Friday, November 10, 2017

Back to school!

As the seasons change, OHA changes too: shifting from the summer flurry of live performance into the other half of our identity as a community gathering space rooted in the belief that access to and participation in the arts offer transformational potential. Throughout the fall and winter months, we’ll be teaching in area schools, partnering with other island organizations to host family-friendly celebrations, hosting artist residencies, and filling our screen with new movie releases and alternative films in the historic Stonington Opera House. 

Over the course of a nine-year highly structured, arts education partnership between Opera House Arts and our school district, we have leveraged the artistic strengths of the Deer Isle-Stonington community to provide embedded arts and integrated learning opportunities to students of Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary and High Schools. Over the past two years, we've expanded that partnership to include work with a number of schools off the island, and developed an extra-curricular program for the island's youngest actors.

We call our education program Creative Stages. Using three separate but complementary programming branches it expands upon our existing partnership to include four more schools as well as students who fall outside Hancock County public school system.

Led by Opera House Arts staff and teaching artists, Creative Stages lays the groundwork for continued growth in youth arts education in the region.

Why offer Creative Stages?

For students who live in rural communities, opportunities to access the arts through education are increasingly difficult to arrange. In a report published in 2011, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities observed that regular access to arts education, both in arts-integrated learning as well as direct participation in the arts, leads to improved student achievement in academics, problem solving and creative/critical thinking, and social competencies, including collaboration, tolerance and self-confidence.

Over the past four years, school budgets in Hancock County have come under tight scrutiny: the Deer Isle-Stonington budget alone has decreased by 10% or $710,106 between FY 2014-15 and FY 2017-18, while the overall student population has grown. As budgets decline, arts in schools are reduced and threatened. By providing arts partnership programming at no cost to the region’s schools, Opera House Arts ensures that students in our community not only receive a well-rounded, arts-inclusive education, but are also empowered with the tools to effectively communicate and express themselves, and develop critical thinking and collaborative skills.

So, what are the Creative Stages?

The Creative Stages program works on three different fronts: in the classroom, on the stage, and in the community. OHA uses multi-year partnerships with island and peninsula schools, in-depth collaborations with other island non-profits, and national contacts within the performing arts to offer a holistic approach to arts education, with opportunities for students of all ages, as well as the community at large.
DISES student Hallie Hudson performs
"Patience" by Marilyn Singer at
OHA Voice 2 Voice performance

In the classroom, OHA offers a series of arts-integrated learning programs, at both the elementary and high school level: Curricular Performance Units (grades K-8) provide deeper arts-integration in classroom learning, and Voice 2 Voice Poetry Declamation Contest (5-8) connects students in five schools through poetry and oral performance. Additionally, OHA’s teaching staff work with administrators and teachers in the Deer Isle-Stonington High School to curate and produce the Arts Toolkit Challenge: a week-long full-school arts program that culminates in the performance of original theatre pieces devised by students around a single question.

On the stage, OHA teaching artists provide performance opportunities for actors of all ages, from the afterschool program  PlayPen Youth Theatre (K-5), to our summer internships, serving students in high school and college with embedded learning in the midst of a busy theatrical season, to our Staged Reading Series that offers community actors the chance to work with and learn from professional actors and directors.

In the community, OHA works with local residents to provide learning through performance opportunities with the Staged Reading Series, which provides non-professional artists the chance to work with and learn from professional guest actors and directors, and through the Harbor Residency Program education component. The Harbor Residencies, now in their third year, provide professional working artists with access to time and space to generate new work, and asks that each resident offer a learning opportunity to the community, free of charge. To date, these workshops have taken the form of school visits, playwriting workshops, rehearsal observerships, and master classes.

What's new this year?

This year, we’re thrilled to be building upon the successes of our education programming. In January we’ll be back with The Stonecutter for year two of the PlayPen Youth Theatre, an artistic collaboration of the Opera House, the Island Community Center and The Reach Performing Center that is offered to the region’s youngest actors (ages 6 – 10). Following PlayPen, we’ll be working on the Voice 2 Voice Poetry Declamation with elementary school children from five area schools in a series of poetry workshops that will culminate in a special assembly at the Opera House where finalists from each school recite their selected poems.

We’re also building on our now ten-year-old partnership with the Deer Isle-Stonington Schools through a series of Curricular Performance Units, created in partnership between classroom teachers and teaching artists. The first installment took place in October, with a week-long education residency between Belfast Flying Shoes, Deer Isle-Stonington’s Elementary School and the Brooklin School. 95 students in grades 3 and 4 explored the traditional, participatory, New England dancing called contra dancing, learning to move cooperatively and respectfully. The week culminated with a delightful family dance at the Stonington Opera House.

Stay involved!

Want to learn more about our programs? Have some ideas about how you could collaborate with us?
Reach out to OHA's Education Associate, Joshua McCarey, and start the conversation!