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CT Theatre In Our Schools - Defining Partnerships

Posted By Jennifer Roberts, Education Director, Hartford Stage and CT TIOS Co-Chair, Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I came to our TIOS mini-conference with a question of my own: what defines a real partnership between a theater and a school? It’s a word that I hear thrown around a lot; it seems like everything is labeled a "partnership,” from a one-time workshop to a long-term residency that is continued year after year. To be clear, I think that both of these, and everything in between, if they involve people or organizations working together to bring arts and education together, are worthwhile and good. But a "partnership?” That seems serious.

Our exploration of working partnerships included a keynote address by Meg Campbell, founder and Executive Director of Codman Academy in Boston, where she works in what she calls a "remarkable” institutional partnership with the Huntington Theatre Company. Subsequent breakout sessions included discussions about different types of collaborations: shared work between teachers working in different subject areas, teaching artists working hand in hand with classroom teachers, theatre teachers supporting other theatre teachers, and a school district working with its schools to make sure its students all have access to the arts. We ended the day with a panel of educators and arts leaders: Jeff Partridge, who chairs the humanities department at Capital Community College and partners with Hartford Stage to bring the whole college community together around one play each semester; Bill Prenetta, a theatre teacher at Ellington High School and the President of the Connecticut Drama Association, which brings theatre teachers and students throughout the state together; Rob Travaglini, principal of Naylor/CCSU Leadership academy, a partnership between a Hartford public school and a state university; and Bonnie Koba, Arts in Education Program Manager and HOT (Higher Order Thinking) Schools Program Director at the Connecticut Office of the Arts.

The day gave me a lot to think about as I look for ways to deepen the partnerships that we’re in, and to begin new ones. These are some of the things that I left thinking about, and have been thinking about ever since:

A partnership is a reciprocal relationship and should make sense to both sides, with the work rooted in the shared goals and compatible missions of each organization. We can work with lots of organizations, but we should choose our partners wisely.

Partners should be interdependent upon one another; the workload balanced, one not giving (or taking) more than the other. For a partnership to be sustainable, it must be built on something other than finances. Funding changes.

In a true partnership – I love this one – organizations "borrow culture” from one another. I can go into a school and know how to be a part of that world; students come here and understand how they are a part of ours. This also suggests that theaters and schools (or any partnered organizations) need each other: that the theater fills a missing piece of school culture, and that students fill a missing piece of a theater’s culture.

Lasting partnerships can be long-term, but they shouldn’t be forced to stay the same. Meg Campbell suggests that the Codman and the Huntington review their agreement every two years to address the changing needs of the partners.

The day confirmed what I knew to be true: partnerships are serious business. And done well, they can be an extremely powerful force in the lives of students. I left the day’s conversations feeling inspired to use this criteria to create new partnerships and renew existing ones, but I know this list is just a beginning. What characteristics do you see in strong partnerships? What practical steps can we take to get there?


Jennifer Roberts is in her fifth season at Hartford Stage, having previously held the position of Education Associate for Literary and In-School Programs. Before coming to Hartford Stage, she worked as the Resident Teaching Artist at George Street Playhouse and served as the Artistic Director of the Papermill Children’s Theatre in Lincoln, New Hampshire. Her work as a director and playwright has been recognized by the Austin Circle of Theatres and the American Alliance for Theatre and Education. Her essay on the future of theatre and education, "Changing the How”, was published in the November 2008 issue of TCG’s American Theatre magazine. She received a Masters degree of Fine Arts in Drama and Theatre for Youth from the University of Texas at Austin.

Tags:  arts organizations  partnerships  teaching artists  tios 

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