Works and Days

East Bay Center for the Performing Arts: Isabel Lyndon, Winter Shadow 2016

This winter, I spent four days at the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts in Richmond, California. I shadowed Jordan Simmons (Reed ’78), but I also had opportunities to work independently, with other interns, and with various members of the faculty and staff.

The Center, which includes a theater, a dance studio, practice and rehearsal rooms, and office spaces, is housed in a beautiful renovated building. When I arrived, Ruthie, the Deputy Director of Programs, took me around the Center, introducing me to everyone we ran into. She told me what they did at the center, professionally, but she also alerted me to other details, such as: one employee made great cheesecake and another was passionate about sneakers. Everyone had an amazing set of combined skills or passions. Ruthie herself, I learned, had degrees in both social work and jazz piano, and this kind of combination was not unusual among the staff.

Founded in 1968, the Center offers on-site classes, in school and after school programs for students in the Richmond area, ensembles, performances, college and career counseling, and internships. When I visited, the Center was in a “dark week,” or a period with private lessons and rehearsals but no regular classes. Even so, sometimes I would walk downstairs and come upon a student in a piano lesson. One afternoon, the sounds of an alumni band floated up from a first floor rehearsal room to the offices upstairs. Usually, the Center offers lessons in everything from violin to West African Dance, acting to oboe, plus jazz theory, capoeira, Mien/Laotian ceremonial dance, stage combat, ballet, and more.

One of my tasks was to compose a list of music and theater undergraduate programs for the Center’s college counseling program. I researched best practices and strategies used by other youth development programs to support successful youth leadership groups, a fascinating project. I learned—and learned how much there is for me to learn—about the thinking and ethics behind youth, teaching, performance and community. Joining Jordan in meetings with other interns, I was interested in how collaborative their process often was. Jordan would imagine how a project might look in a few weeks, or years into the future, and interns would offer their own take, imagining possibilities and planning out their course.

Charlene, the Center’s Senior Development Officer, introduced me to a grant-writing database. I researched possible funding sources for a project. In the pre-computer days, she told me, development work could involve looking for donors under microfilm or getting 990 tax forms from Sacramento offices. Even with an online database, the process had an enjoyable journalistic or detective-like quality to it.

On my last day, I joined Jordan and the Center’s filmmaking teacher, Nathan, in a meeting concerning a video project. During their discussion, they played clips from past performances by diploma students. The Young Artist Diploma Program is an interdisciplinary, tuition-free four-year program. The performances I watched were amazing—I hope I’ll be able to attend one some day. (Here is a link to the Center’s Vimeo, which I definitely recommend checking out: Nathan and I talked about teaching filmmaking (an area that interests me)— especially about filming and editing tools and equipment.

I went into this winter shadow looking to learn about nonprofits and arts education. But I was also excited about exploring these things in a performing arts context, a context almost entirely new to me. At the Center, arts education is comprehensive and far-reaching. “We envision new generations of artist-leaders trained at the Center who are articulate, passionate, and effective at integrating art and positive social change,” the Center’s webpage explains. I felt I got to see and engage with the programs and the work that put this philosophy into practice. Everyone I met was generous with their knowledge and experience. Ultimately I was excited to shadow, even just for four days, in an environment that was busy, teeming with projects, artistic and administrative and committed to education and the Richmond community all at once.


Tags: winter shadow, externship, art, performing arts, theater, nonprofit, education, youth, performance