Learning to Fly: DAREarts and Vancouver Opera help youth soar above Bullying

DSC_7714Vancouver Opera‘s production of Stickboy, based on Shane Koyczan’s book, was the starting point of the successful return of DAREarts Vancouver’s innovative youth empowerment program. The opera, composed by Neil Weisensel with libretto by Shane Koyczan, openly confronts bullying and its horrific consequences, a scenario that’s close to home for many young teens.

In a week of daylong workshops, the grade 6 and 7 students from Britannia Community School in Vancouver’s eastside worked with DAREarts artists to create their own artistic messages about tough teen issues. By engaging in visual arts, writing, music, dance, drama, videography, and media arts, they used the arts to confront a reality: we all struggle with our own fear and insecurity.  These teens eagerly worked with DAREarts to find their inner leaders.

DSC_7769Their first day’s opening circle introduced them to DAREarts Teacher Karen Myskiw and Indigenous Elder Mary Jane Joe. Elder Mary Jane Joe shared her story of growing up in a residential school, where they learned that traditional symbols like the eagle can help inspire strength, and remind those who are struggling that they can still fly. Exploring their own challenges, the teens began to design their own “eagle wings” to find their own empowered selves.

The DAREarts values of Discipline, Action, Responsibility, and Excellence guided them through the week, where they met with inspiring artist-educators. DAREarts grad Crisy Buck shared her story of overcoming devastating challenges in her teens using DAREarts. A poetry workshop with artist-educator Lori Sherritt Fleming became a positive outlet for their complex thoughts and emotions:

“When sorrow is a purple mountain you feel like you cannot climb
I wish I was a mighty eagle, flying with god, careless, of my appearance”

“If I was an eagle, I would glide above the valley of depression and sorrow, steering clear
of its dangerous and infectious power”

IMG_1638Guest artists John Aitkens and Shelley MacDonald led a Birth and Eagle dance, and John shared his story of finding the courage to pursue dance and theatre. Colleen Maybin of Vancouver Opera trained the teens to share their voices as a team. The class brought their poetry to life using tableau, and made their eagle wings fly as they danced, embodying the eagle in team choreography and Artist-Educator Sarah Knoebber. With support from their school teacher, Justin Borsato, the teens painted stage set murals in just one day! Photographer Roy Mulder and Artist-Educator Brunella Bautista guided the class as they created video animations for their showcase.

DSC_8965DAREarts Teacher Karen Myskiw summarizes their public Open Studio Showcase finale at Vancouver Opera’s O’Brian Centre:

“Opening with a video loop, the majestic Eagle synced with atmospheric music through opening remarks and a traditional song and blessing. Gathered round, students played their own musical composition: a powerful opening.

The Eagle Poetry Tableau was a show stopper: the ensemble combined the use of each delegate’s wing, with the students taking the formation of an Eagle head, wings and tail. Each part of the eagle moved in sequence, announced by Kaea playing the drum, then their voice-over poetry based on the image, “if I were an Eagle…”.

As the Eagle glided across the stage and exited, one lone Eaglet remained in victory. Victor stood poised, reciting his full eagle poem: a breathtaking moment.

DSC_8998The youths then shared their animations as each group’s director spoke to how we can take action and responsibility around bullying. With each story, a powerful message emerged: through Discipline, Action, Respect/ Responsibility and Refection, Excellence is borne for strength, wisdom and leadership.

As a closing surprise, a select number of delegates reinforced the theme of transforming bullying through their own creative dance. Throughout the performance, audience members were touched in personal ways.

To celebrate their achievements, a DAREarts certificate and very special eagle feather were gifted to each youth. Elder Mary Jane Joe imparted the Indigenous sacred significance of the eagle feather. Following gracious words from Suzanne Clark, DAREarts Executive Director, and my warm gratitude to all artists, volunteers, donors and supporters, Elder Mary Jane Joe closed with a Round Dance for both audience and students.”

IMG_1716This program was a partnership of Vancouver Opera and DAREarts and Britannia Community School.  The DAREarts Vancouver team of artist-educators was led by Karen J. Myskiw and included Sarah Knoebber, Lori Sherritt Fleming, Brunella Battista, Roy Mulder, Elder Mary Jane Joe, Colleen Maybin (Vancouver Opera) with assistance from Patience Lavallee, Crisy Buck, Susan Brown, Alex Chow, Erin Parker, Claire Brown (grad mentor) and Marlo Mason (grad mentor).  Special thanks to teacher Justin Borsato. Photos courtesy of Roy Mulder.

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