By Claire Rouleau, Performing and Creative Arts Lead at MAX
“I am ______ and I _________”
The first task, on the first day of Artist Educators Training 2: Creating Engagement at YPT, was to fill in these blanks as a statement of approach. The statement could include why you do what you do, what it is you do, what excites you about it, and how you identify within the work. Despite the excitement of being in a room with so many interesting people to talk to and connect with in the limited 48 hours ahead, our starting point was internal. To come back to what ultimately led us to this training, to a place of wanting to learn more, or be reinvigorated in our practice and pedagogy as artist educators, programmers and administrators.
Thanks to a travel subsidy made possible by the OAC, I had flown in from St. John’s, Newfoundland, and was delighted to re-visit what has become one of my very favourite places: Young People’s Theatre. At YPT, I have performed in musicals, taught in the drama school, and been a Resident Artist Educator. It was at YPT that I came to identify as an artist educator in the first place, which has propelled me down a different road than when I first walked in the stage door. I had two days on the mainland to play, learn and catch up with pals in the city, but this introduction slowed the intensity of the to-do and to-see list in my brain and distilled my work right down. What do I do? Why? What precipitates me doing it well?
So began a two-day adventure, in marvelously-inspiring company, discussing arts education programming in Canada today. Having participated twice in the first Artist Educators Training sessions offered at YPT, I can say that the focus and tools from this second version were vaster in scope – in a refreshing and challenging way. Questions related to infrastructure and organizations filled our hours, whereas the first training revolved more around tools like lesson planning and teaching supports.
On our first day we were treated to a workshop facilitated by Avery Jean Brennan on making spaces we are responsible for inclusive for all, and creating a culture to be carried out of the building. We were also given tools and systems by Michael Trent of the Metcalf foundation to assess the efficacy of our programming and teaching. He challenged us to identify how we set goals and evaluate success by asking us if we use art for person or practice; that is, to foster personal growth through the arts, or to build a skill and master an art form. I struggle with this question all the time in my pedagogy as a teacher, administrator and performer. I am quick to shy away from any kind of pressure on students to master any discipline, but also want to encourage excellence. What a fine balance to strike!
A theme that was carried through the training on both days and explored by representatives from Sick Kids Hospital, and the Toronto District School Board, was the notion of partnerships. What makes a valuable and meaningful partnership? What should be considered before proposing a partnership? What partnerships are possible? These ideas of partnership and coming together reflected the largest take-away that many of us expressed by the end of the training – a reminder of the joy of collaborating with others.
Much of our work takes place independently in offices or classrooms, and it is a rare and precious thing to have so many people who share a passion – and carry it out in a myriad number of ways – in one place. Representatives from large festivals like Stratford and Shaw, independent practitioners, leaders of community and recreational programming, and those working within arts organizations from across the country reflected and shared together.
My statement of approach turned out like this;
“I am an artist educator and administrator. I facilitate engagement and participation in and with the arts to foster connection and hope.”
Last September I became the Creative and Performing Arts program lead at a recreational company in St. John’s. This training was an excellent opportunity to remember my passions independent of the organization I work for, as well as infuse my work there with new considerations and approaches. Upon return to the office, my first email to some of the teaching artists I oversee included a challenge to consider the same questions we did on day one about pin pointing what makes you good at your work, and fostering that. I asked how I could foster that with them. I was happy to hear that the questions had been just as revealing to some of them as it had been to me.
While I first walked in the stage door at YPT as a performer, I am glad to come and go now having found a body of work that allows me to hold that stage door open for others and invite them into a world I have loved since I was young.
Claire Rouleau is the Performing and Creative Arts Lead at MAX. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Child and Youth Studies from Brock University and a diploma in Music Theatre Performance from Sheridan College. She has performed from one end of Canada to the other and up the east coast of the United States as a singer, actor and dancer. Claire spent two years as a Resident Artist Educator at the Young People’s Theatre in Toronto and recently completed professional development training with the Director of Education at the Stratford Theatre Festival in Ontario.