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Visting Artist Merges Theater With Academics

By | May 6, 2013 - 4:46 pm

Students at the Kodiak High School and Middle School dabbled in theatric storytelling last week. A handful of classrooms participated in a two week artist in schools program that culminated with a presentation of their work on Thursday. KMXT’s Brianna Gibbs attended the performance and filed this report.

It’s about 2 p.m. on Thursday afternoon and the foyer at the Gerald C. Wilson Auditorium is a buzz with students from the Kodiak Middle School. Groups of 7th graders are putting the finishing touches on a series of tableaux – the final product of two weeks working with visiting teaching artist Ryan Conarro.

“I am here as a theater teaching artist and we’re doing a project with middle high and high school classrooms on using drama-based activities for integrating with academic content,” he said.

Conarro has a rich background in theater, both as a teacher and performer. He has worked with the Alaska State Council on the Arts’ Artist in Schools Program for about ten years and taught in districts across the last frontier.

In Kodiak, Conarro had middle school students interview family members about their first job as part of the program.

“That’s related to their unit that’s happening this spring on career preparation. And we’ve taken some of the stories from those interviews and are dramatizing them.”

The students reenacted the stories through a series of tableaux. But what exactly is a tableau?

“A tableau is basically a picture formed with actors, it’s still besides the fact that you switch between scenes. You’ll have usually four or five people and you’ll take elements from the story and you’ll act them out silently in a picture,” said 7th grader Eli Griffin, who interviewed his dad, Kodiak Island Borough Assemblyman Aaron Griffin.

“He worked at Papa John’s Pizzeria. And then he went into the Air Force.”

Griffin said his dad’s past with Papa John’s isn’t the topic of his group’s tableau.

“We’re doing one about a paper boy’s first job, I’m pretty sure. I’m a newspaper. I think that I play it awesomely. I just get to sit there.”

Conarro narrates the first job accounts, and the students shuffle into intricate, telling positions. Three frozen scenes later, the story is told.

For Griffin, the experience has opened his eyes to a new form of acting. He said he’s always been a part of theater, but he didn’t realize the power of a solid position.

“I think it’s really cool to be able to act without actually moving and speaking. It seems to me like it’s a lot more powerful,” Griffin said. He isn’t the only that learned from the experience.

“Well I learned that there’s a lot of actor’s tools. Like there’s more than just a script and you just act it out. There’s like body gestures and all that stuff. I think it’s cool how the pictures can just show the whole stories. It’s definitely a new, like, interesting way I learned to look at stories. And I thought that was cool.”

The Artist in Schools program is funded through the Partners in Education program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Alaska State Legislature, the Rasmuson Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, with help from the Kodiak Island Borough School District.

Conarro, who is based in Juneau, wrapped up his two week artist residency on Friday. During his time in Kodiak he also worked with high school students on dramatic representations of personal essays.

And as for Eli Griffin’s portrayal of the newspaper, he was indeed awesome.

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