Welcome to our teaching artist spotlight series! Today we’re highlighting Margo Brooks, a theater professional whose SU-CASA residencies bring seniors and middle school students together to create performances based on their own experiences. Margo has been a teaching artist with BAC since 2016. Read on to learn about her most recent production with students and seniors in Brownsville: ‘Change is Constant… But Still We Rise’ A History Alive! Show About Immigration, Discrimination, and Aspirations.
How did you get involved with Brooklyn Arts Council?
I started with BAC when ESTA [Elders Share The Arts] hired me; BAC funded the program so they were aware of my work. I was leading an inter-generational program in Brownsville. A representative from BAC attended the final event and they sent a photographer. The next year BAC offered me an after school program in the Bronx. From that point on I was a BAC teaching artist.
What do you like about teaching inter-generational groups?
Personally, I prefer to work with adults, but those opportunities are few and far between. This is the only after school program where I get to work with adults. In the room, I enjoy watching relationships build between the adults and the students bonding with each other and across generations. Last year all of the adults became friends, and they still keep in touch with each other. The participants prefer to work with the other age group and will feel cheated if they are in a group with just their peers. Additionally, inter-generational programs build community. My participants come from the same area. The teens bump into the seniors on the bus and at the store. When you build a bridge between separate groups, it has an impact outside of our room that can be seen in the surrounding community. The students have learned about a lot of programs in their neighborhood, and the seniors know the latest trends in the area. I love seeing the ripple effects of the program.
What is your creative practice like outside of teaching? How does that inform you as a teacher?
I don’t have a creative practice outside of teaching. I worked for The Shubert Organization for decades ensuring union contracts were adhered to. I worked on Broadway for almost twenty years before I went to grad school to study arts education. I was familiar with arts education because I was a participant in a lot of after school arts programs growing up in New York. At some point I wanted to work on community art programs, so I took a volunteer vacation to teach art in Tanzania. I quickly realized I could be better at teaching, so upon return I went back to grad school. At no point while I was in grad school did I think I would give up opening nights, the Tony Awards, and cocktail parties to be a teaching artist. However, once I graduated the great white way didn’t shine as bright for me. I gave my regards to Broadway when I got a SU-CASA grant to work at a senior center. Directing musical theater with seniors is a lot more fun than watching musicals in a theater full of seniors.
The culminating event for your residency in spring 2018 was titled “’Change is Constant… But Still We Rise’ A History Alive! Show About Immigration, Discrimination, and Aspirations.”
What similarities and differences stood out between the experiences of the middle school students and the seniors?
The group chose immigration as the theme of our show. DACA and dreamers were in the news a lot at the time. All of the students were immigrants, and all of the adults had been born here. I realized the show would have a one sided point of view, since only the students had a first hand experience with immigration. I expanded the scope of the theme to include migration, since only one of the seniors was a native New Yorker; all had experience with moving to New York. The participants had Brooklyn in common. However, they have vastly different experiences in the same neighborhood. Seniors don’t hang out at the basketball park, and the students don’t go to the jazz shows in the area.
What projects are you working on now?
I take off 4-6 months a year. Right now I’m enjoying being the head of the Department of Leisure until my SU-CASA starts. As a lady who lunches, I spend my time traveling and being a tourist in New York.