March 2, 2010

The Huntington: In the Classroom

Today we welcome guest blogger Danny Bryck, who is one of our Professional Interns and works with our Education Department.

One of the most interesting things I get to do is visit classes at different schools around the area before they come to see a student matinee. We have what we call a “pre-show visit,” which is basically to acquaint the students with the play, give them some background information and context so they’ll fully appreciate it, and remind them not to chew gum or send text messages during the play… all that good stuff.

It’s great to be able to visit so many schools, and meet students from all sorts of backgrounds, and to see how each class responds to the material in their own unique way. Teaching a different group every time definitely keeps things fresh. But what’s even better, for me, is establishing a relationship with a particular school that I get to visit again and again throughout the season.

One of the schools I visit is McKinley South End Academy. Their mission is to work with students who benefit from extra support due to emotional and/or learning struggles that have affected their prior academic success.

Usually the first question I ask when I go to do a visit is, “who here has seen live theatre before?” For the kids at McKinley, that question would be taken as an insult. Of course they’ve seen live theatre before! The walls of the classroom are plastered with posters of all the Huntington plays they’ve attended.

I’ve been there three times now, but not for pre-show visits, like we usually do. The teacher, Warren Pemsler, along with fellow teachers Chris Busch, Katrice Paulding and Joe Norris, is so enthusiastic about the Huntington’s student matinees, and so committed to integrating the plays he brings his students to see into his curriculum, that he could probably go around to other schools teaching pre-show visits himself.

I get to stop by after his students have seen the play, and have a really great, informed discussion. I tell them a few things they didn’t know about the play; the life of the playwright or the historical context. But mostly I let them talk. They’ve got good thoughts and passionate convictions about the relevance of each play’s themes to their own lives, the moral issues brought into question by the actions of the characters, and even how the different plays they’ve seen are in dialogue with each other.

Each time I visit McKinley I am reminded of why the Huntington Theatre Company has student matinees - to help create a new generation of theatregoers who are not only aware of and interested in live theatre, but who can experience and process it on an intellectual and an emotional level, and who can think about what they see and take it with them into their lives.Just like these students do.

- Danny Bryck

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