Sunday, September 13, 2009

musings - teaching, Teatro Q

I've just emerged from my first week of afterschool classes at T.A. Brown Elementary, and a series of evening workshops (Teatro Q) with Adelina Anthony, culminating in a reading at Resistencia Books on Saturday night.

I'm thrilled to be at Brown. The afterschool program coordinator is wonderful; she truly cares about the kids, and is organized, really on top of things. I'm finding that having caring, competent administrators makes all the difference in the quality of my teaching experience. Caring, capable teachers just aren't enough; we need support! And the support at Brown really shows. The environment in the afterschool program is calm, and the kids really do have fun. The students are wonderful. A little rambunctious, sure, but they aim to please, and so far don't at all seem to mind being reminded to calm down when things start to get a little too nutsy. An added bonus is that there were two Theatre Action Project teachers at Brown last year, and I'm able to, at least a little bit, build on the work that they did with many of the kids here last year.

I'm comparing my experience here to the year I spent teaching in Wooten Elementary's afterschool program in 2007-2008 (last year I wasn't at an elementary school in the same capacity), and one of the differences I've noticed is that immediately, day one, many of the older kids asked me if I spoke Spanish, where I was from, and wanted to share where they and their families were from; the majority of the kids and their families are from Mexico. I don't remember my students at Wooten talking about such things so openly, and certainly not on their first day with me; though I later did discover that many, if not most, of my students and their families at Wooten were also from Mexico. I wonder why...

I know that one of the TAP teachers who was at Brown before me worked on a curriculum that explored the immigrant experience, through Galveston Island (based on the "Forgotten Gateway" exhibit at the Bob Bullock History Museum) and today, and that the kids did amazing work creating a "digital storybook," featuring a sort of modern fairy tale that they wrote, about the current day Mexican immigrant experience. The TAP afterschool classroom became, my colleague told me, a place where her students could process feelings and experiences that they weren't normally allowed a space to discuss. I can't help but wonder, and hope, if the work she did at Brown has contributed to a cultural shift, making students more comfortable in fully claiming their identities... The pressure's on, for me, I feel, to build on her successes. A wonderful problem to have; I am blessed!

My evenings with Teatro Q were wonderful; I'm particularly happy that the workshop sessions took place at Alma de Mujer. I always find it easier to be fully present in my work there. The week, for me, was refreshing reminders of some of the fundamentals of character development, in both writing and performance, and opportunities to practice practice practice, and to learn from watching others' practice. I'm finding, these days, that I know more about the craft of theatre than I give myself credit for. Not that I don't have plenty to learn. But it's good, sometimes, to know that really I have most of the tools I need at my disposal... it's just the doing, the discipline, that I need at this point. And will always need, as long as I am a practicing artist, really.

What was newer to me was the context in which we were developing work - among women of color, mostly queer Latinas. And it was beautiful, joyful, for me to be working in such a context. To see perspectives and experiences so rarely represented in mainstream theatre, in many of the artistic communities I have known, and to see them foregrounded, approached with love and respect.

I started a piece this week that was hard for me... I'm afraid of writing characters who I consider very different from me. And I've even gotten antsy about performing them too... worried I'll get something "wrong," perpetuate some horrific stereotype... I've found safety in autobiographical writing and performance, in more poetic work, in directing. But art-making is not about safety, not for me, anyways, and not among the communities of artists that I respect, admire, and am now proud to call my own. And there are stories I want to tell, of women and men who are indeed very different from me... so I challenged myself to write from the perspective of a woman I felt I knew nothing about, a woman whose story I felt was important because I knew nothing about it. Because that ignorance is a theft, and that theft leaves a legacy, and... that's another story entirely.

It was hard. That writing was hard. And I ended up putting it aside, as there's a lot of research between me and that character, fully realized, and I wanted to work on a piece that I could feel good about, that could feel "finished" in the short period of time I had available to me. It was useful, nonetheless, to start that writing process; it gave me a clearer of idea of what research exactly I need to do next, to keep the piece moving forward.

And I ended up finishing a piece that I had been trying to write for some time; I made some of my first notes a couple of years ago, and wrote a few drafts this summer, in the form of a letter, but used my workshop time to transform the work into a monologue. I woke up on Friday morning with the words rattling around my head, tears on my cheeks - good tears, like, this is a good and necessary release sort of tears, these are words that must be said kind of tears - and rushed to my notebook as soon as I could. And I'm so pleased, so pleased the piece got a good response. Laughter, electric silence, and "I've thought those things before, but never knew how to say them. Can't wait to see you do more." Wonderful. And I'm thrilled beyond words that I had the opportunity to read with Adelina Anthony, who has been a hero of mine for some time now.

What a beautiful week. Thank you, world. I'm ready for the next...

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