A! Magazine for the Arts

Wendy Mitchell Piper

Wendy Mitchell Piper

Barter Theatre partners with Abingdon High School

September 16, 2010

ABINGDON, Va. – Juniors and seniors, as well as teachers, at Abingdon High School are experiencing new and exciting choices in the arts in education program this year.

Funded by a grant from the Virginia Commission for the Arts, Barter Theatre alum and popular past acting teacher, Wendy Mitchell Piper, will lead an Artist-in-Education Residency program designed to strengthen arts education in the Commonwealth.

According to the program overview, "working in the arts and with artists develops the skills which lead to improved academic performances in all subjects."

The principal of Abingdon High School, Chad Wallace, echoes that notion. "The Artist-in-Education Residency program is greatly going to enhance an already strong program we have in place for our students."

Wallace added, "Our students have a tremendous amount of talent and helping to take their skills to this next level will benefit them, our town, and help them realize more fully their abilities to continue with arts in their post-secondary education and/or vocation."

"Barter Theatre has a deep and abiding commitment to the educational needs of the students of our region," stated Richard Rose, producing artistic director of Barter Theatre. "As such, we are excited to provide services to the schools of our region, who are experiencing significant funding cuts."

Rose added, "The pilot Artist-in-Education Residency program is one we hope to be able to offer and expand to many other school systems over time. It is one part of Barter's planned expansion of its educational offerings to help the children of the region build skills that will be necessary to compete in the economy of tomorrow."

Many programs are offered through Barter's Education Wing. Other programs include student matinees, independent acting/ movement/ technical classes and study guides aimed at fulfilling standards of learning for Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina.

Piper is serving as the artist-in-residence. She brings with her 15 years of professional acting and teaching experience from across the U.S. She has worked as an actor in Barter's Resident Acting Company and has previously taught classes at Barter.

"I am very excited to work with both the teachers and the students at AHS ­– to offer my knowledge of these skills, to learn from one another, and to create art together," said Piper upon hearing the news the program received the funding.

The program will last 70 days – a full semester – with Piper spending most of the day at school. Specialized programs focusing on visual art, music, theatre/drama, poetry/fiction and speech forensics will be molded by collaboration between Piper and schoolteachers, especially the on-site residency coordinator, Amy Looney.

Piper's passion is to help students gain confidence and encourage individuality through art. She especially finds improvisational exercises helpful because it is directly related to leadership skills, listening, creativity, flexibility, confidence and overcoming fear.

"Improvisation techniques have proven to be invaluable – not only for performers and people in the arts, but also in the work place and in life," said Piper. "And the best part is that the students are having so much fun, they don't even realize that they are learning!"

"Apart from my own experience in watching the benefits time after time, the results speak for themselves. This is why some Fortune 500 companies hire companies to come in and do improv workshops with their corporations, and they work with great success," said Piper.

For more information about the Artist-in-Education Residency, contact Evalyn Baron, director of outreach and education (276.619.3314 or outreach@bartertheatre.com) or Mary Anne Holbrook, director of development (276.619.3303 or dirofdevelopment@bartertheatre.com).