Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Prologue's ARTISTS EXCHANGE: 10 TIPS about performing in the schools (what works, what doesn't)


Prologue's latest installment of its Artists Exchange series (held on Nov. 2014 in The Distillery District) was about Performing in the schools – What works, what doesn't OR How to navigate the education system.

This free open discussion between school board arts consultants and artists interested in working in schools featured Christine Jackson, Toronto District School Board Program Coordinator (TDSB) – The Arts, Yvonne Kelly (Community Resource Manager) and Rina Singh (Educator), both with York Region, and Mike Ford, Prologue Artist-Educator.

Artists from various disciplines and arts stakeholders participated, along with Prologue staff members and Patty Jarvis, Prologue's Executive Director.

Couldn't attend it? No worries! 
Here's a summary of the best practices and useful pointers that came up during the exchange. You've done the hard work (creating a quality performance, workshop or residency). Now what? 

Know the schools' reality

TIP #1 
Learn what the curriculum says about your discipline
Mike Ford told us that he knew from the start that he wanted to work with teenagers (he saw how history was a drag to many of them). But he soon discovered his songs were useless to the teachers if not covering what they need to teach. 

As Mike pointed out, this doesn't mean that artists should create school performances to match the curriculum. By knowing more about the curriculum, artists can better understand how their artistic work can tie-in with the teachers' job. To which Christine Jackson added that artists can play a "huge role to support the teacher, but never to replace the teacher".

(Note that Prologue's website points out the curriculum expectations enhanced by each performance and workshop on its roster.)



TIP #2 
Have a strong study guide
Study guides help teachers make the most of your school performance (before, during and after the show or the workshop). It also helps them make connections with the curriculum.

Study guides come in all formats! To gather some ideas, we invite you to click here to see what our artists' study guides look like (the links are listed by the alphabetical name of our artists or companies). Imagine how they could apply to your discipline or specific performance content.

You can also consult the resource section of www.ArtStarts.com (the equivalent of Prologue in British Columbia) to access their useful document How to develop a study guide in PDF format.


Emilie from Prologue showing a few study guides to participants.
Know the process 
"I knew I came here tonight for something!" 
– Participant at the Artist Exchange

TIP #3
About the TDSB list
Each school board has its own way of doing things. You have to understand how each of them works. 

Christine Jackson (TDSB Program Coordinator for The Arts) explained to the participants that they can't just "cold-call" the TDSB schools. Companies offering products and services must go through a process to become an approved vendor on the list. 

The TDSB won't judge a show from a pamphlet. It can take six weeks to get approved. There is an ongoing process of adding vendors to the list, which is dispersed through all the schools.

See the Partner with the TDSB link on www.tdsb.on.ca. You can contact Christine if you have questions at 416-394-6416 or christine.jackson@tdsb.on.ca.



TIP #4
About joining Prologue's roster
Organizations such as Prologue to the Performing Arts are an obvious short-cut to get English, French or bilingual performances into the schools throughout Ontario. Prologue also has its own process to include new artists on its roster. 

We have a Program Committee comprised of staff and board members as well as artists and educators from the broader community. This Committee reviews performances year-round and meets from October to January to select the roster for the following year. Performances need to be seen in a school setting. 

Visit www.prologue.org for details about joining our roster. 

Prologue's artists Marla (Faustwork Mask Theatre), Marcus (DuffleBag Theatre)
and Mike Ford chat before the exchange
Get a champion
"We're in the business of finding champions" 
 Marcus Lundgren, Artistic Director of DuffleBag Theatre

TIP #5
Invite people to your shows
The best way for people to understand what your show or workshop is all about is to experience it. Any occasion you have,  invite specific people to attend your performances: educators, principals, arts players, parents with school-age children. 

If you don't currently have bookings, you can still offer a free performance to a local school or venue to create opportunities. Quality shows or workshops make a strong impression. You never know where a lead will come from. We should know! By inviting key players to Prologue's presentations, we've often been able to develop new partnerships, resulting in more bookings.

TIP #6
Find a champion within the community

One of the participants, Adrianna Prosser, distributed a flyer promoting Everything but the cat (an amazing show making clever use of multimedia to tell the story of her brother's suicide and to tackle the challenging issue of mental health). 

The panellists saw in this kind of show an opportunity to reach young audiences via other means than the schools. This artist should connect with mental health specialists and local support groups who might have access to subsidies for awareness events. Health conferences were also pointed out.


TIP #7
Consider discipline-related conventions

Each discipline has its conventions, which usually include workshops or showcases for its participants. Find those conventions and make sure to know the final dates to send them a proposal. When you get there, you'll have to opportunity to mean important stakeholders in your discipline. 


"In the bigger picture, we all want the Arts to win!" 
– Marcus Lundgren, Artistic Director, DuffleBag Theatre

TIP #8
Talk, schmooze, share!

Talking from experience, Marcus from DuffleBag Theatre noted that talking with people IS the work, even for a company as well established as DuffleBag, there's no such thing as "once and for all". 

"We've done the hardwork. Now we want people to know about it!", says Marcus. New people replace those you knew in strategic positions. Teachers move to other schools. New parents don't know your work. Be with people. Take advantage of forums, events such as Prologue's Artist Exchange. Ask questions. Understand your industry. The more you know, the better chance you have to make an win-win connection.


Become a teachers' resource

TIP #9
Stay in contact after the performances
Mike Ford shared an interesting thought about how he sees his future teacher-artist relationships: "I want schools to see me as a resource, a partner."

Of course, engaging with teachers and students is a different experience, whether you're performing a show in front of the whole school, a story to a group of sixty, a long residency or a 3-hour workshop. But whenever Mike has the chance to collect the email of a key person, he wants to make sure he can contact them if he comes up with a new song or other material relevant to their needs.  He wants the teachers to be able to contact him if they have questions.


TIP #10
Arts as a means to engage students
Yvonne Kelly and Rina Singh at York Region are no strangers to the use of the arts to engage students where nothing else works. As an Arts teacher, Rina was one of the first teachers to support Yvonne's program featuring a Spoken Word artist in residency in the schools. (The program is now reaching fifty schools!) 

Yvonne distributed an inspiring graphic capturing the big ideas for education from the Minister's Student Advisory Council (MSAC), a group of about sixty students from all over the province.
She then proceeded to introduce us to her "little bible": Creative License: Education, Social justice and the Arts. Among other things, this book by Erika Shaker (part of the series Our Schools Our Selves published by the CCPA) illustrates how the arts provide students with opportunities to engage more deeply with their learning process.

Now, this should help you explain the importance of school performances next time you mingle with people at a cocktail, shouldn't it?

Read the summary of our other Artists Exchanges:
10 FACTS about OAC's funding opportunities for touring artists
10 TIPS to create a useful study guide
 

Meagan (Stand Up Dance) and Marcus (DuffleBag Theatre) take a photo of the book recommended by Yvonne Kelly.
Ready... Set...
Go!



The panellists get to meet each other.

Patty quickly greets everyone before taking her sit.
















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