Some of my most indelible memories of Fall are intertwined with my memories of going back to school; from picking the perfect backpack for grade school to moving in to college dorms. It seemed then appropriate to me that just as we approached Fall this year, we named a new Director of Education at LWT. Well, actually, ‘new’ isn’t exactly the best word to describe her. She’s a familiar face in the Long Wharf community and has been a proponent of arts education in the Greater New Haven area through her work for the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, Collective Consciousness Theatre, and as a theatre teacher at Co-op High School. It’s time to get to know Madelyn Ardito, Director of Education!
In your own words, who are you?
I am a teacher, director, writer, and much much more. I think it is important for people to know how incredibly passionate I am about my work. You don’t enter into the world of education or theatre without an absolute love for what you do, and combining the two has been a dream come true.
People who know me, know that I am dedicated to my work in theatre education and using it as a tool to make the work a better place. I know that theatre changed my life and I have watched it transform individuals and classrooms alike. I believe that the arts build and heal communities.
They also know that I am a complete goofball. If I can do something to make you smile and laugh, I will. So if you are ever feeling down, come visit me!
I imagine you’ll be answering this question a lot as Director of Education, but if somebody asked you ‘what does LWT Education do?” what would you tell them?
Every year we work with over 6,000 students in K-12 schools, undergraduate and graduate university programs, and senior citizen communities. Our mission in the Education Department is to provide students with opportunities to engage in discourse and reflection by using Long Wharf’s productions as a cornerstone for our programming.
ED LAB is a series of three professional development days hosted at Long Wharf Theatre. We have 25 teachers ranging from K-12 in all subject areas who participate in workshops based on the themes of our season and that give them tools to integrate the arts into their classroom. These workshops are taught by our teaching staff, local and national guest artists, and influential members of our community. Teachers who participate in all three ED LAB days are eligible for complimentary tickets to our Student Theatre Series shows and our PAIR Program for free!
PAIR is an amazing program that partners up one of our teaching artists with an ED LAB teacher to help them use the tools that they learned in ED LAB into their classroom. The idea behind it is that the two teachers co-write curriculum that can be co-taught once a month over the course of the year. As the year progresses, the LWT teaching artist steps back to allow the teacher to take the reins in the artistic elements of the lesson.
Our Student Theatre Series consists of LWT shows that have dedicated 11AM matinees for teachers and students to attend during the school day. Our department creates an interactive Teacher Information Packet to use in their classroom, a Video Study Guide that documents the entire production process, and a 2-day residency where we visit schools before and after they come to our theatre to deepen each students understanding and connections to the play. We also host a talkback after every Student Theatre Series show to ensure that questions and curiosities have a chance to be expressed.
These programs can exist separately, but they work best when combined by teachers and administrators.
Our team of teaching artists also craft curriculums for in-school and after-school programs that not only teach the art of theatre, but how to be a more creative, empathetic, and responsible person. This year we are collaborating with schools participating in Unified Theatre, Co-op High School for the August Wilson Monologue Competition, Edgewood School, Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy, CT Experiential Learning Center Middle School, Harborside Middle School, Tower One Tower East, and would love to add more!
Sounds like a busy schedule. What’s a typical day at work like for you? Where are you going? What are you doing?
I am not entirely sure there is such a thing as a typical workday for me!
Some days you can find me at Long Wharf collaborating with Education team members on curriculum and programming, working with our Managing Director and Development staff to build a vision and find support for that vision, processing student ticket requests, and so much more.
Some days I might be out in the community, creating and nurturing relationships with teachers and students, teaching residencies all over the Greater New Haven area, or seeking out professional development through workshops and seeing other theatres shows.
If I am lucky, it is a healthy mix of all of the above!
What LWT Education program/initiative do you get most excited for?
I am MOST excited for our 3rd annual Moments & Minutes, our performance and visual arts festival is a truly stunning experience. Students are invited to submit poems, monologues, stories, and visual art pieces that respond to a prompt. Those who are accepted are coached by LWT Education staff and get to present their work in one electric evening at Long Wharf Theatre. Last year we had over 90 submissions and 28 were selected and we are hoping to grow our numbers every year! I am a sucker for spoken word and poetry and am even more of a sucker for students who are brave enough to express themselves through art and to share it with the world. This year’s festival will be held on May 19th and the question is “What do you hope for?” I hope to see you all there!
What do you think are the greatest benefits of arts education?
Our department imagines a time when the arts are present in every greater New Haven area classroom and a world in which all students learn empathy, creativity, and teamwork through theater.
I stand by this vision with every fiber of my being because theatre has taught me all of life’s most important lessons. I always felt most comfortable in art, music, and theatre. These were places where I could truly express myself while learning about history, math, science, literature, and life. Now as a theatre educator I make a point to highlight to my students and all of the teachers and administrators that I work with that theatre is not just about putting on a show (although that is a big part of it!), it is about honoring peoples stories and learning how to work with an entire team of people. It teaches patience, teamwork, communication, and dedication to achieving a goal.
Do you have a favorite moment from working with students that afterwards you said to yourself “that’s why I do what I do”?
On the last day of our summer camp entitled THE WORKS, a group of students from Marcella Monk Flake’s camp for Talented and Creative Youth visited my camp to watch the piece they created. My students had taken the week to explore telling their stories and highlighting their many talents and had come up with an exciting, funny, and sometimes heartbreaking look at their lives.
I knew instantly when Marcella’s group arrived that it was going to be an exciting morning, and my intuition was correct! Her students listened intently during the whole performance. They leaned in, laughed, cried, and DANCED! When the piece was over the Talented and Creative Youth campers got up and sang individually and together and blew us all away with their talent. THEN… Marcella invited my campers up and conducted a choir in an instant and the room was filled with beautiful music.
There was not a dry eye in the room, everyone was moved to tears by the sight of students from all walks of life instantly banding together through art. It can be difficult to see beyond news stories about violence, fear, and the hopelessness of it all, but our students showed us a different story. They showed us one of hope, peace, and art and I could not have been more blown away by them.
When the group departed there were hugs and selfies all around, and that is the way it should be!
To finish up, any teasers you want to give for what might be coming up from Education this season?
You’ll have to join our email list to receive updates about the season, classes, camps, and more! Visit our site longwharf.org/education to sign up!