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Priscilla Kane Hellweg: I’ve had more teachers in fact, say, “Oh, well you can do that because you’re an artist, but I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” And within an hour, teachers are creating. So we spend a lot of time actually training teachers on how to bring the arts into the classroom, with everyday learning.
Anita Walker: Hello, I’m Anita Walker, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Welcome to Creative Minds Out Loud. And joining us today is Priscilla Kane Hellweg, Executive Artistic Director of Enchanted Circle Theater, in Holyoke. Welcome aboard.
Priscilla Kane Hellweg: Thanks Anita, it’s great to be here.
Anita Walker: You are doing amazing work in Holyoke..
Priscilla Kane Hellweg: Thanks.
Anita Walker: …through theater and the arts, with children and families. But first, tell us how you got into this work.
Priscilla Kane Hellweg: Ooh, a hundred years ago..
Priscilla Kane Hellweg: …I was a student at Hampshire College, and I was studying theater arts, education and healing. And.. I got, you know, once you’re in it there’s nothing else you want to do. And so I sort of found my life’s work. And I was graduating from Hampshire, I was teaching a class. And I had two people taking the class, it was a community dance class on theater arts and healing. And two people in the community were taking the class, and they were the founders of Enchanted Circle Theater. And they said, “Hey, when you graduate, do you want to join us?” And I thought, “Sure, I’ll do this for a year or two.”
Anita Walker: And it’s been..
Priscilla Kane Hellweg: 34 years.
Anita Walker: 34 years.
Priscilla Kane Hellweg: Ah, 36 years, I have to keep counting.
Anita Walker: <laughs> The calendar keeps moving, whether we like it or not.
Priscilla Kane Hellweg: It’s true.
Anita Walker: So tell us about Enchanted Circle Theater, tell us about the work you’re doing in Holyoke.
Priscilla Kane Hellweg: Well.. Enchanted Circle is dedicated to engaging, enhancing and inspiring learning through the arts. And we do it everywhere and anywhere, with everyone we can. So literally, we do a tremendous amount of work in Holyoke, but we’re also throughout the state. We work in classrooms, Pre-K to 12, working in the classroom with students and teachers. Integrating theater arts with math, science, social studies, English language arts, everything. We work on the stage, we are a professional theater, creating original plays on cultural and humanity themes. Site-based tours, we’ve just opened a new one at the William Cullen Bryant Homestead. And we are a community-based arts organization that works with Social Services. In the mental health field, in the foster care world.. literally everywhere and anywhere, using theater arts as a dynamic teaching tool.
Anita Walker: Why does it work so well? You’ve been doing this for a long time. It’s a field of practice.
Priscilla Kane Hellweg: It is a..
Anita Walker: It isn’t an accident..
Priscilla Kane Hellweg: No.
Anita Walker: …it’s very intentional.
Priscilla Kane Hellweg: And we didn’t actually know it was a field of practice when we started. And it is, it’s.. a brilliant field of practice. And to answer your question, why it works, is it makes.. learning relevant, and makes learning personal. In everything we do, we are working on creative expression and artistry, is one channel. We are working on academic understanding and comprehension, and unpacking knowledge, is the second channel. And the third channel is communication, and 21st century skills of collaboration, and listening, and self-efficacy, and creating a whole person. And so it’s the dynamic between those three things that makes whatever we’re doing, makes people get invested and involved and hooked. It’s a hook, the arts are a hook into learning.
Anita Walker: Are you successful with people who might bump into your program and say, “Uh, but I’m not an artist. I’m not an actress, I can’t sing, I can’t dance, it’s not for me”?
Priscilla Kane Hellweg: Yes, yes and yes.
Anita Walker: <laughs>
Priscilla Kane Hellweg: I’ve had more teachers in fact, say, “Oh, well you can do that because you’re an artist, but I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” And within an hour, teachers are creating. So we spend a lot of time actually training teachers on how to bring the arts into the classroom, with everyday learning. So that it’s not– it doesn’t take stopping everything, and creating a production that’s going to take so much time. You can do it while you’re working on fractions. “Alright, can I have five bodies in the room? Would, you know.. one third of you, or..” I guess I shouldn’t have said five..
Anita Walker: <laughs>
Priscilla Kane Hellweg: …if I say six it makes it easier for you to imagine. You can’t see my hands on..
Anita Walker: “I’ve got six people in the room, a third of you stand at the side.” That’s a math problem.
Priscilla Kane Hellweg: That’s a math problem. And in fourth grade, it’s a math problem, so one, you see whether they understand it or not, right? If four of them go– It’s also a social problem.
Anita Walker: Hmm..
Priscilla Kane Hellweg: Who’s going to move? So there’s a lot of nonverbal communication, and a lot of listening and collaborating, and giving each other turns. So we’re developing whole human beings, who can think creatively, act creatively, and solve problems creatively.
Anita Walker: Some of the young people that you work with in Holyoke, probably come to you with a lot of challenges in their life that they bring with them.
Priscilla Kane Hellweg: Right.
Anita Walker: How do you handle that? How do you work with that?
Priscilla Kane Hellweg: I was just speaking with the curriculum director in Framingham an hour ago, and she was asking me the same question. She said her teachers are really struggling. So we’ve just developed actually a full-day professional development for her staff, on social, emotional strategies in the classroom. How to help teachers work with the students. Because it’s a hard time in education right now. The level of need, the range of student skills, the level of trauma sensitivity.
Anita Walker: This is one of the things that we at the Mass Cultural Council so value in the work that you’re doing, and other in this field we call “creative youth development,” is you’re not looking at the child and saying, “You need to be fixed.”
Priscilla Kane Hellweg: Right.
Anita Walker: You are putting them in a position to fix the world around them.
Priscilla Kane Hellweg: That’s right.
Anita Walker: And that’s a completely different dynamic, isn’t it?
Priscilla Kane Hellweg: Right. And they have a lot to say, and they’re really smart. And we have a lot to learn. And so they become.. our teachers, right? But not sort of.. you don’t just drop it in on them. There’s lots of leadership training, and opportunities to be able to articulate in a constructive way what they know, and what they think, and what they want others to think about. There’s a whole process of learning, and it’s, you know, a shared leadership really. It does give me hope for the future. So..
Anita Walker: Priscilla Kane Hellweg, executive artistic director of Enchanted Circle Theater. One of our Creative Minds Out Loud.
Priscilla Kane Hellweg: It’s so great to talk with you, thank you Anita.
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