What I did on my summer vacation

By Carolyn Smith, 3rd-year Drama student

So summer is drawing to a close, and I’ve finally had the opportunity to proudly reflect on what I’ve done over the last couple of months. Summer at Juilliard is a time when students will often go off to perform/train at some of the best festivals for music, theatre, and dance in the country. For my summer, I chose to embark on something distinctly different. I chose to take the time to offer what I’ve learned over the course of 2 years to young, eager minds in Botswana, Africa.

One thing I love about Juilliard is our heart to give back trough the Arts. I was selected as part of a team of 7 students from The Black Student Union representing Dance and Drama, to lead a series of masterclasses in the capital city of Gabarone, Botswana. During the 3 weeks we were there, we volunteered for a primary school in a small village. There we built a community garden and taught Math and English to young students between the ages of 5 and 14. These students resided in neighboring parts of the village. Of the 1500 inhabitants there in the village, 34% of them were HIV positive. Approximately 1 in 3 children. However, I really learned how to live and love life from these kids! Never for a moment did they allow the disease to take away their joy. During our time in the village, it gave me the opportunity to really appreciate life.

In the afternoons, after volunteering in the village, we were off to the Maru-a-Pula School for our masterclasses. As part of the drama team, we taught one group class, and then divided our large group of about 60 kids into three classes: Scene Study, Poetry in Motion, and Masks. I taught Masks, purely because it’s been an integral part of my artistic development as a drama student here at Juilliard. I had a blast with these kids! We focused on Neutral Mask and I encouraged them to find freedom in movement without language. Their growth over 3 weeks was tremendous, so much so that we developed a theatre production called “Tapestry” in which all students in Dance and Drama performed original works and offered some of their own unique talents. One of the kids was a phenomenal rapper, so he combined his talents with a friend who’s beat-boxing skills were equally unparalleled! Together they had their own portion of the show and the crowd was on their feet! it was so great seeing these kids use their natural talents to give back to the community.

The school’s principal Andrew Taylor was so happy with the production, that we are already planning next year’s ProjectMAP 2011!

Because our 3 weeks there were so jam-packed with press conferences, meetings with the village Chief, as well as rehearsals and performances, we rarely had the opportunity to pause and reflect on all the change that was happening around us. But now that I’ve returned to New York I’ve had the chance to write about the experience, and luckily over coffee discuss with close fiends how much the experience impacted me as an artist.

It made me remember President Polisi’s familiar adage: “The Artist as Citizen”. The concept that it is our duty as artists to give back to the community, no matter what community we are a part of. The belief that the greater good in education, is about continuing the tradition of passing it on to others. It’s what I believe, and what I choose to live by as an artist.