I am an avid gardener, food preserver, and hunter/gatherer. This time of year, my days are filled with teaching theater camp and picking, drying, freezing and canning the fruits of my gardening labors. Last night, as I counted my quart jars of tomatoes, pickles and beans and then later perused my class list for my last summer theater camp, I realized there is a connection between the work of the teaching artist and the work of the gardener/preserver.
This camp will mark the last for six of my students. They have reached the “age limit” set by the program. These six students came to me, their first summer, as four-year-olds in a program called Teeny, Tiny Actors. They were normal four year old actors. They giggled. They were shy. They spoke their one line with the expression I coached them to use. I planted seeds of creativity and watered them with laughter, fun and respect. Parents supported the tiny “plants” by taking lots of pictures and beaming as their child spoke that one line, wearing a butterfly, bee or flower costume.
Each summer these six kids, along with twenty or so more, have come back to theater camp at New Hope, MN, Park and Recreation . Each summer I taught them a little more about being a theater artist – you might say I fertilized what they already knew and added more nurturing as they learned to create characters, work as an ensemble, use sense memory and imagination, respect the work and value their artistic side. I also had to do some weeding and pruning and helped them understand what makes “good” acting and what is just stealing a scene. We worked through making artistic choices. We learned how to critique our own work and the work of others with respect, artistic consciousness and integrity. I taught them to be organic artists – keep it real, keep it clean, keep it honest and don’t let those artificial additives become part of the process.
Twelve years later, my Teeny, Tiny Actors are accomplished teen actors – bearing artistic fruit. They know how to develop a well rounded character, they know how to share a scene with others, they know the meaning of ensemble, they know how to positively and respectful critique themselves and others. I see them making sound artistic choices aided by the knowledge of the craft. They know what makes something “good” art because they know how to “make good art”. All of these are important to me but the thing that makes me proudest is to know they have all found their individual artistic voices – not mine, not their parents, not someone else’s. The voice which each child has found, belongs to them.
This is what, in my opinion, a good TA does – guides the mentored artist down a path to finding his or her unique artistic voice, whatever the medium. I believe we do this by sharing our skills, encouraging the mentored artist, remaining true to our own artistic voice, showing a love for all things creative, being respectful and making even the hardest work fun.
This will be my last post as a regular contributor to ALT/space online. First of all thank you to the Teaching Artist Journal, ALT/space editor Malke (who is a fabulous editor/collaborator) and all of you, who have read my ruminations over the course of the past year. To all my fellow teaching artists, may all your quart jars and creative needs be filled – Namaste!