The Magic of Arts Education: Beyond the Stage at the Lied Center

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By Ciara McCormack

The Lied Center for Performing Arts at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) is a state icon for great performance. If you live in Lincoln, you walk by the massive theater day after day. Chances are you’ve been there for a dance recital, a Broadway musical, the symphony, a comedy show or the ballet. But you may not know the Lied has more than stage magic inside its walls; it also boasts a thriving statewide arts education program.

AdventureLied: Pretalks, Master Classes and FamFest

The first major pillar of the Lied’s Education program, known as AdventureLied, is rooted in activities that promote community engagement. Many of the opportunities this program offers are directly related to Lied Center Performances, including master classes led by performing artists, lectures and preperformance talks with experts in the performing arts. These opportunities offer more in-depth explorations of the artists the Lied Center presents. Pretalks are discussions that happen 30 minutes before each performance, led by local experts and, on occasion, the performing artists themselves. Pretalks provide attendees with insights into the context, background and artistic choices of each artist and production. Each pretalk is free to ticket holders for that night’s performance, and many theatergoers who attend the pretalks feel the experience enhances their enjoyment of the performance. The Lied also welcomes new speakers, and anyone who is interested in presenting may contact the education department to get involved.

Many of the experiences provided by AdventureLied are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for students and the community. In the 2011–2012 season the Lied Center partnered with Pilobolus Dance Theater, the UNL Dance Program and the UNL College of Computer Science and Engineering to explore ways dance and robotics can work together. Pilobolus Dance Theater is famous for its innovations in the field of dance and had recently created a piece called “Seraph” in partnership with MIT, which is performed by one dancer and two robots. While at MIT, UNL CSE Professor Carrick Detweiler had worked with the company on the creation of “Seraph,” and upon coming to the university, he suggested the unusual collaboration between Pilobolus, UNL dance and robotics students and the Lied Center. The result was a fascinating journey, where these different groups of students worked together with company members to create their own short original dance pieces involving flying robots controlled by engineering students. One student in the dance department described the experience as “Challenging! But totally fun, new, and brilliant.” The project was highly successful at creating a collaborative experience between science and dance, two disciplines that often do not intersect, and using that collaboration to break creative ground. Over 100 people came to see the student showing directly before the public Pilobolus Performance, which showcased the short dances choreographed by student dancers and engineers in the workshops.

Another major part of AdventureLied programming is FamFest, a family- oriented night of free games, crafts and dinner that happens twice a year, in conjunction with the Lied Center’s family-focused shows. One of the most important features of FamFest is providing a welcoming environment that serves as a positive and fun introduction to the performing arts for young patrons. FamFest encourages children and families to better understand the performing arts and ideas presented in the productions by encouraging hands-on explorative activities that relate directly to the upcoming show. The event is open to ticket holders for that night’s performance, usually drawing up to 1,500 children and their parents, and starts an hour and a half before the performance to allow children plenty of time to participate in the activities and eat food provided by Runza and the Cookie Company. Two FamFests are scheduled this season: Jugglemania on Nov. 1, 2012, and ImaginOcean on March 15, 2013.

K–12 Programs

A second division of the Lied’s education program works directly with K–12 schools and teachers, offering workshop series with teachers and students in Nebraska and numerous school-oriented student matinees on the Lied Center’s stages. This program is also responsible for day camps, like the Science of Sound camp that is held every year during the spring break of Lincoln Public Schools.

The Science of Sound Spring Break camp is a two-day workshop with middle school students at Lincoln Public Schools that focuses on science and music. Students attending the camp in March 2012 learned about the Beatles and the history of the 1960s, how sound is made, Rube Goldberg machines, reusing and recycling and writing lyrics. Students made their own instruments from unwanted leftover materials (trash) and used those instruments in a performance for family and friends, playing two Beatles’ songs and a parody of “Yellow Submarine” that they wrote themselves. Following the camp, students also had the opportunity to see the Fab Four, a Beatles tribute band, at the Lied Center. Teachers involved with the program were impressed with the program’s educational value for students, writing, “They have opportunities to learn about science in a direct, hands-on, memorable way. My staff doesn’t always have the expertise to do the depth of the activities they learn here.” The camp is always a hit with students, too. One student said, “Bash the Trash is a lot of fun! You should join!” Science of Sound is open to all sixth through eighth graders at participating Lincoln Public Schools.

The Student Matinees at the Lied Center bring in hordes of school students from across southeast Nebraska. These performances are always educational and appropriate for K–12 students and encompass all genres of performance. They work to inspire students and teachers through the arts, expand cultural awareness and enhance classroom learning through curriculum and study guides for teachers. As part of this program the Lied Center does often provide free tickets, most often aimed at increasing attendance of high-risk students in areas that are underexposed to arts programming. They also work to bring performing artists into the classroom to conduct workshops with school students and enhance the program by providing the opportunity for students to interact with performing artists on a personal level. In the upcoming season one of the productions, aimed at older students, is a play called “Hitler’s Daughter,” which questions society’s fears, prejudices and the idea of social responsibility. The play will also connect with teacher workshops about using theater, movement and visual art to ask powerful questions and prepare students for the performance. Numerous curriculum guides related to Lied events are available online at www.liedcenter.org.

Arts Across Nebraska

A final significant facet of the Lied’s Education program is Arts Across Nebraska, which takes world-class performing artists across the state two or three times a year to perform in greater Nebraska communities. This October the program will be touring Repertory Dance Theater of Utah, a highly praised dance company that focuses on the preservation of modern dance. In August three members of the company traveled to Lincoln to conduct a dance intensive with students from Lincoln, Kearney, North Platte and Scottsbluff, the communities where the company will perform in October. The students who attended the five-day camp, consisting of classes and choreography sessions, will have the amazing opportunity of performing with the company onstage during its public performance in their own community. This program is the most ambitious undertaking Arts Across Nebraska has attempted and promises to be incredibly rewarding for the students and the company.

For most students who attended the dance intensive in August, all advanced dancers with multiple years of training, the experience introduced them to an entirely new kind of dance. Students found themselves challenged and surprised by the classes and choreography processes and rose to the challenge of tackling a new form of movement. Students responded to the experience saying, “I have never been trained in modern and I couldn’t have asked for a better place and better teachers to have that first experience. I loved it,” and, “It broadened my horizons as a dancer.”

The Lied Center’s mission statement is to entertain, educate and inspire the people of Nebraska through the performing arts. Of course, the Lied Center is proud of its ability to produce the highest-quality performing arts around, but the organization also knows that the magic of theater really lies in educating and inspiring; educating students and community members by presenting them with quality performing arts experiences that connect with them personally and inspiring Nebraskans by providing opportunities for them to interact directly with role models who truly have followed their dreams.

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