Why Master Classes?

Tia Fuller Master Class

When artist-in-residencies are welcomed into a school, these connections to local artists and community partners are inspiring to our students. Often, these residencies focus on the visual arts. Let’s raise the question to include the other art genres as well. Why not music? How about dance? Master classes in music, dance, or theatre are powerful, but unfortunately rare, opportunities for our youth.

Here are some reasons why we need to consider making master classes a priority for our students, and why it is necessary to increase the number of these opportunities now and in the future.

  1. Master classes are usually smaller groups allowing for more of a one-on-one experience. The teacher-to-student ratio is often low. Sometimes, students are able to dance or play for the professional artist, and the feedback that they receive stays with them forever as a dancer, musician, etc. The instructor is able to provide, “I see you, I hear you, here is what you are doing right and here is what you can improve on,” type of feedback.
  2. The creative process is touched upon. Digging into an artist’s everyday life allows students to be gentler on themselves when that sometimes negative inner voice comes out to play. There is no need for perfection, but rather the message of “you do you” is instilled in the students.
  3. Practice, practice, practice. A music teacher can try to send the importance of this message over and over until the cows come home, but when a well-known musician shares the need to practice with the master class participants based on his or her personal experience, it often means more and carries more weight. 
  4. In our schools, we often silo jazz from the orchestra and pottery from painting. Yet, when we place a spotlight on those who are living and breathing the life of an artist, master class participants discover that learning all of the arts makes them stronger. Our most recent outreach included a jazz workshop for local high school musicians with Tia Fuller.  Fuller’s life is jazz, yet her experiences as Beyoncé all-female band member are just a sliver of her complete life as a musician and artist. Earlier this winter, when the Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia graced our Harris Stage, it was clear that the performers’ dance background made them a stronger puppeteer.
  5. Often, master classes are available to students at no charge. Even when transportation is a challenge, students and parents have the option to car-pool or use Uber/Lyft, cabs, or public transportation.
  6. It takes just one meeting with a professional musician, dancer, actor, or artist for the path of a child’s life to change. He/she wakes up each day with a new life goal and an interest that brings him/her happiness, wellness, and the inspiration to be themselves.

Christina Ratatori
Wilson Center Education Director

Why the arts?

Our society is quick to respond to arts education naysayers with something that sounds similar to this: “The arts improve test scores,” or “Students who study music do better in math.” But what about, "The arts are a language when words are too difficult for expression of emotions," or "Art encourages children to learn about and appreciate other cultures"?

Our nation, our world has created many perplexing questions for our youth. And this confusion and sadness or anger, when kept bottled inside, is not in the best interest of our communities’ youth. Let us remember…

Why the arts?

Art heals.

More than a field trip?

Sixteen percent of Milwaukee third grade students are reading at grade level*. Let me write that again. Only sixteen percent of third graders in Milwaukee are reading at their grade level.  I do not write with fingers pointing; but rather to say, it takes a village. 

And this is why, now more than ever, it is important that arts education and arts curriculum enhancement be more than just a field trip. 

The majority of our Beyond the Classroom performances for schools are literacy rich, while providing students with performing arts experiences. For some children, the storyline in a play might really speak to them, and for the first time ever, they may enthusiastically pick up a book! For others, the excitement of the theatre might strike a chord. Or a student could be in awe of the costumes and begin sketching, or see a book come to life on stage and begin working hard in school with dreams of writing his/her own script one day. You just never know. 

Is Beyond the Classroom more than a field trip? Definitely.

*Milwaukee Succeeds, 10/15

A New Year, a New BTC Season ... Part II

A continuation of last month's blog post, where I picked my "don't-miss" favorites for the 2015-2016 BTC season ... which, if you haven't already guessed, is every single show we are presenting!

Jack & The Beanstalk | February 16-19, 2016 | 10am and noon
(Tales by the Fire performance - open to the public - February 20 @ 6pm)

Florentine Opera Company, Milwaukee

It is THE best when you have adults laughing and enjoying themselves at something they were hesitant to sit through. This opera experience will change your viewpoint of the often misunderstood art genre of opera forever. In addition to the eight daytime BTC performances, the Florentine also presents a family event in our Kuttemperoor Grand Hall as part of our Tales by the Fire series! If you have little ones at home and have never experienced Tales By the Fire, buy your tickets now for the Saturday, February 20, 6pm, performance at www.wilson-center.com/family-series-1516 or by calling 262-781-9520. It is a pure delight to see our smaller guests march right up to our fireplace with pajamas on and blankets in hand. With cookies and juice to end the night, we promise that your imagination, heart, and belly will be full!

Are You My Mother? | March 21, 2016 | 10am and noon
ArtsPower, New Jersey

Have you ever met anyone who has not liked this book? Me neither! I’m not sure if it was my love for animals or because I am adopted that I identified with the story so strongly, but as a little tike, this book was probably in my hands hundreds of times. When the ArtsPower actors take The Harris Theater stage, it will not be a play but rather a musical of this beloved story! What better way to get kids excited about literacy and books than through the arts.

Parsons Dance | April 8, 2016 | 10am (Note: only one performance)
New York City

Let me tell you. My dad had to sit through a lot, and I mean A LOT, of dance recitals over the years. For him to actually want to attend a dance performance is a big deal. So it speaks volumes about this company that he wants to attend this one—there will not be a tutu or pink ballet slipper in sight! I also am a huge fan of Parsons Dance, and not just because they have stolen my dad's heart. Their piece "Caught" is out of this world! If you have any athletes in your classroom (and with that said, dance is a sport and very athletic), those students will be blown away by the strength of this piece.  Also, the company members are tremendous educators. There is no question that this will be a child-friendly performance. What better way to introduce your students to the world of dance!

p.s. Join in the arts education conversation by following BTC on Twitter! @BTC_SLWCA

A new school year, a new BTC season!

Sometimes the question arises: "how do you choose each Beyond the Classroom season?" Let me tell you, there are many different moving parts, including: the schedules of national touring companies, when we have open dates in the Wilson Center calendar (programming and events take place here almost every day out of the year in our building!), and the calendars of the various area school districts. I can also tell you that we go after performances that offer the "wow" factor. For many students, this just may be the one and only opportunity for them to experience live art. And we want nothing more than to make that experience memorable!

With that said, here are a few of my top picks for this year's Beyond the Classroom season.

Wait! Wait! I can’t. I just can’t choose only a few. This will have to be part one of a two-part blog for the 2015-2016 Beyond the Classroom titles. (Sorry, marketing department.) (Marketing department's note: It's o.k., Christina. We agree with you. All shows this season are going to be amazing!)

Peter Rabbit Tales | November 9, 2015 | 10am and noon
Enchantment Theatre Company, Philadelphia

What the brochure and website do not tell you is that our Kuttemperoor Grand Hall outside of the Harris Theater will be filled with the world of Beatrix Potter! Photographs of Potter with small creatures and costume sketches will help you celebrate Potter’s 150th Anniversary. Even Emma Thompson thinks you should go! http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-29408192

Goodnight Moon & The Runaway Bunny | January 27 & 28, 2016 | 10am and noon
Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia

If you joined us for last season’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Eric Carle Favorites, you know that words can't adequately express what an experience our classroom audiences are in for. Mermaid Theatre celebrates beautiful puppetry in an extremely child-centered way. Picture books are brought to life in gorgeous, artistic ways. Stunning.

Harriet Tubman & The Underground Railroad | February 12, 2016 | 10am & noon & 5:30pm
Theatre IV presents Virginia Repertory Theatre

Our children need us as adults to share with them positive, powerful women heroes. And it is important that these heroes come from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. Yes, this is history coming to life on the Harris stage; but more importantly, the storytelling of such an unbelievable journey is an important inspiration to us all.

Please join us this season, and bring the gift of the arts to your students/sons/daughters/grandchildren/nieces/nephews, etc. The experience just might encourage them to pick up a book, or maybe even uncover an interest in the arts that will last a lifetime!


p.s. Follow us on Twitter to stay up-to-date on all things BTC and arts education! @BTC_SLWCA

Arts Camp 2015: The Art of Nature

It is 8:30 a.m. on a Monday morning. The school bus rolls up, and many faces stare at me with mixed emotions. Some are smiling and very eager to hop off the bus, while it is crystal clear that others are shy or scared—or perhaps both! This is the morning of the first day of Arts Camp: The Art of Nature.

Fast-forward to the last day of Arts Camp. There are feel-good sticky note messages covering the camp walls, and all 60 campers are wearing warm fuzzies (think yarn pom-poms hanging like necklaces), hopping and laughing as part of the all-camp mini impromptu dance party that marks the finale to the week. 

The transformation that happens during Arts Camp is due to so many factors—sometimes it is a strong connection with a high school volunteer who becomes a camper’s personal cheerleader; other times, it is the “aha!” moment when a camper tries theatre or dance for the first time. And despite what the instructors know our campers are capable of achieving, there are still those shining moments when each camper blows us away—maybe they learn choreography so much more quickly than we expected, maybe they make really insightful comments about an art project, or maybe they are incredibly enthusiastic for the critters they have captured in their bug boxes.

But whether the transformations are big or small, one thing is for sure—the campers who come to us on the Monday morning are not the same kids who leave at the end of the week! Each transformation is a result of the time they have to build positive relationships, take risks, try new things, express themselves, discover success as a group, and participate in days packed with creativity.

It sounds cliché, but the campers feel free at Arts Camp. They get to be their true selves, and it is amazing to observe their talents, challenges turned to triumphs, and (most of all) their love for the arts and nature. After almost 20 years in education, our campers are the happiest kids I have ever been around.  But really, it is my heart that is the happiest because I know each camper’s experience will stay with them for a lifetime.

—Christina Ratatori (aka: "Miss Christina"), Education Director, Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts; Director, Arts Camp: The Art of Nature

An Interview with Arts Camp Volunteers

It was a day after Arts Camp: The Art of Nature had wrapped up last summer. The high school volunteers and I had just finished our end-of-the-day meeting. As I sat at my desk, I heard jazz. I assumed that our house manager was setting up for an evening event and had turned on music in the lobby; I soon realized that two of our Arts Camp “Green Shirts”—aka high school volunteers—had stayed behind and were in a whirlwind jam session. Brandon, a student from Waukesha North High School, was playing his saxophone while Dante, from Milwaukee High School for the Arts, decided to hop on piano. I didn’t find out until a year later that that moment would turn out to be quite memorable for both. Brandon had never found himself in such an improvisational duet, and Dante knew that what had organically happened was a special moment.

I recently had an opportunity to “talk camp” with both of them. Whether you are a high school student interested in applying to be a Green Shirt at Arts Camp 2015, a parent who is considering registering your student as a camper, or would just like to reminisce about your own wonderful camp memories from childhood, I am sure you will enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it!

If a high school student is on the fence about applying to be a Green Shirt (student volunteer), what would you say to him/her?

Dante: I experienced things that I have never done before. It’s amazing to see how kids’ minds open up.  The whole nature hike thing…  I’ve never done that—ever!

Brandon: I had done camp counseling [at another organization] in the past. I was a group leader, and I didn’t like it. I was on edge about applying. This camp was different. You really get a chance to spend a lot of time with a certain group of kids and get to know them.

Why should families sign up their child for camp?

Brandon: It’s a totally new experience. Know they will be in a totally safe and encouraging environment. Kids don’t even know what they are interested in until they try it. This camp allows them to discover their interests. You can tell when something really clicks with them!

Why do you think kids connect with the arts?

Brandon: Art is a way to find what you enjoy. One interest leads to another. When I was a kid I saw my music teacher play all of these different instruments, and it blew my mind.  Kids need to experience art. It opens up a whole new world.

Dante: I feel like everybody is different. The arts are a way to express yourself in your own way.  Everybody connects with something. If you have the right mindset, you can have a lot of new interests.

Are there any camp stories that really stick out in your memory?

Dante: I remember this very clearly. We were outside during free time, and some campers found a spider—a giant spider. All the campers were so fascinated by this spider. They ran from outside to inside to find Miss Pat [nature specialist] to tell her and find out more about it. 

What is your favorite part of camp?

Brandon: There is so much I like about camp! I really enjoyed it.

Dante: The last day when we do the performances. I love that day! Everybody gets to come out. But playing with Brandon was number one on my list.

Remembering back to your improvisational duet last summer, can we book you both to play for the campers this summer?

Dante: I would love that!

Brandon: I think the kids really enjoyed the Green Shirts sharing their talents. To see them do their art encourages them to pursue their own interests.

Brandon is attending the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in the fall for music education. Dante is enrolled in the Air Force Academy and later on down the road, plans to study music at a conservatory. They are currently making plans to attend one another’s music recital at their schools.

The Arts: Leveling the Playing Field

What do we do about students who are below grade level? For some, the answer is to test, test, and test again. What do we do for our students who are second language learners and their first language is not English? Often, we do the same—test, test, test. A recurring theme popped up as we completed our last week of 2014-2015 Beyond the Classroom programming in the schools, in our Center’s creative spaces, and on our stages: those who struggle in the classroom—for the reasons mentioned above—are able to level the playing field and discover the feeling of success through the arts. Everyone is included, all are engaged, and the feel of community is heightened. 

Through the arts, a blind student is able to feel the texture of tissue paper in his hands and add pieces he created to a small group collage. Through the arts, students who usually take the sidelines in the classroom turn into leaders as they choose key pieces for a group mosaic. And through the arts, a special education student who usually sits in silence with an aide can write just one word that wraps up an all-class poem in the most perfect way.

Can you imagine day after day feeling lost in the shuffle? Not able to participate to the world around you? Now can you imagine how it feels when someone takes the time to show you how you can contribute? Lets you know that your voice matters? Throughout this year, I have observed the smiles, pride, and happiness that resulted from our BTC art sessions between students and our teaching artists—and they were much bigger than any score on a test.  We must remember that the arts bring understanding and empathy, collaboration and kindness into the lives of our youth.

As we draw the curtain on our 10th anniversary season of Beyond the Classroom, I want to send a very special “thank you” to all of our Wilson Center teaching artists who brought much joy to the students at our partner schools throughout this past year. You amaze me!

— Christina Ratatori, Education Director

Shining Bright with the Nunziata Brothers

Today, I was at Whitefish Bay Middle School with two very special guests from NYC—Will & Anthony Nunziata. As I arrived at the school (well before my caffeine had kicked in), all I could remember was how middle school years are… well, awkward. Beyond being ridiculously self-conscious in middle school, I was a geek with braces and slicked back hair, a pony tail, and no cool points to be had.

Perhaps the students I had the opportunity to work with today feel the same way, but as the Nunziata Broadway-singing powerhouses put some of the school’s eighth grade chamber choir students in the hot seat, all I saw were bright, shining stars. Having prepared a Broadway favorite, each young artist had two opportunities to sing solos for the Nunziata brothers—in front of their peers—and received feedback both times. The bravery of these students was jaw-dropping; I felt like I was in a Broadway audition rather than a middle school music room. And the difference between try number one and try number two demonstrated not only the Nunziatas’ musical talents, but also their passion for working with students and their ability to inspire students to push themselves beyond what they might think they are capable of doing.

So much of what I observed at today’s outreach opportunity reminded me that students can… no, WILL rise to new levels if an educator or coach or teaching artist truly enjoys what they do and is able to share that love with their students. I watched the dedication and passion of their choir director Jeff Shoemaker. I watched the eighth graders realize how much they love to sing. And I watched the arts demonstrate themselves to be an essential ingredient to get through the middle school years.

Here’s to Mr. Shoemaker, Will, Anthony, and all passionate arts educators! You brush aside the curtains on those awkward childhood years and encourage students to bring their bright, shining selves into the spotlight. Shine on!

—Christina, Education Director

A Dancer's Journey: An Interview with Emily Schoen

We couldn't be more excited to welcome Brookfield native Emily Schoen back to the Wilson Center—where she will perform as a member of KEIGWIN + COMPANY. Emily attended the the University of Arizona, where she was graduated with honors in Dance and Nutritional Sciences. Dance Magazine chose Emily as one of their “Top 25 to Watch” in 2011. Emily is now a New York City transplant where she teaches, choreographs, and presents work. She is a current member of KEIGWIN + COMPANY and is also the Artistic Director/Choreographer of Schoen Movement Company.

KEIGWIN + COMPANY will be performing on our Beyond the Classroom series (for schools) on Friday, February 20, and will work with students from Trowbridge School of Discovery and Technology, Milwaukee High School for the Arts, Brookfield Central High School, and Milwaukee Ballet II throughout the week as part of our arts education community outreach programs.


WC: How did you first get started in dance?

ES: At age 4, I was taking gymnastics. The classes weren’t going well, apparently, because they were during my nap time, so my mom found out about a local dance studio – Accent on Dance – from the other moms at the gym and she switched me over. It was a perfect fit, and I stayed there until I graduated high school.

WC: When you were a child, who was your biggest dance inspiration? Who is your inspiration now, and how do they inspire you?

ES: I didn’t know a lot about dance icons or dance history when I was growing up, so my biggest inspirations were the older girls at the studio. The first professional dance company I saw was Parsons Dance at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts when I was 15. That was hugely inspiring to me. I recall sitting in the audience thinking, “I can do this.” It may have been that moment that I decided to pursue dance as a career.

I have many current dance inspirations. I admire the work of Hofesh Shechter in London and Crystal Pite of “Kidd Pivot” for their inventiveness of movement vocabulary and relevancy to the current dance scene. I admire Doug Varone for the passionate all-encompassing way he approaches dance making, and I love Larry Keigwin for the lightheartedness he brings to his work and life.

WC: Can you share one of your favorite memories of working with young dancers, either as a teacher or as part of KEIGWIN + COMPANY's education programs?

ES: I love teaching. My favorite memory of doing so was when I co-taught a class with Larry Keigwin for three weeks at the Bates Dance Festival. Larry was still recovering from an Achilles’ tendon rupture, so he brought me along to help out with the class. I loved seeing a consistent group of students for a longer period of time — watching them learn, adapt, and come out of their shells. By the end of the festival, I felt like Larry and I really knew all of the students and they really knew us. The teacher-student divide dissipated as we all grew comfortable working together.

WC: What achievement in your career are you most proud of?

ES: Last year, I received a surprise invitation to present my own work at the prestigious Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. To do so, I launched a major fundraising campaign and had to run all aspects of a company – business planning, rehearsing, directing, tour coordinating – for the first time. When the performance came, I recall watching my dancers/friends on stage and feeling so full of pride and joy. I thought, “this is the coolest thing I’ve ever done.”

As a dancer, my favorite moment was performing with KEIGWIN + COMPANY at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. The show was a new partnership between the National Symphony Orchestra and current American choreographers. We performed on stage with a 120-piece orchestra behind us. The power and vitality of that number of live musicians was unforgettable. I can still feel it.

What advice would you give to students (and maybe even to adults!) about pursuing their dreams?

I would say that you have no choice but to pursue your happiness. What is a life without joy? Once you remove that choice from the equation, then it’s just logistics: one step at a time, one project after another. Don’t paralyze yourself with the idea of the future.

(WC = Wilson Center, ES = Emily Schoen)

Bringing Magic To Our Community

In kicking off our new Beyond the Classroom blog, it is only appropriate to write about Kevin Spencer, who was the first performer in the Wilson Center’s new Family Series. Presented at the Wilson Center on November 8, Spencer’s Theatre Of Illusion is one of the largest theatrical illusion productions in the world. In addition to performing his spellbinding stage illusions for millions of people in more than 19 countries, Kevin is also dedicated to traveling the world to offer workshops, such as his program Hocus Pocus, to individuals of all ages and abilities.

Thanks to the support of outreach sponsors Lynn Chappy and Moore Oil, we were incredibly fortunate to have Kevin as part of our most recent educational outreach programming at the Wilson Center. He arrived a day early so that he could work with Life Navigators, a Milwaukee group whose mission is to improve the quality of life for individuals with developmental and related disabilities. That afternoon, Kevin traveled to Wedgewood Park International School to lead workshops that focused on team building and increasing self-esteem and focus.

I knew from the first second I met Kevin that he was special. Prior to the start of Life Navigators workshop on the morning of November 7, he didn’t want to chat with staff, and he didn’t want to sit in his ‘green room’ and sip coffee. I observed as he walked straight to the room that would soon be his workshop to introduce himself and meet each and every person from Life Navigators. His enthusiasm and genuine interest were contagious. Soon, the room was smiling and laughing and wanting to do well for every magic trick he introduced us to.

Some people are born to be teachers. They have characteristics that can simply be put into two words—the “it factor.” Teaching others comes naturally to this individual, and students can sense their sincerity in a heartbeat. The love to lead and inspire is usually woven into some level of humor and/or entertainment factor. In observing the workshop, I could see that one of the world’s natural-born teachers is Kevin. Is he patient? Check. Able to connect with others? Check. Instills high self-esteem in his students? Check. Were the students challenged? Absolutely. All engaged? Every single one. Who says learning needs to be drill and practice? Oh, wait. There was plenty of practicing. You just didn’t realize it at the time. A good teacher makes you forget you are learning: “discovery” is the focus.

Kevin Spencer, you are magic!

— Christina Ratatori, Education Director

Note: Kevin recently announced he is leaving the stage to devote his life to education full-time.  He travels the world teaching and uplifting all he comes in contact with.