This past August, I had a very special opportunity to work with an entire district of amazing students during Shop Floor Theatre Company’s Schooled: The Groovy Projects. As an arts educator, I can attest that Beecher students are hands down some of the most motivated, energized, and willing youth I have ever worked with. From grades K-12, students were engaged in anti-bully and self-identity assemblies and artistic projects that celebrated the arts while instilling community pride. In addition, Schooled: The Groovy Projects provided Beecher students with the opportunity to creatively tell their stories while gaining hands-on experience working with the arts and professionals in multiple disciplines.
One of my favorite aspects of working on Schooled: The Groovy Projects was that it served as a culminating creative opportunity for the Beecher ninth grade students we worked with throughout the previous school year. A couple months prior, they performed my dance choreography at a multi-school district fashion show event. Yet, during Schooled, these students had the opportunity to create their own choreography, providing hands-on experience with the language of movement and dance. In just a couple hours, they collaboratively created a dance to perform during the music video shoot for “We Are Not Our Crime Rate.” They drew on movements and concepts from our lessons, as well as their own personal expression. Choreographing is not easy and I’m definitely proud of the work they created in such a short amount of time.
During filming, students gained many similar experiences required of professional performers today. As a dancer, I know it takes hard work, dedication, and practice to reach these goals. Having performed in a few music videos, I’ve waited long hours on set, stayed up all-night for video shoots, and danced while recovering from food poisoning. Thankfully, no one was sick during Schooled, but I can truly say that the Beecher students gained an accurate experience similar to what it’s like working on a professional music video.
Using multiple locations at the ninth grade academy, we filmed the entire video in just one school day. At each location, students were required to repeat their singing or choreography again and again in order for the camera to get the best shots and angles. Beecher students were committed and enthusiastic about all aspects of filming, and danced each take as if it was their best. With only one day, we made sure we had the best footage for editing because there were no return chances. In total there was an hour’s worth of dance footage, and only about twenty seconds actually went into the video, a very real aspect of working on professional videos.
In addition to filming the music video with Beecher high school students, Schooled: The Groovy Projects held a series of assemblies for Dailey and Tucker Elementary, and Beecher middle school students. The assemblies were full of music, singing, dancing, and messages about self-identity and learning to accept one another. It was rewarding to see the young kids participate, have fun, and be engaged with the content. Most importantly, they saw working artists as role models, letting these students know it’s possible to achieve your dreams if you focus and stay determined. Moreover, in my professional experience, I’ve never participated in leading a school assembly. I’m thankful to Shop Floor for providing me with the opportunity to learn from New York-based Groovy Projects Nate Lombardi in this aspect. Working with Nate, I learned methods for facilitating large numbers of students (the entire elementary school in some assemblies), as well as utilizing all of the arts to engage students in positive messages and life lessons.
In October, we premiered the music video to the entire high school, involving multiple students in a showcase performance along side performing members of Shop Floor Theatre Company and local professional artists including Gwen Hemphill, Mama Sol and Tha NUTS . From the sounds of their cheers and talking to them afterwards, I believe these students never had such a motivating assembly in their life. The best part is that they can view and share the video on YouTube, creating an extension of their experience with the project.
The arts have a profound way of bringing people together in times of trouble. Schooled: The Groovy Projects gave voice to a community of youth that currently have no outlet for their expression. I am proud to have been apart of this project that provided our youth with an experience they will be sure to remember their entire lives.
Shop Floor Theatre Company