Potash Hill

Students take performance off the hill

Students encourage community members to dance with them in Brattleboro. Photo by Philip Johansson“I think having performances that celebrate, educate, question and inspire communities is critical to keeping those communities vibrant and alive,” said Jodi Clark ’95, assistant director of youth initiatives at Monadnock Family Services in Keene, New Hampshire. “All cultures I can think of have some means of performance that fulfills the need for these kinds of cultural reflections.” Jodi coordinates ActingOut, an issue-oriented teen theater program where three Marlboro students had internships this fall as part of a class called Community-Based Performance.

“Community-based performance challenges participants to immerse themselves in the communication of experience,” said Ken Schneck, dean of students, who taught the class. “This isn’t about boxing in the artist as a solitary genius, but is instead rooted in that which happens collectively: Individuals interact with a group of people with some shared identity, and this lived experience then informs the art, further developing the sense of community.”

This was amply demonstrated by Kevin and Erin Maile O’Keefe, founders of CircusYoga, who worked with the class on community performance exercises they call “kinesthetic play.” Their collaboration with the students culminated with an evening of lively dancing in the streets of Brattleboro during the town’s “gallery walk,” where they invited other community members to join in.

“We like to find activities that kind of level the playing field,” said Erin. “It doesn’t matter what language you came into the world with, it doesn’t matter what your culture is, because together we’re going to co-create culture through play.”

In addition to ActingOut, students interned at Mahalo Art Center, the Theater Adventure Program (TAP) at New England Youth Theater, and Sandglass Theater, directed by former visiting faculty member Eric Bass.

Samantha Hohl '13, alumna Laura Lawson Tucker and Katherine Trahan '12 on the set of TAP's production of Phantom Tollbooth. Photo by Joanna Moyer-Battick“We walked in and were thrown into the fire right away,” said sophomore Samantha Hohl, who interned at TAP, a theater program for children, youth and adults with disabilities directed by Laura Lawson Tucker ’77. “We were amazed at how Laura can incorporate herself into everything and maintain control on so many levels. It works really well for how crazy it is.”

“I think these internships will help students broaden their worldview beyond their studies and beyond ‘being on the hill,’” said Laura. “My hope is that they will go out into the world understanding how critical it is that the arts are offered within a community, in order to give all a voice, as well as the power of theater to strengthen and frame a community and its members.”

“Ken’s class provides such a rare opportunity to take advantage of this arts-rich region and to truly see some of the places where the strength of our greater Brattleboro area comes from,” said Jodi. “Having hands-on knowledge, observing or participating in these various community organizations, and feeling firsthand the power of their art is one of the best sorts of learning experiences.”