Learning with Landmarks: Landmarks on Stage

Last week, Landmarks took center stage in a lesson on educational theatre in Dr. Pauline Strong’s Intro to Museum Studies course. Teaching assistant Sam Provenzano, a graduate student in the Department of Theatre and Dance, wrote the assignment to teach how “theatrical performances in museums [help] create new access points for patrons experiencing art, history, science, etc.”

The result was a series of wildly imaginative exercises in cultural history, observation, and interpretation. Students were split into small groups of three or four, assigned a sculpture, and given two weeks to write a script and rehearse. As each group performed at the site of their sculpture, the rest of the class responded as an age-appropriate audience. Robert Murray’s Chilkat became a totem erected by the Tlingit Tribe, native to British Columbia. Deborah Butterfield’s Vermillion was an elusive, magical horse, and Dora the Explorer and her friends needed help finding her. Finally, Sol LeWitt’s commanding Circle with Towers became less fortress-like and nurtured a hive of creativity as the group climbed inside and imagined the towers as pirate ships or stalks of corn.

students standing around sculpture of red horse

Students explore Gates Dell Complex searching for Vermillion.

Ms. Provenzano was particularly impressed with how “the students created a range of ideas. We gave them the freedom to choose how old their audience members were, so they could focus on what they were teaching. One group hooked us in with magical characters, and then once we understood who the characters were, they introduced the idea of interpretation. We are so excited they were thinking about connecting education and performance within museums.” 

Taking direction to "move three steps", students discover how those words can be interpreted differently.

I share those thoughts and would only add that all three groups demonstrated the potential for interdisciplinary teaching in the arts. People, both young and old, are more open to let their imaginations loose when actors take them on a journey. Exercises that use one form of art—performance, in this case—can encourage freethinking in other forms like the visual arts. I had assumed the works were chosen because an underlying narrative or dramatic setting lent itself well to performance, but I learned later they were selected simply because of their proximity to one other. It made me wonder which other works in the collection could inspire theatrical treatment. Perhaps all.

Assignments like this and others featured in the Learning with Landmarks series reveal the innovative ways the collection can be used across disciplines. They also have the potential to inform how the program might evolve in the future.

photos by Catherine Zinser