Bloomington's Professional Theater Company

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HT: Cardinal Stage offering free teacher workshops to bring theatrical elements to classroom

The Herald Times | Emily Cox | September 7, 2021


Cardinal Stage is continuing to help educators see how theatrical elements can be incorporated into classrooms through free virtual workshops.

“Ultimately, we want to be of service to teachers,” said Jim Morrison, education outreach coordinator for Cardinal Stage and a retired educator. “And coming back this year, where some kids have been out of the classroom for almost a year and a half of school, the challenge of creating that community in a classroom in person is really, really on the minds of teachers.”

With that in mind, Cardinal Stage is offering a series of free workshops focused on developing a theatrical teaching style for primary and secondary educators of all subject areas. The organization hosted three such workshops in the 2020-21 season and is kicking off another series with an online session focused on community building in the classroom. The workshop will take place 10:30 a.m.-noon Sept. 11 via Zoom.

“We’re hopeful that some of the things we’re going to share will be of use for the teachers that are trying to create a positive and supportive and healthy classroom community here at the beginning of the school year,” Morrison said.

Originally, the plan was to create and put online professional development opportunities centered around the Cardinal for Kids shows. Before the pandemic, Cardinal Stage submitted a grant to the Innovation and Exploration Fund, a program of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, to try to create the web series. Then the pandemic hit. Suddenly students weren’t physically in classrooms and Cardinal Stage wasn’t producing shows that students were attending, Kate Galvin, Cardinal Stage’s artistic director, said. With the grant funding secured, the idea was adapted to meet teachers’ needs during the pandemic.

Cardinal Stage is still working toward the goal of tying the workshops to their productions, Galvin said, but is “in a bit of a holding pattern right now because of COVID.”

Last year, the focus was on how to bring theater into the classroom when teaching online, she said. This year’s workshops will be more focused on in-person teaching.

“What schools and really high-functioning, good classroom teachers do is intentionally build community,” Morrison said. “And that means creating expectations about how this space is going to work, how this classroom is going to work, how are we going to work as a group.”

Immediately, concepts including respect, cooperation, good listening skills and safety come to mind, he said. Those are great words, he said, but people have different perspectives on what those words mean.

“A lot of the work is about what do these words mean? How do we understand these words and how are we going to act on them?” Morrison said. “And that’s where the drama piece comes in. So acting out cooperation, acting out active listening, acting out collaboration, all of those things, is one way to leverage a drama activity to get where you want to be as a classroom.”

Basic principles of improvisational acting can also be applied to academic settings, he said, to teach students how to build off one another’s ideas. Drama in the classroom can be a great fit for students who are more comfortable moving their bodies than verbally expressing themselves.

“The idea is giving lots of opportunities for lots of different kinds of learners to have lots of different kinds of successes,” he said.

Different students learn in different ways, and the physical and creative engagement that theatrical teaching invites can help students who may not be able to demonstrate what they’ve learned in a traditional classroom format, Galvin said.

“They might not be the best test takers, but they can demonstrate their mastery of a subject if they get up and perform a monologue in character as that Roman emperor that they’ve been studying,” Galvin said. “We talk a lot about social emotional learning in these workshops and theatrical activities. And the ability to sort of step into a character gives kids a lot of freedom to express their personal feelings sort of in the guise of another person.”

Teachers can sign up for the free workshops at cardinalstage.org/workshops. A list of presenters can be found on Cardinal Stage’s website. Teachers can earn professional growth points through the workshops to go toward their Professional Growth Plans, a method to renew an educator license.

Galvin said last year, Cardinal Stage learned the more interactive they could make the workshops — so that teachers were actually doing the activities that were being recommended — the better. For the first interactive workshop in this series and those in the future, all attendees need a computer with a camera and microphone to participate fully.

Cardinal Stage will conduct participant surveys throughout the workshop series to get feedback and measure the impact of the program.

Themes, dates and times for the second and third workshops in this series are forthcoming.