Hear My Voice – January 2017
“By the end of it, I had a completely different perspective on how important our voices are, and how important art is”
“I came out with a deeper drive to keep sharing my story, voice and art”
“I got that even if you don’t have a huge voice, you can still impact people just as much as anyone else could, maybe even more.”
Almost 100% of students said they “strongly agree” to the following statement after participating in any of three cabarets:
- People my age are capable of accomplishing a lot when we work together as a group
- I am now more likely to try and get a group together to work on a project I am passionate about
- I can make my own work and get people to join me if I am passionate about my idea/what we are doing
- Overall take-aways:
- Enjoyment -> Confidence -> transference of confidence to other areas of life and artistic expression
- When given choice in what material is presented, more experience as an artist doesn’t correlate to more confidence performing it nor to more enjoyment
- Working with a group is the most challenging part, particularly when student led
“HEAR MY VOICE!” shouted a Green Room full of foundry10 young artists with their hands in the center of a pre-show focus circle just moments before the start of their Cabaret performance at Taproot Theater. This Cabaret featured songs chosen by the students and featured their stories as told by them through song. They performed for a sold-out house full of cheering friends, family, and community members. There were guitars, ukuleles, piano, duets, trios, joke-tellers, original songs performed live for the first time, and other songs performed for the first time in a professional theater setting. The audience was on their feet clapping, wiping tears, and cheering along with these brave performers. In each of the presentations, students told a brief story about why they had chosen this song and story to tell that night.
Theater has a way of drawing people together. Not only because of the rush of adrenaline that comes naturally, for most, from standing in front of an audience and performing, but also, in this particular cabaret, students had the added vulnerability of sharing stories of their own. Some because it was original work and others because it was material they specifically chose to represent themselves. Often times, performers have costumes and characters to dissolve themselves in, but at the Hear My Voice Cabaret, there was no such facade! The students were playing themselves telling these stories.
Our surveys showed a direct increase in student perception of their ability to create their own work. Both qualitative and quantitative data showed that doing the cabaret increased student confidence and inspired participants to start similar projects like this in the future. In the following graph (Figure 1) we see that 100% of students said that they agree strongly with the statements: “I can make my own work and get people to join me if I am passionate about my idea about what we’re doing,” and, “I now feel confident that I could put on my own show if given the opportunity. 82% of students strongly agreed with the statement, “I am now more likely to try to get a group together to work on a project I am passionate about.”
We think a large part of the growth in student initiative as shown in the above graph is related to seeing their peers in leadership. Taking a student-centered approach to the implementation of this cabaret event, music director Michael Nutting and director Chelsea LeValley, incorporated the student music director, Mitchell Beard, and the student director Lukas Poichbeg in as much of the production process as possible, before, during, and after the performance. “We want this to be training up the next leaders in the arts, supporting their individual voice and saying yes to their creative ideas,” said Chelsea.
At the performance, complete in bowtie and suspenders, assistant director, Lukas acted as host, delivering delightfully humorous interludes in order to introduce or comment on performances as well as taking time to ask the audience to be silent and listen to the voice within them. Students were moved by his speech and it was overall an uplifting moment of the night. The students wildly applauded their assistant music director and peer, Mitch, who played most of the music in the course of the night!
Nonetheless it wasn’t just the student directors who felt accomplished. Survey responses (Figure 2) from the student participants showed a positive correlation between both feeling accomplished at the event and also feeling their individual voice was heard and that they had represented themselves well.
We suspect, having students not only as leaders in the production team, but also having students have creative agency over the material they chose and how they presented themselves was a contributing factor to the feeling their voices were heard.
Participants felt a strong sense of working together as a team improved even though most performers were performing individually chosen material. Figure 3 shows the ratings items related to teamwork (“People my age are capable of accomplishing a lot when we work together as a group”, “I am now more likely to try and get a group together to work on a project I am passionate about”, and “I can make my own work and get people to join me if I am passionate about my idea/what we’re doing”) were strongly correlated.
We think this has to do with an innate sense of belonging that comes from sharing your individual story within a community. Researcher, Brene Brown puts it like this: “I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship” (Brown, B. 2015 April 7). The “Hear My Voice” Cabaret was designed to cultivate authentic story sharing not only onstage with the audience but offstage and behind the scenes with fellow artists. The three rehearsals leading up to the performance date were structured with this research on vulnerability in mind. During the final dress rehearsal, students sat in a circle rather than in a traditional proscenium style seating arrangement so that the person performing their song was a part of the circle rather than alone and being watched by a removed audience. After the performance, students raised their hands to share a positive “noticing” or “observation” with the performer. If they had an opinion they could say, “I have an opinion would you like to hear it?” If the performer said, yes, then that audience member could give them feedback that was less objective and more opinion driven. The structure of giving feedback caused students to have to think more deeply about what they wanted to say and sort of created a buffer for the bland feedback that can be confusing or hurtful rather than helpful.
An increased sense of belonging can correlate with personal investment and we see not only through the quantitative data but also through the qualitative observations that both were high. The structure of a programing allowed for a lot of student autonomy and may have led to increased enjoyment and investment not only in their performance but in the tiny community that was formed through the event itself. At the end of the tech day and before a shared meal, students gathered, arms around each other’s shoulders, and spoke words of gratitude into the center of the circle. Some statements that followed included the following:
Student director, Lukas, had his own reflections on the uniqueness of the experience:
“The Hear My Voice cabaret was an experience like no other. Rather than just being a cabaret showcase featuring the talents of young artists, it was a cabaret showcase that allowed students to express themselves in a safe and respected manner. One of the greatest things about the cabaret was the supportive audience that was able to calm the hearts and minds of the students. Having a supportive audience also allowed the students to tell their stories beyond the elementary level. They were able to use their voices and instruments to explore topics and open up conversations about the world we live in. Working on this cabaret provided me with insights such as how to produce, manage, and direct a small cabaret. The Hear My Voice cabaret allowed me to be a part of a change in our community which takes students from all diversities and walks of life and gives them the opportunity to share their story.” -Lukas Poischbeg, student director
This cabaret, like our others has had a positive effect on our community of students and been a generative launching pad for other start-up ideas. Lukas went on to host his own cabaret this past summer. Mitch recorded his own album of original works. Another participant applied and was accepted into the 5th Avenue Theater New Musical Writing Festival. She also completed her own new musical and is hosting a staged reading. Three other participants signed up for a new musical writing class at a theater company near their home and several others approached foundry10 with the desire to have support to start their own project. We are excited to continue to expand the ways with which we explore the impact of this model of a night of singing.