Nathaniel McAuley Reflects on Time in Baltimore

Belfast poet Nathaniel Joseph McAuley worked with students at City Neighbors High School through a residency with Baltimore TheatreWorks

Nathaniel Joseph McAuley

Belfast poet Nathaniel Joseph McAuley worked with students at City Neighbors High School through a residency with Baltimore TheatreWorks

A moment of reflection.

I can’t begin to describe how much of an honour working with City Neighbors High School has been for me as part of my USA writing residency. Every time I work with young people I am astounded not only by the talent, but the liberated approach they take towards creative writing. They write in a way which is fearless, heartfelt and unashamedly vulnerable to an extent that those who come to writing later in their life, or who write “seriously” or “professionally” would be hard-pushed to replicate.

As any teacher will tell you, talkative, engaged children alleviate the pressure of teaching, in general, but particularly in a class requiring discussion and hands-on creative work. In teaching poetry, regardless of personality type, the teacher its often rewarded with the drafted and redrafted words of all students. The most exciting part of my week, then, without mentioning names, was watching quieter students find their poetic voice and understanding them in a way which regular classes simply can’t facilitate.

I felt a certain home-coming working with the school’s poetry club. 6 or 7 young poets vocationally finding their voice. What more could a visiting poet ask for to gain insight into the society, art, life, everything, of his new surroundings, but a quiet class room and focus ground of young visionaries? I was simply blown away by some of their ability to rhyme (surpassing my own to a near-embarrassing extent) and performance. Performance — such a seldom considered skill to teach to young writers (not that there was much to teach these guys anyway!)

My thanks go to all my students and Miss Jenny, the good folks at TheatreWorks and the Weber family, in particular co-founder of TheatreWorks Joan Weber for her hard work, support and (matched only by my Priest and Mother) life advice and direction.

Press Release for Black Blues

(Note from Editor: the following press release was written by City Neighbors High School student playwright, Constance Green in her role as Assistant Producer of Black Blues.)

CNHS Drama Club

CNHS Drama Club

Baltimore City, Maryland-April 10th and 11th, 2014- City Neighbors High School launches their drama department by performing the award winning play, “Black Blues”.

Already integrated through the arts, City Neighbors High School has stepped away from the tradition of performing well known plays and has taken a different route. This year the school will be performing a play by one of their very own students. “Black Blues,” written by senior Constance Green. The play was first presented at Center Stage as a winner of the Young Playwrights Festival in 2013.

City Neighbors is pleased to partner with Baltimore TheatreWorks on this production. Baltimore TheatreWorks was founded by actor-comedian Rain Pryor in 2012 with the mission to increase theatre performance opportunities for students in grades 6-12. Co-founder Joan Weber is acting as producer, working with all aspects of the production in partnership with Constance Green, who is also acting as Assistant Producer, and Jamani Epps, the Assistant Production Manager. Still Pointe Theatre Initiative Co-Founder, Amanda Rife, is directing and choreographing. Heather Mork is working with design and tech students as a technical advisor.

The City Neighbors High School Drama Club is a hands on learning project in which students work with professional theatre artists in all aspects of producing a play. Students are on stage, back stage, designing and in the office. Committees of students are working on public relations and marketing, fundraising, design and construction in order to apply the skills they’ve learned in class in an organizational setting.

The school is looking forward to the partnership with Baltimore TheatreWorks. Mrs. Bobbi McDonald, founder of city Neighbors stated, “This partnership is an example of what we were hoping for at City Neighbors High School. I can’t wait to see the show!” City Neighbors High School is a public charter school in its fourth year of operation with 386 students from 9th through 12th grades.  CNHS is a progressive school, located in Northeast Baltimore with an integrated community.  The school was designed to answer the question, “What would it take for every student to be known, loved, and inspired academically?” The principal, Mr. Dolly states, “Endorsed by Rain Pryor, I am excited to see the first theater performance put on by our students.  I am proud of them and look forward to watching the play come to life!”

Rain Pryor founded Baltimore TheatreWorks to help schools build theatre programs in their school. She worked with the students in the fall to build ensemble, find their voices and make decisions about what they wanted to produce as a company.

“The voice of the student is key to building a sustainable theatre program for our students and community,” Pryor states, “When we empower our young people to be creative, we empower them to be great thinkers and builders of society. Black Blues is that work, that voice we need to hear from such a young playwright as Constance Green.”

Cast

DeShaune Carter……….. Tommy

Nyshai Charles ……….. Sam

Louis Dixon  ……….. James

Kayleigh Fore ……….. Sherry

Nia Jean-Baptiste ……….. Mae Belle

LeVar Lewis ……….. Charlie

Destiny Watkins ……….. Mercy

Tanajia Whittington-Mackall ……….. Shirley

Production Staff

Amanda Rife                                                  Director

Joan Weber                                                  Producer

Sherry Wheatley                                      Stage Manager

Jamani Epps                                                  Asst. Production Manager

Constance Green                                      Playwright/Asst. Producer

Eva Hellerbach                                                  Asst. Choreographer

Spring Programs

Baltimore TheatreWorks will be very busy this spring. We are producing shows in two Baltimore City schools, hosting an Irish poet, and we need your help.

 City Neighbors High School

At City Neighbors High School in Hamilton, we are producing a student-written play called Black Blues, which examines life in 1970 Chicago. Casting has been completed and our first read happened on Thursday, after waiting a few days for the snow to be cleared.

First Read of Black Blues at City Neighbors High School

First Read of Black Blues at City Neighbors High School

Amanda Rife, founding member of StillPointe Theatre Initiative, will be directing. Joan Weber, Baltimore TheatreWorks co-founder and Program Director, will be producing and working with tech and administrative staff students to build the show.

TheatreWorks Founder, Rain Pryor, put the program together with principal Danique Dolly to provide an in-school drama program for the public charter high school’s students. Rain will be joining the group to coach the students and give support when she’s not performing around the country . Drama Club meets every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon.

The school is not rich and can not afford a big budget for the program. If we want to hire designers and build a set, we need to raise more money. Please take a moment to support theatre in Baltimore City Schools and click on the Donate Now button.

Poetry Residency

Nathaniel Joseph McAuley

In addition to producing a student-written play, Baltimore TheatreWorks is hosting Belfast poet, Nathaniel Joseph McAuley, who will be teaching a one-week poetry residency to two classes at City Neighbors in March. Mr. McAuley is a graduate of Queens University, Seamus Heaney Centre with an M.F.A. in poetry and has been awarded a Northern Ireland Arts Council grant to travel to Baltimore. Please contact us if you are interested in having Nathaniel visit your school. There are only a couple slots available so message us soon.

Mount Royal Elementary Middle School

We are very excited to be returning to Mount Royal this spring. Principal Carolyn Freeland retired at the end of last year so we are working with the new principal, Job Grotsky. Mr. Grotsky had a career as a professional musician before becoming an educator. We look forward to developing our partnership with the school.

Auditions for Annie, Jr. will take place in early February and the performed is scheduled for May. Look for more details coming soon. Mount Royal is able to cover more of the costs for the program, but there is so much more we could do with donations from you.

Annie, Jr. will also be put together by the team of Amanda Rife and Joan Weber. Amanda is a dancer and choreographer, in addition to being a director, so the students at Mount Royal are in for an excellent experience. Joining Amanda and Joan will be Stacey Antoine as musical director. Stacey has been working with StillPointe Theatre Initiative, where he was musical director for their recent productions of Little Shop of Horrors, directed by Amanda, and Hair.

Look here for updates over the next few months as we put together two great shows in these schools. Thank you, as always, for your support. Baltimore TheatreWorks depends on it.

Here’s to a Fantastic New School Year!

The public schools in our region start back on Monday. The teachers have been around for a few days (or weeks) for training, getting their rooms ready and preparing for their new classes.

At Baltimore TheatreWorks, this is when our work kicks into high gear, as well. We are having meetings and planning our programs for this school year in the Baltimore region. If you work in a school that is interested in working with Baltimore TheatreWorks, please complete a contact form or email directly to info@baltimoretheatreworks.org.

We are excited to announce that we will be partnering with CASA of Baltimore County to present workshops to their volunteers and students. CASA is a group of volunteers who are Court-Appointed Special Advocates for young people in foster care. We look forward to developing a workshop that will help these students develop greater self-confidence, better communication skills and a strong sense of themselves and their place in the world.

In addition to CASA, we will be working with several Baltimore City Schools this year as we develop our Drama Club Program. And, we will be raising money to tour Rain’s play Colorism to high schools in the city. The play examines the issues faced by African American women because of the hue of their skin. The funds will be used to hire professional actors, train them to present workshops and to tour the show with an accompanying residency about identity. Please take a moment to make a donation on our website (or set up a small monthly payment) to help us make this tour possible. We want to work with just young women in the residency to help them write a monologue or soliloquy that explores their reactions to the play. It will be especially powerful that the actors will teach the workshops with the young women.  Use the Donate Now button on the side to help us reach this goal.

Take a look at a reading that Rain did of the play a few years ago. She is adapting the play for school audiences.

Baltimore TheatreWorks wishes everyone a fantastic new school year!

Willy Wonka Rocks Mount Royal EMS

Over the past 11 weeks, students from Mount Royal Elementary Middle School have been rehearsing twice a week to present Willy Wonka, Jr. at their school. The show ran on May 16th and 17th, with a matinee performance coming up at the end of the month so that students in the school can see what the kids have been up to for so long.

While there are many, many stories from this production, I’d like to focus on one kid and the effect this process had on him. He is a kid with a short fuse and other kids can sense that. If you want to provoke a kid to violence, he’s the one to poke. He has trouble in his classes because he wants to be moving around, instead of sitting down.

His attendance in rehearsal was fantastic. He never missed. He was the first in the auditorium when the school bell rang at the end of the day. And, then one day he wasn’t there. I asked around for him. They told me he’d been suspended for fighting. When I spoke with the administrator later, he said that the kid was provoked and lost it. Afterward, all he cared about was the fact that he’d blown being in the show. He was so upset about the chances of being cut from the show that nothing else mattered to him.

I spoke with the administrator and we worked together to make sure that the kid could be in the show. I spent some time with him to talk with him about how he can lengthen and even eliminate his fuse by breathing instead of punching. We have worked on breathing every day.

This kid is one of my leaders. He keeps track of the other kids; he helps out ahead of the show. He comes in early. He was the instigator of kids that wanted to dance and sing before our performance on Friday night.

Yes. Theatre can change lives.

I tease them about that awful last note, but this video shows why Baltimore TheatreWorks is needed in our schools.

 

Rain Pryor and Baltimore TheatreWorks News

Rain’s show was highlighted once again in the New York Times Theater Listings:

★ ‘Fried Chicken and Latkes’ Rain Pryor, the daughter of the comedian Richard Pryor (who died in 2005), stars in this effervescent solo show, which recounts her upbringing in a biracial household (her mother is Jewish) in Beverly Hills, Calif. Ms. Pryor, who sings and portrays a range of characters (including, poignantly, her father in a spot-on impression) is an ebullient performer with a robust singing voice. She lives in Baltimore now, but her outsize personality is built for Broadway (1:30). Actor’s Temple Theater, 339 West 47th Street, Clinton, (212) 239-6200, telecharge.com. (Webster)

And, just after this, Rain delivered the keynote address at the Urban Child Symposium hosted by the Center for Families, Children and the Courts. Keep a look out for news about a published version of the speech. It was also filmed so we’ll see if we can get a link to that. It was very well received and Baltimore TheatreWorks made new friends and partners.

We are already beginning to book programming in the fall, so if you are interested in working with Baltimore TheatreWorks, please use the contact form on the front page to drop us a note. We are especially looking for opportunities to start after-school drama clubs, either in school or community buildings. We’ve learned a lot this spring in our after-school program and look forward to integrating our programming more deeply into the school structure. But, here’s a video of our Oompa Loompas in music rehearsal this spring.

 

And, don’t forget. We are always trying to raise money to help fund theatre programs for kids in Baltimore. Each after-school program starts at $5,000 and the costs go up from there for supplies, equipment, rights, props, sets, etc. Consider making a tax-deductible donation to Baltimore TheatreWorks to help defray these costs.  Check out the different ways that you can make a difference through Baltimore TheatreWorks; you can even donate through an installment plant that automatically charges your credit card for a smaller monthly donation that can add up to a big difference.

 

Blogging about BTW Projects

Willy Wonka, Jr. at Mount Royal Elementary School

Baltimore TheatreWorks is very excited to begin our first after-school theatre production program at Mount Royal Elementary Middle School in Baltimore City. I have worked with the school for more than 5 years conducting residencies and professional development programs.

Rain is directing the show herself, working with Lexi Martinez as production and stage manager and me as producer.

On February 12, we held auditions at the school. We made 30 copies of our auditions forms, but had to keep visiting the copier as more than 60 students showed up to audition for Willy Wonka! Rain listened to them sing and recite a poem they had been working on. The next day, more than 30 more students showed up to audition! Clearly, there is a strong need at Mount Royal for our work.

Rain and Lexi have cast the show, creating a group of more than 30 very excited students who will be performing, designing and running crew for the show. Rain and Lexi held their first rehearsal this week and are so excited to work with such a talented group of kids.

Keep an eye out on this blog for updates and photos from the show. I am looking forward to reporting on our progress!

Joan