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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Lexington Hosts American Alliance for Theatre Education 25th Annual National Conference


By Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2012, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Thursday's session led by Looking for Lilith members.
Photo by Dawn Schulz Campbell.

As the 25th Annual Conference American Alliance for Theatre & Education came to Lexington August 8-2, local arts groups from around Kentucky took a central role in organizing and facilitating the four-day event. The host was Lexington Children’s Theatre, headed by Jeremy Kisling, but Louisville was also well represented by several organizations.

Participants in the StageOne session. Photo by Keith Waits.

By the time I arrived on Saturday, there was considerable buzz about the presentation from Looking for Lilith that took place on Thursday. The schedule had opened with a day-long pre-conference on anti-bullying in which the Louisville-based group participated; and they followed up the next day with a full session devoted to their award-winning, interactive and multi-media production Choices: an interactive play on cyber-bullying and teen suicide. Lilith co-founder Shannon Woolley describes how sharing work on a topic with other groups helped clarify her own company’s achievements: “At the pre-conference on addressing bullying through theatre and drama, which was hosted by Lexington Children's Theatre, we were able to learn a great deal from other companies around the country who are doing similar work and [we] were interested to learn that Lilith's work is unique in its specific address of cyber-bullying!”

Actors Theatre Education Director Steven Rahe and Associate Education Director Jacob Stoebel both served on the AATE Conference Committee. On Thursday, Mr. Stoebel facilitated an Idea Slam in collaboration with Rachel Hull, who is the education director of the Dallas Theatre Centre. Mr. Rahe also co-facilitated a Kentucky Theatre Artists lunch discussion along with Andrew D. Harris of StageOne Family Theatre. Additionally, all four of Actors Theatre's education interns served as Conference interns.

Steven Rahe of Actors Theatre at the
AATE Conference. Photo by Keith Waits.

Mr. Harris was back on Saturday as StageOne conducted a lively session illustrating the Eco-Drama classroom experience they have been taking into third grade classrooms for ten years. Developed with and initially funded by Louisville’s Operation Brightside, the well-structured program was presented by Teaching Artists Linsey Gessner, Andrew D. Harris and Talleri McRae as a group activity heavily reliant on active participation from attendees.

After some brief but necessary introductory speeches, the 16 individuals were up on their feet, involved in a simple illustrative exercise of passing items around in a circle that represented the elemental ingredients of any theatre arts group: the “heartbeat,” or mission; the schedule; and the all-important funding. The ice-breaker was just a warm-up for the final result, in which the room was divided into three groups, each tasked with developing their own presentation contrasting renewable vs. non-renewable energy resources. The freewheeling responses were thoughtful and inventive and were presented with a bravura one might expect from theatre educators.

Students from Kentucky Country Day featured in the
costume design session. Photo by Keith Waits.

Finally, as Saturday sessions came to a close, Kentucky Country Day showcased their costume design department with a parade of costumes modeled by students. The emphasis was on flexibility and adaptive uses of individual pieces that could be used on a variety of ages and make fast changes easier. That the presentation was one of the few instances where students had the opportunity to be involved underscored the educational mission of all the companies present.

Overall, the conference seemed to be viewed as a great success by attendees, with Lexington receiving high marks as a warm and congenial location even though it is smaller and somewhat off the beaten path of previous locations. (Washington, D.C., is scheduled to be the host city for the 2013 ATTE Conference.) Steven Rahe was impressed with the participation by various Louisville groups, a sentiment echoed by Ms. Woolley: “We were thrilled and honored to have such an important national conference here in our own backyard, and we’re proud at the good showing that Kentucky artists made!” 

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