Keeping Imagination Alive: Adventures in Learning with Selah Theatre Project's LaTasha Do'zia
Adventures in Learning Podcast -- Season 1, Episode 5
Host: Dr. Diane Special Guest: LaTasha Do'zia
What makes theatre such an important part of building connections -- both in school and out of school? And how can theatre help foster imagination and self-awareness as part of a strong STEM/STEAM program? Meet Selah Theatre Project's Founding Artistic Director, LaTasha Do'zia. Latasha is a visionary artist and entrepreneur who uses the arts to help build a stronger, kinder, and more creative community. As a teaching artist, LaTasha has used theatre as a tool for teacher development, private business communication, counselor training, mental health intervention, and social justice movements. LaTasha has taught thousands of students during her career as dramatic arts educator in the Shenandoah Valley. In 2021, LaTasha was appointed by the Governor of Virginia to serve as a Commissioner on the Virginia Commission for the Arts, representing the 10th Congressional District. She currently serves as a guest professor at Shenandoah University and guest lecturer at Lord Fairfax Community College. It has been my privilege to lead professional development workshops on multicultural picture books and STEAM connections with LaTasha. We have also co-taught classes at Shenandoah University, where we've explored the power of oral storytelling and bringing multicultural picture books to life.
SHOW NOTES: Season 1, Episode 5 Keeping Imagination Alive
On this episode of the Adventures in Learning podcast, we speak with my friend and colleague, LaTasha Do'zia. LaTasha is truly a woman with many irons in the fire. She runs a successful nonprofit theatre, teaches and mentors youth and adults across the region, and serves on numerous boards to boot -- all while being a mom to two extraordinary young people. I've been fortunate to work with her on a variety of stages, including summer camps, professional development workshops, and now as joint professors for a freshman year seminar that explores ways to bring multicultural picture books off the page and onto the stage.
[02:07] We talk about LaTasha's personal adventure in learning and how she reached a place where she owns and operates her own theatre company. "I discovered theater when I was six years old," LaTasha says. "My mother said that I was too dramatic and I needed to put that energy somewhere."
We've said this before on this blog and on the podcast, but books have an amazing power to provide windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors for children (and adults) as they navigate establishing their identities and figuring out who they are in the world. And if you haven't read it yet, I strongly encourage you to check out Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop's seminal work on the subject. At [04:27], we learn that LaTasha's favorite book from her childhood that also served as a mirror was John Steptoe's Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters.
"It was the first book in elementary school that was introduced to me where characters looked like me and where one of the characters had sort of my name." she says. "And I love the story about how you have these two sisters and how they were polar opposites. And the one who led with her path of kindness and compassion was the one who garnered the honor of becoming Queen of Village. So I really adored that book. And I found that that was just turned into a musical not too long ago."
[05:17] Dr Diane: So does that mean that Selah will be doing that musical at some point?
[05:21] LaTasha: I don't know. The estate still owns it, so only Dallas Children's Theater has been able to perform it. But I was able to connect with the drummer that composed some of the music for it. And we are Facebook friends and we've gone back and forth just talking about the beauty of the story and how he was able to get into creating the music for it, which is African drumming and working with the djembe. It's really cool.
[05:50] Dr Diane: What an amazing example of bringing a picture book to life. And that actually gets me excited thinking about the course you and I are teaching this semester for Shenandoah University, where we're going to be bringing multicultural picture books off the page and onto the stage. And I'm thinking that's such a very cool connection as we're talking to these students.
[06:17] LaTasha: Yeah, it's all about elements, right? How do we bring something that is two dimensional to being basically 4D live on stage? And how do we connect the audience with written word? And that's the beauty of theater, though, right? Because that's what we do. We take written texts and we are able to create and breathe life into it.
We then delve deeper into the creation of LaTasha's Selah Theatre Project, which she started 11 years ago. LaTasha offers a sneak peek at the new season, which includes What the Consitution Means to Me, Trouble In Mind, Macbeth, Akeelah and the Bee, and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? Tickets for this season go live on September 1, 2022. [08:54]
[06:51] "I started as a private traveling drama teacher and I worked with different parks and recreation, just trying to bring the artistic opportunities for young people during the course of school year," LaTasha says. "I wanted to be able to show that they are capable of doing great theater work during the course of the year and how it boosts their wants and their desire and their need to learn, to grow, and to become great human beings." LaTasha has worked with over 1,000 students since launching Selah and made the decision to start incorporating adults in productions in 2014 after parents started getting jealous of their kids' stage time and community experience. "So we do eight productions a year and it's a mixture of youth theater, teen theater, and community theater," she says. "We focus on diverse voices as much as possible. And diversity comes in so many ways. It's not just racial, it's also socioeconomic, it's also learning based. There's so much diversity in our group and we're very proud of that. We're small but mighty."
At [11:55], the conversation turns to the power of moving beyond the page with the fairy tale or story book mashups LaTasha loves to do with young audiences. [12:18] "So one thing that I love about my work, especially with younger kids, is being able to keep their imagination alive," LaTasha says. "They are surrounded by so many world issues and problems that when I was younger, I was completely unaware of, but this generation is fully aware of what's happening around them. So the imagination can die sometimes. And so to keep the imagination alive, we created fairy tale mashups." When LaTasha does mashups with her students, they select two or three stories and create a brand new problem that the characters from those books have to come together to solve. "So it's a really cool concept to get the kids excited," LaTasha says. "They love choosing their characters." PS -- this works with adult learners too.
[16:58] I have been fortunate enough to work with LaTasha to help teachers and librarians unlock strategies for connecting multicultural picture books with STEAM for more engaged learning. We deliberately incorporate drama into these workshops to help educators step outside their comfort zones and discover ways to build connections."The fun part is giving teachers elements to think outside of the norm, to think outside of the box of how can I get my kiddos excited about what they are about to learn and encounter?" LaTasha notes. If you can hook the kids and you can get them engaged with you, then you can go so much deeper into all of the content.
LaTasha is a huge advocate for adding the A (arts) to STEM education. "STEAM is about being innovative, right? she asks. "Being innovative and creating a solution for a standing problem or creating a solution for a possible way to alleviate stress or inconvenience or anything like that. And with the arts, we have a way of creating critical thinkers and problem solvers. And I think of my daughter immediately. She's six, and she loves both the world of science and the world of theater, which is why I call you a lot when she has science questions I don't know." [14:41]
LaTasha's youngest is currently very interested in robots and coding. She wants to learn how to code, as well as how to bring the world of robots to the theatre. Some wonderful picture books and graphic novels to add to that interest in mashing up the world of robots and theatre include the following:
How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk and Sara Palacios
How to Code a Roller Coaster by Josh Funk and Sara Palacios
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
A Rover’s Story by Jasmine Warga
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In case you couldn't guess from the rest of the conversation, there's a good chance that theatre is a central part of LaTasha's life and philosophy, as evidenced by this exchange.
[22:36] Dr Diane: So what currently brings you joy?
[22:43] LaTasha: Theater. All things theater.
[22:49] Dr Diane: That's a good thing. What does the world need more of?
[22:53] LaTasha: Theater. Theater. Accessible and affordable theater. Theater.
[23:04] Dr Diane: And I have a feeling I know the answer to this question. What makes you hopeful?
[23:12] LaTasha: Theatre as a voice. I don't think we use it enough to be a voice for either the voiceless or those that may feel powerless. And it is a great medium to connect with people, to ask the question of why without actually offering a solution, but to get people to engage in conversations and get them to shift or change within their local community or their government, it's powerful and it's important. I'm watching students now band together on how they can appropriately go to their school boards or go to their local government and say, we need more arts programming and we need it because this is how we survive middle school or high school or whatever it may be. So giving them that voice and that tool to be able to use theater as a medium is incredible.
To learn more about LaTasha Do'Zia and the programs and workshops she offers, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org You can check out Selah Theatre Project's current season and offerings at their website.
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Please visit www.drdianeadventures.com to learn more about how I help early childhood and elementary educators and librarians build connections between STEAM and multicultural picture books for engaged learning. Now booking keynotes, conference presentations, and professional development workshops for the 2022-23 school year.
Hey, early childhood and elementary school teachers and librarians -- are you looking for ways to spice up your curriculum, build connections with engaged STEAM learners, and introduce multicultural versions of fairy tales and folk literature? If so, check out my on-demand virtual course, Beyond Ever After. BACK TO SCHOOL SPECIAL: Enter DRDIANEPODCAST10 and get $10 off the price of a Beyond Ever After video experience (complete with PDF of book ideas and activity/STEAM challenge suggestions).
Welcome to the launch of a brand new adventure. In the spirit of building connections, we are going to be talking to a wide range of fascinating people this season. Each episode will explore adventures in learning from a unique perspective, plus feature interesting children's literature and picture books that will pair beautifully with STEM/STEAM challenges for engaged learning. Expect to hear from teachers, authors, STEM leaders, and more. There might even be a #bestdayever surprise or two in store.
*Bookshop.org Affiliate Program: I love sharing news about children's books, and helping families find great books for their kids. It is my passion, and I spend a great deal of time sharing my thoughts on my social media reels, blog, and podcast. I am a participant in Bookshop.org's affiliate program as a way to generate a small amount of income from my work. On each post, I also share links so families can find books at their public library and local bookstores. I also support my favorite independent bookstores, Winchester Book Gallery,Mahogany Books, and Books of Wonder, buying personal books there and sending locals to shop (and selecting them as beneficiaries on bookshop.org).