Workshop Notes – July 2014


In this issue:
July 2014

Today is the Workshop’s Birthday!
By Jessica Mele, Executive Director

49 years ago to this day, Performing Arts Workshop was born (or at least incorporated). Read here >



Birthday Logo

By Maya Sussman, New Sector Alliance AmeriCorps Fellow

How good were the students in our 2014 Showcase? Not even a screaming child in the audience could take anything away from the performances. Read about the unforgettable night here >


Boy dancing

A Method of Escape
By Laurie Loftus, Institutional Giving Manager

Marin Juvenile Hall’s Loma Alta High School is no ordinary school, and its students produce extraordinary poetry in our classes there. Read about our program at the Hall and a selection of poetry from the anthology here >


Anthology Cover

Imagine Yourself as a Warrior
By Emily Bozentka, Administrative Assistant

Step inside the capoeira classroom of Core Teaching Artist Salê Ramos as his students embark on an artistic adventure. Read here >


Girl dancing Maculele

Donor Spotlight: Nancy Wang
By Beverly Mislang, Individual Giving Manager

Meet Nancy Wang, one of Performing Arts Workshop’s first teaching artists! Read more >


Nancy Wang
Visit us on:  Facebook   YouTube   FlickrTwitterPinterest

It’s the Workshop’s Birthday!

by Jessica Mele, Executive Director

“You don’t look that old!” On almost a daily basis, I introduce a new person to Performing Arts Workshop. I share our mission, and I tell them with a bright smile, “…and next year we’ll be fifty years old!”

Inevitably, they tell me that I couldn’t possibly be 49 (ha, ha!). In nonprofits, it’s common to say “us” and “we” when referring to our organizations. As nonprofit public servants, we put in the hours, blood, sweat, and tears; we feel the mission like it’s beating in our chest; we identify with an organization until it is a part of us.

And this summer, I’m cherishing every one of those 49 years. I’m looking back on a history of revolution, disruption, commitment, and fierce love of creativity, starting with one Gloria Unti and leading to twenty professional teaching artists in hundreds of classrooms today. We’ve come a long way, baby, and we’ve got big ambitions for the future.

What is the role of an artist in a school? In an organization? How do artists change the way we learn, think, and challenge ourselves and others? At 49, we’re asking more questions than ever, and using that inquiry to refine our programming to better serve the Bay Area’s youth. Yeah, we’re 49. And 50’s looking mighty good from here!

2963568240_c5f5f1cb81_zDancer and teacher Gloria Unti founded Performing Arts Workshop in 1965.



by Laurie Loftus, Institutional Giving Manager


On June 4, for the fifth year in a row, Performing Arts Workshop published an anthology of poems written by students at Marin Juvenile Hall’s Loma Alta High School with our poet in residence, Raphael Cohen. As in previous years, we celebrated this accomplishment with a reading from the anthology and treated the students to cake to mark the festive occasion.

In many ways, students here are like students at any middle or high school. They build walls around themselves. They can break through brilliantly on the page and never utter a word in class. Often, some of the most shut-down in outward presentation are the most vivid and daring writers.

But Loma Alta students don’t need reminding that this is no ordinary class. They wear Hall-issued orange T-shirts that swim on them, and the white tube socks and rubber sandals you see on TV prison shows. For pens, they use the skinny, bendy ink tubes removed from their plastic holders. Officers sit at the back of the room, and their probation officers can pull them from class at any time. Seeing them in their seats, you can read on their faces what one student expressed in a poem this year: “I can’t even push a door open in this building.”

Over the course of a semester, many students pass in and out of the class. Some leave, never to come back. Others return more than once, and a few stay in for four or five months at a stretch. Having taught writing, I can’t imagine the challenges of presiding over a classroom whose enrollment shifts from day to day. How to build on a lesson? How to maintain the trust you’ve built, and continually re-build it? I’ve asked several teaching artists about this, and they’ve told me about various strategies they devise to minimize the disruptions of students coming and going. Going deeper into the art form, bonding over a shared interest or love of words, and relying on students who have been in the class a while are a few common strategies I’ve heard our teaching artists describe.

Only four students were in the class on June 4. They were outnumbered more than two-fold by adults, including staff and teaching artists from Performing Arts Workshop and TeamWorks, whose residency helped students produce the vibrant artwork in the anthology. Juvenile Hall Director Matt Perry was there; teacher Bart Jones spoke heartfelt words of encouragement in the accomplishments and potential that the published anthology represented, and the importance of having a voice and a public platform as an artist.

The young people in these classes carry heavy weights. Even as we celebrated their accomplishments, encouraging them and inspiring them to see the best parts of themselves, sadness was painfully palpable in the room. As I scanned the room, wondering about the ways in which various adults may have failed them, I found myself also hopeful: Do they believe that we all actually really care about them? Does it get through?

The one student in the room who had something published in the book was especially reticent. We gave each of the students a copy. Since he’s in it, I asked if he wanted more copies. To circulate to family, a friend, someone close, I thought but did not say. He said “No, I’m good” and looked down at his desk.

I threw a few extra anthologies on his book pile when he stepped out of the room.

The public defender who attended the celebration enthusiastically offered to locate the published poets so she could give them each a copy of the book. To the best of our knowledge, this has never happened before. She seemed as thrilled as we are at the prospect of being able to place the book in the hands of its authors.

Before we cut the cake, those in the room read poems from the book aloud. Teaching artist Raphael Cohen led us all off with a simply sung version of Gil Scott-Heron’s “Alien (Hold on to Your Dream)”:

Hold on. Though it may not be a lot, you got to
Hold on. Cause you know it’s all you got
No matter the consequences or the fear that grips your senses
You have got to hold on to your dreams.


We proudly share a few highlights from A More Perfect Fate, whose title, like the title of this story, was taken from this poem:

To Blame & To Change
by Sean

To blame is to formulate
a method of escape
and engage in verbal debate.

To blame is strange
because we hide from an unknown fate.

Blame is like a profound strain
on the human brain
and stains the public domain.

To change is to realize
the rules of the game
and when you know the rules
then you can play.

When you change
the blame and the hate
they fade away
and what you’re left with
is space to create
a more perfect fate.

My Life
by Donja

My life is like Jordan
I’m over all my opponents
when I’m in the air
I stay soaring
I’m always scoring
I float
like a boat
but I still like
to gloat
I cover up
my appearance
with a peacoat
but if you get foul with me
I might shoot you
just like a free throw

Not So Different
by Nico

Different from other people
now I’m not so sure.
Sit down on my front steps
smoking a cigarette.
Looking at the street
the cement, the doors.
Watch as white people walk by
some just walk, some say hi.
I get the hint
that we aint that different
just ’cause the color of our skin.
Is it because we’re all human, not perfect?
Is it because we all find it so hard to listen?
Words become inspirational
not just the rational.
Does it matter where you’re from?
Whether poor or rich in the Bay
we all call this place home.
We as people need to break out
from our ignorance.
Give a chance
just to stand
away from the nonsense you hear
but don’t take nothing away from.


Much gratitude to Loma Alta High School / Marin County Juvenile Hall, and especially Bart Jones; our brave and brilliant teaching artists Raphael Cohen and Freddy Gutierrez; and the Marin Community Foundation for recognizing the value of this work and making it possible to publish the anthology for the fifth year in a row. 

Imagine Yourself as a Warrior

by Emily Bozentka, Administrative Assistant

“Capoeira is a way of life,” says Salê, “and its teachings are a metaphor for you to thrive in life.”

EyeofPassion_000 189Capoeira Core Teaching Artist Salê Ramos

School may be out for the summer, but Performing Arts Workshop classes are going strong. Capoeirista and Workshop Core Teaching Artist Salê Ramos alone has three 6-week classes at the Sunset Beacon Neighborhood Center’s summer camp at A.P. Giannini Middle School. Last Tuesday, I visited his class and witnessed him in action teaching a group of twenty middle school students.

I sat at the front of the classroom and watched as a group of energetic and excited pre-teens ran in, one laughing about a bag of chips she had just shoveled down during recess, and another enthusiastically asking, “Are we learning a new kick today? Are we learning a new kick today?”

As Salê and I sat discussing his classes for Sunset Beacon, I noticed that this group, comprised primarily of middle school boys, needed no directions to start class. They walked in, set down their backpacks, and immediately formed a circle in the middle of the room. Noting what was probably a rather surprised expression on my face, Salê explained: “I make my expectations clear and stick with it. I have only two rules: Attentive listening, and try your best. And of course have fun.”  (Okay, so it’s three rules!) As soon as the last student had joined the circle they immediately fell silent, eyes turned toward Salê eagerly awaiting the start of the class.

It was obvious from the start that these kids were learning more than just footwork, kicks, and head spins.

After a quick warm-up Sale split his students into two groups and had them sit on opposite sides of the room. “Tribe 1 and Tribe 2: Imagine yourselves as warriors.” He then proceeded to tell the legend of Makulelê, a Brazilian warrior who heroically stepped up one day to defend his tribe using only sticks. Throughout the rest of his class, Salê used this story to seamlessly weave Performing Arts Workshop’s methodology and student outcome goals into his teaching of Capoeira.


Salê’s students performing Makulelê, at last year’s student showcase.

When only two students raised their hands to answer a question, Salê encouraged greater participation by asking, “What kind of warrior are you that you sit back and let others do everything?” Several more hands shot into the air. When each tribe crossed the room as half warriors/half animals through an imaginary jungle, warriors who went ahead or fell behind risked running into beehives and other jungle perils. They were simultaneously focused on their movement and expressiveness while developing teamwork skills in looking left and right to ensure the tribe stayed together in a line.

One aspect of Salê’s teaching that never ceases to amaze is his commitment to discussing community and social issues with his students to broaden their cultural understanding. Salê described how a discussion around the economic and social status of the slaves who created Capoeira led to a discussion about homelessness in San Francisco. Students and teaching artist flushed out certain judgments they had about “hobos.” Salê questioned them about the roots of their opinions, helping them to realize something not many adults easily grasp: that their opinions were quick judgments, not based in fact.

Salê’s teaching is an excellent demonstration of the Workshop’s methodology. For Performing Arts Workshop, a child’s engagement in the arts must go beyond simply learning steps and performing them back. We teach young people skills in the arts, but also help them develop critical thinking, creative expression, and essential learning skills. When I asked Salê if this way of teaching was innate for him, he said that the possibilities were always there, but that the Workshop helped him bring them out:

“Before it was a studio setting where I taught the students the moves and they just repeated them….  Capoeira is an art form that is very direct, very specific, and I have to be very creative… to adapt the art form to suit the standards and deliver the message of Performing Arts Workshop. Because I have mentors and people that share my experiences and I can get their input, it helps me to adjust the art form, to have ideas.”

diagram_cycleOfArtisticInquiryAll Workshop artists are trained to use our Cycle of Artistic Inquiry, a teaching methodology we have developed in classrooms over the past 49 years.

Salê just finished his first year as a Core Artist for the Workshop in our first Core Artist cohort. Our Core Teaching Artists commit to a salaried position, more intense professional development, and they are actively interested in developing their leadership skills. Last year, Salê completed several courses in the Alameda County Office of Education’s “Integrated Learning Specialist Program,” which he describes as instrumental in helping him to discover solutions to certain challenges he’d come across in his classes. Salê says:

“In the past year and a half, I would say I think it was a big leap for me as a teaching artist because all this information I have been collecting and storing I can just put to use right now. And it’s showing great results recently.”

These results could not have been more evident in this class for the Sunset Beacon Neighborhood Center.


For more information on our teaching methodology and youth outcomes visit

Donor Spotlight: Nancy Wang

by Beverly Mislang, Individual Giving Manager

Nancy Wang has been a part of the Workshop family since our early days. The Workshop’s founder, Gloria Unti, mentored Nancy in dance, choreography, and satirical theater. Today, she sits on the Workshop’s Advisory Council. She recently opened up to us about how she met Gloria (her “west coast mama”), her storytelling performance organization, and her advice to young performers.


Performing Arts Workshop: How did you learn about Performing Arts Workshop? How did you get involved?

Nancy Wang: When I got to San Francisco in 1968 I began looking for a dance teacher. I went to an art festival of some sort and saw a troupe of diverse dancers/actors doing skits. They were from the Performing Arts Workshop. I loved what they did and looked into their classes, then at the YMCA on Geary, and signed up immediately! The rest is history! I studied under Gloria, began to teach for her, dance in her company and eventually when I met my husband, brought him into the fold as well.


The Workshop: What inspires you to support Performing Arts Workshop? What makes Performing Arts Workshop special or important to you?

NW: I will always be grateful to the Performing Arts Workshop, i.e. Gloria Unti. She gave me the tools, the skills, the support and encouragement I needed to fulfill a lifelong desire and passion to become a dancer. I started late. I was 28 but Gloria saw the raw material and gave me everything I know and use today in my own art form. Performing Arts Workshop became my family and Gloria my west coast mama!


The Workshop: Describe the importance of arts education in three words.

NW: Meaningful, holistic, joyful

The Workshop: What do you wish other people knew about arts education?

NW: How vitally important the arts are for self-development, personal growth and creating a deeper more well-rounded individual who will be able to give more to our needy society. Artists teaching the arts are providing people a valuable way to be in this world that brings joy, evokes deep conversation, and allows for people to view the world in a different way, to create from nothing to make something.

The Workshop: What’s Eth-Noh-Tec?

NW: It’s my (along with my husband Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo) Asian American kinetic storytelling performance non-profit founded in 1982. We tell Asian ancient folktales and myths and contemporary Asian American stories with movement, music and the spoken word. We are interdisciplinary and our stories always have a value to impart. We travel the world with our work. Our mission is to build cultural bridges that celebrate diversity and create compassionate communities through stories that reveal our common truths.

We have award winning dvds and cds. We were inducted into the ‘Circle of Excellence’ by the National Storytelling Network, and awarded the ‘Artist of the Year’ by National Young Audiences. We perform in schools, libraries, colleges, conferences, museums, theater series and produce our own concerts and programs such as ‘Salon! You’re On!’, The Orcas StoryFest, the Nu Wa Cultural Storytelling Exchange in Asia, and most recently produced the world’s first Asian American StoryFest presenting in all these programs the nationally renown tellers of our time.

We have had the privilege to perform at the Clinton and the Obama Inaugural Celebrations. Most exciting is our new training program to pass on our works and our style of telling to the next generation.

Eth-Noh-Tec #2 (2)

The Workshop: What advice would you give to someone with a big case of performance anxiety?

NW: Like I said to my little ones at Performing Arts Workshop, shake your hands quickly! Let the nervousness flow out of those fingertips. And I used to ask: “Who are the performers? The costumes or you?” It still applies today, only I say, “Don’t get in the way of the story, or the dance, or the poem – that’s what’s important and on stage. You are simply the messenger.”

The Workshop: In middle school, what was your favorite kind of music? Who were your favorite musicians?

We’re going way back to the 50’s. Big time Motown! My sister was always practicing piano so I also loved all the classical music as the background to homework. I even gathered all the girls in the neighborhood, passed out scarves, put on the classical station and we would dance stories we made up in my living room.

The Workshop: Who is your favorite author or poet?

NW: No favorites. I read all over the place. I love Rumi though.

The Workshop: What is one art form you wished you learned as a kid?

NW: Since I eventually learned dance…I suppose gymnastics…or singing …or drawing…any art form!!


Thanks for sharing, Nancy!

If you, or someone you know, were part of the Workshop’s early years, we’d love to hear your stories! Email Beverly at




by Maya Sussman, New Sector AmeriCorps Fellow
“My child was beaming onstage. [Performing at the Showcase] has helped him overcome shyness, fears of performing, and he’s a much more confident person since.”

– Chibi Chan Preschool parent

EyeofPassion_000 139

There’s nothing like a screaming baby to spoil a nice dinner out, make you get off the bus a stop early, or convince you to never see another matinee. So you can imagine my horror when, about two-thirds of the way through the BRAVO! @ The Brava student showcase, I heard a distinct wail rising from the audience below me.

At first I wondered if we’d pushed the Chibi Chan preschoolers’ bedtime too far, after their inspiring but surely exhausting performance. But from my seat at the back of the theater I could see them all sitting happily on their parents’ laps in the front row, gazing wide-eyed up at the 4th and 5th grade students from Mission Education Center, who were gracefully acting out memories of their home countries, desert crossings, and reunited families on stage.

I thought of asking the theater techs to turn up the speaker volume, in the hopes that the recording of the students talking about their recent immigration to the United States might drown out the shrieking. But as I silently willed the mother to take her child out into the lobby, I began to notice that the baby wasn’t yelling out of boredom or hunger. In fact, he was enjoying the show just as much as the rest of us, and screaming in support of his older brother on stage: “BRAAAAANDON! BRAAAAANDON! BRAAAAANDON!”

EyeofPassion_000 311

“I felt very happy when I found out [I was coming to the United States] because I was going to see my mother, father, and two sisters. / Yo me sentí muy feliz porque iba a volver a ver a mi madre, padre y a mis dos hermanas.” (Mission Education Center)

While still frustrated by the distraction, I smiled at the realization that we had succeeded in creating a unique opportunity for parents, teachers, donors, teaching artists, board members – and even screaming baby brothers – to come together in support of our students’ creative accomplishments. Though they may not have all been as vocal as his little brother, another seven members of Brandon’s family had come to cheer him on that night, including his father, who had left work early to drive all the way down from Novato.  Brandon and his classmates also had the support of their school community, with their classroom teacher, afterschool teacher, and two other school staff members in the audience, not to mention Mission Education Center principal and Performing Arts Workshop board member Deborah Molof.

Before their students took to the stage, parents and school partners from Mission Education Center and the other five participating schools had the chance to get to know each other and the rest of the Workshop community. Thanks to donations from local businesses like La Victoria Bakery and Rainbow Grocery, the pre-show party was well-stocked with snacks, and many parents cooked or bought food to contribute. While students rehearsed in the theater, their guests were busy posing at the photobooth, making tissue paper flowers, and winning raffle tickets.

When I poked my head into the lobby between dress rehearsals and mic checks, I expected to see a typical pre-show atmosphere of quiet chatting and uncomfortable fidgeting, as guests anxiously waited for the theater doors to open. Instead, I was greeted by the buzz of uninhibited laughter, animated conversations in at least four different languages, and a crowd of families comfortably picnicking on the slope up to the theater doors.

pre-show collage

Thinking back to this pre-show energy and excitement, the shrieks from the lower section of the theater took on a greater significance. Perhaps Brandon’s baby brother was just sharing what we all secretly wanted to shout:

“That’s my brother!”
“Look at my students dance!”
“Can you believe how far they’ve come?!”

Fortunately, the screaming stopped as soon as the Mission Education Center students left the stage, and we were able to listen to readings from Marin County Juvenile Hall’s Loma Alta High School with no distractions. But when all 45 young Capoeiristas, dancers, and poets returned to the stage for a final bow, their littlest supporter was right by their side to cheer them on.

final bow newsletter

Mission Education Center student Brandon brings his baby brother on stage for the final bow.

This event was possible because of all the amazing people who donated their leadership, expertise, time, money, and in many cases, delicious food!

Thank you to the amazing folks at the following businesses:

Asian Art Museum
BAYCAT (Bayview Hunters Point Center for Arts & Technology)
Bi-Rite Market
California Academy of Sciences
Children’s Creativity Museum
Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Goat Hill Pizza
Goood Frikin Chicken
ICHI Sushi + NI Bar
Juan Carlos Pometta, Eye of Passion Photography
La Victoria Bakery
Patxi’s Pizza
Paulette Traverso, Traverso Santana Design
Rainbow Grocery
Real Food Company
San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco Ballet

Thank you as well to all the parents, teachers, administrators, and principals at the participating schools:

– Chibi Chan Preschool
– Dr. Charles Drew College Preparatory Academy
– Mission Education Center
– Visitacion Valley Middle School
– MLK Middle School
– ER Taylor Elementary School
– Loma Alta High School

And, a BIG THANK YOU goes out to the Showcase Committee for their hard work: Maya Sussman, Jessica Mele, Emily Bozentka, Kurt Kunselman, Carmen Milagro, Yashica Crawford, Beverly Mislang, Tina Banchero, Lorena Landeros, and Joseph Tomsovic.