Acting/ Theater instructor Kaity Cookson wears many hats at Potomac – from Teaching Artist, to Office Admin, to Outreach Manager – but her first love is the theater. Faculty Coordinator Claire Allen interviewed Kaity to learn more about this talented arts manager.
CAllen: How long have you worked for Potomac/ Acting For Young People (AFYP), and what are your official titles?
KCookson: I starting working with AFYP as a teacher in their After School program in 2008. In 2011, I joined the team for Summer Camp and began working on the administrative side of things as well, around the same time that AFYP partnered with Potomac Arts Academy. I continued to take on more duties until I became full-time in 2014, which is also when I really began working with Potomac as well. I have a lot of titles because I do so many things! For Potomac, my title is Assistant Coordinator of Data and Programs. For AFYP, my titles are Assistant Director of Programs and Outreach/Resident Stage Manager.
CAllen: How did you first fall in love with acting?
KCookson: I remember doing my fourth grade play (Tom Sawyer) and having a great time, but I didn’t really get into theater until my friend roped me into helping with our middle school musical. I had a lot of fun, so I took the Drama elective both years and continued through high school. It wasn’t until I was pursuing my Theater degree in college that I discovered Stage Management and “found my place”, although I do still enjoy acting on the stage. I can’t say that there is any one experience or moment that truly made me love theater, but it has been a significant part of over half my life. I continue to love sharing it with others, especially children, because I can see how significant it can become in their lives, too.
CAllen: Tell us about a memorable teaching experience you’ve had.
KCookson: I will tell anyone that audition day is my favorite day! Within our various programs, we have about 5 big days each year where students are formally auditioning for whatever show we are working on presently. AFYP is unique in that every child who enrolls in the program is cast in the show–we don’t hold auditions and not let some auditioners in the show. Because we have removed that element of “will I get in?”, our auditions are less nerve-wracking and more comfortable. I get to see our students be brave and share their talent and passions. I am always impressed and inspired on audition day! That is exactly what makes casting days so hard!! I also really appreciate that I am lucky enough to work with students year after after year, so I can watch them grow as people and artists. It is especially fulfilling when a student (who, three shows previously, had been unwillingly to sing in her audition and spoke in the barest whisper) can stand up and completely rock out her audition in acting and singing!
CAllen: What is special about teaching for AFYP/Potomac?
KCookson: When I was a kid, by the time I reached elementary school, all of my extracurricular activities were tied to my school. I certainly enjoyed myself well enough, but going to school and activities with the same people can get draining and occasionally dramatic. Seeing our students, I have really come to recognize how valuable it is to have a space to come that isn’t linked to their school. It is refreshing to see different peers and make new friends, especially for teens that are constantly reinventing themselves. Having a place away from the doldrums of school would have been so valuable to me when I was growing up.
I also love that I get to do a little bit of everything. From day to day, I might be teaching a class, stage managing a show, set designing, planning social media calendars, writing blog posts, reading scripts, registering students, planning events, training staff, leading workshops, creating curriculums, creating schedules, and much more. It never gets dull and it keeps me on my toes! I also love that I still get to work creatively each and every day.
CAllen: What are some unique things you do when you teach?
KCookson: These days, I work primarily with students aged 11-12. Some of the students in that age group have been with AFYP since they were 5 years old, so I am always looking for new exercises and ways to mix things up. I love activities that make students think and cooperate in different ways. Some of my favorite activities involve problem-solving without using your voice and various ways to create a story.
Since I am a stage manager, I also try to incorporate mini-lesson on the technical elements (or “backstage stuff”) of theater. I talk about how to write down blocking in a shorthand, and that I write down the blocking for all 40 characters for the whole show. I talk about each of the different technical elements that can enhance a performance. Most of our students, should they choose to do theater in their high schools and/or colleges, will likely have to work in tech at least once, and I try to give them a few hints to help out when that happens.
CAllen: Do you have any pets?
KCookson: I do! Growing up, we always had a whole zoo of animals (from dogs to mice to lizards to a squirrel), so it feels a little lonely with just my one dog, Punc, living with me right now. Punc [pictured above] is short for Punctuation, since she was born with exclamation point-shape spots on her stomach. She’s a Boston Terrier mix and is pretty awesome. She even has her own instagram! I also have a 15 year old cockatiel named Cacique [pictured below] that still lives at my mother’s house, since he is bonded with the other birds there.
Thanks Kaity for giving us a “behind the scenes” peak at your work and creative process!