High school performing arts teachers converged on Montclair State University for a week of hands-on experience in directing, stage design, and acting exercises during the Second Annual Summer Intensive for Theatre Teachers (SITT) from August 8-12, 2011.
Scott Cooney, a teacher at the Burlington County School of Performing Arts in Medford, New Jersey, worked up a sweat during a tag team-style movement workshop that taught participants about physical awareness and relating to others on stage.
“It was an innovative workshop. It helped me learn to think in terms of an ensemble,” said the 33-year-old Cooney.
Katie McSherry, 25, who chairs the Performing Arts Department at Academy of Holy Angels in Demarest, New Jersey, concentrated on directing a trio of acting students from Montclair State in a scene from a new play entitled “Tuesdays,” about the reaction of high school students to the 9/11 attacks.
“Any exposure and practice helps you grow. I can go back to Holy Angels and feel more confident and a little more experienced,” she said.
The theme of this year’s SITT program was Teaching and Directing New Plays, particularly those that focus on contemporary social issues.
The seven teachers who took part in the SITT program were joined by nine others from Montclair State’s master’s degree program in Theatre Studies, along with 11 students from the bachelor’s in Fine Arts program who were hired as actors for the teachers’ directing duties.
SITT was begun last year at Montclair State following a report by the New Jersey Arts Education Census Project that 18% of elementary schools and 23% of middle/high schools have no professional development activities for teachers in arts education.
“SITT gives the teachers an opportunity to elevate their craft and bring their students up a notch when they go back home,” said Marie Sparks, director of administration at the Montclair State’s College of the Arts who jointly coordinated the program with Susan Kerner, associate professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance.
Rebecca Greasby, a teacher from Racine, Wisconsin appreciated the experiential nature of the program. “The workshops were something I could really get my hands into because I was actually doing something,” she enthused, saying she preferred it over lectures.
Participants also had an opportunity to delve into the technical aspects of theatrical productions. In the stage design workshop, teachers were taught to visualize sets by making paper cut-outs of actors and furniture that were placed on miniature stages. They learned about lighting effects and how to achieve them, and how different costumes look in different kinds of light.
The voice and speech workshop helped participants “free” their natural voice. “There were lots of exercises to help make their voice sound more natural. They worked on consonants to articulate clearly and on vowels to connect their voice emotionally,” Kerner explained.
Camaraderie was high among the participants, who were eager to exchange information and discuss experiences. “Usually, there’s only one theatre teacher in a school so there isn’t anyone to bounce ideas off,” McSherry said. “This has been really nice.”
Kerner added the goal for the future is to change from a commuter to a more residential-based program and to encourage more applicants nationally. “We hope to move in those directions,” she said. “We don’t think there is anything else quite like this program.”