Transforming Trauma Episode 058: Trauma-Informed Education and Theatre with Dexter Ellis and Jacqueline Russell
A podcast brought to you by the NARM® Training Institute
In this episode of Transforming Trauma we hear from Jacqueline Russell and Dexter Ellis. Jacqueline is the Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Chicago Children’s Theatre, and founded The Chicago Children’s theatre seventeen years ago with the goal of creating the best quality children’s theatre. She also started the Red Kite Project in order to support children on the Autism Spectrum, providing them and their families with theatrical and educational programs. Dexter has been with the Chicago Children’s Theatre for over four years, and now proudly serves as the Director of Education & Community Programs. Jacqueline and Dexter completed the Level 1 NARM Online Basics Training last spring and are integrating a trauma-informed approach into their work with youth and the performing arts.
Dexter and Jacqueline reflect on their experiences of going into various classrooms throughout Chicago. They noticed disparities in access to resources, economic and racial divides, and a strong need for trauma-informed care. The pair reflect on how their NARM training has impacted their work. Jacqueline shares that she’s noticed she’s more able to stay connected to herself and not try to “fix others”. Dexter expressed that he has more capacity to be more curious with the kids that he’s working with as well as in his personal relationships. For both Jacquelin and Dexter, a central theme of NARM, “being in the 50/50”, which means staying connected to oneself while connecting to others, has really impacted how they relate to themselves and the people they work with.
Dexter reflects on how this framework has impacted how he relates to and holds space for the kids. The trauma-informed curriculum they created at the Chicago Children’s Theatre supports young children to connect to their emotions and build resilience. Dexter shares an example of ways that they use curiosity with the kids if they break an agreement. “We ask the kids, what were you trying to get in that moment, how did it make you feel, how did it make others feel?” This supports a deeper connection between the teacher and the child and helps them to connect more to themselves and build resilience.
Jacqueline explained that the NARM training has helped her to see the important need for children to be seen, heard, and understood by the adults in their life. This builds a heart connection that is often lacking for children and even for many adults. She reflects on a central theme of the NARM Training: heartfulness. “We talk all the time now that [in our] work for children and with children about how important it is that the work is heartful.”
Jacqueline Russell is Co-Founder and Artistic Director, Chicago Children’s Theatre since 2005. Previously, she served as the Executive Director of Lookingglass Theatre Company, during which time she led the company’s build and move into Lookingglass’ current performance space in the Water Tower Water Works. Before joining Lookingglass, she spent five years as Director of Children’s Programs at Old Town School of Folk Music. In addition to leading CCT’s main stage and award-winning new play development, Russell is the creator of the Red Kite Project, a CCT program dedicated to bringing theatre into the lives of children with special needs. In 2010, she was appointed by the U.S. State Department to serve as Cultural Envoy to Canada, and was honored with the 2013 “Hero of the Year Award” from the Chicago chapter of Autism Speaks. She was named “Tastemaker” by Time Out Chicago Kids, and has three times been highlighted in New City’s “Players” list of “People Who Really Perform for Chicago.” She over saw the funding and renovation of The Station, Chicago Children’s Theatre’s first permanent home located in an old police station which opened in the city’s West Loop in 2017. Chicago Children’s Theatre received a National Theatre Company Award from The American Theatre Wing in 2018 and the 2019 Award for” Artistic Innovation” from TYA/USA. Jacqueline is one of 20 women featured on the city of Chicago’s mural “Rush More” by Kerry James Marshall. She spent her early childhood in Beirut and is originally from Houston, Texas and received her BFA from NYU. She has a daughter, Shiri Nicole, two kittens and a turtle named Leonard.
Dexter Ellis is a Louisiana born educator, director, and actor that misses the crawfish and gumbo but is humbled by the Chicago theatre community. After being with Chicago Children’s Theatre for 5 years, Dexter now proudly serves as the Director of Education & Community Programs where he creates a wide variety of programming for Ages 0-14 throughout Chicago. Dexter has also co-directed several public performance pieces with Chicago Children’s Theatre in events such as Luma8’s Art in the Dark Parade and DCASE’s YAS! Festival. Other notable projects at Chicago Children’s Theatre have spanned from creating international curriculum centering on the UN’s Sustainable Goals with The Pomegranate Workshop in Mumbai, India to creating curriculum with the Lurie’s Center for Childhood Resilience that focuses on generating trauma responsive spaces in the classroom and equipping young people with tools to be resilient in a temperamental world.
Learn more: www.chicagochildrenstheatre.org
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