Stories

The Impact of Investing in Human Capital

By Jamie Roach, New Victory Teaching Artist

Thanks to the generosity of The Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation, we’ve created New Victory SPARK, or “Schools with the Performing Arts Reach Kids,” an innovative and robust multi-year arts program specifically designed for schools underserved in the arts. With the esteemed research firm WolfBrown, we’re also measuring and analyzing the “intrinsic impact” of this program. The following piece is the second in a four-part story about our initial findings.

Students involved in the SPARK program in their classroom

Two years ago, The New Victory asked its teaching artists about joining the research team. The offer was a little mysterious—some of my colleagues joked about putting on “white coats over their plaid pants”—but the chance to stay engaged and gain new skills was intriguing. For many teaching artists, the only chance you get to “grow” is to add more gigs or become an administrator. But this unconventional investment in human capital has turned out to be beneficial to the research and to my own professional development.

What I realized is that, as a theatre teaching artist, I have many of the traits that make for an effective researcher. Specialized expertise in the field—check. Keen observation skills—check. The ability to make sense of complex human interactions unfolding—check. The habit of showing up on time, with props, ready to dive in—check. For example, one of my jobs as a researcher was to ask students to improvise the end to a short story they had seen on video. Right away, my theater instincts told me that students were overwhelmed by the task and not able to engage fully. Drawing on my teaching artistry, I knew that if I gave them clear one-step directions on becoming the character (e.g., “Okay, get in his last position, start moving like he did”), students would be able to take off. I kept it neutral (after all, I was the researcher not a fellow actor), but I found a way to launch their performances—possibly in a way that few PhDs would have hit upon.

And the consequences flowed the other way as well: being a researcher informed my teaching artistry. As a researcher, I had the luxury to witness all the nuances and micro-narratives unfolding in a classroom. I can see a lesson starting to implode: a broken pencil, a boy with no way to sharpen it, frustrated, who then distracts another student, who then throws the unsharpened pencil at a third student and ka-boom, the theater lesson is over. I feel like I’ve developed a sixth sense for that first moment and ways to dive in and turn it around—for myself and for my colleagues. One day a fellow teaching artist opened up about feeling disheartened: “I don’t know what happened today—one of the most focused students was totally checked out!” As the observer, I saw tiny behaviors he missed among the 35 children. That student had been following closely the whole while, whispering responses to the friend with his head down on the table recovering from an earlier incident.

This chance to become a researcher has also changed my understanding of how impact actually happens. Getting the chance to witness a particular student over the course of a year illuminated the way that progress occurs: two steps forward, one step back and less linear than it is layered. I now think and respond with that developmental map in mind.

With the SPARK project, the New Vic invested in developing a new kind of human capital: teaching-artist-researchers. We got the rare chance to dig deep. The theater got a trove of insights. We are both like miners who get to keep all the gold we’ve discovered.

 

 

Jamie Roach Headshot

Jamie Roach is an actor, playwright and educator. Graduate of NYU’s program in Educational Theatre and Circle in the Square’s acting conservatory, Jamie has performed in myriad film and theatre productions from Shakespeare to musicals. As an educator, Jamie works with multiple New York-based theatre companies, including The New Victory Theatre, Lincoln Center Education and New York Theatre Workshop. He also loves working with adults, using theatre as a teaching tool with such organizations as the Federal Reserve Bank and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Jamie co-created and co-led a playwriting program at the Bowery Men’s Homeless Shelter and has assisted in facilitating physical acting courses with prisoners at Fishkill Correctional Facility. Jamie is a company member of theatre company, Accomplice, that customizes site-specific theatrical experiences for company team-building, working with clients such as Disney, Facebook, Google and Goldman Sachs. Jamie is currently performing as a Vaudeville clown at the Metropolitan Opera House. www.jamieroach.com

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