Teenagers (a workshop tale)

I've had a blast the last two summers working as a summer teen camp counselor. I was working with middle school age kids (11-14), and there is something so vastly different about working with teens from working with school age kiddos. They are more familiar with the laws of life, and are more readily available to push them, test boundaries, and thus learn more about the world (whether that means bending rules or regulations that the adults have put in place for safety). While most people shudder when thinking about teenagers in their formative years, I am not one of those people. 

Teenagers are our ticket to the future. And if we can't open a wing, an arm, and welcome them into adulthood with gratitude, then we aren't doing our jobs as humans trying to make this place one we want to live in. 

I'm also a fan of their ability to understand everything we (adults) have to say. Explaining concepts to youngins, while I still love explaining things, can result as a fruitless endeavor. 

Being able to "break it down" with teenagers, to be real with them is such a gift. When I was between 12 and 18, I looked up to adults that were knowledgeable, open and welcoming of my questions, and that seemed "human". A human that erred, a human that laughed, and human, that had passion. And so I strive to be all those things to the budding youths that I have the pleasure to work with.

Granted teen camp is such a different atmosphere to a school environment. But that doesn't mean learning has to be any less fun. Learning a subject with the expectation of a good grade is so trivial in some cases. Americans love to live by progress, and how can we track it other than with calculation, and recording? I understand tests, and grades as a device to document and demonstrate ability. But as an artist, my personal skills as a teacher lie in letting students explore. 

Outside of camp I had the lovely opportunity to work with a couple groups of high school students learning about theatre arts. The current play in production was a Commedia show so appropriately I was able to conduct a mask making workshop. Previously I had worked on some local theatre productions as a prop master, and a set painter. My tie with this school was not only that I had been through the drama program as a student, but the last 2 shows I assisted with the production as a set painter. 

There is something really rewarding about being able to work with the students after being the "set fairy" who just painted at odd hours with her headphones in and kept to herself. Being able to walk them through a process of creating something that was entirely their own was very cool to watch. Not only that but laying the plaster foundation of the mask was something they had to entrust to a partner. As a high schooler, "touching" another person is still really taboo. However, in theatre we have to be able to follow through with trust exercises as its important to know you have a crew to support you. How can you teach that from a book?


The outcome was great not only being able to see what the students created, but being able to learn more about them, it wasn't just silent work time, I was part of their dialogue. As I am still a young person but no longer a teen I hope my concepts of the world were something they could relate with but see as realistic too. I need to help bridge the generation gap as much as I can while I'm in this age bracket. I couldn't be more thankful for this workshop and chance to teach.