Friday, January 18, 2019

Get to know Katie

by Katie Becker Colón

One of the young men I was teaching had been punished with solitary confinement during the week. For the prisoners at the Highlands Juvenile Detention Center, solitary meant going to their room (which contained only a built-in platform, a plastic-coated mattress, a pillow, a sheet, and a blanket), but it meant going into the room without the customary paperback novel. They were alone with their thoughts.

Standing in his orange jumpsuit, socks, and plastic slide sandals, the young man shared with me that he played the Red Rubber Ball game while he was in solitary confinement. It was his tool to fight boredom.

The Red Rubber Ball game was one of the first games I taught the group of 8 young men I met with every week. We gathered together in the Detention Center gym – me in my approved street clothes and shoes, them in their jumpsuits and sandals – and for two hours, we worked through theatre games and exercises as a security officer watched from the sidelines.

I pulled an imaginary Red Rubber Ball out of my back pocket and held it up for all of them to see, "This is a red rubber ball."
"No, it's not!"
"There's nothing there."
"You are crazy."
Then I said, "You have a red rubber ball in your back pocket, too." I immediately flushed red. They didn't have any pockets on their orange jumpsuits. "In your imaginary back pocket."

We all laughed and they played along – they retrieved the imaginary Red Rubber Ball from their imaginary back pockets and held them up for everyone to see.

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Let me jump in here and introduce myself. I'm Katie and I'm the new Director of Education. You may have seen me On The Green in 2017 and 2018, or On Tour 2016-2018 or in the last two Juno's Swans productions.

I've lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the last five years and my husband Ezra and I recently moved here to Omaha.

Ezra and me at Hamilton
Fun facts about me: I grew up in Kansas, I read 52 books a year, I traveled all the way to London to see Hamilton: the Musical, and I'm a natural blonde.

I'm writing to you today to share with you how EXCITED I am to be the newest addition to the staff of Nebraska Shakespeare. There's a lot that the Education Department has to offer:
  • Shakespeare On Tour, reaching 8,000+ students each Fall with a 75-minute Shakespeare play and workshops.
  • Camp Shakespeare, two weeks of hands-on Shakespeare experience for ages 8-18.
  • The Anne Dittrick Sonnet Writing Contest, an opportunity to try your hand at Shakespeare's favorite poetic form.
  • Scholars Forums and Shakesperience prior to every On the Green performance.
I've been entrusted with this programming and we are excited to build upon it and play to some of my personal strengths: new opportunities for you to engage with us on social media and online, a special offering just for teenagers, and different methods to make Shakespeare's language and storytelling accessible to all.

This feels like a good segue back to my story.

The young men and I bounced a Red Rubber Ball off the floor, the walls, and each other. I asked them to whittle their Ball down to a grain of sand, stomp on it with their plastic sandal, and turn their attention to my Red Rubber Ball. We used our hands and our imaginations to pass the Ball around the circle and turn it into lots of different objects: houses and sports cars and slices of pizza and trampolines and guitars. It was quiet, focused work and the young men, several of whom struggled with ADHD and a lot of psychiatric and behavioral obstacles, rose to the work.

I learned that, after our two hour sessions, the young men would teach the exercises we did together to everyone in the Detention Center – students, instructors, and security officers alike. They took ownership of exercises like Red Rubber Ball and incorporated them into their day-to-day life inside the Center.

As you might imagine, my work at the Detention Center transformed me. It was a clear example of how our work in the theatre has a ripple effect. A young man learns something and becomes the teacher. A person hears a word of encouragement and wants to pay that same word forward to someone else. This is no small superpower; this ripple effect has the capacity to change the world.

That's why I'm here in Omaha with you, my dear friend and reader. I'm here to create more ripples, to see good work and good deeds exponentially multiply, and to use Shakespeare – that master of language and human nature – as our primary tool for engaging with one another. I hope you will join in the conversation and the fun!

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Our first Education event of the year is this weekend! You are invited to join us for a FREE audition workshop on Saturday, January 19th or Sunday, January 20th. We are offering two opportunities each day – 11 AM or 1 PM – at UNO. If you want to grow your skills as an actor, come out and play! It would be lovely to meet you! Sarah Brown (Artistic Director) and I are co-teaching so you can expect encouragement, wisdom, challenge, growth, and probably some laughter, too. Visit www.nebraskashakespeare.com to RSVP – we still have a couple spots open!

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