Blue prints, bench marks, Common Core, budget cuts, polished performances, oh my! These are the parameters within which I, as a teaching artist, often work. Here at The New Victory Theater, one of my primary goals is to enhance students' theater-going experience in their classrooms -- and this is a joy. Partner schools and teachers are already participating in our programs, so there is less pressure to prove the value of arts education.
Even as an adult, I continue to experience the magic creative collaboration among a group of people. I experienced it recently, and profoundly, on a winding Parisian backstreet this past October. While on vacation visiting some friends from school, I was exploring the city and came upon a diverse group of wide-eyed adults holding dangling pieces of tape. The groups were intermittently skipping, pointing, staring, holding hands and doing some seriously detailed architectural and stuff-in-the-street-based investigating. A woman with a sparkle in her eye whispered to me, “We’re looking for lines.” I surveyed the area and indeed began to notice lines of neon tape in unusual places.
Peekaboo!, an arts-education organization, created in 2011 by ex-pats Selena McMahan and Coline Irwin. Together, they host workshops to “create, invent, and play.”
They’ve teamed up with Les Trois Ourses (The 3 Bears), a non-profit organization that focuses on the artistic education of children by putting the “book at the center.” Combine Peekaboo's approach with source material from Les Trois Ourses -- in this case, a book featuring a symphonic exploration of a line entitled “D’une Rive A L’Autre” (“From One Bank to the Other”) by Milos Cvach -- and you have a one-of-a-kind experience like mine on that winding backstreet.
We’d changed the street. And during this 15 minutes we’d gone from being total strangers to trusty co-conspirators.
Ten minutes later, we were inside a classroom gathered around a table. Our source material, the book “D’une Rive a L’Autre” was laid out on the table. It’s about a line. And there are no words, so we “read” the book with movement in our fingers and hands. Sound effects began to accompany the movement. We all took turns in front of the book, then we laid the book out and walked past the page with the quality of the image on the page. There was no clear narrative to the story of the line. However, when you have a line and then turn a page and don’t have a line, you wonder where it went. The book is a beautiful manipulation of expectation and form.
We finished the book and were then given an 11”x17” piece of paper. “Begin your line at the left side of the page...”
We went around the circle and in the same manner we had “read” the book, we read our lines to the group. Sound effects, hand dances, a few brave souls got up and arm danced, and then a performance artist blew the whole thing open by dumping water all over the floor. We laughed and cleaned up the mess and then it turned more verbal. We began talking about our lines and the qualities of our lines and eventually, as we neared the end of the time in the workshop, we began hinting at even more personal things in our lives. The simple instruction and manageable form had given us the platform to do so. It had expanded the personal into a public sphere and in the course of 2 hours there was a tangible intimacy in the room. We were connected and invested in the activity, and the activity had become about each of us.
Dialogue sets the stage for transformation, and whether it's a child speaking up for the first time or a group of adults sharing their personal lives, that’s an incredibly authentic assessment of learning. As a teaching artist for the New Victory Theater, I’m part of a team that introduces students to an art form. We want to share as much as we can in those short forty-five minutes. After taking this workshop with Peekaboo, I’m challenged to find the simple things I can do to open up this territory where the aesthetic experience becomes one that can’t help but inspire personal investigation and rich social interaction. Investigating beauty with personal investment in the context of others never gets old.
The Red Gloves.” He teaches for The New Victory Theater, Brooklyn Arts Council, and Metropolitan Opera Guild. billyschultz.blogspot.com.