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BWW Blog: Reaching the Other Side of the World Through Storytelling

Two senior Theatre for Youth majors, Anna Johnson and Chloe Tower, teamed up to reach international youth through their collaborative senior project.

BWW Blog: Reaching the Other Side of the World Through Storytelling

In order to graduate from Samford University as a theatre student, one must complete a final thesis called a "Catalyst project." Students have a lot of freedom with their Catalyst projects and in the past, seniors have performed one-person cabarets, taught theatre residencies at local schools, and even directed Samford mainstage shows. This year, two senior Theatre for Youth majors, Anna Johnson and Chloe Tower, teamed up to reach students on the other side of the world through their collaborative senior project.

Both Anna Johnson and Chloe Tower are two spectacular women who have made an impact during their time in the Samford Theatre department.

A beautiful storyteller and expressive dancer, Anna Johnson wrote a full-length play titled Love Isn't Real that was produced as a part of Samford Theatre Underground's season. Love Isn't Real then went on to win the BroadwayWorld Birmingham award for Best Original Script of the Decade. Passionate educator and stunning dancer, Chloe Tower, has an equally impressive resume. This past summer, Chloe was one of Seattle Children's Theatre education interns, a coveted internship among the theatre education community.

BWW Blog: Reaching the Other Side of the World Through Storytelling
Chloe Tower and Anna Johnson have much in common:
both are seniors, Theatre for Youth majors, beautiful
dancers, powerful storytellers, and dedicated educators.

Chloe and Anna's project shared their love of movement, storytelling, and education with students on the opposite side of the world.

When asked to sum up their project in one sentence Chloe states, "Our catalyst project is centered around using movement and nonverbal storytelling to teach empathy and emotional awareness through a nonverbal storytelling piece and a masterclass presented to students in Taitung, Taiwan and Haiti." Anna further comments, "We created an original nonverbal story that used different styles of dance to convey different emotions." Anna and Chloe designed their project to incorporate what they both love. Chloe says, "Anna and I have a shared passion for dance and movement, as well as international engagement."

The final outcome of the project did not end up being the original plan.

Samford students are required to plan for their senior projects during the spring of their junior years. Initially, Chloe and Anna planned to travel in order to perform and teach to international youth audiences, but COVID disrupted this plan. Chloe reflects, "During the initial quarantine, we weren't sure if the doors would be opened for us to still engage with [international] communities. But the doors opened up in Taiwan and Haiti to engage virtually." Both women had to be extremely flexible throughout the planning and execution of the project. Anna states, "In some ways, this project changed almost every week, but the core of it has always been the same: bring a nonverbal story to communities with limited access to the dramatic arts."

BWW Blog: Reaching the Other Side of the World Through Storytelling
Chloe Tower, Anna Johnson, and Anna
Medley use movement in order to tell
a nonverbal story.

The project had two major components, with the first one being a nonverbal storytelling piece devised by Anna Johnson.

The movement part of the project was completed in a very short time. Anna says, "Because of scheduling and some of the other challenges we faced, we had about a week to choreograph, set, clean, and film the movement piece." This movement piece involved tap, ballet, and contemporary style dances in order to accentuate the differences in three characters that the dancers created. The team had a very specific goal in mind for this portion of the project. Anna states, "[We wanted to share] the catharsis of storytelling without the complication of words."

BWW Blog: Reaching the Other Side of the World Through Storytelling
Teaching students how to identify emotions
was a goal of the masterclass.

The second piece of the project was a masterclass, with curriculum written by Chloe Tower, taught to students across the globe.

Both Chloe and Anna co-taught the masterclasses. Explaining the format, Chloe says, "We taught for a little over an hour and used gesture and music to help students express the emotions they felt by using their bodies. The students began to string those gestures into longer sequences, thus creating their own movement piece inspired by their emotions. Then, we showed our movement piece and had students identify the emotions they saw and the emotions they felt." Anna adds, "[After] the class was over, we discussed critiques with our advisor, Laura Byland, to streamline and perfect the experience for the next class."

Both extraordinary women attribute their project's success to the preparation they received as Theatre for Youth majors at Samford University.

Anna states, "I have studied outreach, creative drama, theatre for youth history, curriculum development, directing, and participated in countless opportunities where I got to go out into the community and teach children drama." In agreement, Chloe adds, "We have received so much training in teaching, curriculum writing, and engaging with diverse populations of students." In addition to this, Anna Johnson says, "Beyond my college classes, I have spent many summers interning at the Children of Christ Home in Haiti, where I taught English, dance, reading. I learned the importance of communication, especially nonverbal communication."

Both Anna and Chloe found much joy during the process and in the completion of their Catalyst projects.

Anna reflects, "I adored working with the kids and leading them through the movement exercises. Watching their confidence in the movement grow throughout the class was a rewarding experience that I won't forget. I also loved getting to work with the dancers in developing and exploring the characters of the nonverbal movement piece." Chloe says, "My favorite part of the project was hearing the students' responses at the end of the masterclass. We heard so many students say that they had never engaged with theatre in this way before and that they feel much more comfortable to be themselves now. That will stay with me for a long time."

Overall, this project impacted Chloe and Anna for the better in many ways.

Both women expanded their teaching artistry, storytelling abilities, and love for international engagement. Chloe states, "This project grew my creativity, adaptability, and inspiration when it comes to lesson planning, and increased my confidence in leading a classroom. Also, both Anna and I gained incredible insight about planning and executing outreach/arts based learning programs from a mentor of mine with Seattle Children's Theatre." Anna says, "I learned how powerful nonverbal storytelling can be. [Nonverbal storytelling] has always fascinated me, and I am already thinking about ways to continue and use [it] in other projects."

BWW Blog: Reaching the Other Side of the World Through Storytelling
The success and positive impact of the project is an
indicator that both women will continue to do great
things in the field of Theatre for Youth.

Anna and Chloe's project is the first of its kind and sets the stage for more students to engage with youth internationally.

Chloe states, "A project like this has never been done at Samford before, so it caused Anna and I to step out of our comfort zone and take a leap of faith." Anna reflects, "I learned that I want to continue writing and telling stories, as well as working with children across the globe." Chloe concludes by saying, "Overall, I feel like a much better person and teacher because of this project. I learned that in the midst of hard times, students need the arts, so we should bring it to them."


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