[How I Work] Managing the art of art education
As Associate Director of Education at New York City Children’s Theater, Sara Morgulis has paired an acting background with a passion for serving others and using theater for social change. She spoke with us from their midtown Manhattan office about what it takes to manage dozens of educational theater programs across the city.
My un-official titles: Program Administrator/Curriculum Developer/Teaching Artist.
My role, the short version: Overseeing our education programs from start to finish.
My role, the long version: Education Director Brooke Boertzel and I oversee our educational theater programs in some 75 partner schools and community centers, serving thousands of students, pre-K through 8th grade, in all five boroughs and beyond. We manage all the logistics: acting as liaisons between the teaching artists and schools, developing curriculum, and managing the day-to-day operations. We have a roster of about 35 teaching artists, and we train each of them to run programs, help them develop lesson plans, and make site visits to provide feedback. I also occasionally teach theater residencies, and facilitate the interactive anti-bullying theater workshops, one of which I co-wrote.
What the role requires: As an administrator, you need organizational skills, the ability to work both as a self-starter and as part of a team, excellent writing skills, and the ability to track and evaluate results to grow a program. As a teaching artist, you need creativity, adaptability, the ability to truly listen to your students’ needs in the moment, and the humility to understand that your students will teach you just as much as you’ll teach them.
Most challenging part of my job: Managing programs that serve thousands of students, between just two people. We certainly rise to the challenge, but it’s a lot to keep track of!
Most rewarding part of my job: The touchstone of my career so far has been creating FIVE, our multi-media, multi-sensory workshop designed specifically for students with special needs and the very young. Last year, I won a fellowship from Theatre for Young Audiences/USA, with an application emphasizing my enthusiasm for reaching underserved populations. That fellowship funded my on-site research with London’s Oily Cart Theatre, which I used to design FIVE. Since launching in January, we’ve booked and performed FIVE more than 50 times, reaching 1,200 students, and earning praise and enthusiastic word-of-mouth from school administrators and teachers. Because every one of these students is different—one size does not fit all—finding a way to reach each student has been a wonderful, rewarding challenge.
How I got here: While working towards my BFA in acting from Syracuse University, I studied for a year at the Globe Theatre in London, where I learned about the power of arts education. In England, the arts aren’t exclusive: theater is for everyone, and they know how to use it for the greater good. When I returned to Syracuse, I was inspired to dive into the field of theater education, so I picked up in a minor in education studies and worked as a teaching artist at Syracuse Stage and a theater teacher at the Creative Arts Academy. After graduation, I moved to Sarasota, Florida to work in the education department at the Asolo Repertory Theatre. During my year there, I found my greatest while spearheading their musical theater program for people with developmental disabilities.
In the summer of 2011, I moved to New York to start a master’s in applied theater at the City University of New York, and I was hired at New York Children’s Theater (then Making Books Sing) as their education administrator. Over time, my position became more and more creative: I was given opportunities to help develop curriculum for our signature residency program, and create new programs, including an interactive anti-bullying theater workshop and our newest touring show.
Photo credit: Antoine Debrill
The last thing I do at the office each day: I make a to-do list of what I need to tackle the following morning. That way, when I come in the next morning I know what I need to do and can easily get going. It really helps to start from a place of organization.
My top goal for the year: I want to keep growing the list of schools and community centers we work with, and create more innovative programming to reach the underserved populations in New York City.
Partnering with nearly 500 urban schools, New York City Children’s Theater produces nationally-recognized arts-in-education programs and professional theater productions that increase arts accessibility for underserved communities. Over 20 years, they’ve served more than 250,000 children and adults, taught more than 2,500 teachers, and distributed more than 6,000 curriculum-supplementing resource materials. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest.