Bringing King Lear to life: Pilot workshops for the students of Garfield High School
By A Noise Within
March 24, 2017
Here at A Noise Within, we produce classic plays to tell universal human stories—and we strongly believe that students are the key to developing a future generation of creative and empowered theatre artists who will carry our tradition.
Annually, more than 16,000 students attend ANW productions, but this past March, with the support of the Sally and Dick Roberts Coyote Foundation, AP English students from East L.A.’s Garfield High School participated in an arts education pilot program to nurture this life-long love of theatre.
Developed to address the need at Garfield to support students’ learning in Language Arts and to create a connection to their community, this month-long program focused on our main stage production of King Lear. Students participated in a pre-show workshop, a pre-show assembly, attended a student matinee, and a post-show workshop.
The in-school workshops gave the students an opportunity to engage with our teaching artists on their campus prior to the performance, then revisit some of the initial themes and ideas with fresh eyes after seeing the work.
“These engagements were unique from regular student field trip visits,” says Teaching Artist and Education Associate, Leah Artenian. A team of ANW teaching artists offered workshops in costume design, acting, and directing. Leah herself worked with a group of students on directing a scene.
“I asked the students to think about why they might make certain choices as a director,” she said, “They listened to Julia [Rodriguez-Elliott, director] talk about her personal connections with Lear; then the students and I talked about how they can make personal connections between the story and their own lives.”
ANW Production Supervisor Sam Sintef taught costume design, and challenged her class to come up with unique and original concepts for the characters in Lear. The costumes had to reflect who the character was and to coincide with the play’s overall design.
Jeremy Rabb – who pulls triple duty as ANW Resident Artist, Teaching Artist, and Duke of Cornwall – taught an acting workshop, and described his experience with the students as very rewarding. “Even though most of the kids were shy and initially reluctant to perform, they soon threw themselves into the exercises with giggling enthusiasm.”
Overall, Leah says that this experience “was able to give students the tools to think about the play from a production, directorial, and actor standpoint so that they can more fully understand the play.”
After the students came to see our production, ANW returned to Garfield for a follow-up class that culminated in a surprise presentation for the teaching artists: the students had secretly worked up other scenes from the play to show their appreciation.
In describing the moment, Jeremy noted that “the eagerness to delve deeper into Shakespeare’s words and the courage to simply let themselves go was very touching.”
“Students are the future,” said Leah, “And arts education is a crucial tool to provide students with the chance to develop their own voices, social and emotional learning skills, empathy, and confidence. This pilot proved that students thrive under a very supportive learning model – we can’t wait to do it again!”
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All photos by Anna Rodil.