Creative Catalyst Fellow pivots from health education to full-time theater work at Hangar Theatre

Carley Robinson had been in the process of transitioning from her work in health education to the theater when she discovered a Creative Catalyst Fellowship in Education and Engagement at Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, N.Y. The fellowship, supported in partnership with the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts at the UNC School of the Arts, turned out to be the perfect springboard — her fellowship evolved into a full-time role at Hangar as a Learning and Engagement Associate.

Robinson had worked with Hangar the previous summer as a teaching assistant and was excited about the opportunity to combine her interests in bringing together the things she's passionate about. "Combining my interests in theater and working with young people was a dream, and being able to do it in a community that has given so much to me felt extremely fulfilling," she says.

Her fellowship began last June and Robinson hit the ground running, working closely with the theater's summer youth programs, in particular the Next Generation School of Theatre, offered to kids in first through tenth grades. Additional projects included community engagement around Hangar's production of "An Odyssey" and working to re-imagine and oversee Project 4, the theater's in-school residency arts education program.

Carley Robinson

Carley Robinson

For Shirley Serotsky, Artistic Director at Hangar Theatre (and a 1999 graduate of the UNCSA School of Drama), the fellowship was an opportunity for the organization to begin evolving its approach to educational programming as a whole. "The Education and Engagement Fellowship position allowed us to re-imagine, re-focus and re-define our approach to in-person educational programming in the summer of 2021, after a full year of exclusively virtual programming," Serotsky says. "Carley brought a sense of compassion, enthusiasm and incredible creativity to this role. Young people and parents were glad to have her thoughtfulness and care in the position, as we welcomed them back to explore improvisation, devising plays, musical theater skills and more at the theater. Her oversight and care, especially in the time of COVID, was invaluable."

That thoughtfulness and ability to start conversations is what led Hangar to offer Robinson the full-time position. "Working with Carley has really opened up the conversation about how we bring learning into every aspect of what we do — from our mainstage productions, to our Theatre for Young Audiences shows, to the programs we have historically labeled as 'education programming.' We're excited to keep working with her to discover ways in which learning can be exciting, delightful, expansive and, of course, creative.”

Below, Robinson reflects on her time as a Creative Catalyst Fellow and the opportunity to continue her work with theater and education.

How did the Creative Catalyst Fellowship help meet your goals professionally?

The fellowship introduced me to arts education on a larger scale than being a freelance teaching artist, and really gave me the opportunity to explore what my place could be within an institution.

Carley Robinson

The most prominent boost has been receiving a return offer to work at the Hangar full-time. The fellowship introduced me to arts education on a larger scale than being a freelance teaching artist, and really gave me the opportunity to explore what my place could be within an institution. Now, I have a different perspective on how all of our education programs work together and how they fit into our theatrical season at large. As I continue my journey at the Hangar and beyond, I'm excited to explore how theaters can better integrate education programming and production.

Can you describe some of the work you did as a fellow? What was most exciting? What challenges did you encounter?

I definitely jumped right into the deep end at the start of this fellowship. In June, we were gearing up for our summer programming Next Generation School of Theatre, and our very first outdoor theatrical season was starting. I was tasked with creating a training program for new teaching artists and supporting them once classes started. All of our classes were on the grounds of the theater, so students were able to see professional rehearsals and productions in real time. They were able to see how everyone at the theater battled with the weather as we created a full season of outdoor programming. In the midst of a pandemic, the kids challenged me to dig into my creativity and joy to move through the hardships.

Can you tell me about any other recent art, work or projects you've been involved in?

I'll be acting in new work with Civic Ensemble. I've been working with Cornell's Performance and Media Arts Department, and consulting with Clockmaker Arts. I'm really trying to understand the landscape of Ithaca's theater scene and continue to foster a relationship with the community as a whole.

March 16, 2022