As we headed out of the Twin Cities, Brian Proball, a theater design teaching artist and my partner in “creative crime”, and I were in high spirits; excited to start the roller coaster ride of creativity that accompanies each new Heroes Theater Project.
About 40 miles out of town, a car hit black ice, lost control, and rolled over 4 times in the ditch. We watched 20 cars drive by; no one was going to stop. We got back to the scene and while I called 911, Brian went to see what he could do to help. A man and his 3 year old grandchild were in the car. Because of seat belts, air bags and a secure child seat, miraculously, no one was seriously injured.
It was a sobering thought, on our way to begin a residency to create a performance based on the premise that everyday acts of kindness are the stuff of true heroism, we view an accident, which looked serious, in below zero weather, and no one stopped or called.
This residency project, funded by The Minnesota State Arts Board, is at a school on a northern Minnesota reservation. In our planning meetings we were encouraged by the commitment, enthusiasm and support of the administrative staff and teachers. They realized their students needed this arts experience and would do everything they could to support it. But, life is hard for many of these students. We were cautioned that we would have to make a hard pitch – since this was going to be a “volunteer” activity and not a requirement, many of these students had never been to a theater performance, much less been in one or created any part of one. Add to that, we were asking them to spend time on an online learning portion of the program, outside of classes, and asking them to commit to the unknown. We had a lot to overcome.
We faced our first class – surly teenagers. We started our pitch –the joy of theater, the act of creation, the thrill of accomplishment. Eyes rolled. Heads and shoulders slumped. It was time to “punt”, a skill every good teaching artist develops early in their career. I gave Brian our nonverbal cue to just “go with me”. I told the story of the car accident, the lack of concern and the need for everyday heroes. We had their attention. We asked them to tell the stories of the heroes they knew, to join us to be the one to take the time and stop. Brian ended with “all we are asking is you give it a try, don’t be a drive by”.
By the end of sign up day, 50 students, 25% of the school population, had signed up to make art and tell the stories of everyday heroes – more have signed on since. All great stuff – but not the best part – the best part was hearing a student say, “I have waited and waited for something like this to come to our school, thank you for coming”. Those words feed the teaching artist’s soul.