Igniting the Spark: The Power of Touring Performances

By Jeremy Schaefer, Urban Gateways Performance Programs Coordinator

This month we’re taking a moment to shine the blog spotlight on our Touring Performances – and who better to do it than an Urban Gateways Touring Artist turned staff member? Jeremy, a long-time storytelling performer on our touring roster, now coordinates Touring Performances with our partners; he knows personally the power of live performance (he’s pictured below performing for a delighted school audience). Read on for his perspective. ?

Students trickle into the gymnasium one classroom at a time before taking their seats on the floor, the youngest grades up front and the upper grades in the back. Though they’ve all been in this space dozens of times before, there’s an ambiguity this time – a tension. It’s their space, but it’s about to be changed by the presence of an outsider waiting in the corner whose purpose has not yet been made clear.  Some students are excitedly asking the visitor questions:

“What are you going to do?”
“What’s your name?”
“Are you famous?”

Simultaneously, other students are sharing their own talents with the visitor. Still more young people examine the newcomer with quiet curiosity, while others appear oblivious to – or perhaps even skeptical of – the newcomer while talking to their friends.

The principal makes some opening remarks and then the newcomer, the performer (or a group of performers), takes their position in the students’ space.

In an instant the familiar gymnasium is transformed.

New sounds and movements wash over an environment that was previously associated with the daily activities of gym, indoor recess, or lunch, and consume it with the spark of possibility – the possibility that the walls around these students form boundaries that are only physically rigid. The limitations, mood, and purpose of even the spaces students know best, are redefined during live performance.

In that moment of transformation lies the power of Touring Performances. These shows are custom built to transport audiences to other cultures, introduce them to new art forms, and demonstrate the potential to change the world as young people currently perceive it into one that’s newly imagined through the process of art making.

I have been a Touring Artist with Urban Gateways for the past decade and have been thrilled to witness, many times over, the way an arts experience initiates a spark of possibility within audience members. At the end of storytelling shows, I am regularly met with young people eagerly sharing with me the myriad alternative endings they’ve imagined for the stories they heard. That’s my favorite reaction because it demonstrates that not only have they enjoyed the stories, but they understand the power of their own imagination to take what they’ve heard and reflect it back according to their own dreams and experiences.

By the end of a forty-minute performance, these young people progress from passive audience members to active emerging artists.

Now as Urban Gateways’ Performance Programs Coordinator, I work directly with schools and community partners to bring our diverse roster of dance, music, and theater Touring Performances to their young audience members. One of the greatest joys of my position is seeing students respond to transformative performances every day and hearing teachers share that during and after the show students took risks, stepped out of their comfort zones, and expressed themselves in ways that school staff had not seen them do before.

I have heard parents tell performers “you have no idea how much we needed this today”, witnessed audiences erupting into supportive applause as their peers improvise choreography, seen students ask artists where youth can sign up for acting training, and heard special education teachers express gratitude for the breakthroughs their students experienced after being welcomed into the performance. 

Touring Performances are a reciprocal gift in that the audience discovers a new creative horizon and the performer witnesses, often as an immediate response to their work, the positive impact live art has on future artists.

The performer may provide the spark, but the audience takes it upon themselves to keep that creative impulse burning. 

Click here to learn more about Urban Gateways Touring Performances, or check out our video below!