(TAC) isn’t your average arts education organization. In fact, through an interview with its co-founder Kim Guzowski, I learned there isn’t anything average about TAC. From its inception in the fall of 2012, TAC has been a confluence of theatrical production professionals, artisans and educators creating educational experiences in which students apply their knowledge as tools to build, make and create. TAC is the brainchild of Shawn Robinson, an expert in production electrics and rigging, whose résumé includes the technical directing of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week and David Blaine’s “Electrified,” and Guzowski, a 20-year theater-teaching veteran and production manager/electrician.
The inspiration for TAC came in October of 2012, after Guzowski took students to see endurance artist David Blaine’s “Electrified,” in which Blaine was “electrified” by seven interactive musical Tesla coils for three days. Several founders of TAC (including Sarah Anderson, Becca Ball, Van Orilia, Mike Patterson and Where Huertas) who were working on this event, including Robinson, toured Guzowski’s former students backstage, answering all of their artistic, scientific and engineering questions. The stage technicians asked the students to consider how it was possible that Blaine was living with so much electricity being shot at him. They challenged the students to think about the difference between amps and volts. Guzowski talked with the students about the multicultural traditions of endurance arts as vehicles for spectacle, commerce and spiritual attainment. The students’ enthusiasm, combined with the knowledge that many of her fellow artisans were seeking ways to share their craft with students, led Guzowski and Robinson to the idea of Technical Artisans Collective.
By March of 2013, Robinson and Guzowski brought TAC to life. Production technicians, teachers, designers and artists began teaming up to create kinesthetic learning experiences for the youth population of the New York City Metro area. Sponsored by Fractured Atlas, an arts group that supports over two hundred fifty thousand artists and organizations, TAC set out to help students apply their academic and artistic studies through interdisciplinary hands-on projects inspired by artisanal and theatrical crafts.
As their programs took off, TAC members asked, “Why do we educate?” They realized students need the dichotomy between real-world experience and academia to end. Theater provides the ideal platform to display this concept; it is an environment where many aspects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) can be reinforced through practical application and be used to further engage students. TAC is a perfect example of the educational movement STEAM, in which arts are used to explore STEM.
TAC lessons are designed to give students experiences in which their academic and artistic learning is essential to the practical success of their project. Teachers hear students ask these questions all too often: “When would I need to know this?” and “Why do I need to know this?” TAC provides some very real answers. TAC is, as Guzowski says, “building a template for all industries” to show that all school subjects and vocational skills can be taught kinesthetically and have real-world applications.
Guzowski filled me in on a mantra of TAC teachers: “Help students apply the learning, make it vibrant and teach with consequences.” For students who choose to study production rigging, for example—their motivation lies not in getting a good grade, but in experiencing the success of seeing an object flying across the stage using newly learned engineering skills, or watching a truss bridge they built successfully bear the weight of speakers and moving lights. Whether it’s a one-day workshop or semester-long partnership, TAC challenges students to succeed not just with the hands-on materials, but to engage on an intellectual and emotional level. When seventh-grade students started reading Shakespeare in class, TAC helped them create set models based on student-chosen text to justify their design choices. This gave students a “different way to access the language,” which led them to a greater understanding. At the end of the course, they were able to green screen their creations, which allowed them to act on their set models through the use of video editing software.
In her years of using theater to reinforce academics, Guzowski and academic teachers with whom she has worked have found that the interdisciplinary experiential theater-based approach that TAC is using organically motivates all learner types, because every kind of student can find a way into the material in a manner they find interesting. In Guzowski’s experience, academic retention of material learned through these kinds of projects is very high. She suspects this is because of the layers of learning coupled with a real sense of pride students have in accomplishing a task with relevance to them.
In speaking with Guzowski, I discovered that educators benefit from TAC as well. TAC doesn’t replace teachers in the classroom, but rather works with them. TAC collaborates with teachers to choose the best projects to reinforce the lessons. During the lesson, the classroom teachers are present, and have the ability to observe their students’ personalities, strengths and learning styles as they engage with their scholastic materials.
TAC’s recent work includes training high school students who designed, built and stage-managed two school plays (including Shakespeare in 2D, 3D and HD); workshops in graphic design; leather work; customizing clothing; analog DJ techniques; movie sound effects; storytelling through lighting; live music mixing; and much more.
On April 26, 2014, TAC will be participating in NYC Parks’ 7th Annual Street Games at Thomas Jefferson Park in Harlem with a “Build Your Own Obstacle Course” event. On May 18, 2014, TAC will be offering their first full Rigging Workshop, where students will learn the principles of basic mechanics/physics and applied math through learning how to “float” themselves. Educators in the New York area can hear Kim Guzowski and Hackley School English teacher Nicole Butterfield speak about their collaborative educational work on May 3, 2014, at the NYSAIS Teaching with Technology (TWT14 Redux) Conference at Lycée Français de New York.
Technical Artisans Collective is just one example of encouraging the inclusion of arts in education. PSG has been a strong supporter of TAC since its inception, and backs other like-minded organizations. TAC is currently seeking partner schools in the New York City area to pilot curricula or to bring theatrical productions to life. TAC welcomes support.