A Handful of Residencies

Regular readers may remember I resolved to finish The Saltwater Twin and Other Mythical Creatures by the end of March and also that that was going to be a tall order. Well, I’ve made significant headway, but I’m not there yet. In the meantime, I thought I’d share some of my students’ work. I’m currently teaching five residencies with Chicago public school students who are creating theatrical performances from scratch.

On Saturdays I’m directing the CPS All City Theater Program which brings together teens from across Chicago. For this performance, we’re investigating maps. I was inspired by the fact that the students in the program come from neighborhoods all over the city as well as this quote I came across in my initial research for the residency:

One way to look at reading: as the lifelong construction of a map by which to trace and plumb what it has ever meant to be in the world, and by which to gain perspective on that other, ongoing map—the one that marks our own passage through the world as we both find and make it.
  —Carl Phillips, “Another and Another Before That: Some Thoughts on Reading”


These young theater artists have been documenting their own ongoing maps that mark their passage through this city, citing the locations that hold meaning for them and telling the stories those places have witnessed.

My students at Morton School of Excellence have dreamed up superhero alter egos. We’re creating a performance in which they transform from ordinary fourth graders into crime-fighting, villain-busting superheroes. They’re also writing about superhero qualities like courage, will power, brains and strength and how they’ve exhibited those qualities as the heroes of their own stories. In addition to the performance, we’re making books and superhero masks. The students are brilliant, creative, headstrong and boisterous. Very boisterous. Sometimes necessitating post-class Advil and/or cake.

I’m teaching a month-long playwriting residency at Westinghouse College Prep, conveniently situated just across Kedzie from Morton. The drama I, II and III students are writing their own plays, which they will self-produce. This week we’re doing a playwriting clinic in which we’ll use Liz Lerman’s inspired critical response process, which she calls, “a method for getting useful feedback on anything you make, from dance to dessert.” I find it helps both new and seasoned artists articulate their voice and get excited about the process of revising and honing their work.

I’ve had yearlong residencies at Darwin Elementary in Logan Square and Nobel Elementary in Humboldt Park through ASPIRA, a youth development organization and Urban Gateways Center for Arts Education.

My middle schoolers at Darwin read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (which you should read pronto if, like me, you dig a wildly creative and inspired YA novel) and adapted it for the stage. They’re now rehearsing and building monster heads and boulders out of paper mache.

My fifth graders at Nobel read Bridge to Terabithia with their classroom teacher. We talked about bridges, real and metaphoric; students wrote about the bridges that span the space between reality and imagination, kid and adult, Spanish and English. I assembled their writing into a script that explores the different worlds they bridge which they’re working on blocking and memorizing for our performance in May. Last week I asked them to design a costume sparked by a line or scene from the script. I told them they’d have to gather most of the pieces from home, but that I would hit the thrift stores and look for items on their wish lists to complete their looks. Here are some of their sketches along with the excerpts that inspired them.


YADIRA: My bridge takes me —

GREGORIO: Between America and Mexico. I am American during school and talk English and I am Mexican when I go home because I act and talk Mexican and also because I work very hard. I’m from a proud family of rodeo people.

GALILEA: My bridge takes me —

MARIBELLA: Between Spanish and English. A veces se me olvidan palabras en espanol y a veces se me olvidan palabras en ingles.


YADIRA: Kid to adult. Determination. Experiences. Succeed in life.

MARIBELLA: Follow your dreams.

JENNIFER: Being a kid is playing video games. Also pulling pranks and also having creations. Being a adult is being cranky and boring, also is giving life lesson like old grandparents. Adults are weird and very disciplined.

ALEX: Be born. Go to preschool. Puberty. You’re gonna get a moustache. You’re gonna grow tall.


FERNANDO, JOSELYN & YADIRA: My bridge takes me —

GREGORIO: From a newbie to a pro gladiator. I tried many techniques like attacking from the low. Then hitting him with my axe. They never worked.

GIOVANY: You’re still a newbie, man. Let me teach what a master can do.

GREGORIO: Prove it, gladiator. (They fight) Well, he beat me. Then I trained, trained and trained again. Let’s see who’s the real gladiator.

GIOVANY: Bring it on. (They fight.)

GREGORIO: So we tied. (They fight again.) Then I beat him. Yes! I won.

GIOVANY AND GREGORIO: I’m a better gladiator!


MARIBELLA: My secret place is magical, it is extraordinary. Flowers and butterflies. A forest and ancient rocks. I can stay all day and night. I can hear the birds and hear the waterfall. I can feel the water on my toes. The sun warms my skin.

GALILEA: From here to there. Gas station to your house. United States to Mexico. Real life to imaginary. Sad to happy. Morning to night. School to home.

MARIBELLA: No brother to having a brother.

GREGORIO: Bad at something to good at something.

FRIDA: Hate to love. Enemies to friends. Meeting someone to knowing them really good.

FERNANDO: Each bridge is different.

ALL: Cross over.


4 thoughts on “A Handful of Residencies

  1. You’re a busy lady! Interesting post–as usual. And it sounds inspiring to work with that range of young people.   xo Lauren  


  2. Love this. So significant to see all of this incredible work mapped out. No pun intended. Also love this: “Adults are weird and very disciplined.”


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