Merle Perkins has been with Urban Improv since it began in 1992, as just a nine-week program for 4th graders at the Tobin and Farragut Schools in Roxbury. After 26 years of working as an actor-educator, Merle now facilitates the workshops, guiding student participation and dialogue. Urban Improv Artistic and Education Director Yaa D. Acheampong states, “Merle is a thoughtful facilitator. She wants to know every student’s name and hear every student’s voice. And it doesn’t stop there. She also wants each of the actor-educators in her troupe to be heard and known by the students too.”
The Urban Improv Method includes actor-educators creating realistic scenes, and then at a pivotal moment, the facilitator calls “FREEZE!” Students are invited to jump into the scene and use their minds, bodies and creativity to resolve the conflict, experiencing the consequences of their choices first-hand. Through tools such as music, improvisation, humor, and role plays, students confront issues like stereotyping and peer pressure, while practicing social and emotional learning skills. For Merle, this means students have the opportunity to live in the moment and practice what it’s like to make a hard decision. She teaches the students that not only do they have choices, but also they have the ability to make choices.
Merle believes Urban Improv differentiates itself from other programs in that it’s not about theatrical entertainment, but about creating the space for students to practice making life decisions. With the additional stressors young people face such as social media, she believes that now more than ever, students need the safe space Urban Improv provides to practice critical social and emotional learning skills.
“Students are really learning about life, not just from their own understanding, but from watching their peers make choices. There’s a connection that everyone shares (in the workshops). We set up an environment in the beginning of the series that establishes a safe place where everyone’s opinion matters. We believe that every student’s opinion is valuable and should be heard. A lot of time as a young person, you don’t get to hear that from adults, but we want to know exactly what you’re thinking and what you’re feeling about these issues. At the same time, our workshops are based in kindness and respect. If you disagree with someone else’s opinion, it must be done in a way that’s respectful. If it’s an opinion that could be seen as hurtful, we explore it and really try to get to an understanding. One thing from the beginning of the program is that this is not a place where you are going to be told what to do or that there is right and wrong way. Our hope is that students will see the story, hear and understand what other people think and feel about it, and then make their own decisions. We want kids to have an opportunity to explore what they think and feel. This is not a program that tells you how to behave, it’s a program for you to come and learn about who you are.” – Merle Perkins
If you’d like to see Merle and our students in action at a workshop, please contact Kristen Sherman at firstname.lastname@example.org