley-Whitman House. This is a short recap on the project’s scope and what we’ve done so far! Keep tuned for more updates from the road and later this week as we announce some Fall Programming!

- Kristianna

 

What is it?

The Abolition Movement In Farmington is a joint venture of Via Arts and Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington. Over the past three years our partner has been working on the “Stanley-Whitman House Slavery Research Project.” They have been researching Farmington’s deep and complicated relationship with slavery. You can read more about their project here: http://captivepeople.stanleywhitman.org/

Through conversations about Community Based Theatre and Documentary Theatre, Stanley-Whitman House and Via Arts entered into a partnership to try and find a way to represent the research and connect it to our current world.

 

What have we done so far?

In the beginning of July, Via Arts, Stanley-Whitman House, and a small group of volunteers started to work. We have collected interviews with decedents of Farmington and contemporary community members, as well as delved into letters and words of some local historical figures. The guiding question of our work: What is the legacy of slavery? Armed with research and ideas we created a short piece and invited some community members to workshop it with us.

 

What’s a workshop?

We take the piece we have and present it to a group, but instead of being a traditional performance we invite them in on the writing process. Unlike a “show” a workshop embraces that the piece is not yet finished.

 

How did it go?

AMAZINGLY! On Thursday we asked a small group of community members to come and participate in our workshop. We asked them to take notes, give us ideas and share their initial reactions and questions from what they experienced. We not only had a nice turn out, but a really interesting conversation within our small group.

 

Can you give any specifics?

Of course! One of the major struggles of the type of theatre we are creating is that we want to be as authentic and truthful as possible. Meaning we are trying not to invent dialogue, but pull from actual statements made by people past and present. The difficulty in this is that many captive people that the Stanley-Whitman House has found have no words, what we know about them is their title or their name. To create dialogue for them is problematic, because we don’t know what they said. So as we create our piece we are trying to find the most ethical way to give these people a presence- as this play will be the only way they are acknowledged or known.

Much of our conversation on Thursday was focused around the best way to give them presence without usurping their voice.

We also discussed how best to connect the past to present. This was interesting as the group had many different thoughts as to what or if there is a present day legacy of slavery.

 

So what is next?

The next step is to take the feedback and continue to strengthen the piece until it becomes a grown-up play, so to speak. We are creating this piece with the community. Our next draft will include a larger and new group of community members adding their voices, talents, and expertise to this play. The wonderful thing about Community Based Theatre is that the conversations, interviews, and workshops we have with various people along the way can be just as impactful as our final project. In this way, our process creates a community as we venture forward creating a piece for our community!

 

Sounds awesome! Can I get involved?

Absolutely? If you’re interested in being part of the next writing phase, being interviewed, or being invited to our next workshop, email Kristianna! Kristianna@via-arts.org

 



A Toast to New Adventures!

Hello All,

 

As Enza’s friend and partner I am so excited for her and her family as they endeavor on the next part of their journey.

 

When Enza and I first started talks of Via Arts, we told one another that this would be a company that valued family, not just in rhetoric but in action. This is just a fulfillment of that commitment. Luckily, VA is close by and 2015 has made a world of technology so that working together will be simple for the two of us.

 

Not only that, but we have already started to recruit new artists to work with us here in CT as we unveil some new programs for the fall.

 

Via Arts might be young, but our work over the past few months has shown both Enza and I the need and the desire for arts in every walk of life. As we have ventured on in our Abolition Movement project we have seen the immediate and decisive impact community based theatre has had. Via Arts will continue to provide professional development, community engagement, and assessment- now both here in CT and beyond.

 

Enza and I have been hard at work for a fall programming so stay tuned!

 

But for now, please join me in celebrating Enza’s new adventure!

 

Congratulations my friend!

 

 

Kristianna

New Adventures

Teaching Drama in london many moons ago.

Teaching Drama in london many moons ago.

This summer marks nineteen years of me teaching drama and theatre. Whoa do I feel . . . “mature.” I still can’t believe that someone had enough faith in my eighteen-year-old self to hire me as the only drama director in charge of almost one hundred kiddos! I have experienced many twists and turns in my career since then, yet the unpredictability of life and a career in the arts never ceases to amaze me.

I am here with exciting news . . . and bittersweet emotions. In three weeks my family and I are moving to northern Virginia to embark on another new adventure! This fall I will begin a new position as the Drama Director at The Hill School of Middleburg. 

I admit this isn’t where I thought I’d take the next steps in my career. Nonetheless, I am thrilled to become a part of a community that in a very short amount of time has already welcomed Ben, Giancarlo, G.G. (our dog) and I with open arms. The Hill School’s educational philosophies align with my own and everyone acknowledges the importance of artistic experiences in the lives of young people. The mission of Hill is to celebrate the child and to provide a strong sense of community. As the school’s website states, “co-curricular programs at Hill School are essential to the education of the whole child, and we are committed to providing a variety of athletic and artistic experiences for every student. Everyone creates, sings, and acts — because we believe that the arts are essential to healthy development of children’s minds and bodies.” I couldn’t say no to this, could I? I mean, even the athletic director knows what “hell week” is.

Though I am sad to leave Connecticut, I feel this move is the best choice for my family and me. I am returning to my roots directing plays and teaching drama with elementary and middle school students. Giancarlo will have the opportunity to study, create, and play at The Hill School as soon as he enters Pre-K, and he will eventually take drama with his mama! And Ben will be a hop, skip, and a jump away from the thriving cultural hub that is Washington, D.C. He also plans on pursuing his master’s degree in arts leadership at one of northern Virginia's many prestigious colleges.

This move is by no means a goodbye. (Let’s face it; I’ve never been able to say a permanent goodbye to CT.) I still intend to be a part of Via Arts and CT’s arts communities. The only change will be to Kristy's and my titles; our new titles (Founding Partners) better reflect the mission of Via Arts. We are a company founded on the principal that good work begins with the creation of strong partnerships where everyone's needs are acknowledged and all abilities are celebrated. I see this move as an opportunity to expand Via Arts’ reach down the east coast and will do my part wherever I land. I will continue to support Kristy and our partners by whatever means necessary and to be involved in programming when possible. Also, I am currently serving on the Theatre Standards Review Committee for the Connecticut State Department of Education and hope to be a part of CT’s journey toward national leadership in arts learning. I guess I just can’t help it: a large part of my heart will always be in CT.

Thank you to everyone who has supported Kristy and I in our development of Via Arts and who continues to believe in our mission to serve and enhance the quality of people’s lives with and through the arts. Continue to watch for future projects such as our professional development programs and our documentary theatre project with the Stanley-Whitman House where we are currently in the first stages of using dramatic techniques to gather true stories that explore CT’s complicated relationship to slavery.

 

And also, keep a lookout for more about my journey in the world of arts education . . .

 

Safe travels!

Enza

 

PRESS RELEASE: The Abolition Movement in Farmington: A Community-Based Documentary Theatre Project

Stanley-Whitman House and Via Arts, LLC announce their search for volunteers for the creation of: “The Abolition Movement in Farmington: A Community-Based Documentary Theatre Project”

By Enza Giannone Hosig

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

Farmington, CT Via Arts Executive Director and project facilitator, Dr. Giannone Hosig, has partnered with Stanley-Whitman House (SWH) to undertake a documentary theatre project in the summer of 2015. Documentary theatre is a type of reality theatre that takes true stories of real living people and secondary research sources (in this case research from SWH’s Farmington Slavery Research Project) and turns them into a scripted play. This project investigates the abolition movement in Farmington and the town’s complex relationship to slavery. 

 Dr. Giannone Hosig and SWH Executive Director Lisa Johnson seek diverse adult and high school aged volunteers with interest in dramatizing the silenced voices of Farmington’s captive peoples and shedding light on a painful and lingering time in US history. Experience in any area of theatre or research is preferred, but is not necessary. This is an experiential learning process. A significant portion of the project includes preparation in the collection and performance of research.

We seek all types of volunteers with varying levels of experience. ADULTS AND TEENS OF COLOR ARE ESPECIALLY ENCOURAGED TO CONTACT ENZA WITH THEIR INTERESTS IN TELLING THE MOST ETHICAL AND AUTHENTIC STORY POSSIBLE.

Play development will primarily take place at Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, CT. Volunteers will meet with Enza over a period of eight weeks beginning with an informational “meet and greet” on Saturday June 28, 2015 at 1:00 p. m. at SWH. The project will culminate with a presentation for an audience in August. There is no cost for participation.

TO BE CONSIDERED FOR THIS PROJECT OR IF YOU HAVE A STUDENT YOU WOULD LIKE TO RECOMMEND, PLEASE CONTACT ENZA TO EXPRESS INTEREST BY JUNE 15TH 2015.

About Stanley-Whitman House. Stanley-Whitman House is a living history center and museum that teaches through the collection, preservation, research, and dynamic interpretation of the history and culture of early Farmington, CT. To learn more about the Farmington Slavery Research Project visit: www.captivepeople.stanleywhitman.org.

About Via Arts, LLC and Enza Giannone Hosig. Via Arts, LLC is an arts service organization that specializes in professional development, community and civic engagement, and assessment in and through the arts. Enza Giannone Hosig, co-founder and Executive Director of Via Arts, has been performing, directing, and teaching theatre to people of all ages for over twenty years. Enza holds her BFA in Acting from New York University where she also received her MA in Educational Theatre. Last year Enza graduated with her doctorate in Theatre with a focus in Theatre for Youth and Communities. Her dissertation examines how urban youth experience making original documentary social justice theatre; the American Educational Research Associations' Arts-Based Educational Research Group recently awarded this study with the 2015 Outstanding Dissertation Award.

 

Contact

To learn more about the project or to express your interest please contact:

Enza Giannone Hosig

860-946-0474

enza@via-arts.org

www.via-arts.org

Updates From the Road: Where We've Traveled Thus Far

A lot has happened since Via Arts announced its existence back in March! Besides maintaining our careers as directors and independent teaching artists, spending time with our families, winning awards, and planning a wedding, Kristy and I traveled together for the first time as partners to Washington, D.C. to participate in Arts Advocacy Day sponsored by American’s for the Arts. Besides learning about ways to effect arts policy and meeting other impassioned arts’ education supporters, Kristianna and I were inspired by the words of keynote speaker and television producer, Norman Lear. Kirsty and I were moved when Lear emphatically shared his opinion:

I believe we will save our world. And when we do I believe the door will have been kicked open by the things that bring us together as humans: the arts.

We are now hard at work growing current partnerships and establishing creative ventures with new partners like school districts interested in our professional development programs. We are excited for what the future has in store!

**WARNING: What follows  is a very detailed blog post where I describe a couple of programs I’ve been working on and partnerships I’ve been developing. If you are interested in some of the specifics of what we’ve been up to please read on. Otherwise, skip to the bottom for more information about what’s happening next AND.... a call for volunteers for an exciting documentary theatre project!! :)**

STRIVE ON STAGE

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Last month I wrapped up an eight-week community engagement program with the YWCA of New Britain’s STRIVE program. STRIVE stands for “Strength, Teamwork, Respect, Individuality, Vision, and Excellence; this after-school program addresses the needs of middle school girls in New Britain, CT. One of STRIVE’s goals is to explore issues important to youth such as non-violent conflict resolution, goal-setting, and healthy body development.

I facilitated a drama program for STRIVE called “STRIVE on Stage” that incorporated social justice theatre techniques like Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed (Image Theatre). I also drew from Michael Rohd’s Theatre for Community, Conflict & Dialogue, The hope is vital training manual as well as creative drama and structured improvisation exercises.

When I first met the STRIVE girls there was some hesitation. I got the What-do-you-want-me-to-do-with-my-name-lady kind of looks that I’ve come to recognize on first days. So, I decided it might be best to start off with open-dialogue rather than to jump into the usual first day drama exercises and games. After we shared our expectations of each other, I provided the group with writing prompts to identify issues the girls wanted to explore using theatre and drama. I hoped this process might also help us get to know each other better. Prompts included statements such as “I get really excited when . . . ”, “Something that really annoy me is . . . ”, “Being a middle school girl in New Britain, CT means . . . .” Participants wrote anonymous responses on separate pieces of paper and then placed papers into one pile. I read each response aloud and we worked together to create piles separated by themes and similar interests. This process synthesized ideas, encouraged dialogue, and helped to “break the ice.” Given that our meetings were brief (two hours, once a week for eight weeks) the process  immediately allowed us to get to work exploring issues and ideas the girls deemed important. We discovered most girls mentioned that “Being a middle school girl in New Britain, CT means coping with bullying and trying to be yourself despite the haters.” (By the way, lately this theme of being yourself reemerges almost every time I work with middle and high schoolers.)

I sensed we still needed sometime to process the themes of “bullying” and “being yourself” before getting up on our feet so I facilitated a Story Circle activity where each girl shared personal narrative related to the themes. After this exercise, it finally seemed like the right time to get on our feet. The participants created frozen images that explored common themes extracted from the girl’s personal stories. We shared their work and reflected upon the physicality and power relations represented in each images. We discussed how simple it was for a girl to praise being her fabulous self in a dramatic image, but how difficult she might find actually being herself in "real-life" particularly because of the fear of being judged or bullied either by someone else or even her own self-consiousness.

The next few weeks were spent in a similar manner with open dialogues, dramatic activities, and writing reflections. This process eventually led to the creation of devised piece of theatre. The girls drew on all our work and their personal experiences to create a composite character named Maria. Maria is a poor but sweet middle school girl who is bullied by three girls for “crushing” on the new boy in class who Maria’s bullies think “She could never get with such tore up skanky clothes.” By the end of the sequence of scenes, Maria attempts suicide but survives and the bullies reveal that they treated her the way they did because of their own insecurities.

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The girls shared their piece with family and friends and their STRIVE leaders. The audience was given a chance to “Hot Seat” the characters after the performance. The performers stayed in character while audience members interviewed characters with questions about their choices surrounding Maria’s situation. Audiences of peers, siblings, and parents wanted to know: Why didn’t the adults take more action to help Maria when they saw the beginnings of conflict? (The actor in role as the teacher answered that she didn’t think it was a “big deal” and that they were just “kids being kids, you know?”); Why didn’t Maria stand up for herself? (The actor in role as Maria said she was terrified); Why were the bullies so mean? (One of the actor’s in role as a bully admitted it was because she had a crush on the same boy Maria did); What would Maria do differently to cope with her bullying? (The actor playing Maria said next time she would try to identify and reach out to her allies for support because there are people who do care.) The performers then metaphorically “unzipped” themselves out of their characters’ bodies and talked about how real these types of situations were in their own lives.

As always, I was impressed with the drama work of my youth participants but mostly with their willingness to be so open and vulnerable in order to make a positive impact with their work. They were so passionate about their story of Maria, they often worked on their own after I left for the day. I will be honest though, and say that this experience was challenging at times. First of all, like most after-school programs, attendance was inconsistent. Thankfully, the improvisational quality of our work worked in our favor when it came time to fill an absent ensemble member’s part in the performance; the girls in attendance always stepped to the plate. Since the girls had ownership of the piece and chose to improvise the story by creating plot points and images rather than writing a script to be memorized, they were able to jump in and out of different characters and step in for each other at a moment’s notice. Secondly, though the girls discussed how wrong bullying is and how important it is to be comfortable in your own skin, they struggled with being kind to each other and accepting each other’s personalities and identities. On the day of the performance, I walked in and half the group vehemently refused to perform because the other half was “talking about them behind their backs.” I’ll save sharing the crux of their argument for another time, but I will say that the girls eventually resolved their issues and realized their passion for presenting their hard work was greater than their frustrations with each other. 

The most amazing thing that came out of this argument (and the program as a whole, I think/hope) is that it planted a positive seed of self-awareness in all of us. At one point during the arguing, one of the girls accusatorily made a comment about another girl making “a big deal out of something stupid.” Later, when we were prepping ourselves for performance, I asked the girls to quickly share what they hoped their audience might take away from their short playlet. One ensemble member remarked how she wanted the audience to see that even the kind of bullying that is considered minor “trash talking” can still be incredibly hurtful and might lead someone to thinking her life isn’t worth living.  She wanted people to know they should be sensitive to other people’s feelings. I took this opportunity to remind them of what happened earlier: “Um, guys? Remember when one of you dismissed another member’s feelings as being trivial and you accused her of making “a big deal out of nothing?” I asked them to consider the parallels between how Maria is treated in their playlet and how they treat each other. I took the silence to mean they were taking the time to consider.

STANLEY-WHITMAN HOUSE AND JULIA & HUGH

In the meantime Via Arts has been growing their relationship with the Stanley-Whitman House Museum. In March we began with professional development of SWH volunteer performers and interpreters in the form of Period-Style Acting workshops. These workshops helped to prepare SWH volunteer performers to authentically play their roles in Julia & Hugh, a historical drama researched and written by SWH Education Coordinator Joann Zeisner. For some time now Joann and SWH have been researching the life of Julia Roper, an Irish immigrant who lived in the house during the Civil War era. Since a picture of Julia Roper appeared almost out of nowhere and demanded a closer look, Joann's research has taken surprising twists and turns. Through Julia we are seeing how the historic house was used to aid Farmington's poor and the ways in which one remarkable woman struggled to achieve the "American Dream" for herself and her daughter after her husband Hugh’s tragic death during battle. Each time new research is uncovered, the play transforms to reveal new findings. This year I worked with Joann to revise the script into a more cohesive narrative and to further develop the character of Hugh who returns from the dead to visit Julia. Hugh takes the audience on a journey through the SWH house in search of Julia while he recounts his story of battle. A new development suggested by me includes the audience taking on the roles of Hugh’s fellow men and fallen soldiers of the ill-fated 16th Regiment as they follow Hugh through the house in order to observe slices of Julia’s life and help Hugh find some peace of mind.  

Excuse the quality of this video. I was trying to be inconspicuous on my phone.

 

One of the more special outcomes of this project, other than working with some incredibly intelligent and talented people and learning more about the town that my family has lived in for over twenty years, was the audience's response. As people of various ages entered the house and Lisa (SWH Executive Director and tour guide) asked them to suspend their disbelief, most became intrigued; and when Hugh first greeted them as “fellow men of the 16th,” all became fully engaged. In the final moments of the tour and performance, Hugh shares with his “fellow men:”

To be sure we will find that your families have suffered your losses as deeply as Julia suffered mine. But I am sure that we will find them resilient and surviving like my Julia has. Julia and all our families are a testament to the strength of the town of Farmington, as is the sacrifice that we made with our lives. We are a proud and generous lot.

Hugh and Julia Roper’s stories of tragedy and survival are both heart wrenching and hopeful. The Roper’s narrative is also reflective of how a particular community coped with immigration and the tragedies of US American Civil War. After the performance, audience members thanked SWH staff and me for presenting a story that provided them with a unique look at their community’s past and that also managed to move them viscerally. This type of research-based and site-specific theatre continues to excite me with its enormous potential to strengthen communities as it asks them to look critically at their past, present, and future. 

FUTURE PROJECTS: More To Come At Stanley-Whitman House & Professional Development in the Works

As a result of our passion for research-based performance, SWH Executive Director Lisa Johnson and I have begun to undertake The Abolition Movement in Farmington: A Community-Based Documentary Theatre Project.”  A workshop production will investigate the abolition movement in Farmington and the town’s complex relationship to slavery.  A script will be developed and workshopped this summer with a group of teen and adult artist-research volunteers from Farmington and Unionville as well as New Britain, Plainville, and Bristol (towns that border Farmington, and/or at one time were part of town of Farmington).

Documentary theatre is a type of reality theatre that takes true stories of real living people and secondary research sources and turns them into a scripted play. This project begins with research from SWH’s Farmington Slavery Research Project begun in 2012. This partnership between Via Arts and SWH hopes to engage the community of Farmington and the surrounding areas in developing a historically accurate piece of theatre about the abolition of slavery. We currently seek volunteers who will work on developing this project by participating in theatre workshops, examining documents, and reaching out to descents of captive slaves and abolition activists and members of surrounding communities to conduct interviews that provide insights into the movement and its connections to current times.  

 

We seek all types of volunteers with varying levels of experience. ADULTS AND TEENS OF COLOR ARE ESPECIALLY ENCOURAGED TO CONTACT ENZA WITH THEIR INTERESTS IN TELLING THE MOST ETHICAL AND AUTHENTIC STORY POSSIBLE.

Play development will primarily take place at Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, CT. Volunteers will meet with Enza over a period of eight weeks beginning with an informational “meet and greet” on Saturday June 28, 2015 at 1:00 p. m. at SWH. The project will culminate with a presentation for an audience in August. There is no cost for participation.

Finally, Kristy and I are currently developing our professional development partnerships and programs. I will facilitate a creative drama and classroom management workshop for New Britain Youth Theater's teaching artists in preparation  for the Consolidated School District of New Britain's Summer Enrichment Program and Kristy has created a partnership with the Wethersfield School District to work with music teachers interested in learning more about incorporating musical theatre techniques into their curriculums this coming fall. Be sure to also look out for training sessions aimed at those wishing to learn more about the benefits of Acting technique and the field of teaching artistry. 

Can't wait to see where the road takes all of us next!

Safe Travels, Enza

 

Respect (Just a Little Bit)

Respect (noun) a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

 

This is something that all of us want and most of us will fight to have. The most difficult place to gain respect is in a classroom. There are three ineffective and often utilized roads to respect that too many educators travel: fear, bribery, and friendship.

 

Road #1: Respect by Fear

I would also call this, Respect by Title.

Phrases Used:

“Because I’m older”

“Because I’m the teacher”

“Because I said so”

Respect by fear is thought to be effective for one reason, at some point it probably worked on the person using it. Unfortunately getting your respect by fear leads to one of three things

  1. Fear: How is anyone going to work their best if they are in a constant state of fear?

  2. Lying: Don’t let the smile fool you, someone who figured out that you are operating under the hope that they are scared of you is playing you. They can find your weakness and are probably exploiting it in some pretty sneaky ways.

  3. Rebellion: There is no amount of fear that a healthy raised rebellion can’t handle. Unfortunately, this is the inevitable product of fear- it will not always work.

 

Road #2: Respect by Bribery

This is the cousin to Respect by Fear. Offering privileges for normative behavior. Keeping in mind that every person has their own “normal”, meeting an expectation is not a reason for a candy or a treat. Offering a credit/higher status for the base amount of work is insulting to the work and to the person to whom you are offering the reward.  This will also cease to work after time. Effective bribery requires a scaling of the prize, eventually you will make promises you can’t keep. Once you are unreliable, the bribe is as well.

 

Road #3: Respect by Friendship

Now it’s not impossible to help educate a peer. But someone’s respect for your position and your abilities cannot stem solely from them liking you. Two major flaws in this equation:

  1. Friends are equal- Educators aren’t. The primary idea of educating someone is you have a knowledge or skill they do not have. You are inherently unequal in some aspect- hence you have been put in the position of passing that knowledge to them. To create a relationship where you and they are on the same level negates your purpose.

  2. No one can be liked at all times. Even the best of friends fight. If your method for gaining respect is through some buddy/buddy relationship, what happens when you hit your rough patch?



 

The True Path: Respect by Respect

I don’t like to deal in absolutes, but for this I make an exception. Effective and long-lasting respect can only be earned through respecting. The reason this terrifies us as educators is the act of respecting your participant first puts you, the educator, in the most vulnerable spot in the room. You are putting yourself in harm’s way instead of forcing the onus unto the people you are working with. At the same time THAT IS EXACTLY WHY IT WORKS! Showing your group that you have the courage to step out first is what wins them over. Accepting them as they are and not as you want them to be- PERFECTION. Imagine if you walked into a room, you were about to learn something new and scary, like advanced calculus, now the teacher stands at the front of the room and says,” Whatever you know right now, whether that’s a little or nothing, that’s enough for us to start. What you know right now, is all I need you to know.” What would that feel like?

It boils down to expectations. No one likes being less than. No one wants to be the dumbest person in the room. No one wants to be called out, picked on, or revealed to be different than the person they say they are. Especially not the person teaching the rest of the room. The easiest way for educators to hide is by pushing their students into the limelight. Calling attention to their participants' insecurities, shortfalls, even their skills. By offering your respect first, you remove your power to judge, and without a power dynamic all you are left with are people in a room- some who have a knowledge to share, and some who want a knowledge to learn.

Given that dynamic all that there is left to say is…

Sock it to me!

-Kristianna

Updates from the Road: Professional Development at the Stanley-Whitman House

For the past couple of weeks, I've been working with live history presenters at the Stanley-Whitman House to explore research and various approaches to authentic physicalization of characters from Colonial and Civil War-era New England. We’ve worked on finding the core of the actor versus the character and Laban Movement Analysis; next week we’ll play with Chekhov’s psychological gestures and Boal’s games of physical masks. These workshops are offered by SWH as a way to enrich volunteer staff's existing performance abilities. For most of the participants, who range from approximately fourteen to sixty years old, acting is an enjoyable hobby or a newfound passion but not a subject they have previously studied in this way. It has been very exciting to observe each of the participants’ willingness to take risks. I continuously give them opportunities to “opt out” of exercises that might be too far out of their comfort zones, but everyone keeps pushing their boundaries! Some have expressed that they are beginning to see how they might apply certain techniques in their work. In the process, we are all becoming better acquainted and more comfortable working with each other.

This may seem shortsighted, but when I began my educational theatre career I would not have considered an acting workshop at a museum to fall under the description of “professional development.” I almost always used to associate professional development with a requirement for teachers and teaching artists. As I learned more about arts education and applied theatre, I became more informed about the potential for arts in civic life. More and more, I practiced ways of applying the arts in diverse communities and cultural centers for purposes including and beyond entertainment (education, life-skills development, team-building, dialogue, conflict-resolution, etc.). Throughout my years as a community-based artist, I have encountered many people who do not necessarily consider themselves artists or teachers, but they are lifelong learners nonetheless. These individuals almost always share their interests in maintaining or improving their professional competencies or exploring how the arts can enhance theirs or their community’s abilities and perhaps improve everyone's quality of living. Arts-based professional development projects should be located in traditional locations of learning, but programs should also travel beyond the four walls of an academic classroom and into the non-profit world, the boardroom, hospitals and health centers, law offices, and science laboratories (to name a few).

We hope to reach out to people from all walks of professional and personal life that are interested in exploring how the arts can be utilized to build their body of knowledge, enhance skills, or refresh existing practices through professional development opportunities guided by objectives that are accepted by all. Our professional development models are designed to be continuous and ongoing because we believe learning never stops. We offer ongoing mentorship and continuous assessment not only because we want to ensure that everyone is satisfied, but because we believe that these types of long-term partnerships help to create strong communities and bonds between all of us as we seek to become more informed citizens through arts learning.   

Stay tuned for more updates from the road!

Safe Travels,

Enza

So What Do You Do Again?

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Hello and Welcome to Via Arts!

My name is Kristianna Smith and I am a co-founder of Via Arts LLC. My first blog post will be brief- I just want to introduce myself and help answer the question that most of you reading are asking: so what do you do?

I can say that for the majority of my career, both academic and professional, this has been a constant question. I went to school for Theatre Education and was often asked, "So what will you do with that degree...teach theatre?" Luckily, in what has been some of the worst economic times for my generation, I have found myself gainfully employed in the exact field in which I studied. That's a true blessing.

So what do I do? I do a lot.

I play games with the kid that won't sit still and the kids that never speaks until they find a way to have a conversation with one another. I help give words to the students who only have raw emotion to communicate with and show those students how to channel those emotions into an image, a poem, or just a few words. I find a way to get rooms of educators (each with their very own mind, will, and purpose) to step back for a minute and approach a new problem from the lens of being a student who might not have it all figured out. I'm a facilitator asking the hard questions and waiting to listen to the solutions that are most realistic- not just the ones that sound the best. 

Life is difficult, complex, and intricate. It requires each of us to be present, prepared, and creative.

So what does Via Arts do?

Via Arts partners with community organizations to find creative ways to enhance what they already do through the arts. That could mean we help you put on a play. Or it could mean we come to the office and help your team in their oral presentation skills. We could come to your school and help expand your teachers' knowledge of arts integration. Or we can come to your town hall meeting and provide a more inclusive means of discussion and debate.

We want to take your experience and ours to create innovative partnerships focused on bettering our community. Via Arts. 

-Kristianna