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I really appreciate Playscripts and their work toward creating better theater and theater experiences for all. Jay Muldoon Theater Teacher, Fairfield, OH
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Teacher Spotlight: Juliette Beck—Public Academy for Performing Arts

In this monthly feature, we chat with teachers from around the country, picking their brain about their theater program and the art of teaching theater. This month we speak with Juliette Beck of Public Academy for Performing Arts in New Mexico, fresh off their run of Deborah Craig’s Orphan Trains.

TheatreDSCF0667How did you decide to teach theater?

I am a performing arts nerd. I grew up studying art, ballet, rock ’n’ roll and theater.

What do you love most about teaching?

I love being able to create art with my amazing students. I love seeing their confidence grow and seeing them go out into the world and make it a better place through the arts.

Your theater program is part of the Public Academy for Performing Arts.  What makes your program unique?

The Public Academy for Performing Arts is a public, college-prep charter school for grades 6–12. We offer regular core academic classes, AP classes, dual enrollment with colleges, and arts courses in dance (ballet, contemporary, flamenco, jazz, hip hop), music (vocal performance, choir, orchestra, band, piano, guitar), film & media, theater, theater make-up, musical theater and art. Our teachers, staff and administration are dedicated to academic success and artistic excellence. It’s an awesome community and I am honored to be a part of it.

You work with students from sixth to twelfth grade.  What kind of growth do you see in students from middle school to high school?

It’s so exciting to see students grow over the course of the 7 years in their student careers at PAPA. This year’s seniors were in 6th grade when I started teaching at PAPA. I am very proud of them and their accomplishments.

What is your favorite age group to teach, and why?

I enjoy teaching both middle school and high school students for different reasons. Overall, I really like working with young artists and their positivity.

TheatreDSCF0655How do middle school and high school students benefit from performing arts classes?

Theater can change the world! Even if my students don’t pursue the performing arts as a career, they will always be able to carry the confidence, compassion and team work skills that theater teaches into any career.

What drew you to the story of Orphan Trains?

I love history, historical dramas and ensemble theater, so this script really spoke to me. I’ve been wanting to direct this show for several years and it was a great choice for our middle school play.

How did you prepare middle school students for this play’s heartbreaking subject matter?

The subject matter of this play is tragic and heartbreaking, but it also shares a strong legacy of forgotten history and hope. I teach dramaturgy to my students and add a research component to our rehearsal process.  We viewed primary source documents from The Children’s Aid Society, reviewed train maps from the late 1800s, and even studied the child labor movement (including Newsies! The Musical) to understand the true background of The Orphan Trains movement. We also journaled and reflected about the characters and historical elements of the play.

How did you get students into the head-space of orphans at the turn of the 20th century?

In addition to the dramaturgy research mentioned above, we also created a character analysis for each character, viewed fashion and clothing from the time period and created adoption forms & travel maps for each character.

Why do you think Orphan Trains is relevant today?

Orphan Trains is still relevant today, as we still have large numbers of children living in poverty, foster care and/or experiencing homelessness. Also, the recent news regarding unaccompanied minors and their stories are very similar to the stories of the children in Orphan Trains. It’s important that we remember to create & share compassionate art about these experiences.

TheatreDSCF0656What was your favorite moment of the rehearsal process or production?

Overall, my favorite moment was when my students fell in love with this script, which was after our first table read.

What did your students learn from Orphan Trains?

I just asked them today, and this is a summary of their answers: We learned that history isn’t boring. We learned that historical dramas can be interesting. It wasn’t just us, the actors, who learned, but our audiences learned, too. This is part of history that we didn’t know about, and most people still don’t know. We learned that we should be more thankful for our families and the opportunities that we have. We learned how much the world has changed. We should continue to look for hidden or forgotten history. We don’t know everything. We should look for more true stories like Orphan Trains. Theater can be a fun way to learn about history.




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