A Juneau actor, director and performing artist taught Kodiak students theatrical storytelling last week. Ryan Conarro completed a two week artist in schools program that culminated with a presentation on Thursday.
The foyer of the Gerald C. Wilson Auditorium was abuzz with students from Kodiak Middle School. Groups of 7th graders put the finishing touches on a series of tableaux – the final product of two weeks working with visiting teaching artist Conarro.
“I am here as a theater teaching artist and we’re doing a project with middle high and high school classrooms on using drama-based activities for integrating with academic content,” he says.
Conarro has a rich background in theater, both as a teacher and performer. He has worked with the Alaska State Council on the Arts’ Artist in Schools Program for about ten years and taught in districts across the last frontier.
In Kodiak, Conarro had middle school students interview family members about their first job as part of the program.
“That’s related to their unit that’s happening this spring on career preparation,” he says. “And we’ve taken some of the stories from those interviews and dramatizing them.”
The students reenacted the stories through a series of tableaux. But what exactly is a tableau?
“A tableau is basically a picture formed with actors,” says 7th grader Eli Griffin. “It’s still besides the fact that you switch between scenes. You’ll have usually four or five people and you’ll take elements from the story and you’ll act them out silently in a picture.”
Griffin interviewed his dad, Kodiak Island Borough Assemblyman Aaron Griffin.
“He worked at Papa John’s Pizzeria. And then he went into the Air Force,” Eli says.
Griffin said his dad’s past with Papa John’s isn’t the topic of his group’s tableau.
“We’re doing one about a paper boy’s first job,” he says. “I’m a newspaper. I think that I play it awesomely. I just get to sit there.”
After a few final tweaks, the students hit the stage and their interviews came to life. Conarro narrated the first job accounts as the students shuffled into intricate positions.
For Griffin, the experience opened his eyes to a new form of acting. He said he’s always been a part of theater, but he didn’t realize the power of a solid position.
“I think it’s really cool to be able to act without actually moving and speaking,” he says. “It seems to me like it’s a lot more powerful.”
The Artist in Schools program is funded through the Partners in Education program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Alaska State Legislature, the Rasmuson Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, with help from the Kodiak Island Borough School District.
Conarro wrapped up his two week artist residency on Friday. During his time in Kodiak he also worked with high school students on dramatic representations of personal essays.