Jubilation Fellow Kathy Harrison with students

Kathy Harrison

Musical Theater Artist
Orange NJ
Fellowship: 2015

“I’m only the facilitator,” says Kathy, “not the Almighty. Students are part of the process with me.” Kathy has a phenomenal ability to bring kids out of themselves, which increases their self-esteem and self-image.

“Creativity is subjective,” she says, “it’s a sensitive subject. Anything can happen, it’s not preconceived, but based on what the students give. I take an artistic approach to teaching.”

Kathy is a multidisciplinary performing artist, and founder of Diversity Youth Theater, which offers collective theater-making for young people. She has a knack for creating projects that merge storytelling, songwriting, acting, and rhythmic movement. She hosts in-school residencies and community workshops, and her Untold Stories Series has been touring since 2012.

As an undergrad, she discovered her love for teaching the creative arts at Camp Lookout. “I wanted to continue my own journey in the arts, while also teaching young people to connect with their own creativity through music, theater, movement, and writing.” Since then, she has partnered with nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and government agencies. Recently, she started an arts and entrepreneurship co-op, which is operated by college students and recent grads, who learn to create profitable performing arts projects and workshops.

Teaching philosophy:
“I believe that the journey of creating is just as significant as the final work. Whether I am teaching a group of college students via ensemble-based theater, facilitating a storytelling workshop with incarcerated parents, or leading a music and dance class with pre-K and elementary students, I am an engaged, guiding participant throughout the process. I am not the ‘all knowing’ guru. Instead, the environment is a community in which everyone’s creative energy is relevant. We have fun. We laugh together. We cry together. We get frustrated together. We dialogue. We stay committed. It’s about interconnectivity and interdependence.”

How do you produce a vibrant learning environment?
“I use rhythmical, playful games and exercises, and create a fun, playful energy, so students feel comfortable being silly. There’s no judgment, and every student is relevant.

“I make every effort to set up a tone that allows trust to be present, rendering an openness and freedom, so that people drop their walls and reservations. This allows people to connect with their creative self, and in turn connect with others. The way I do this is by being a part of it and going through the experience with them. They feed off the energy, and the examples I provide. This allows the student/teacher dynamic to fade, and the sense of community and interconnectedness to take over.”

How do you encourage youth leadership?
“Diversity Youth Theater is all about kids being leaders. That’s what I do — invite them to be heard. In workshops, there’s a natural selection process. The choreographer, director, and music choices become apparent through the games we play. Kids get ideas about what they want to share and do. There’s no hierarchy, everyone has the opportunity to share their creativity. Everyone has a purpose, everyone matters. They write, direct, collaborate on themes… I guide the discussions, but it’s not top down or authoritative. It’s collective theater-making.”

How have you evolved as a teacher?
“As a college student, I believed I had to know the answers, that I was supposed to know. Now it’s ‘let’s figure it out together.’ Now it goes both ways. I try to be present and create a community, instead of ‘come learn what I know.'”


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