On July 6-8, 2016, the Jazz Drama Program presented its second annual Summer Jazz Arts Institute. The focus of this year’s institute was on training teaching artists to employ pedagogies developed by the Jazz Drama Program into their work. This year’s institute was expanded to three days in collaboration with LaGuardia Community College in Queens and Lehman College in the Bronx. This year’s core faculty included: Jazz Drama Program Managing and Artistic Director Eli Yamin, JDP Board President and Dance Director Shireen Dickson, JDP Board Member and SJAI Co Chair Tom Dempsey, and theatre teaching artist April Armstrong.
The first day of this year’s institute was dedicated to introducing concepts related to the work of a teaching artist. Eli Yamin opened up the institute framing an overview of what goes into being a teaching artist. The audience assembled for this day was diverse in age, race, and experience. The group included college students, professional artists new to teaching, experienced teach artists and arts administrators.
Additional workshops were presented on the first day in the following areas:
- Developmental/Behavioral Stages of Development – Shireen Dickson
- Acting Warm-Up – April Armstrong
- Vocal Warm-Up – Eli Yamin
- Dance and Music Performance – Eli Yamin, Shireen Dickson, and Tom Dempsey
- Acting – April Armstrong
- Dance – Shireen Dickson
- Storyville, a jazz musical – Lisa DeSpain – LaGuardia Community College
Photos by Leslie Thompson
As the institute moved into its second day the program moved to Lehman College in the Bronx. Here our newly indoctrinated teaching artists met up with other artists to continue our journey together of exploration into effective ways of utilizing the pedagogies of the JDP in their respective fields. The day began with Jeanie LoVetri, founder of Somatic Voicework(tm), who led the group in a through presentation of her ground breaking vocal teaching method. Participants included both novice and experienced singers. All were left with a greater understanding of her approach and a deepening of their own individual vocalization practice.
Participants transitioned from the Somatic Voicework program to learning “A Healing Song” from the JDP production “Message From Saturn”. This was led by Eli Yamin and jazz vocalist Antoinette Montague. Through the energy created in this experience an impromptu performance and exploration in vocal improvisation organically developed. Participants found themselves transported to a creative space where they were able to explore jazz improvisation through vocal performance. The energy created in the room allowed for a healing presence to be felt throughout all of the participants.
Additional activities in Day 2 included:
- Tap Dance Workshop and Historical Overview – Shireen Dickson
- Acting Workshop – April Armstrong
- Improvisation Workshop – Tom Dempsey
- A reflection and performance of “A Healing Song”
Overview of Drama Workshop with April Armstrong: Theatre improvisation games and exercises along with journaling was used to explore students’ ability to express themselves before an audience and deepen their understanding about theater as a tool for creative teaching. Acting is Storytelling through characterization, plot, setting and interaction. Equal parts can be found in jazz music as well. Jazz groups deal with the same concept often asking the question: How do you know when to go and out and shine or when step back and support?
The workshop explored the questions: What draws us to acting as a medium?
How can we translate our love for acting into concrete tools for teaching young people? What skills do you need to be a good actor? How are communication, eye contact, cueing and timing used by a group to enhance a piece of drama or music? Participants in the Drama Workshop worked with Tableau, Stage Picture, Journaling, Active Listening, Working with Imaginary Objects, Character and Changing Feeling Centers, Dialogue/Monologue and Improvisation.
April began the warm up by asking for group participants to volunteer to be leaders in a call and respond manner; first with movement only, then adding and sound. April then used a clapping game for focus and unity of the group. April lead an icebreaker called Sha-boo-ya, Roll Call where each participant made up a short 4 line rhyme about themselves which was shared through by a stomp and clap rhythm. Other exercises included were; Counting the Eights (for perking up the energy), Permission (for practicing non-verbal cues and communication) and Elbow Partners ( for getting to know people in the group).
During the workshop participants were asked to journal about a time when they felt like a “fish out of water”. They were given a partner and asked to share their stories. Then, joining another set of partners, each group chose a part of the most compelling story to present. A blues song was introduced to be incorporated into individual group’s presentation if desired. The groups set about to design, practice and present their 2 minute story-improv presentations utilizing theater tools that were introduced. We concluded with questions, reflection on the individual work as well as the format of the workshop and take-aways.
Photos by Leslie Thompson
The climax of the three-day Institute was two-fold. A master class with award winning author and musician, James McBride in the morning and a performance by all participants of A Healing Song with singing and dancing in the afternoon.
James McBride said “Story is where the muscle is,” and made the strong case for songs in a musical needing to emerge from a strong story. He guided the group to see how a good story presents a “normal world” disrupted in some way. This disruption is experienced by a character with a particular point of view. Once these ideas were established, participants were invited to create a song from the point of view of a particular character experiencing such a disruption, drawing on text from a mundane article on page A9 of The Daily News. It was striking how varied the songs each group came up with to the tune of “Doxy” by Sonny Rollins. James emphasized again and again the need to establish a clear point of view of the character and making everything connect in good story telling. He said, “You want to learn how to write a song, go to a diner and listen to people talk.” He also said “Artists are like dinosaurs, walking alone.”
In the afternoon, participants collaborated to stage and sing A Healing Song, from The Jazz Drama Program musical, A Healing Song, by Eli Yamin and Clifford Carlson.
Photos by Nisha Sondhe
What participants said…
What is the most effective part of SJAI?
That we are professional artists.
The respect given to and from ALL the teachers in the room. The thoughtfulness.
Getting all the different teaching artists together and learning with and from each other.
Somatic Voicework, developmental stages, learning about how “Storyville” came together.
The collaboration and creation of a strong community. Also, being surrounded by people who weren’t trying to prove anything.
For me the most effective parts was the participations in the physical exercises the dancing the acting the singing culminating into a final musical performance. I also got some good insight as to a method of writing a song which is something that I never really tried to do. I have written many poems but have not attempted to make them into a song for any type of musical performance.
1) Short periods of instruction followed by hands-on experiential exercises — this combination was excellent for disseminating knowledge and then allowed participants to assimilate and own that knowledge. 2) working in groups with other artists 3) the atmosphere created by instructors facilitiated creative exploration and is an excellent model to emulate in other teaching and coaching environments
The way that jazz can be used by people (myself included) unfamiliar with the form. Breaking it down to approachable ways to begin working with it in our bodies.
The most effective part of SJAI was learning ‘A Healing Song’ and being able to confidently vocalize and physicalize the song. Everything about the song helped color my experience during SJAI – personally, as an artist and as an SJAI ensemble member.
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