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TBA Online: News & Features: July 2019

An Open Call Connects Teaching Artists To Employers

Wednesday, July 17, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
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by Rotimi Agbabiaka

Halli Gibson became a teaching artist in part because she doesn’t like to audition. However she couldn’t resist the opportunity to attend an event called the Teaching Artist Open Call, even if it sounded suspiciously like an audition.  

“When I moved [to the Bay Area], I realized very quickly that when you’re a teaching artist, as an independent contractor, you really have to find lots of people to work for to make sure that you have a nice full schedule,” says Gibson. 

Gibson was attracted by the event’s promise to connect her with several potential employers—theatre companies and educational organizations looking to hire teaching artists. She came for the contacts and ended up staying for an experience that went far beyond her expectations.

Halli Gibson.

“There was definitely that feeling of auditioning and yet it was such a unique format because you really got to show, unlike in most normal interview settings, not only how you work with your class but how you work with your coworkers,” Gibson recalls. 

At the open call, each attendee got three to five minutes to present a prepared lesson while the other teaching artists in attendance participated as students, with some of the observing education directors stepping in to participate if more students were needed for a particular lesson.

“Via your lesson plan and playing with others … by participating in everyone else’s lesson plan, you get an opportunity to demonstrate your character to your potential employers,” says Gibson.

The collaborative nature of the open call mirrors the spirit in which the event was created. Two years ago, a group of Bay Area education directors began holding these calls as a way of making it easier for teaching artists and the companies who would like to hire them to be in contact with each other. 

 

“A bunch of education directors came together and said, ‘You know what, we need to caucus.’” says Phil Lowery, education director at San Francisco Shakespeare Festival. “One of the things we realized is that we are all using the same really important resource, which is teaching artists.”

The coalition held its first open call in September 2017 and has had two others since then, providing an opportunity for teaching artists to do more than just send in a headshot and resume to prospective employers. The presentation of lesson plans is bookended by time for socializing and knowledge sharing. 

“It’s been great to have all these resources in one place at one time and to be able to interact, see [teaching artists] in action, ask questions, get the resumes … get to know people you are thinking of hiring,” says Lowery. “I find it extremely valuable from our perspective.”

The teaching artists find it valuable too—being able to have on-the-spot interviews and make connections that lead to employment. 

“It was such a great opportunity because the list [of employers in attendance] was so massive,” says Gibson. “Essentially through [the open call] I was able to work for almost a year full time as a teaching artist … and that was very exciting because so many of us in the arts tend to have our survival job.”

That period of full-time independent contractor work culminated in Gibson being hired as the theatre teacher at Cornerstone Academy in San Jose.

Companies that have attended past open calls include American Conservatory Theatre, Bay Area Children’s Theatre, Berkeley Playhouse, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, California Shakespeare Theatre, Marin Theatre Company, Red Ladder Theatre Company, Stage Write, and Youth in Arts San Rafael, among others. The organizers get the word out through emails to their listservs, through organizations like the Teaching Artists Guild and the Arts Educational Alliance of the Bay Area (AEABA), and on social media, which can attract participants in the nick of time.

 

Joshua Waterstone.

“About a year ago, I had recently moved to the Bay Area and I had been looking on Facebook for opportunities and saw a posting about a teaching artist expo that was happening at Berkeley Rep,” says teaching artist Joshua Waterstone. “I actually saw the posting that morning of the day that I was going to go and decided ‘Yeah I should do this.’”

Coming up with a lesson demo in short notice proved somewhat challenging.

“I teach a variety of subjects in theatre so I was trying to think of what would best show off how I handle a classroom, how I work with the subject matter, and how I explore an actors toolbox in a short amount of time,” says Waterstone. “And also some sort of exercise that hopefully not everybody is going to be doing.”

He settled on teaching an advanced improv exercise, which incorporated a variety of theatre techniques and allowed him to have fun with his fellow teaching artists. His demo led to his being hired on the spot by San Francisco Youth Theatre and subsequently working for Berkeley Rep and Cal Shakes after following up with them.

“I found the teaching artist expo to be a fantastic way to be introduced as an educator to a multitude of Bay Area theatres and teaching artist companies,” says Waterstone.  

Lowery and his fellow educators hope to make the open call an ongoing semi-annual event to coincide with the two major hiring seasons in the theatre education cycle—summertime and the beginning of the school year. Their next open call will be held on August 12 at Berkeley Rep. Potential participants can register here until August 5.

The organizing coalition plans to keep collaborating to elevate teaching artistry in the region. Future plans include establishing some standards and best practices for teaching artists; organizing professional development sessions on such topics as EDI (equity, diversity, and inclusion), neurodiversity, and trauma-informed teaching practices; starting a teaching artist open call in the South Bay; and coming up with an official name. So far members have called the group TBAE (Theatre Bay Area Educators), EDMU (Education Directors Meet-Up group), or, somewhat jokingly, CAMELS (Compassionate Artists Meet Every Long Standard). 

In the meantime they are gearing up for another day of connection and hoping for a large turnout on August 12.

“We really do want to see people and have people come out,” says Lowery. “It’s a great networking opportunity for everybody and probably the most efficient way of presenting a snapshot of who you are and what you do in front of people who can hire you.”

Rotimi Agbabiaka is the Features Curator for Theatre Bay Area. He is an actor, writer, director, teaching artist, and a collective member of the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Learn more about him at rotimionline.com