NYC Theatre Artist Draws Inspiration From Teaching Inner-City Children By Jackie O’Neal
Patricia Runcie is a teaching artist with Arts to Grow, a New Jersey based non-profit that provides inner-city children in New York exposure to the visual, literary and performing arts by partnering with local public schools and community-based organizations.
As uncertain economic times continue to impact arts related programs in NYC, in Brooklyn at IS 171,children are busy at work writing an original theatre production thanks to Arts To Grow that is focused on enriching the lives of .inner-city school children ages 5-18.
The arts have always been integral in enhancing the learning process in academic subjects. Arts To Grow sends teaching artists like Patricia Runcie into the public schools to bring creativity and excitement that would otherwise be absent.
A musician friend prompted Patricia to help him out with a production.
"A friend of mine who was a teaching artist needed some assistance working on a musical with 3-5 graders in an after school setting. I had previously taught theatre camps during the summer at various professional summer stock theatres, and I thought this would be a rewarding way to supplement my income from acting and directing," she said.
Others have asked Patricia to describe her qualifications and training, and she is eager to share her insight, as well as pride in her work.
"I believe you need a degree in the discipline you are teaching, professional working experience in the discipline you are teaching, and you need to show an aptitude for working with children. When I tell people I am a teaching artist, I always receive interested and positive responses. I am proud to say what I do, " she said.
Patricia’s typical day as a teaching artist is a flurry of activity, and so she schedules her own "prep" time to get prepared for the busy day ahead. The structure of the class includes checking in with the students, and setting the day’s agenda. She realizes young children need room to ventilate about things, and she addresses that need.
"I give them each a turn to ‘get something off their chest’—as actors we need to leave our troubles at the door, so to speak, so I give them a chance to air their daily grievance, in preparation to work," she said. After the children have settled in, a series of breathing, diction, and voice warm-ups follow along with ensemble exercises which include theatre games that according to Runcie,help maintain a sense of trust within the group. "Also, as we move on in the class, the exercises get more specific to the story we are telling.
Exercises also focus on stage presence, stage movement, telling the story through behavior and gesture, creating character and relationships," she said. Rehearsal includes run-throughs of the project at hand, "Aqua Net," and adaptation of the musical "Hairspray." During rehearsal, we stage the show, rehearse, fix what needs fixing, and run through it again. If time allows, we play a short game as a reward for hard work . And finally, the children participate in a closing circle -where we come together as a group for a class cheer celebrating our ensemble and good work," she said.
When people observe Patricia in the classroom, they may assume she is a certified teacher, but she is clear the influence she brings with her are distinct from those of a regular teacher. "What separates me from a certified teacher is that I am a professional artist; meaning I not only have a foot in ‘academia’ but I practice what I preach. I am able to bring examples from my own personal stage experiences, directly into my classroom.
On many occasions I am going right from class to a rehearsal or performance, which is great to share with my children. I can give them fresh first hand accounts of exactly what we are working on. They are performing, and I am performing. We are connected that way. In those moments we become ‘colleagues’ sharing war stories.
That is special for them, and something they wouldn’t necessarily get from another teacher. Also, as young artists, they can see what it is to truly ‘work’ in the field. I believe that in today’s world, children are ‘fame’ oriented and see that as the be all, end all of success. It’s important for them to see that one can have a working, ‘realistic’ career in the arts," she said.
As a teaching artist in the public schools, Patricia will be the first to admit the experience is full of both highs and lows, and yet she takes on a healthy perspective about it, and embraces the highs and lows as a way to grow. "It’s always a high to see students perform and feel good about themselves.
Or in class, if they overcome an obstacle or grow as an artist, the way their face beams when they know they’ve accomplished something is always so heartwarming. There are lows on days when the class, for whatever reason–sunny day, too much sugar– just can’t focus. It can be daunting when you feel like you just can’t inspire them. But that’s also the challenge, and the fun, because often on the fly, you find out ‘tricks’ that can bring them back to you. And then you’re that much stronger because you have that in your arsenal," she said.
Life outside of the classroom has also been hectic for Patricia. Apart from planning her wedding to a fellow actor, she will also be performing and producing.
"Planning a wedding feels like producing my own show– which it kind of is! We are planning the wedding for this time next year. Speaking of producing, my theatre company, Regroup Theatre, has been on a hiatus for a year and a half, but plans are in the works to resurrect it, finally. And I have two plays coming up this summer, ‘Play it Again, Sam’ and ‘Crimes of the Heart," she said.
When asked what she would say to someone embarking on becoming a teaching artist, Patricia is honest that the job is demanding. " I would say its an incredibly rewarding experience and a great way to supplement your artistic career. However, I would caution that it’s a lot of work…more than just a ‘day job’…you need to have a commitment to children, and patience," she said.
About the Author:
Jackie O’Neal has been a part of Women’s Online Magazine’s editorial department since June 2007. As the news editor of Women’s Online Magazine she came in contact with entrepreneurs from a variety of industries that were eager to keep their profiles high in the marketplace. She launched O’Neal Media Group, a public relations consultancy that works with small business and non-profits. © 2009. This article was excerpted with permission from Jackie O’Neal http://onealmediagroup.presskit247.com.