Teachers Go Back to the Source

By Simon Hodgson

The Rueff—a versatile performance space at the top of A.C.T.’s Strand Theater—is a blur of sound and motion. On a hardwood floor slightly larger than a tennis court, teachers are running and sliding. “Look at this, look at this!” yells one to her partner, pointing at a bank of cables behind a sound system. In the northeast corner of the room, another pair of teachers are racing toward the corner.

This year's Back to the Source participants discuss ideas with one another.
Photo by Thomas Moore.
The teachers are at A.C.T. for Back to the Source, a training program designed for teachers and teaching artists who use theatrical techniques in the classroom. The classes are intended to enhance teachers’ classroom skill sets, in part by reminding them of the thrill of learning. Today’s group is typically diverse, coming from as far away as Hawaii and as near as San Francisco’s Richmond district. A young guy in a green t-shirt with his hair in a bun is working with a man with side-parted, iron-gray hair. A lady in loose yoga pants and a bright pink cardigan gestures to her partner, an older guy wearing Nike shorts and a Wilford Brimley mustache.

This particular exercise is designed to practice how to capture someone’s attention and how to make anything fascinating. “One more minute!” calls instructor Matt Chapman. “You only have one more minute to share the wonders of this space.” The teachers rush pell-mell around the room, taking turns to share discoveries with their partner. Sixty seconds later, all is quiet. There are smiles from the 12 teachers, some with their hands on their knees, some gratefully exhaling. Chapman looks around at his class, eyes twinkling. “So what did you find?”

“Delight,” says one participant.
“Like I was transported.”
“It’s wonderful to get permission to feel this way.”
“Colors are brighter right now.”
“I like the idea of not know where it takes you.”

Chapman and his class sit on the hardwood floor and compare notes. “As a watcher,” he tells them, “it’s compelling. Each group that I saw was totally committed. There was an authentic quality to your engagement with your partner.”

Two teachers practice a theater exercise. Photo by Thomas Moore.
One teacher returning to Back to the Source says that she shared her new techniques last year with other educators at her school. She is not the only returning participant; several teachers in this group are on their second or third experience with the program. They come back not just to develop their classroom skills, but for the way the program revitalizes and rejuvenates them. Now they’re ready to take that energy back to their own students for the coming school year.

To learn more about Back to the Source or to apply for the program, check out our website at www.act-sf.org/backtothesource.

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