Schenectady County

Educating and entertaining: Programs at Proctors offer many lessons

Teenagers watched intently and gracefully stepped out of the way as curtains were raised and lowered

Teenagers watched intently and gracefully stepped out of the way as curtains were raised and lowered at Proctors’ main stage.

“It’s really neat how so much of this stuff that seems to be so complicated is not really unbelievably hard,” said 14-year-old Calvin Temoshok of Galway.

At the weeklong Theatre Tech Boot Camp, teacher Jeff Knorr said students get a chance to learn how to build sets, rig lights, paint scenery and manipulate sound.

“It’s really hands-on. They get to work with the crew,” he said.

Pat Brehm, 15, of Schenectady, said he enjoyed the opportunity to learn about the inner workings of the theater.

“It’s just preparing us for more serious stuff if we ever get into the theater business,” he said.

Theatre Tech Boot Camp is one of the Proctors Summer Adventure camps that are running this season. Other camps have been for jazz, chess and magic.

The Summer Adventure program is just one of the many activities that Jessica Gelarden, education program manager, is responsible for coordinating.

“I pretty much do everything internally that has anything to do with education,” she said.

Gelarden’s job had been potentially in jeopardy but was saved thanks to the federal stimulus package. Proctors received a $30,000 Emergency Salary Program for Presenting Organizations grant to retain the position, part of $500,000 in funding that the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation handed out to 19 institutions.

Gelarden has been working at Proctors for about six months after receiving her master’s degree in art history from Stony Brook University.

Another Summer Adventure camp running this week is the Missoula Children’s Theatre, where young children ages 6 to 18 got to audition for, rehearse and perform in a special version of “The Princess and the Pea” — all in the same week.

Among the other activities that Gelarden is responsible for is the iLearn program, which features educational films shown on the theater’s Iwerks “Extreme Screen” in the GE Theatre.

“It’s another way of teaching outside the classroom,” she said.

This fall’s films include “The Human Body” in 3-D, which teaches students about the inner workings of the body.

In addition, Proctors’ “Literature to Life” also runs out of the GE Theatre. The theater companies involved in productions at Proctors help out with these events.

“What they do is they put on a one-person production that illustrates the entire book and they interact directly with the students,” she said. “It’s a really intimate setting. We usually have 400 kids for the show.”

Among the books that are being discussed and analyzed are “The Things They Carried,” about the Vietnam War, and “Fahrenheit 451,” about book burning.

Gelarden is also responsible for programming “Theater Talks,” in which cast and crew of current shows at Proctors meet with school children either before or after performances.

“They get a taste of what their job is like, and they get to ask questions,” she said.

She also works to get grant money so schools that would not normally be able to afford to come to Proctors can do so.

Gelarden is one of only two people in Proctors’ education department. Education Director Christine Sheehan works on external affairs, including the artists in residency at schools and partnerships with schools.

Karen Johnson, campaign director for Proctors, said Gelarden’s job is crucial because Proctors serves about 45,000 children a year in 400 schools and 56 districts through its programs.

“This position is responsible for having input on the shows we present for kids, hiring teacher artists, overseeing student workshops and curriculum [and] for making sure the shows are performed and managed professionally and making sure that all the programming for kids goes off without a hitch.”

Proctors provides support materials for teachers on the Internet including curriculum guides and publications, Johnson said.

“Everything is tied to the New York state learning standards,” she said.

Education is important to Proctors’ mission, Johnson said.

“We’re very interested in helping kids learn how to read and learn how to tell and write stories because that’s kind of what the theater is. It’s another form of telling a story.”

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