New program teaches artists to teach

The Stratford Festival of Canada, York University and the Ontario Arts Council (OAC) will launch a certificate course in arts education on Feb. 11. The Richard Rooney and Laura Dinner Artist Training Program is a five-day course for artists who teach elementary and secondary students through the Stratford Festival of Canada’s Teaching Shakespeare School and other outreach programs. The course will be delivered by faculty from York University with guests from Shakespearience (a literacy program), the University of Waterloo and the OAC.

"Many of our artists are gifted teachers, but we recognize the need to give them specific skills and information to back up that natural ability," said the Stratford Festival’s general director, Antoni Cimolino. "I’m very grateful for the generosity of Richard Rooney and Laura Dinner, which has allowed us to develop this course for teaching artists."

"Many of the participants are established actors who have been working in schools for years," said Kathleen Gould Lundy, co-director of the certificate course in arts education, a course director in York’s faculties of education and fine arts and coordinator of Destination Arts (a joint venture of the two faculties). "During the course, the actors will be introduced to school policies regarding safety, information about child and adolescent development, and ideas about how to establish successful actor/teacher partnerships. The course has also been constructed to highlight some of the plays that are being performed at Stratford this season and will subsequently be taught in Ontario schools."

Right: Kathleen Gould Lundy

"This program is inspired by the successful partnership initiated by OAC and York last summer. We are delighted that the Stratford Festival wanted to bring this program to their talented artists," said John Brotman, executive director of the Ontario Arts Council. "Arts education is a priority at the Ontario Arts Council and its importance is reflected in our commitment to seeing arts education expanded throughout the province."

"From exploring an array of drama education structures to examining issues of diversity and equity in arts education and in the training of artist/educators, this certificate reflects contemporary educational practices which provoke questions and acknowledge the complexity of teaching," said Belarie Zatzman, associate dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts and co-director of the certificate course in arts education.

Right: Belarie Zatzman

The 30 participants in the certificate course are current and former members of the Stratford Festival company. "The reason why I teach Shakespeare is to watch kids get excited about something they thought was so hard," said Jeffrey Wetsch, a company member in his sixth season who will be attending the course. "Those are our next audiences, and when you see how excited kids get when we go into the classroom with them, it gives you hope for theatre, especially Shakespeare. I love it when they can show me something new about what I thought I had a grasp of myself. New eyes, new minds, always make Shakespeare more exciting."

Lisa Donaldson, a Grade 12 English teacher at John L. Forster Secondary School in Windsor, Ont., wrote to the Stratford Festival after participating in the Teaching Shakespeare School in 2005: "What an amazing experience this is. I can’t thank you and the program enough. I had a student visit me after school to say that she was actually not going to drop the class because of the workshop today. … My heart just soared."

The Stratford Festival created the Teaching Shakespeare School in 1999. The program provides elementary and secondary teachers with drama-based approaches to teaching Shakespeare in the English classroom and partners them with actors who help deliver these strategies. The teachers attend workshops in Stratford in August, then collaborate with their artist partners to teach a Shakespeare play to their students in the fall. The final stage of the program is a class trip to the Stratford Festival to see the play the class has studied. The Teaching Shakespeare School has reached almost 300 teachers and almost 14,000 students since its inception.

In addition to providing funding for the certificate course, the gift of $1 million from Richard Rooney and Laura Dinner, announced in May 2006, is allowing the festival to expand the Teaching Shakespeare School. This year, the program will be offered to 90 teachers (an increase from last year’s capacity of 60).

The Richard Rooney and Laura Dinner Artist Training Program runs from Feb. 11 to 14 and on Feb. 18.