Arkansas Schools Tour 2011 - The Poe Show

Erika: Ah, the Arkansas Delta! I write this from our AWESOME digs in Augusta, Arkansas. We are staying in the ArCare guest house—a beautifully renovated Victorian home, restored to its original beauty but enhanced with modern amenities. We feel spoiled!

I am returning to this region as a teaching artist after a Shakespeare program I taught last spring. The program was an initiative through ArCare (an organization that was created to stimulate community growth in this region) and through a collaboration with the University of Arkansas and Trike Theatre for Youth. I return this time with TheatreSquared ‘s “The Poe Show,” and our friends at ArCare hooked us up with this beautiful home to stay in while we perform for the area schools—Augusta, McCrory, Newport, and Bald Knob. We can thank our friend Joy Lynn Bowen (education director for ArCare) for working so hard to help us book “The Poe Show” at these schools. She understands the value of arts in education and is the driving force behind these new programs and literacy initiatives here.

But “The Poe Show” is only the beginning of our time in the Arkansas Delta. We have so much planned for the schools here! Morgan and I will be returning for Word/Play, a playwriting residency that is a curriculum collaboration with high school teachers and designed to use playwriting as an access point to literacy. We will be returning throughout the school year to work with the teachers and their students in a series of workshops and site visits. We are so stoked—especially after meeting and working with the kids from McCrory and Newport in the post-show workshops today.

After each show, Morgan and I lead a “Poe Show” workshop. We use the tool of “tableau,” or frozen pictures, to retell Edgar Allan Poe stories and poems.  We teach the students how to create a tableau, and they, in turn, use that skill to adapt the poem Annabel Lee. After the students created the tableaus, we have a group discussion about the poem.  So far, it seems like the groups have a pretty strong grasp of the literature after recreating pieces of the poems through tableau. Each workshop has been sublime!

Today at McCrory and Newport, I was reminded why I love teaching in this area. These kids want this work! They are ready for new ways of learning!  And from our WordPlay meetings with the teachers and principals, I understand that literacy is weak in these parts. There is a need for an “out-of-the-box” approach to learning content. I sympathize with the pressure of testing standards, but I believe that if they made more time for creative exploration of the content the students must learn, their assessments would show an increase in literacy.

Tableau is an amazing way to assess a student’s comprehension of a subject matter. The teachers seem to all say the same thing: “I can’t believe those were my students!” But I can. 

I expect every group to have a breakthrough because, in my experience, every group has had one in some form or another. Whether I am getting the shyest student to perform with her peers or discussing a metaphor with a challenged reader, I am never surprised that theatre—or any art form—enhances a student’s understanding of the world, both in literary and life lessons.   That’s what we expect…because that’s why we’re here.