I got to hire four amazing new teaching artists this fall. They bring their own artistry – solo performance, comedy improv, play-writing, cabaret. And they bring their teaching experience – in Mexico, in ESL classrooms in Philadelphia, in residential programs for neurologically diverse students. They are funny and smart and they bring their full selves to the work of drawing out the creative selves of 1812 Outreach’s students.
Orienting new teaching artists is an opportunity for me to revisit and re-examine the guiding principles of 1812 Outreach:
FLEXIBILITY - We are here to spend time with the students. A meaningful process is more important than an imposed performance outcome. We recognize that each group of students is different and adjust our programs or exercises to meet the current need.
LONG-TERM ENGAGEMENT – We seek to engage with a small group of students over an extended period of time rather than reaching hundreds of students only one time.
RIGOR - We commit ourselves to bring new ideas to the classroom, encourage students to take supported chances, and keep looking for new ways to connect.
HUMOR - We encourage our students to consider humor as a possible lens through which to view their circumstances. While creating an atmosphere of inclusivity and respect, we bring humor into the classroom and light-heartedness to the teaching process.
Our program exists in a context and these values have developed over time. We have been doing residencies at South Philadelphia High School and Widener Memorial School for almost 20 years. We have tried numerous formats – in school and after school, year-long and semester-long residencies, using scripts and devising original plays. We work in a school district that has been underfunded for decades and relies on the Philadelphia non-profit arts community to bring arts education to our city’s diverse populations.
We are increasingly aware of the impact of racial injustice in Philadelphia, and in our schools. We wrestle with our role as a majority-white arts organization in relating to majority-black and Hispanic classrooms. We are honored to be asked into these spaces and continue to search for ways to listen, learn and laugh together.
One of the most important lessons I have learned in my years at 1812 is the connection between comedy and humility. I always thought that being funny was about being the smartest, the quickest, the loudest. And comedy does take smarts, timing and presence. But it’s also about examining your own foibles, being vulnerable, connecting with someone to find out what makes them laugh, and really listening. Those are the values that I hope we are able to bring into the classroom this year with 1812 Outreach.