By Matt Larson
The Quinan Street Project is helping kids come out of their shell.
Story ideas get recommended to us all the time, and we’re happy to come through for you as often as we can. The story you’re reading now began when Catherine Malicdem-Ames’ three young children—a 4th grader, a 2nd grader, and a kindergartener—were yelling “Mama Mia it’s a big pizza!” in the car. “It was then I found out they were taking theatre classes during school time and were practicing their warm up,” she said. “My children enjoy drama classes every week, made possible by The Quinan Street Project—a homegrown organization that our community needs to know, and can be proud of.”
The Quinan Street Project provides theatre education programming to students in West County with curriculum that is crafted to meet the needs of the California Visual and Performing Arts Standards, as well as the need for equity and social justice in a diverse community. With an emphasis in playwriting and Shakespeare, they currently serve students at Lupine Hills, Riverside, Sheldon, and Murphy elementary schools, as well as Collins Elementary School where it all began in 2011.
“I started volunteering at Collins because of our neighbor on Quinan Street! She was such a gifted theater performer as a baby that I knew she deserved to have some theater classes she could attend,” said Anna Smith, Executive Director of The Quinan Street Project, who was born and raised on Quinan Street in Pinole. “I started this because I saw a need for arts education to be put back in our classrooms in this district, and to be brought back to the children of this community.”
Over these past six years Smith has made a difference. Teachers have seen noticeable changes in their students who have participated in The Quinan Street Project’s programming. They remark that these students are more likely to speak up in class, or that their voices are louder and more clearly understood when speaking. “We’ve even had kids overcome stutters over the years,” Smith adds. “We’ve also had some kids speak audibly for the first time that the teachers have heard. There are a lot of positive outcomes for young people doing theater.”
Typical classroom residencies consist of 12 lessons. The first six lessons introduce some of the main theatrical subjects like ensemble, pantomime and tableau, changing their voices for different characters, talking about improvisation and saying “yes” to each other, being supportive of each other in the space, and so on. The latter half of the program puts those concepts into action, resulting in a final performance for the class or invited family members, and for some grades they’ll end up with a brand new play that they’ve written themselves!
Smith is a self-proclaimed Shakespeare nerd, and actually was able to use her writing style to help a student memorize. “I explained each line that rhymed was 10 syllables long, had a rhyme at the end, and had a heartbeat rhythm,” she said. And it worked! “This tool that helped people learn their lines 500 years ago is still able to help an 8 year old today. I just think that’s cool.”
The Quinan Street Project has finally secured its own location on Quinan Street in Pinole. “I really want it to be a community-based project,” Smith said. “I hope that our space can become a safe space for kids who are interested in theater, where they can come to be creative and silly and make mistakes and just grow as individuals.”
With this new space they’ll be expanding their summer camp program this year by offering three separate two-week camps for ages 6-9, 8-11, and 11-14. Financial aid is available and their goal is to never turn anyone away. This spring they’re looking forward to incorporating mindfulness in their lesson plan, and this fall Smith is hoping to expand their after-school programming as well.
There’s much to do! And much to learn about The Quinan Street Project. To stay posted or even get involved yourself, please visit quinanstreet.org or call (510) 691-8089.