Telling Stories is a unique interdisciplinary program that is designed to inspire students to both collaborate across disciplines and create original work. The process helps students learn to speak each others’ languages, inspires faculty members to work together in new ways, and gives non-performing artists a chance to take the stage with their performing colleagues. I’ve been producing an annual show at the Denver School of the Arts since 2008, and I often get this question: “So, how do you get students in writing, music, visual arts, and tech to all work together? And what does that even look like?”
Well, I’m glad you asked! Check out some photos from past shows:
Well, I’m glad you asked! Check out some photos from past shows:
And here is a little documentary about Telling Stories:
Now let’s take a quick peek at one of the students’ creations. This is – It, and I think it’s a very powerful work with video, musicians playing their own instruments and doubling on things they’ve never played before, and beautiful writing.
Oh, why not watch one more? I think this piece, Majestic, is just so cool, in every sense of the word. I really like how they all used the space, and every genre is really performing their hearts out.
How it works:
Students are asked to create short (typically five- to ten-minute works) around a given theme. Their works must be all-original and feature contributions from each artist in the group.
The process begins with choosing a theme. (Past themes have been chosen by teachers, the artists, and the students themselves, and have ranged from “Borders” to “Negative Space” to “Symbiosis.”) Teaching artists come in and perform an interdisciplinary piece to serve as an example of a collaboration. They also spend time modeling what the conversation looked like to create the piece, so students know how to begin brainstorming across disciplines.
Logistically, there are flexible rules to help teachers adapt the program to their individual schools. Students from different majors are placed into small groups representing different disciplines. For example, a given group may have two writers, three musicians, and a visual artist. Groups have flexibility to accommodate all different combinations of disciplines, but tend to work best if they stay under 15 students. For each meeting, teachers and teaching artists circulate to the different groups, and will listen and help facilitate collaboration.
- Standard groups: 5-10 students (and upwards), representing at least two disciplines
- Teachers: 1 teacher representing each discipline should be available to circulate during rehearsals.
- Teaching Artist: 1-2 artists is present for all rehearsals.
- Rehearsals have taken place all over schools; from the lunch room to stair wells to outside in courtyards. (And often chasing sheet music as it blows off stands.) Schools rarely have extra space, so students get creative where they can meet with their groups.
Further worksheets help groups articulate their ideas and make sure each discipline is heard; here is a worksheet that is handed out after another brainstorming session.
Participating schools typically choose a class period lasting 50 minutes to an hour and a half where students can come together and rehearse. This can happen at the discretion of the schools’ schedules; sometimes they’ll meet three times a week for four weeks, sometimes every day for two weeks. A typical breakdown can look like:
- Session 1: Teaching Artists perform and model collaborative process. Students are introduced to the theme and put in groups to brainstorm. They are given Worksheet 1.
- Session 2: Teaching Artists and teachers circulate through the groups, seeing where the ideas are starting to solidify. Students hand in Worksheet 1, Teaching Artists offer any feedback.
- Sessions 3-6: Worksheet 2 is handed out and collected; students work on creating their piece.
- Sessions 7-8: Rehearsal in the space of the concert
- Session 9: Concert
- Concerts at the Denver School of the Arts are ticketed, and proceeds serve as a fund raiser for the different majors.
- After the concerts we find it’s a good time to hand out a reflection worksheet, so we can take feedback into consideration for the next year.
How cool are these puppets in The Origin of Inspiration? I love that part of the art was created ahead of time, and part of it was manipulated live.
In Swim Down Stream the writers use silhouettes, and it’s a powerful effect with the frantic pace of the film and the mellow guitar and drum accompaniment.
I had no idea that sand art was a thing, but this visual artist in Untitled beautifully illustrates the play, while another artist creates a glow-in-the-dark rendition of the house mentioned in the writing.
I love this clip of Cadywampus — the visual artists are really layered throughout, with the stationary props, the recorded video, and the painters doing shadowy brushing in the back. The repetitive music with the words is a great partnership:
Here’s a clip featuring writers, music, and live projection. This is Temporarily Our Heroine. The instruments change with the different voices, and the projection features different colors being inserted into the brain to show the different characters.
And where did this all come from?
Telling Stories as an education program grew out of a concert series and public radio show that ran from 2006-2011 to attract a younger audience to classical music and literature. We offered live concerts in casual venues; the concerts feature classical chamber music and original literature. We commissioned new chamber repertoire, read original essays, and showcased a nontraditional blend of the two arts. We were picked up by Colorado Public Radio and produced as a radio show.
Here is a quick video that showed us in action.
We played in coffeeshops, cafes, breweries, art galleries, pizzerias, and schools. We have been recognized in Symphony Magazine, 5280 Magazine, Westword, the Daily Camera, the Boulder Weekly, the Denver Post, the Rocky Mountain News, and the Colorado Daily.
Read about Telling Stories:
Westword, 2011: “Telling Stories takes to the Airwaves Courtesy of Colorado Public Radio”
Westword, 2010: Celebrate Artopia and Westword’s Newest Masterminds
Denver Post, 2010: Hanging By a String, Can Classical Music Survive?
Denver Post, 2010: Classical Music is Going New Places to Lure New Faces
5280 Magazine, 2010: Listen Up
Westword, 2010: “Music, Meet Words”
Symphony Magazine, 2010: So You Say You Want a Revolution
Westword, 2008: “This merry troupe of young virtuosos is bringing high culture to the Facebook crowd, putting on casual presentations of chamber works and readings of original essays at venues like the Laughing Goat Coffeehouse in Boulder and the Mercury Café in Denver — places where the show can be enjoyed over a foamy latte of sudsy beers.” — Best High Culture for the Cool Crowd
Boulder Weekly, 2007: “There’s a whole new generation of music fanatics out there, and they are going to turn the world of classical on its head. In Colorado, keep your eye out for Jennie Dorris and her band of merry musicians; they will be composing the revolution.” — Dale Bridges
Daily Camera, 2008: “I love what they do because they’re professionals at what they do. They’ve decided that the opera house or symphony hall is not necessarily the only place where people should be able to hear this kind of music.” — Daniel Weinshenker, director of Center for Digital Storytelling
Rocky Mountain News, 2007: “In December Telling Stories debuted at the Laughing Goat and has been growing in popularity every since. The “Guilty Pleasures” installment provided ample evidence why.” — Marc Shulgold