SCHENECTADY When you hear “Proctors,” the first thing you might think of is great Broadway musicals, definitely the venue’s drawing card.
But a huge part of Proctors’ mission is educational outreach, from school day matinee performances to after-school media programs and a variety of other offerings in between.
Each year, Proctors works with more than 40,000 teachers, students and youth from throughout the Capital Region.
Abram Lansing Elementary School in Cohoes is just one example. “We’re constantly, as a school community, trying to find a way to give our students as many real world experiences as possible,” said Principal Cliff Bird. What’s available at Proctors fits the bill.
Bird creates a schoolwide initiative around a Proctors show. Two years ago, the whole study body went to see “The Lion King.” The field trip to the performance was the culmination of activities around the show, not a one-time experience.
Proctors staff helped the school get grants to fund the activities and connected the school with artists from around the Capital Region. Percussionists came in to familiarize students with the music. Eba Inc. danced with students. An artist helped every student and adult in the school to craft African animal masks, which were later displayed at Proctors.
Work on display
“We made sure that they walked by their display so that they got to see that all their hard work and creativity was there for people to see,” said Jessica Gelarden, education program manager at Proctors. By the time students went to see the live performance, they were thoroughly primed for it.
“I’m a big proponent of not just dropping in on something like that — kids have to be prepared,” Bird said.
Last year the school went to “Shrek” and this year it will be “Mary Poppins.”
“The coolest thing is the opportunity we’ve had to see productions and connect with artists that no elementary school would have an opportunity to become involved with,” Bird said.
While live performances at the historic theater are admittedly a highlight, Proctors offerings go far beyond that. Grace Ng, a sixth-grade teacher at Paige Elementary School in Schenectady, has worked with a variety of Proctors education programs for the past seven years. Her students have gone to see performances, and artists have come to her classroom to present workshops on poetry, video monologues, poetry tiles with clay and printmaking, drama and acting. The Mop & Bucket Company has also done improv workshops with students.
All of the programming is curriculum-based. “Whatever we did in the school or at Proctors, it connected with some kind of a novel, and it usually connects with a performance,” Ng said.
The connections help students get excited about what they’re required to read. “It’s tough to get them to read a book and really enjoy it and not have it be a chore,” Ng said. The arts-based, hands-on activities that students participate in through Proctors education programs heighten students’ interest and offer an alternative way for students to connect with the literature if reading and writing isn’t their thing.
“It actually is pretty amazing to see the students change because it really encourages them to think outside of the box, and it shows them an amazing way to put these novels into life,” Ng said. “The kids actually want to read, and they make connections with literacy,” Ng said. It’s good for teachers, too. “It helps us inspire kids and helps us think and teach a little differently, too,” Ng said.
The arts-based programs stimulate students in a different way and help teachers to present literature in a way that engages students. Gelarden said programs can be structured around curriculum and are designed to teach students in creative ways. “Knowing that you can be creative and make something out of it helps you in every aspect of your life, and we hope we can instill that in them,” Gelarden said.
Shows to go
If a school cannot bring students to a performance, performances can come to the school. Proctors is managing partners with Capital Repertory Theatre, which presents its own shows. The “On-The-Go!” program brings actors into schools. One offering in the current school year is “Shakespeare The Remix,” which compares Shakespeare’s works with hip-hop and slam poetry, along with music. Capital Rep also offers matinee programs at its theater.
Another one of Proctors’ offerings is its “Open Eye” project, which includes its “MediaWorks” program that integrates media arts into the classroom, the Training Institute with classes in video television production, and the After School Media program where students create television shows, short films, interviews with local leaders and animation clips.
Proctors also runs the School of the Performing Arts, a summer program where students work with experienced musicians, dancers, producers, choreographers, and directors. “All the camps are really popular,” Gelarden said, noting that the program has expanded every year. Students are exposed to dance, set design, scene making, music, and other disciplines required for a musical production. A highlight this past summer was the Jazz Institute, where students learned to play jazz music by ear and met special guest, jazz musician Ray Vega.
The four-story GE Theatre is another opportunity for students.
Funds for screenings
“We have a lot of funding for schools to see a film on the GE screen,” said Gelarden, noting that even without funding, the film series are affordable. Proctors is developing a library of curricula-based films for students. For example, this year, students can come to see “Lewis and Clark: Great Journey West” or “Wildest Weather in the Solar System,” among other selections.
In a time when arts are being cut from school budgets, Proctors helps schools continue to offer students arts-based experiences
“Field trip money is tight, if schools have any at all,” Gelarden said. Proctors staff works with educators to determine what their obstacles are in being able to participate, such as funding for transportation, and offer solutions.
There are scholarships and grants, and Gelarden said that corporations are willing to help out with funding for the schools.
Part of Proctors’ mission statement includes being “a catalyst for excellence in education,” which it continues to do with its ever-expanding education programs. “We’re concerned that we’re able to fill the gaps of what can’t happen in schools right now,” Gelarden said.