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Bringing the Class to the Stage, and the Stage to the Class

Center Theatre Group Relies on Our Teaching Artists to Help Educate and Inspire the Next Generation

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L–R: Teaching Artists Matias Ponce, Mara Palma, Carissa Pinckney, and Ramy El-Etreby, Resident Teaching Artist Debra Piver, and Teaching Artist Peter Mendoza.

At Center Theatre Group, we believe in the value of bridging what students learn in the classroom with what theatre professionals do every day. Enter our Teaching Artists, creative professionals who integrate their art form, perspectives, and skills into our educational programming.

At Center Theatre Group, many of our Teaching Artists move seamlessly between the classroom and the Los Angeles stages—including ours. Bernard K. Addison, a longtime member of our August Wilson Program faculty, appeared on our stages most recently in 2018’s Water by the Spoonful and 2017’s Citizen: An American Lyric; our 2017 Zoot Suit revival cast featured Teaching Artists Melinna Bobadilla and Rocío López.

Our Teaching Artists—we work with 40 or more each season—are also playwrights, directors, choreographers, and designers. They all bring a wealth of hands-on experience and real-world philosophy that benefit students across many different programs we offer, including Student Matinees, Disney Musicals in Schools, and our August Wilson program.

This year, two of the new Teaching Artists we welcomed to our Student Matinee faculty are familiar faces at Center Theatre Group. Actors Peter Mendoza and Matias Ponce were inspired to come on board after participating in the program during their own stints in leading roles on Center Theatre Group stages. Mendoza played the titular role in 2017’s Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue at the Douglas and appeared in last year’s production of Sweat at the Taper, and Ponce played Henry Reyna in our acclaimed Zoot Suit revival.

I was unprepared for how involved and engaged the students would be, recalled Mendoza of the Elliot Student Matinee performances, which were followed by Q&As with the cast. It was an amazing experience that I wanted to continue—interacting and getting students excited about great theatre.

Theatre is such a giving and inspiring art form that connects you to the world and your community.

Both Mendoza and Ponce began their Teaching Artist experience helping immerse high school students into the world of John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons. Their work on the program includes team-building exercises with staff and fellow Teaching Artists, Educator Conferences with participating teachers, and in-school pre- and post-show visits.

They know firsthand how valuable it is to provide opportunities to students to see and engage with live theatre, especially those who may never have considered getting involved in theatre, performance, or art as a whole. Ponce described the Student Matinee Program as the perfect opportunity to share my love for theatre and how it can revolutionize the minds of youth through freedom of expression and break the stereotypes our youth have been taught.

But perhaps the most important asset the Teaching Artists can bring to their efforts is their firsthand knowledge of the power of theatre to change lives for both the actors/creators and the audience. Theatre is such a giving and inspiring art form that connects you to the world and your community, explained Mendoza. It gives you a voice and the ability to play. There is nothing that can compare to the connection between the audience and the characters/actors.

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