CODE Board Member Cameron Ferguson on her work with James Croker and Motus O Dance Theatre
As drama and dance educators, we often find ourselves operating as a one-person show. I call my department the bat-cave, as it is similar to a black box theatre, absent of windows and somewhat isolated from the rest of the school. Don’t get me wrong, I love my space, at times it feels like a little arts haven hidden away from the rest of the busy math and science oriented school. However, at times I feel a little starved for human adult interaction, and most of all, I sometimes reminisce about my pre teaching days where I was able to build shows with fellow artists. The excitement of creating something as a team and the ability to bounce ideas off one another was exhilarating to me. This need for artist collaboration and creation is not merely on a professional level, where some departments have department offices busting at the seems, in mine, you would be more likely to find me talking to my rubber chicken or having a debate with one of my commedia masks. Now while I know you are thinking this must make me a more colourful and engaging drama teacher, I can only wait for so long for the chicken to respond before the bell rings!
All kidding aside, in my now ten years of teaching, I was fortunate enough to find the solution to my one-woman show, the guest artist-teacher partnership.
In fact, I came into this partnership in my very first year of teaching. I was thrilled to have been placed in an arts school where my department head hired a guest artist to come in and teach movement to my drama class. This artist was James Croker from Motus O Dance Theatre. What I found most rewarding in this experience was what I learned from observing him teach the class. Ten years later, I am still learning from this partnership. James has a way of hooking the students within seconds. I have never seen anything quite like it. He begins each workshop with a quick discussion outlining his history as an artist. He does this with humour and sincerity. He then does a few quick demonstrations around the centre of gravity. He creates a warm and welcoming space where the students feel free to express themselves and to have fun while doing so. By the end of the introduction, James has the students doing vocal warm-ups in which they are often mimicking his own Australian accent.
Motus O Dance Theatre performs worldwide with great success, in fact they recently won the Artistic Company of the Year BC Touring Award. What I admire most about the work that James and Motus does however is their dedication to their own community. They have worked with organizations such as the Aphasia Centre in Stouffville, the Autism Society, and with Activist and Author Marina Nemat.
One such project brought James and Motus O into my classroom for the past 2 years. Through a generous Trillium grant Motus O was able to come into my DD drama class for a period of months. Together, Motus O and I were able to mount a full scale production that was entered in the Sears Ontario Drama Festival. It was in fact the first entry from a Special Needs class in the history of the festival. This past year we created a film title “Frankenbucket” with the class, it was an original parody of “Frankenstein”. This experience was so rewarding for the DD class. They had so much skill and creativity to bring to the project. The class was taught dance, photography, acting and costume design. It was simply wonderful!
Our friendship and working relationship certainly offered the students a rich and joyful opportunity, because that is really the best part about my partnership with James and with his fellow company members, beyond the skill that they bring , they bring a bottomless well of joy. When they are in my classroom, I am joyful, my students are joyful, and I am certain that Motus themselves are joyful. The work we create together is full of possibility and without boundaries.
I look forward to having James in again this fall to work with my students. I look forward to bouncing ideas off one another and to laughter and the satisfaction of seeing students engaged and happy. The guest artist, teacher partnership is an endless source of inspiration. James Croker will offering a movement workshop at the CODE conference this year. I encourage you to attend his session and experience this for yourself.
[Picture features myself and guest artists James, Cynthia, and Trevor from Motus O, as well as Sora Olah (also a guest artist) in a clown workshop taught by Christel Bartlese (who will be offering a clown workshop at the 2016 CODE Conference).]