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.
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.