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Karson St. John, Teaching Artist for Playwrights Project

May 13, 2011

Karson St. John has been a Teaching Artist for Playwrights Project for the past few years.  She is also a local actress, and can currently be seen as the Emcee in Cabaret at Cygnet TheatreCabaret runs through May 22; you don’t want to miss it!  We’ve asked Karson for some feedback on her work as a Teaching Artist–there are some great insights!

 

Are there any interesting success stories about particular students who benefited from the program?

Some of the highlights for me have been helping the students find their voices to work through big issues in their lives.  This semester, I have a 9th grade boy who is writing a scene about two college-aged guys who develop a friendship after meeting one night in a Denny’s restaurant.  It seemed obvious to me that these two characters had romantic feelings for one another, but the playwright was insisting they were just looking for friendship.  With some encouragement, the student started to open up to what he really wanted to talk about, which was romantic relationship between these two guys.  By understanding that the world of this play is a safe place to explore issues that don’t necessarily making any reflection on the playwright personally, the writer is free to explore any topic that they may be curious about, without being judged.

 

Have you come across any surprising scripts?  And why?

One student at iHigh  this semester is writing a fascinating Sci-Fi piece about time-travel and women’s rights.  Unlike anything I’ve ever seen–really creative and interesting.

 

Are there any specific challenges in the classroom?

Involvement from the classroom teacher (or lack thereof) can sometimes be a challenge.  I have been fortunate this year to have had to very supportive and involved teachers who have helped propel the students to their fullest potential. 

The size of the class can also be challenging.  When the class is very large, it can be very difficult to connect individually with the students, and to give them appropriate feedback and encouragement.

 

How are the playwriting residencies successful?

The students are finding their voices and creating art!  By combining their writing skills with their creativity, they are able to produce a concrete piece of work that comes to life when the scripts are in the hands of the actors.  How empowering for them . . .

 

Do you learn anything new after teaching a residency?

I always learn something new after teaching a residency.  Whether it’s a new activity, strategy, or method to managing time, I always write notes to myself so I can incorporate what I’ve learned into my future residencies.

 

You’ve worked in some non-traditional school sites, such as Pacific Ridge and iHigh.  What has that been like?

I really enjoy the non-traditional schools.  iHigh for example, has been a joy this year because we have ended up with a small group of really dedicated students.  We’ve been able to sit in a circle each class, just five students, the teacher, and me, and really dive deep into their work and their scripts.  They’re working together, reading each others’ plays, giving feedback, and asking questions to the group. 

There is something really special about having the chance to dig in to each piece of work and have the time to connect with each student individually.

 

You are also a professional actress, does this have an effect on the students you teach in our playwriting residencies?

I think being a professional actor somehow legitimizes me to the students . . .  They see that I am making a career in the theatre, so they buy in to my expertise.  They also really look up to the actors who come into the classroom, who are always so great and helpful.

Thanks, Karson, for your excellent work as a Teaching Artist!

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