by Susanna Olson, Flynn Teaching Artist
Susanna Olson has been affiliated with the Flynn Center as a teaching artist since 1996.
When I was eight years old, I attended my first ever baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston. I remember the energy of the crowd, the green of the field, and the warmth of the sun. I remember my mother sitting next to me, kindly pointing out the players and explaining the rules of the game. It was a happy day. Still, looking back on that moment, forty years later, I see that it could have been more. I had never tried to play the game myself, never tried to catch a baseball with a glove or hit a ball with a bat, so I could not appreciate the players’ skill, teamwork, or athleticism. I remained a passive spectator when I could have been an engaged fan.
I bring this perspective with me every time I visit a school to teach a student matinee companion workshop. For this reason, I’m passionate about the work that goes into preparing Vermont’s children to experience a live performance.
School teachers who make Flynn student matinee reservations have the opportunity to book a hands-on workshop in their classroom. These workshops are a unique experience—each one is tailored to the individual performance and is designed to invite students into a deeper experience of that show.
Consistently, the workshops include a chance for students to imagine what it might feel like to be a performer in the show they will see. Supported by the Flynn’s Words Come Alive arts integration program, hands-on drama and dance exercises guide students through the process of making creative choices with their bodies, voices, and imaginations. They pretend that their classroom is the Flynn stage, and they are performers on it.
Days later, when they come to the Flynn, the students are excited. They watch the show with exceptional focus, comparing their own creative choices with those being made on stage, all while appreciating the skill and artistry of the professionals.
Teaching students across the state requires an adventurous spirit, a high standard of excellence, and a fair share of stamina. But I love the work and believe in it—now more than ever. I believe in it as a formative learning experience, because I see so many Vermont schoolchildren whose first exposure to live performing arts is through a field trip to the Flynn. It is a source of hope for humanity, because I see engagement in the arts as an antidote to pervasive technological trends away from community and toward isolation. Finally, it’s an investment in our shared future as a society, because I see today’s attentive student matinee audiences as tomorrow’s arts creators and patrons.
This satisfaction culminates on matinee days, when I greet all my companion workshop students in the lobby. Once in a while, as I give them sporting high-fives on their way into the theater, I recall my eight-year-old self at Fenway—I grin, look at the young rookies striding past me, and think, “Play ball!”