Finnegan is the education coordinator for First City Players and host of Ketchikan Area Council for the Arts and Humanities stories at Latitude 56 storytelling events.
Melanie Cornwall, a teacher at the Tongass School of Arts and Sciences, contacted FCP in the hope that someone would be willing to undertake a residency at TSAS.
“Instead of having an in-house art teacher, we decided to do an artist-in-residence program, and so each year we can choose a handful of artists from different art forms to come and work with. children,” Cornwall told the Daily News by telephone on Monday. “And so we reached out to First City Players, … theater being one of the fine arts.”
Finnegan stepped into the role.
Speaking to the Daily News by phone recently, Finnegan said it was not the first time he had worked with students in the district. He noted that, in the past, he also worked with Ketchikan High School students during a study unit that focused on translating literature into film.
“But this extended 20-day residency at TSAS was more ambitious than others I’ve been able to pursue in recent years,” he said.
The residency started in February and will end next week.
As a TSAS Artist-in-Residence, Finnegan spends an hour a week with different students at the school, from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. Through games, activities and exercises, it works to develop their theater and performance skills.
“I think especially in light of the emergence of – I hope we come out of – this pandemic, I think the fact that they can do something, even if it’s only for 30 to 45 minutes, that usually starts with a silly thing (that’s fine),” Finnegan said. of group mimicry where we only follow each other. And that just seems to relax the kids a bit.”
Games and movement are an integral part of children’s learning. The concepts that Finnegan works with students to develop also target communication skills.
“It helps get rid of that notion that ‘while I’m in school, (I) just have to focus on work,'” Finnegan said. “And then beyond that, once we warm them up and have fun and maybe have a little laugh, we’re able to work on focus and communication and how to establish even the most basic relationship – “I pass this little information to you. I launch this gesture in your direction. “”
And from there we get into the more complex notions of character building, scene building and theater building,” he continued. “And so for those kids who I think have had some really unpredictable years, it’s good to have something in the school environment that deviates from what they are used to seeing on a daily basis. »
For some of the older students, Finnegan hopes there may be a chance to produce a small classroom stage or readership theater event to wrap up his residency. The older students started working on “scene building blocks,” as well as character study, Finnegan said.
Working with students in a classroom — which differs from the extracurricular setting in which he teaches students in FCP’s StarPath program — presents its own challenges, he said.
“I mean for me, the challenge is especially on some days where I work with multiple age groups and moving from one age group to another is sometimes a challenge for me.”
The task increased Finnegan’s respect for teachers.
“Not because they’re bad kids or they’re tough or difficult, but because it’s hard to be a kid and then have a bunch of kids navigating their own world, their own life and their own issues in their own social setting, and to be the supervisor, not only for all that social engagement, but also for providing education (it’s hard),” Finnegan said.
Cornwall said all of the students — from pre-kindergarten to grade six — enjoyed the lessons.
“And I walk past the classrooms when he’s with our older students, and everyone’s super engaged and love coming to talk to me about their lessons afterwards, which is fun,” Cornwall said.