Friday, April 20, 2007

Actors Appreciate Student Audiences

posted by Christina Weakland, Director of Education

This Tuesday morning I came to work with a spring in my step. Student matinee show days are always like that—you can’t help but smile when you see a house full of schoolchildren excitedly anticipating the magic that awaits them onstage, listen to the buzz of their uncontained enthusiasm, and most of all hear the big “Ooooooooooh!” when the lights finally go down and that fantastic red curtain goes up. Over 43,000 children come through the Flynn doors every year for school-time matinees that cover topics as wide ranging as healthy body image to Shakespeare to the Underground Railroad, and I bet that the majority of our community doesn’t even know that such a program exists.

But this past Tuesday I learned something I didn’t know as well. I didn’t know that our Flynn school audiences were actually well-known within the community of touring theater companies for their rapt attention and engagement in performances! After this Tuesday’s 9:30 am performance of Color of Justice, a moving look at the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case that ultimately set the Civil Rights Movement on a winning course, I took a Flynn teaching artist down to the green room to chat with the actors from Theatreworks USA in between shows. Karen was teaching post-performance companion workshops in schools and wanted to ask a few questions in order to have an inside scoop for her classes.

The actors were as gracious as could be, giving us some of their precious downtime to talk about the touring experience. Not at all the “glamorous life” of lore, touring is tough on performers—keeping them far from friends and family for months at a time. But as they touched on some of the harder aspects of life on the road, one of the performers told us what a treat it is to know that they’re coming to the Flynn, where not only is there a highly-skilled technical crew to help them set up, run, and break down the show, but most importantly there are highly-prepared and highly-engaged audiences—who make the challenges of performing worthwhile. “We can TELL,” he said. “We can TELL when students have been prepped for a performance. In other cities it’s all…” [He and another actor broke into a mime of young audiences fidgeting, text messaging, and poking one another.] “But here, they’re alert, they’re attentive, and they GET it—we can tell.”

What a thrill, to hear that the work we care so much about—creating comprehensive study guides and developing classroom workshops to prep students for performances—makes such a notable difference to performers. We knew it mattered to teachers and kids, we hear that in evaluations all the time and it’s immensely gratifying. But to know that it’s palpable from the stage itself—that’s really saying something!

Kudos to Vermont’s students and teachers for holding live performance in the high regard it deserves as both an educational tool, and as a valuable life experience in its own right. I wish we could give YOU a hand as enthusiastic as the one that 3rd-8th graders gave the actors of Theatreworks USA this week!

Color of Justice photograph by Jean-Marie Guyaux

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