This year, Education at Roundabout celebrates its 20th Anniversary. Since 1996, Education at Roundabout has served as a national leader in arts education, using theatrical disciplines to create responsive programming that serves students, educators, early career professionals, and audiences. To celebrate this milestone, we asked members of the Education at Roundabout community to reflect on how Roundabout’s programs have impacted their lives.
Roundabout Teaching Artist Leese Walker was one of the company’s first teaching artists. Below, Leese reflects on how Education at Roundabout and her career have grown over the past twenty years.
When I landed in the field, it was still the wild west. The term “teaching-artist” was not widely known, we didn’t yet have affinity groups or Master’s programs devoted to the form, you just did it. My first gig in NYC after college was an internship at the Irondale Ensemble. This was ’92. I bought stamps, did bank runs and taught. Taught? I was assigned as a “shadow” to a more experienced teaching-artist and our job was to perform theater games at a violent school. There was no training. I was struck by how often the police were there hauling someone out. One day when we arrived, there was an eery feeling in the hallways. Few students were there and soon, we realized, no teachers. When we got to our room, we learned that there had just been a riot. We launched into Zip, Zap Zop and off we went.
I spent 2 years working for Irondale and in that time, filled a mental rolodex full of theater games. Although we didn’t fill out assessment reports or align with standards, I logged how each game affected the participants – what skills it honed – what other games it worked well with. I spent the next three years freelancing as an actor. I realized early on, that I liked teaching a lot more than waiting tables. By 1997, I was on the roster at: Circle Rep, ENACT, Manhattan Class Company, National Shakespeare Company, Judith Shakespeare Company, TDF and Theater for a New Audience (TFANA). In ’97, two big things happened. I founded my own company, the Strike Anywhere Performance Ensemble and the Education Director of TFANA, Margie Salvante, brought several of us over from TFANA to launch a new education program at Roundabout. Margie was intelligent and driven. She was interested in quality pedagogy. The early years at Roundabout involved all kinds of experiments. We were trying to figure out how to align with teacher practice. We adopted the teachers’ lexicon, set up baseline measures and benchmarks and tested ways to track growth. It was exciting.
Over the years, Education at Roundabout went through different leadership but what stayed consistent was the attention to quality programming and a sense of community amongst the roster. There were many tears shed during the years when we practiced “boot camp” – having adult actors perform “challenging student behavior” while novice teaching-artists battled it out in the shark tank. Those were not our prettiest days but we learned a lot. I think what has always been exceptional about Roundabout, is the camaraderie among the TAs and the attention to craft. We developed the methodology over time, developed protocol as a group. That shared leadership engenders a stake in our collective success. When I look at the vast reach of the department now, how many students we touch, the diversity of programming, it is staggering. To realize that 20 years have passed is surreal. Having had a hand in shaping what I believe to be some of the best teaching-artist practice in the city makes me tip my hat to those early bronco days and thank god for the long ride. Yeeeee-ha! Onwards!
Education @ Roundabout