The Teaching Artists at Company One are the driving force behind our Stage One In-School teaching residencies. You may recognize them from appearances in C1 shows like SHOCKHEADED PETER, DISPLACED HINDU GODS TRILOGY, SPLENDOR, and HOW WE GOT ON, but they’ve spent the entire school year representing C1 and bringing their skills, talent, and artistic leadership to elementary, middle, and high school students all over Boston. Stage One theatre classes cover units like improvisation, playwriting, and social justice, and provide students with the foundational experience of working towards common artistic goals with their peers and using theatre as a tool to explore, represent, and articulate the values of their community. At our last program meeting, the Education staff and Teaching Artists shared some of their most memorable in-school moments and discussed their end-of-year plans for Stage One students. Keep an eye out for future posts of student work, feedback about their experience, and photos from final performances and showcases.
In Part 1 of this Stage One Blog Post about the February 2015 Urban Science Academy (USA) theatre showcase, Stage One Teaching Artist, James Milord, introduced his high school theatre students to the foundational elements of improvisation, character development, and storytelling. The first quarter of the 2014-2015 school year ended with a showcase at a school-wide assembly of student-written scenes and monologues based on personal experiences. The second quarter began with an intentional look forward towards Black History Month. Class continued in November with plans to read and stage The Good Negro—Tracey Scott Wilson’s 2009 historical fiction play about the personal lives of civil rights leaders in 1960’s Alabama. Milord performed as a cast member in Company One Theatre’s 2010 production, which provided him with an intimate knowledge of the play’s structure and themes, and the ability to pass on this knowledge to his students.
Occurring simultaneously were the developments surrounding the non-indictment decisions for officers involved in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and the hundreds of “Hands up, Don’t Shoot/I Can’t Breathe” demonstrations around the world. Milord decided to open up his classroom for the group to speak to each other about how these events impacted their lives as students, artists, and citizens. Milord was initially struck by how passionate and, at times, polarizing the students’ reactions were to these events. The group was notably transparent about what was happening culturally in the world and around them. Milord attributed the students’ progressive dialogue to the safe, liberating environment of his classroom, which functioned more as a theatre ensemble than a traditional academic class.
The Good Negro was put aside, and the group discussed the meaning behind everyday actions of individuals in the face of adversity. The students’ understanding and appreciation of historic civil rights leaders was strong, but their disconnect with history and frustration with current events contributed to the sentiment that as minority students they were unable to create the change they wanted to see in their communities. Milord guided the students into a discussion about the qualities of leadership that are required to create change. What made the Black Civil Rights leaders successful? What held them back? What faults or frailties did they overcome? What choices did they make that we perceive as the right or wrong decisions?
The class narrowed their focus and began research on four central figures of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement: Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party, and Bayard Rustin. Students would utilize their collective artistic license to build a scene about each figure, based on a combination of factual evidence and their own fictional embellishments, in order create a portrait of well-developed characters and dramatic narrative arc. Milord encouraged his students to collect research from a diversity of resources, including teachers, family, and community members who could share their personal stories and connections with historical events. After compiling their list of facts and their checking sources, the USA students began to dig deeper, take on the role of these historic figures, and improvise scenes around their personal and public lives.
It’s the end of the First Quarter for Boston Public Schools and the Stage One: In-School Students have accomplished a lot: Some classes have begun writing their own original work, others have been working on improvising scenes and moving on stage as an ensemble. The Students at Another Course to College, Jeremiah E. Burke High School, and Urban Science Academy had the opportunity in October to present their work to peers, families, and the school community. As part of the curriculum at each school, sharing the work with audiences is an important step that deepens students’ skills in theatre arts and places greater value on their own lived experiences.