NBC'S 'SMASH' MAKE A MUSICAL School #6 - Kipp Bridge Charter School, Oakland

NBC'S 'SMASH' MAKE A MUSICAL School #6 - Kipp Bridge Charter School, Oakland

School #6: Kipp Bridge Charter School

Oakland, CA

REPORTED BY: Timothy Allen McDonald, Founder and CEO iTheatrics

January 27, 2012

After a remarkable day working with Place Bridge Magnet school in Denver, we journeyed to Oakland, California to work with the Kipp Bridge Charter School. I grew up in Northern California, in fact my mother attended middle school in Oakland during World War II. I also made my professional debut as a director of musicals in the Oakland area, so I was well aware that our next school was in a tough neighborhood. This fact caused me to have a bit of anxiety—could we really have a positive impact in this neighborhood by building a musical theater program?

West Oakland was the original terminus for the transcontinental railroad and its proximity to the port allowed the area to thrive through World War II with ship building and other port related activities. However, the area declined sharply in the 1950s, especially after a freeway was built through it, which isolated the neighborhood from downtown Oakland. In the 1960s, West Oakland gave rise to the Black Panthers political organization and in 1989, the area, and the freeway which had isolated it, was devastated in the Loma Prieta Earthquake.

Kipp Bridge Charter School is located right in the cross roads of this storied history, and it shares a campus with West Oakland Middle School. Any worry I may have had was instantly alleviated when we walked on campus and were greeted by Ms. Jackson, the school’s principal, leading a large group of students from their morning meeting.  Ms. Jackson had that kind of authority I envy most: quiet, graceful and intuitive.  She anticipated the students’ reactions cutting off any questionable behavior before it could take hold.

Our “NBC’s ‘Smash’: Make a Musical” lead teachers included music teacher Ms. Berliant and dance teacher Ms. Perkins.  Before Ms. Perkins taught dance at the school she was a parent volunteer.  Principal Jackson was so taken by what Ms. Perkins was able to achieve with the students after school, she recruited her as a full-time teacher.

Both Ms. Berliant and Ms. Perkins love their jobs and their joy erupts in constant laughter. In fact, I can’t remember a time when I’ve smiled or laughed so much while leading a professional development workshop. That laughter colors everything they do, especially the attitude of their students.

The students at Kipp Bridge have a unique form of sign language they use to let you know what they’re thinking as you work with them. Hands raised in the air, palms open and shimmering (dare I say jazz hands?) means “yes.” Hands parallel to the ground slicing side-to-side means “no.” Hands flicking towards you like bursting fireworks means “good job” and “keep it up” and “you’re doing it!”  The feedback from these gestures made teaching these kids exhilarating for me. And yes, this will become a permanent part of my teaching rep.

In our exit interviews, we asked why they wanted to build a musical theater program at Kipp Bridge.  Ms. Perkins responded, “When our community of West Oakland sees their kids taking that final bow, they’re going to be filled with joy and this community can really use some joy.”

Amen, Ms. Perkins.  My hands are flicking in your direction, sending you good energy for taking such a positive risk.

“NBC’s ‘Smash’: Make A Musical” program is administered by iTheatrics under the supervision of Timothy Allen McDonald. For more information, or to apply to become a part of the program, logon to www.MAKEAMUSICAL.org.