New American Theater Collaborative Arts Pilot Project

New American Theater Collaborative Arts Pilot Project

By Dorothy Paige-Turner, Contributing Writer

In the fall of 2002, New American Theater initiated a pilot program in drama and music for 5- to 7-year-old low income/minority students from Nelson, Beyer, Kishwaukee, Conklin and Dennis schools that allowed these students to attend six one-hour sessions at the drama schools at a special time at no cost to the families. Collaborators included Rockford Volunteer Senior Program (RSVP), a service of Lifescape Community Services, Inc., as mentors to the students; Rockford Public Schools (principals, teachers); Rockford Public Schools Transportation Department; the Rockford Area Arts Council; and private individuals who financially sponsored a child to participate in this intergenerational project.

This project was created and coordinated by Dorothy-Paige Turner, retired music educator and board member, who saw a need for underserved students to be involved in the School of Drama, but realized the cost and transportation to the classes were problematic. Ms. Turner contacted the schools and asked to be placed on the agenda for their November staff meetings. She and Artistic Director Richard Raether, Artistic Associate Gail Dartez, and actor/drama school teacher Jordan Lindvall attended these meetings and presented information regarding the many programs available to schools, the underserved populations, and shared the desire to involve students in this pilot program. The response was very positive.

RSVP provided five mentors for each school (two students were selected from each of the five schools for a class of 10). The Rockford Area Arts Council awarded an action grant; friends supported the project by sponsoring three students; Greg Wilson and his staff at the RPS Transportation Department arranged for students to be transported from their respective schools to NAT at a special time (2:45; regular times begin at 4 p.m.), then transported to their homes after class. Ms. Turner also taught the class as a volunteer.

The project focused on enhancing literacy through drama and music. The participants were read a fairytale, dramatized the story (included mentors) and collectively wrote songs, sequencing the events, creating sentences, acquiring new vocabulary words and fitting the words of their songs to familiar tunes (syllabication). Some songs included were the “Story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff,” “The Big Bad Wolf Blues” and “Sam Sam Samara” (“Sam and the Tigers”). The children created their own dialogue in the dramatizations. They also created their own costumes for their rendition of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” which was in production at the time. The last session (April 8) was spent with Ms. Dartez taking the children on a tour of the theater, where they saw where sets were built. The stage (present for Proposals), audience seating, back stage, prop tables, quick change rooms, the lighting and sound booth, the stage manager’s booth, the costume shop, and the box office (more new theater vocabulary).

NAT’s School of Drama staff and Ms. Turner would like to continue this project and extend it to other children in the fall. This can only happen with the support of the existing collaborators, other grants, and funding from individuals who wish to sponsor a child.

A six-week registration fee is $65. If you are interested in sponsoring a child for this project, please call 963-9454 or send donatiaons to: New American Theater (payable to NAT School of Drama, 118 N. Main St., Rockford, IL 61101).

Dorothy Paige-Turner is a local jazz vocalist, retired music educator, and performs often with the Joel Ross Quartet.

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