Archive for November 1st, 2017


Who Are They? Portland Stage – Part 6

November 1, 2017

The Education Team and What We Value

Portland Stage, located in Portland, Maine, offers vital theater arts education to learners ages 4-18 through our In-Theater and In-School programming. All classes and workshops are taught by professionally trained Teaching Artists and focus on literacy, cultural awareness, collaborative play, and creative thinking. Our teaching philosophy highlights process over product, deepening students’ ability to analyze, synthesize, and think critically while making connections to the thoughts and ideas behind the written word. This is one of a series of 6 blog posts outlining who we are and what we do, brought to you by Hannah Cordes, Education Manager, and Julianne Shea, Education Administrator. These posts will appear September 27 through November 1, 2017, on Wednesday’s.

Education Artist in a workshop Photo by Aaron Flacke

As Portland Stage’s education program has grown over the years, so has our educational aesthetic. Thanks to the continuous work over the years by a delightful, curious, joyful, caring, and silly team of educators and administrators, our program has developed into what it is today.

All of our classes are process-based. The work is focused more on having an experience with theater rather than on the final product. Our text work is focused on bringing the text alive. We make time for scavenger hunts and theater games because we believe that these activities build theatrical skills as well as encourage collaboration, creative play, and communication.

Students drive the work that happens in the classroom. We honor and celebrate the ideas they bring to the table. For example, we talk to them about what characters and stories excite them. At the end of a class we ask them what they would like to share in their open studio. In our PLAY in Schools program, we ask students to come up with a simple movement to bring particular words in a poem to life and those become the actions we use to tell the story. In our Directors Lab program, we invite students to take ownership of Shakespeare’s language. We are always searching for ways to increase student investment and creative ownership.

Whenever possible, we work with a co-teaching model. This allows for us to have multiple people in the room cheering for each student and championing their experience! When we co-teach, we increase the likelihood that students will find a way to connect with a teacher and find an entry point into the work. As teachers, we work together and model the collaboration and problem-solving that we ask young people to participate in.

Hannah Cordes in a workshop Photo by Aaron Flacke

We consistently celebrate each other’s work! We devalue competition and focus on fostering ensemble. We invite greater and greater levels of participation in students’ work. We celebrate each seemingly small but monumental acts of bravery that are present in each classroom we enter.

The people you are most likely to see at a Portland Stage workshop are Hannah Cordes, Julianne Shea, and our two education interns. We love reading picture books, playing theater games, exploring texts, and working with young people. We are also lucky enough to have a whole team of over 35 education artists. These education artists have trained at theater companies across the nation, many have B.A.’s or B.F.A.’s in theater, others have Masters Degrees, and others teach at academic institutions. All of the people you find working in Portland Stage’s programs are practicing artists. The work they create both through Portland Stage and with other companies in Maine’s rich artistic community informs their work in the classroom. They personally know the thrill of creating art and the vulnerability it calls for. This practice allows them to excitedly create a supportive environment for students to learn about theater themselves. They understand the risks they are asking students to take because they often take risks in their own creative projects. We also make time to continue to learn new things about theater and about teaching. Notably, Portland Stage’s education team gets together one weekend every year to engage in training. For the last three years we have had Kevin Coleman, the Director of Education at Shakespeare & Company, lead our educators in a teacher training intensive. It is important for all of us to learn new skills and reinforce concepts we value. We also cherish the fact that this training allows for us all to be in the same room at the same time asking questions, getting curious about teaching practice, and sharing stories (both successes and failures).

As our program develops and we collaborate with more and more artists, we continually gather feedback and implement that into our process. We strive to learn and grow. We are grateful for the opportunity to work with so many strong educators.

Interested in learning more about this program? Email or call 207-774-1043 ext. 104.

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