Stage Partners Education Director, Maria McConville, chats with Katie Miller, the Education Director for NYC’s Theater For a New Audience. They discuss student writing, encouraging the less courageous, and even share a game.
MARIA: I’ve had the great fortune to work with NYC public school students on playwriting through the "New Voices" program at Theater For a New Audience. Before starting a residency, there's a great deal of planning with the teaching artist staff. But it never feels like work when writing curriculum with the Education Director of TFANA, cheerleader, marathoner, and baker of the best cake pops around, Katie Miller. Her love of sharing theatre with artists, teachers, and students is infectious.
So, Katie, why work in Arts Education? What are the “perks”?
KATIE: The perks of working in Arts Education are definitely the people. From tireless NYC public school teachers to ridiculously talented teaching artists, I learn so much from the people I have the honor of interacting with on a daily basis.
MARIA: What do teachers teach you?
KATIE: Teachers teach me to never complain because they have it much harder than the rest of us.
MARIA: How does the act and practice of writing a play benefit a student...especially a student who may not be very interested in theatre?
KATIE: Playwriting is all about telling a story through language and I find that to be a really empowering experience for students and adults alike. It doesn’t matter if you have a prior interest in theater. To have your words read aloud by others, and if you’re lucky enough read aloud by professional actors, is an incredibly powerful experience.
MARIA: What can adults learn from the plays students write?
KATIE: Adults can learn what kids have to say. In my job, I find teachers saying that they are seeing some of their students in a new way – learning things about them they never knew. We had a playwriting residency up in the Bronx this past fall, and this kid who never came to class and was failing English, wrote the most incredible, imaginative play I’ve heard in years! And it was really long! He surprised everyone!
MARIA: While developing lessons for TFANA’s New Voices program, you shared a game with the teaching artists that had us laughing/crying while playing. Who taught you the game?
KATIE: I googled 'party games'!
MARIA: That’s it? You googled ‘party games’? ...That’s why you're the boss! The great thing about this game is that you can use it as a writing prompt for group playwriting or individual writing. I've also found it to be a fun ensemble-building game while rehearsing a play. Will you share the game, as if you were leading it in class?
- First, have everyone sit in a circle. Each member of the circle has a stack of cards, the same number as the people sitting in the circle.
- Everyone has 60 seconds to write down a descriptive line. This could be a stage direction, an action or a characters line describing an action from what has already been written.
- At the end of the 60 seconds, pass the stack of papers to the ensemble member to the right.
- Now you have 60 seconds to look at the line of text and draw a picture of what the line says.
- Time is up!
- Pass the stack to the right.
- Now look at the picture and write a line of text describing what the picture is.
- This goes on until the stack you started returns.
- Share the images and potential new lines for your play with the group.
- Now you have a few lines to start writing from or to develop a scene from.
MARIA: I’m curious, what is your favorite line from a play?
KATIE: You know this one: “And though she be but little, she is fierce.”
MARIA: It’s so true, though. Hooray for short, fierce ladies! Last but not least, you are on the board of NYC Arts in Ed. Roundtable. What are the top 3 reasons an artist, a teacher, or a teaching artist should attend the Face to Face Arts Conference?
KATIE: 1. There is nothing like having meaningful conversations with people that understand you and what you do, and the Face to Face Conference is the best place to find these people!
2. We always have something new to learn, so why not learn from the best? Face to Face has such an incredible variety of sessions led by some of the top TA’s and organizations in the city.3. The food is great!
KATIE MILLER has been Education Director at Theatre for a New Audience since 2010. Previously she was the Director of Programming for Young Audiences New York and the Director of Education and Outreach for MCC Theater where she co-founded the MCC Theater Youth Company in 1999. Katie studied dramatic arts at the University of California, Santa Barbara and received her graduate degree from New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study where she focused on Youth Development and Drama. Through Theatre for a New Audience, Katie works with the NYC Department of Education’s Office of Arts and Special Projects to help facilitate professional development for theatre teachers. Katie also currently serves on the board of the New York City Arts in Education Roundtable.
The New York City Arts in Education Roundtable is a service organization and a community of arts education practitioners sharing information, providing professional development, and communicating with the public to promote our work in schools and beyond. The Roundtable currently has over 120 individual and organizational members, representing all five boroughs of New York City. Sign up for Face to Face here: http://www.nycaieroundtable.org/index.php?section=face_to_face_2016