UMS Performance Playground Provides Valuable Online Resources

Performance Playground is a free online arts resource for students, educators and parents — first created by the University Musical Society during Covid to aid educationally, which continues to grow and be refined with each season.

Photo provided by UMS.

Vice President of Learning and Engagement Cayenne Harris said, “These resources are created to enhance learning opportunities in the arts.”

The resources include videos, presentations, and other materials.

“Performance Playground videos and accompanying slides and worksheets focus on various elements of the live performing arts, exploring the skills, traditions, and practices utilized by artists from across disciplines,” Harris said. “They often include cross-curricular connections that help to make the arts relevant to other subjects and daily life.”

Many of the videos include instructors giving valuable information to viewers.

Videos feature UMS artist facilitators — primarily these are professional artists  who live and work in South East Michigan) — who encourage interaction and active participation, with specific instructions, material requirements (when applicable), and demonstrations to help guide the experience,” Harris said.

Videos are captioned for accessibility. These resources are for educational use only and are free to everyone. Children are encouraged to explore resources with the guidance of teachers/parents, or on their own.

Photo provided by UMS.

Covid provided the main impetus for the creation of these materials.

“Performance Playground was originally conceived of and piloted during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic as a tool for educators teaching remotely or families sheltering in place,” Harris said. “This was partly to fill the gap in our community left by the absence of live performances and other educational experiences like classroom visits and also to engage local and regional artists who found themselves without regular work.”

The first set of videos created were made by artists in their own homes using their own equipment. As the pandemic restrictions eased, UMS was able to bring in professional videographers to film Performance Playground.  Terri Park, Associate Director of Learning & Engagement at UMS, serves as lead producer and has helped shape the program into what it is today.

Performance Playground can be accessed by anyone for free on the UMS website. The videos and accompanying materials are designed for easy use in the classroom by educators or for individual use by students. Each episode has a suggested grade level ranging from Kindergarten to 12.

“We currently have 22 lessons available online,” Harris said. “Each lesson has a video featuring an artist facilitator with an accompanying Google Slide presentation plus worksheets that help students synthesize what they’ve learned.”

There’s a  range of genres, styles, instruments, and forms, including dance (ballet, breakdancing, Detroit jit, Mexican folkloric, West African, stepping, jingle dress); music (rap, violin, harp, banjo, dejmbe, oud, bassoon, jazz trumpet, mariachi, ukelele); and theater (musical theater, shadow puppetry, spoken word, character development).

“We piloted Performance Playground in the 2019/2020 season and have refined it and continued it ever since,” Harris said. “Since we don’t require registration or any payment to access the videos, we really only have web analytics to tell us the number of views the videos get and other information. Informally, however, we hear from educators and families in our community about interacting with the resources. We’ve also utilized an educator group to help us refine the materials and make them even more optimal for student learning.”

With each season, UMS is creating and making available even more materials for all to enjoy for free.

“We continue to create more Performance Playground lessons each season and will be releasing more this year,” Harris said. “It’s a real joy to work with the artists who are featured in the videos – they bring so much creativity and enthusiasm to what they do and we think it really comes through in the lessons.”

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