At Irvington High School, pill clowning around is serious work. Teaching artists Jamie Coventry and Natasha Kaluza, salve from San Francisco’s Circus Center, visited Irvington High School’s Advanced Drama class on October 14th to lead a skills workshop designed to help students develop and perform waste reduction themed assemblies for younger students in Fremont. The visit builds on work started last year in a collaboration between StopWaste.Org, the Circus Center, and local schools.
The workshop included warm-ups and physical exercises to develop the young actors’ strength, balance, and flexibility. Advanced Drama teacher Linda Jackson-Whitmore reports that this work has expanded the physicality of her students and her program. In fact, many students are actively seeking more physical roles for an upcoming drama competition, “In the past, students really focused only on roles that required only voice and face. Now they are much more interested in finding roles that incorporate a wider range of physical motion,” reports Jackson-Whitmore.
Students learned proper techniques for lifting each other, building human pyramids, juggling and other skills associated with circus arts. “I hope to push the students to explore the limits of their abilities. They developed a strong script last year and I’d love to see them gain a full range of clown skills to incorporate into the act,” noted Natasha.
Although final performances that incorporate clown arts are full of pratfalls and other seemingly haphazard accidents, each skill and motion is carfully scripted and taught. As Jamie and Natasha teach the art to stacking humans one on top of the other, they shout out such instructions as, "Put your hands directly below your shoulder. Put your knees directly below your hips! This is the foundation to a strong pyramid," "Next one up, put your hand square on their shoulder, your knee directly on their hip- you want the weight to go directly to the ground in the sturdiest way possible." "You have to be safe- learning the proper technique makes this much easier!"
The Circus Center workshop was followed up by presentation from EarthTeam, an environmental non-profit organization. The presentation taught students core 4Rs concepts (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot) which will be followed up with a Waste Audit activity where students will investigate the garbage stream on campus to learn more about the challenges presented in the waste stream at schools.
The service-learning project aims to teach the Advanced Drama students new theatre skills as they investigate waste reduction themes in the production of an assembly performance designed to teach elementary school students how to practice the 4Rs. The workshops are also impacting Jackson-Whitmore. “It’s been fantastic to be reminded of how much clown and circus arts contribute to traditional theatre. It’s also raised my awareness about my own consumption. I’m trying my best to go green here at school and at home.”
As for Jackson-Whitmore’s review of Jamie and Natasha? “Having actual clowns come to work here is GREAT!”