Hello, Ms. Johanna!

on March 9, 2021

Ms. Johanna McKay is a P.S. ARTS Teaching Artist and currently teaches theater at Roosevelt Elementary School in Santa Monica. We love her drama exercises and encourage everyone to try doing some of them for free from home with our P.S. ARTS To Go! series. We interviewed Ms. Johanna about her classes and inspirations and what she’s learned as a P.S. ARTS Teaching Artist. Hear what she had to say!

Tell us about yourself and your art discipline.

I am Miss Johanna – drama teacher for P.S. ARTS since 2003. I have been making drama videos since the stay-at-home learning has begun and am currently teaching drama live on zoom to third through fifth graders at Roosevelt Elementary School in Santa Monica. It’s been like a breath of fresh air to see young faces again with their enthusiasm, talent, and mind-blowing imaginations. 

What does your current teaching setup look like? What are some tools that are essential to your virtual classroom these days?

My teaching set-up is a computer to my left (on my desk), and a borrowed tv monitor on my right where I can see the students’ faces quite a bit larger than on the computer screen. I keep iTunes on the computer screen and a copy of the script so I can easily access it without moving the students’ faces around. I have a lamp and a small ring light in front of me and a fun background of theatrical books, puppets, and dolls. I make sure to shut the blinds so the lighting is as good as possible, not blinding the students. I have my green screen handy for filming videos as needed, with excellent lights and a microphone.

“I am inspired by people like our classroom teachers who are finding ways to make online learning fun!”

Share a “magic moment” you experienced teaching in the last year (an inspirational experience as a teacher or with a student).

A magical experience for me was this past spring when I collaborated with a classroom teacher at William Green Elementary in Lawndale, Mrs. Fusco. She was not going to let a pandemic keep her from engaging her students in a dramatic, theatrical experience! Together we worked to have the students submit video clips of themselves performing for a Zoom adaptation of “Alice Through the Looking-Glass.” By the time we had it all pulled together, we were able to have a movie screening of the production on zoom from our homes, and it felt just as exciting as any screening of a Hollywood film! Parents, grandparents, teachers, staff, and the principal were all in attendance – many zoom pages of people, all sitting together, dressed up, anxiously awaiting the final product. Heartfelt speeches were made and we began the show. Although there were some technical glitches, everyone was proud as punch and each family got a link to the film – which will be a keepsake for them forever. It was very exciting, but more than that, it filled us all with tremendous joy and exhilaration to see the students dressed in costumes, acting their hearts out, and singing and dancing to the beat! My hat is off to Mrs. Fusco for all the energy she poured into the project and all the parents who went to great lengths to film their children and send me the clips. It was thrilling!

Who is an artist you are currently inspired by?

I am inspired by people like our classroom teachers who are finding ways to make online learning fun! I am also grateful for groups that are finding ways to perform online and support charities for the arts like the Lockdown Theatre of England. My sister and I have enjoyed two marvelous online performances by Tim Crouch doing a one-man look at the character Cinna from “Julius Cesar,” and Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Inspector Hound” read by great actors like Emma Thompson and Derek Jacoby with a delightful talk-back afterward with the actors! It really lifted our spirits and made us realize how much we miss the wonders of live theater.

How has teaching for P.S. ARTS shaped your practice as a Teaching Artist?

Working for P.S. ARTS has given me, and all of us, a place where we truly live by our motto:  “We have the freedom to imagine and the power to create!” We’re given the support to help us grow as teaching artists, the freedom to meet the exciting challenge of creating new projects under a different theme every year, and the most amazing community of fellow teaching artists that inspire and bring fresh ideas to every gathering.

Thank you for sharing with us, Ms. Johanna! Watch Ms. Johanna in action in the theater exercises in the To Go! Projects on our website at psarts.org/to-go.

P.S. ARTSHello, Ms. Johanna!