Category Archives: ATG Teaching Artists

Students in CHLDC/Beacon’s Percussion Ensemble Make Beautiful Music Together

Photo Credit: Sang You

Photo Credit: Sang You

Now in its third year, the Percussion Ensemble is music to the ears of students at IS 302, the site of CHLDC’s Beacon community center.  Since fall 2011, Teaching Artist David Freeman has worked with an average of 12 students in grades 5-8 on basic rhythmic hand drum techniques.  The children master basic rhythm patterns and then use what they’ve learned to develop their own compositions.  Through experiencing this music, the students also gain a deeper understanding of the language and history of West African and Caribbean drumming.

David says that working with kids and adults alike “requires a presence of mind, patience, openness, and a willingness to learn.”  He sees drumming as a tool to help his students “build self-esteem, accomplishment, and cooperation in a group setting” and to “develop inner strength that they can access at any time in any situation as they move along in life.” He enjoys being in the moment with his students, calling the classroom “a fascinating place where anything can happen.”  He adds, “And each session is a collection of many, many moments.”

David Freeman is a percussionist, composer, and educator based in Brooklyn. Prior to joining ATG, he had co-founded a drumming workshop in 2001 with the Middlesex County Division of Youth Services Juvenile Detention Center, where he taught up until funding was discontinued in 2011.  He currently performs with Merkava, the Outer Bridge Ensemble, and has collaborated on projects in the visual arts, dance, and film.  David has a passion for working with “at risk” youth and inner-city schools, and sees his work with ATG as an ideal opportunity to continue the mission of bringing music to kids and young adults.

Next Monday, March 17th, David will be performing with his band the Outer Bridge Ensemble for students in the CHLDC/Beacon program. Please join us at 4:30 PM at Cypress Hills LDC/Beacon, 350 Linwood St., Brooklyn, NY.


ATG Theater Arts Program Comes Full Circle at Elysian Charter School

Photo Credit: Charles Steinberg

Photo Credit: Charles Steinberg

Earlier this month, Arts to Grow kicked off our ninth program at Elysian Charter School in Hoboken, NJ with a Theater Arts program that will run through December.  The class, which is open to students in grades three through five with peer assistants in grades six and seven, focuses on theater performance and play development.  We have 23 students this semester!

We are happy to welcome teaching artist Candace Clift, who has gotten off to a wonderful start with our Elysian students.  Candace is a seasoned actor, director, and stage manager who has taught theater arts to students from third grade all the way through college.  As an educator, she strives to create a safe space for students to create and explore the art of acting with support and ample encouragement.

This year also marks the return of a familiar face to the long-running ATG-Elysian partnership, which started with our pilot program in visual arts in the fall of 2005.  Patricia Runcie began her ATG career as a teaching artist at Elysian back in 2006, where she taught Theater Arts until 2011; since then she has gone on to successfully run our Musical Theater program at IS 171/Cypress Hills LDC.  Now she returns to her roots at Elysian, this time as our program manager.  We’re thrilled to have her in this exciting new role.

With this delightful mix of new talent and seasoned expertise, this is sure to be the best year yet for our program at Elysian.  Many thanks to Candace and Patricia for all of their continued hard work in bringing arts education to more children!

Arts to Grow programs are taught by professional Teaching Artists, trained working artists with hands-on experience teaching students their art form.  If you’re interested in teaching for Arts to Grow, please visit us at for more information.


Teaching Literacy Through Theater at Cypress Hills Summer Camp


(Photo Credit: Lu Bai)

Patricia Runcie, who ran ATG’s musical theater program at Cypress Hills LDC/IS 171 for the past 7 years, took on the new challenge of designing the summer theater program at Cypress Hills LDC/PS 65 this past summer.  With an objective of raising each child’s grade in literacy, she customized classes to fit each group’s needs and abilities—no small feat with 200 students in grades 1 through 5.  Patricia rose to the occasion and helped the children at PS 65 put their literacy skills into practice through theater.

Literacy and theater already go hand-in-hand; script analysis, for example, requires in-depth reading.  Patricia says that her students in the IS 171 program honed their reading skills by reading plays that are already considered great works of literature, whereas the students at PS 65 practiced their writing skills by creating a brand new show from beginning to end.  To ramp up the literacy component even further, she added exercises such as free writing and turning a piece of literature into a script.  The children focused on a new vocabulary word every day, with cumulative worksheets every other week that reviewed each word they had learned so far.  The kids were excited to master theater-related terms; the smaller children in particular delighted in showing off their knowledge of big words such as “protagonist” and “antagonist.”  Integrating these new words into their theater activities helped the students to truly commit them to memory.

As they set about writing their own show, the kids learned about concepts such as story structure, conflict and resolution, atmosphere, and setting.  These ideas were put into practice in the program’s culminating performance; each scene represented a different corner of New York City, with dynamic characters that changed and grew by the end of the plot.  The kids also learned to work together as an ensemble, a difficult but necessary skill that will help them function as members of a team in future endeavors.  Patricia believes that the students at PS 65 had a much more enriched experience than a traditional summer camp.  Her pride in her students in evident as she says, “I certainly feel that I set the bar high for these kids, and that they met it.”

Arts to Grow programs are taught by professional Teaching Artists, trained working artists with hands-on experience teaching students their art form.  If you’re interested in teaching for Arts to Grow, please visit us at for more information.

Arts to Grow has had many successful programs over the years, but the theater arts program at Elysian Charter School in Hoboken, NJ during the spring of 2006 was one of our first.  Here, teaching artist Patricia Runcie engages her first group of students.  Since this photo was taken, Patricia has come full circle in her work with ATG.  After successfully running the musical theater program at Cypress Hills LDC/IS 171 for five years, she has recently returned to Elysian as our program manager.

Middle School Students Find their Voices and their Passions


Now in her 7th year working with Arts to Grow, theater teaching artist Patricia Runcie, has been able to help hundreds of students learn and grow through the arts. She recently shared with us stories of a few of her students this year.

Ashley began working with Arts to Grow’s Musical Theater program and TA, Patricia Runcie as a 5th grader who needed work on her volume and diction, Kezia now a 6th grader began working with Patricia last year and needed to learn how to focus and concentrate during rehearsals, and a third student Sheyla, today a 8th grader has been working with Patricia since 6th grade when she was  very shy on stage and showed lack luster energy when in character.

Patricia had Ashley do warm-ups and instrument exercises to increase the size and challenge of her vocal part and stage presence. Now in 8th grade and near the end of her fourth year, Ashley has gone from an ensemble member in the chorus to a lead role this year with her own song! No longer is she the shy 5th grader, we could hardly hear talking into the floor! And forget about singing by herself in front of others! Now she commands the stage and has great diction, singing with confidence and panache.

Kezia was given techniques to help her slow down and focus on breathing, all the while encouraging her progress. She also completed concentration exercises. Kezia’s attendance was consistent and her level of commitment to proper rehearsal work habits increased.  This is now Kezia’s second year. As a 6th grader, Kezia’s  is now already exhibiting significant improvement. When it is time to rehearse she works hard to maintain focus and is doing great work creating her characters. Last year she was moody and ill prepared, but this year she has matured, is ready to work. As a testament to Kezia’s hard work, this year she plays two speaking roles integral to the plot and was selected as a dance captain. She also holds the added responsibility of being an understudy for the Tin Man.

Sheyla received support in ensemble through exercises to build character skills and analysis and to create the fourth wall. Her level of commitment to objective and intentions of a character increased the caliber of her roles over the years. The encouragement and support of TA, Patricia Runcie and peers was paramount.



Now after three years with ATG, Sheyla, now an 8th grader has the best diction and volume in the entire group! Previously, she would literally hide behind her hair while onstage and mumble through her lines at the same pace and pitch. She now shows clever character analysis and speaks clearly and openly. Previously, Sheyla has played soft-spoken characters. But this year she took on the commanding and intricate role of The Wiz. Her range as an actress has expanded over the life of the program and so too has here confidence and leadership.

Welcome Teaching Artist Skyler Sullivan

Arts to Grow welcomed Skyler Sullivan to our roster of teaching artists.  Skyler kicked off our newest partnership with the Spring Creek Community Corporation, after school program at PS 356, Brooklyn.  This area was once called Starrett City.  Skyler is leading two classes – one of 4th graders and the other 5th graders.  His classes focus on teaching acting skills by way of circus and mime activities.

According to Skyler, circus is a terrific way to teach children problem solving and provides a physical component enabling children to exercise their bodies, as well as their minds. Skyler says “circus is easier to grasp than many theater techniques,  – it’s more abstract and helps children to focus, which in turn assists them in excelling at school”.

The parents of children who are working with Skyler have been impressed with their child’s level of participation and interest. Skyler shared, “Parents were very pleased. They said they had no idea their child was capable of such artistic expression”. Through circus activities, Skyler says the children became their own person.

Skyler himself became interested in circus and miming at the age of 10 when his parents took him to the circus. He enjoyed juggling and soon taught himself to juggle eventually progressing to juggling more than three items at once. Skyler holds a B.F.A. from Emerson College. His love of movement, theatre and circus landed him in San Francisco where he worked with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, and trained at the Circus Center.

He now lives in Brooklyn and his work has been seen with such companies as Bread and Puppet, Sesame Street, National Theatre of the Deaf, and the American Mime Theatre. In the future, Skyler would like to open a center and provide a space for kids to come and learn to perform, perhaps in Pittsburgh, PA or his hometown of Hartford, CT where he can continue his work with children through physical expression.