In this new blog series, Inside our Community Programs, we interview Arts Umbrella instructors who work in our Donor-Funded Community Programs. For many children, Arts Umbrella is their first experience with the world of art. Our Donor-Funded Community Programs harness Arts Umbrella magic and expertise, bringing free-of-charge, high-quality arts classes to Metro Vancouver’s underserved youth. To learn more about Arts Umbrella’s Community Programs, click here. Enjoy the third blog in this series as we interview Theatre, Music & Film Instructor, Matt Clarke.
Matt (he/him) has worked at Arts Umbrella since 2016. Over these last seven years, he has worked in the afterschool Creative Drama program at Lord Roberts Elementary, in partnership with the Vancouver School Board, assisted by Francis, at Lord Roberts Elementary for students in grades 6 and 7. Matt has also been co-instructing the Open Stage Pacific Storm program at Britannia Secondary School over the last 6 years with instructor Daryl Fretz. This is a full-year theatre arts program for students in grades 8 and 9. At Arts Umbrella Granville Island, Matt instructs Theatre Level 3 and Sketch Comedy & Improv Levels 1 and 2 Intensive Programs.
What can students expect from your Community Program classes?
“All of the programs I work in are yearlong and so usually, the first term is about team bonding and offering theatre foundations which are things like exploring space work, mime, and character action and environment. The second term is more geared towards developing skills and putting what we’ve learned together into scene work where we learn to express emotional change whilst showing our character action and environment. And, the third term is preparing for awesome year-end projects! We tend to go term by term in terms of planning and we like to leave decisions open to the group to see what they want to do/study. With the year-end show, it really depends on the group and if they feel ready to do a performance.”
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?
“Every school is so different. Some of the challenges can be getting kids to get off their phones, lack of engagement and participation, and finding ways to engage students in a way that feels inviting to them. We are very silly in drama; we take a lot of risks and do stuff that you would never do in another class. Creating a safe environment for kids to step out of their comfort zone can be challenging. But over the course of several weeks or months, seeing them come to the realization that this is a safe place for them to be themselves (even if they feel their true self is too much for their friends or their parents) is really rewarding.”
“Kids also have such busy lives and they want to do everything as they get excited about all the opportunities on offer and so it’s a big balance between asking them to commit to a program like this but then offering total forgiveness if there is something else in their life going on. There are always complex behavioural challenges too but that’s just part of building a team and making space for everybody. How can we find balance on the team when there is one kid who likes to take up a lot of space and another kid who doesn’t feel comfortable speaking up until there are 20 seconds of silence? We work hard to make space for all of these different personalities.”
What are some of the successes you’ve witnessed with students?
“I do a lot of improvisation and it tends to look like me explaining the rules of the game and just letting them play it. There is always a learning curve and those moments are really where you see them finding their groove. Within a silly improv game, they get to the point where they are all so fluid and unified. For me, these are the most satisfying moments. The energy at the end of the day when everyone is so connected is just amazing! It’s always exciting too when we get to open the doors to invite family and friends in to watch a little performance or to show them what we do in these classes. Seeing actors that 5 months ago wouldn’t join us in our check-in circle or speak at all during class, seeing them get up under lights and own that stage, play that role, it’s a total transformation!”
What are your future aspirations for your students?
“My daydream is that 10 years from now, I get to work with somebody that I taught in one of these Community Programs and they become a part of the theatre community. A more realistic goal is, because I work with a lot of students at the elementary/high school level, that what we do here makes their high school experience more driven by their own needs and their own sense of self-awareness. Through theatre, we can offer the social skills and self-awareness tools that help students get through high school, as it’s not easy for a lot of people and they are changing and going through so much! I hope they would find a drama class in high school and find me later down the road…”
What do you get up to outside of Arts Umbrella?
“I have my own not-for-profit theatre company called Little Mountain Lion Productions and we produce one or two shows a year. We do plays that overlap with film or literature somehow and all of our productions showcase youth and emerging artists. I also freelance as a producer, director, and drama/acting coach, as I’m trained as a performer.”
If you would like to support the development of Arts Umbrella’s Donor-Funded Community Programs, you can make a donation here. For questions about these programs or to inquire about community partnerships, please contact Kelsey Lee, Coordinator of Community Programming, at firstname.lastname@example.org.