Jun 22, 2020
This post is written by The Kitchen’s Lead Teaching Artist, Lindsay Hockaday.
FOR OVER TWO DECADES, The Kitchen has maintained a partnership with a public high school located on 18th Street, just blocks from our building in Chelsea: Liberty High School Academy for Newcomers. Serving new immigrant students or students who still require English acquisition in grades 9 through 12, Liberty is a unique learning community comprising individuals of diverse cultural and academic backgrounds who are making the transition into the American educational system. Through this partnership program, The Kitchen works with classes at Liberty to integrate theater and art teaching into the curriculum, introducing the arts as a valuable field through which students can build language skills and arts literacy and develop confidence in public speaking.
Over the past seven years working at Liberty (for several years as a Guest Artist during Tory Vazquez’s residencies and then more recently as the Lead Teaching Artist), I have come to see the arts as truly necessary for survival and social change. Creating theater with recent immigrants means that you are never just rehearsing a show. Every day students walk into the school “rehearsing” their new language, their new self, and negotiating how to assimilate or resist American culture. In this context, creativity, self-confidence, and agency are so essential.
Each semester, The Kitchen runs two primary programs with Liberty. One pairs a teaching artist with an English (ELL) class for a twelve-week residency, during which the teaching artist and video artists Lauren Petty and Shaun Irons work with the students to create and stage a theatrical production: the residency culminates with the students rehearsing and performing the play, with integrated video design, in The Kitchen’s theater for an audience of their peers. The other is a for-credit after-school program, which also is led by The Kitchen’s teaching artist. The content of this program varies, but it serves as an opportunity for students to engage with art and theater through lessons that weave together arts literacy and language literacy. The program centers on dynamic theater and dance exercises interspersed with video and visual arts activities that bring to life a central literary text by the end of the semester. This class is small and process-oriented, providing individual students with a wide variety of tools for self-expression that serve their particular interests. As a complement to these activities, we invite guest artists who have recently shown work at The Kitchen to speak, and we lead field trips to view exhibitions and rehearsals in The Kitchen’s space. Both of the classes also culminate in a beautiful video project designed by Petty and Irons in collaboration with the students.
FOR THE SPRING 2020 PROGRAM, our team worked with students on two programs that merge the arts with language-learning. For the English (ELL) class residency, we worked with two level 4 classes on creating a performance using text from Romeo and Juliet alongside discussions of types of love and Motown music. Students learned Motown songs and dance moves as ways to embody English-langauge phonetics and rhythm and to delve into concepts of metaphor and simile in Shakespeare. The ultimate goal was to stage at The Kitchen scenes from Romeo and Juliet with a “Motown” chorus of students singing Temptations and Supremes lyrics and with integrated video design projected behind the stage. When the school shifted to remote learning as a result of COVID-19, the course pivoted to focused essay writing about community love in times of crisis. I was able to continue working with the class remotely by collaborating with guest artists to create and share video prompts with students, asking them to film short segments on how to express different types of love and how to be a helper during this time. Petty and Irons then edited and shared a compilation of the students’ responses with the class. Guest Artists during this residency included theater artists Maggie Hoffman, Susie Sokol, Modesto Flako Jimenez, and Dee Beasnael, and video artists Lauren Petty and Shaun Irons.
For this semester’s after-school class, I developed a curriculum centered on the epic tale The Odyssey that used arts integration to teach beginner-level English language learners. Lessons challenged students to read and learn about the “hero’s journey” and to compare it to their own experiences of immigration. Throughout the semester (and continuing remotely via Google Classroom after March) students created visual art works, played short vocabulary games, and responded to writing prompts centered around the epic story. The class culminated with a virtual visit from artist Lex Brown, who recently contributed to The Kitchen’s Video Viewing Room series. Brown created a video tutorial (shown above) that encourages self-reflection through the lens of “perception” as it relates to our sense of self, and to the Movement for Black Lives. This lesson also introduced the final project for the semester: the assignment asks students to draw or photograph something from 3 different perspectives, and to write about their position in the U.S., times when they faced limitations, and their own self-perceptions.
THE SCHOOL CLOSURES THIS YEAR have made the structural inequities that immigrant communities in NYC face so stark. I have lost contact with so many wonderful, creative students because of lack of access to—or literacy with—the technologies needed to stay involved in school. For those students who have continued responding, creating, and playing with us virtually, the shared video projects have been a source of connection, joy, and hope.
Lindsay Hockaday has worked with The Kitchen as a teaching artist since 2013, and has also performed in, and worked on a number of performances there. She is an actor and teaching artist with Elevator Repair Service Theater, and collaborates with Sibyl Kempson’s 7 Daughters of Eve Theater & Performance Company. She recently became an ICT teacher at the middle school City School of the Arts, in Manhattan.
Image and video: 1) Students in the Liberty High School after-school program visit with artist James Allister Sprang at The Kitchen, October 2019. 2) Lex Brown, Perspective, 2020, 7:24 minutes. Courtesy of the artist.
The Kitchen’s arts education programs at Liberty High School Academy for Newcomers are made possible with generous support from IAC and Lotos Foundation, and in part by public funds from New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.