Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Professional Development: Creative Immersion = Teachers. Artists. Learners.

New Vic Teacher Institute: Summer Intensives are week-long courses that are offered during the summer months as an opportunity for teachers to work in the New 42nd Street Studios as artists and educators to develop and/or build strong strategies for teaching and learning in the performing arts.

This summer there were two consecutive courses running: Process and Performance: Devising Original Theater with Students and The Student Choreographer. Both courses were focused on teachers learning how to provide opportunities to empower their students to devise and direct/choreograph their own original dance or theater work. Every summer is an exciting time for me; the teachers start a course with open minds and receptive hearts to have enriching learning experiences that will influence their upcoming school work. Often, we partner with professional artists who are masters in their art fields and as the administrator of this program, I happily coordinate, organize and support these facilitators. But this was the first year I co-facilitated a course and it was exhilarating!

My artistic training is in acting/directing with a focus on improvisation and creating original work. My teaching partner, Sobha K. Paredes is also an actor and has directed numerous theater productions with young people. Our complimentary skills, along with the fact that we have been colleagues for over ten years, made a great foundation for a strong teaching partnership for the theater course, Process and Performance.

My overall philosophies for working with teachers is that they a.) need to be reminded of their artist-self and b.) learn by doing. It is important to create a safe space for each person to identify their art form, share it and tap into it as a resource for learning. The teachers self-identified as actors, dancers, writers, directors, singers, a comedian and those skills served their creativity well in the improvisation and ensemble-building process that could be used with their students.

Photo: Alexis Buatti Ramos
As the week progressed, the teachers began to build a community of artists by working as performers and directors, developing characters, setting and narrative. They were taken through structures to create, watch, respond, reflect, rehearse, revise and deepen the original work developed. As the week continued, teachers were fully engaged in their own learning. There was also a growing empathy for the students that they teach. Teachers were asked to reflect multiple times a day, in writing and through discussion. In the more self-reflective moments of the week, many teachers articulated that they were given the same kind of instructions that each of them had given to their students. In noting their own personal reactions, they also realized that certain kids in their classes may feel the same way when asked to perform, i.e. overjoyed, annoyed, nervous, excited, confused, etc.

Sheila, an elementary school teacher, was constantly asking about the next step in the process before we were ready to get there. Even though there was an agenda and the overall goal was clearly articulated, she was very concerned to know exactly what the next step was. This made it very difficult for her to focus on the moment. “I felt confused on the first day, worried that we weren’t getting enough done—but I think that’s because as a product driven NYC teacher, I had to adjust to not knowing all aspects of the process.” Another teacher Deborah, who identified as an actor “in my past-life,” said that the work explored helped unlock her artist-self by the end of week - something she thought was lost forever. She said in her post-course evaluation: “I was exposed to new theatre strategies that have sharpened my drama skills.”

Over the progression of planning, implementing and now reflecting on this work, I have learned that to be an artist is to be human. Watching teachers immersed in a creative and collaborative process made for strong choices, exciting ideas, new revelations and built investment in their - our - own learning. I believe that these teachers grew from taking this course and as the 2011-12 school year begins, I can’t wait to hear about what they incorporate into their curriculum. My first time teaching a professional development intensive has helped me gain even more respect for teachers who care deeply for their students and do a tremendous amount of work each and every day. I wish them all good luck and creativity.

Below are the questions that we investigated during the week. As you read them, think about your own experience as teachers, teaching artists and/or administrators; what are your answers to these questions? What do you need to answer these questions? What questions do you have about devising original work with students?

Overarching Question: How can we work together to build an original student-created and directed production?

  • What is devising original theater?
  • What are the practical strategies for students to develop their acting and directing skills?
  • How can we incorporate other elements of original text such as monologue or inner dialogue?
  • How do we rehearse and revise as an ensemble?
  • How do I support my students in a culminating project?
  • What ways can my students reflect on the work created and performed that will help them learn from their performance and set-up for the next project?

Courtney Boddie, Associate Director of Education. Ms. Boddie has a Masters in Educational Theatre from New York University (2003). She joined the New Vic shortly after graduating, where she is currently responsible for supervising 47 New Vic Teaching Artists and Co-manages the Youth Corps Program of Apprentices and Ushers. She recruits, hires, trains, and oversees these part-time employees work across the whole organization. She has also been responsible for all of the administration, lesson planning and implementation of all professional development programs for teachers.

She is an actor, teaching artist and administrator who is a member of the NYC Arts-in-Education Roundtable TA Affairs Committee (Co-Chair). She is on the adjunct faculty for the Educational Theatre Graduate Program at New York University and has affiliations with the Educational Theatre Program at City College of New York and the M.A. in Applied Theatre program at Creative Arts Team. She also has served as partner with the New York City Department of Education Office of Arts on Special Programs to design arts education professional development for NYC Public School Teachers. @courtneyjboddie


  1. Thanks for sharing this important work. It is so important to engage teachers directly in the artistic process. It allows them to overcome their fears and biases and to better understand what their own students must feel like participating in similar arts learning. At the LA Music Center, we follow the intensive summer experience with a series of follow-up visits from our teaching artists. This helps reinforce the learning and encourage classroom implementation. You can see more at

  2. Courtney, this approach has great merit and it sounds like it was a success. I agree with Mark about the follow-up visits and I would love to talk with you about devising an on-going support system that would help build competencies in teachers, arts educators and teaching artists, over time.

  3. Hi Jane! Thanks for the compliment. I would love to talk to you about this program! Courtney