Having struggled with the formal education system in my own youth, I tumbled back into it as a workplace during my time at Upstate Theatre (1997-2010) when the company developed partnerships with Dundalk Institute of Technology and later New York University. After leaving Upstate in 2010, I continued in the (very part-time!) role of external examiner on the Drama programme at DKIT for 3 years.
Soon after leaving Upstate I was appointed to the short-term position of Creative Director of the BA Connect in Applied Drama, Film and Creative Writing, a two-year pilot programme at NUI Galway, (since discontinued). I spent two fruitful Winter Semesters commuting weekly from my North Dublin home to the amazing cultural city that is Galway.
NEW YORK UNIVERSITY
Meantime, in 2006, I had joined the Dublin Study Abroad faculty of New York University as both a tutor and leader of an annual workshop (now biennial) in “Writing and Devising for Community-Engaged Theatre”. Every two years, between 24 and 30 post-graduate students of “Applied Theatre” at the Steinhardt School of Educational Drama, NYU, descend on the Trinity College Dublin campus for a month of intensive tuition and field study. Together with a team of Dublin and Belfast-based colleagues, and under the direction of Prof Joe Salvatore and/or Nan Smithner of NYU, I get to devise theatre and travel to exemplary centres of practice within Ireland, North and South, in the company of these keenly intelligent and accomplished young theatre makers. It is always a time of renewal and excitement. The programme is due next to take place in July 2021.
TEACHER ARTIST PARTNERSHIP PROGRAMME
Although I had worked occasionally in youth drama, I had never worked with younger children until 2015 when, as part of a short residency at the Boathouse Artist Studio in my own village of Loughshinny, I offered to run a series of drama and environment workshops with St Brendan’s National School. This opened a whole new door to me and I discovered a great love for working with teachers and children, many coming to the contemporary and collaborative performing arts for the first time.
This led me to undertake training under the Dept of Education and Skills “Teacher Artist Partnership” programme in 2016. I now deliver T..A.P. training to primary school teachers and artists in County Monaghan each July or August.
In 2016, arising from the training I partnered with principal Fiona Coll at the small, 3-teacher St. Dympna’s National School in the village of Tydavnet in County Monaghan. Together we worked with children in 4th, 5th and 6th classes (ages 9-12) who created their own wonderful drama entitled “One Day in Gorgals”, a fantastical tale of life in a rural village. Arts Minister Heather Humphrey’s attended the performance given at the school for the local community, a day of joy to conclude a term of exciting creativity in the classroom.
Independently, at second level, I have also worked on drama projects in St. Oliver’s Community School in Drogheda, partnering teacher Barbara Carr; and at Beech Hill College in Monaghan which is a designated Creative School, where I linked with Joanne Brennan, a teacher and noted youth arts activist.
As described on the Arts Council website, “Creative Schools is a flagship initiative of the Creative Ireland Programme to enable the creative potential of every child. It is led by the Arts Council in partnership with the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.”
With children at its core, the programme seeks to “establish a range of collaborative opportunities for schools and will develop and strengthen the relationships between schools and the broader cultural and community infrastructure within which they operate.”
Every school in the programme is assigned a Creative Associate for one or two years. “Creative Associates are artists, creative practitioners and/or educators with an understanding of the arts and creativity and its potential to transform the lives of children and young people. Creative Associates match the needs of schools to arts and creative opportunities in their locality.”
In 2018, I was appointed to the national panel of Creative Associates and, following specialised training, assigned to three schools in the Louth/Meath area. I have been privileged to meet and work with hundreds of children and their teachers, as each of these schools has built gradually towards self-sufficiency as creative hubs in which children are encouraged to understand and then make decisions about their own artistic and creative lives. In the course of this work I have connected with a number of visual and musical artists who have in turn taken up residencies within the schools.
In November 2019, I accompanied teacher Marietta Graham Reynolds and artist Pamela Whitaker to the National Arts in Education Portal day at NUI Galway where we presented and led a workshop based on the methods developed with the children at Tullyallen NS.
Pamela will continue her residency at Tullyallen in September 2020 following the COVID 19 interruption, guiding the work of children in a Forest Studio project, where natural materials are used, and King William’s Glen at the school doorstep becomes studio, gallery and promenade performance arena.
At Bunscoil Buachaillí Réalt na Mara, the 2018-19 school year ended with a wonderful outdoor day at the local estuary, with children, teachers and illustrator Gillian Cullen. In 2019, the same children began a new project with Yvonne Byrne (visual artist), and again, it is good to know that this work can continue in 2020-21 following the school closure in March.
A few miles further north, at Sandpit NS, musician and composer Zoe Conway worked with teacher Michael McEvoy to create a new school anthem which will in turn feed in to a whole school multi-disciplinary arts programme in the new year. Parents and children gathered for a concert of music, spoken word and a slideshow presentation by the Arts Advisory Group made up of children from 3rd to 6th class.
Images (top to bottom) are from Bunscoil Buachaillí Réalt na Mara; Sandpit National School and Tullyallen National School.
Ⓒ Images may not be reproduced without permission.