Julia Motyka on Bay Street Theater’s Expanding Educational Initiatives

Bay Street Theater director of education Julia Motyka.
Bay Street Theater director of education Julia Motyka.

Bay Street Theater and Sag Harbor Center for the Arts, which made waves in the local arts scene over the summer with a mainstage season composed mainly of original work, continues its evolution with new educational initiatives for children.

Julia Motyka, who co-starred in Travesties on the mainstage this past summer, was named the new director of education earlier this year and she is excited to give children opportunities to be explore the arts.

“We have expanded our program to diversify thematic programming by age, and also location,” Motyka says. The theater’s summer camp, which has had three sessions in the past, expanded to four this past summer, with partnerships with Studio 3 in Bridgehampton and Southampton Arts Center. “The younger group did a ‘choose your own adventure’ and a mini Midsummer Night’s Dream,” she says, noting her background in teaching Shakespeare. “The older kids [9–12 years old] did a ‘build your own play’ using My Life Is a Musical and playing on the idea of what would happen if you woke up one day in a musical.”

My Life Is a Musical, which closed out the summer season, made its world premiere at Bay Street and several actors from the show worked with the kids. “The campers spent a day with the cast members. Everyone had a blast, and the kids were able to ask [some of the actors] a number of questions.” Campers also got to take a tour of Bay Street’s backstage.

Motyka has taught Shakespeare to kids for over 10 years. “My work has been largely classically based,” Motyka says. “This is the first time that I’ve been given a wider scope to take on with a whole department.” She wants Bay Street’s programs to be accessible to kids of all skill levels. “It’s a really wide range. What we’re really looking to do is help each student develop [his or her] own voice. If they go on to develop a life in the arts, that’s wonderful. But our goal is to develop a sense of self, a sense of play. Some have done theater at school and beyond; some have not. We’ve had counselors and instructors who know how to deal with that diversity.”

Counselors this year included a schoolteacher who runs a drama program at a school on the North Shore, as well as a theater MFA candidate.

Currently, Motyka is looking forward to the theater’s Literature Live! program, which will present To Kill a Mockingbird from November 5–29. To allow for more schools and students to attend the production, Bay Street is offering a free ticket for every student. “We have around 2,800 students coming next month, and we’re reaching pretty deep into Nassau County. There were so many [school district] budget cuts, so we wanted to see what we could [do].” The theater is also offering an in-school teaching artist program in which an arts professional will teach a theater program based on tolerance and social/racial prejudice in the 20th century. “The program isn’t necessarily targeted toward theater students, but toward literature and social studies classes. We’re psyched about that. The more we can offer a fully rounded experience, the more we’re able to do our jobs. We’ve also been talking with other schools to come up with some theatrical material with their curricula.” The performances of To Kill a Mockingbird are also open to the public.

Bay Street will be offering weeklong, full-day vacation camps this winter. There are other programs that are just in the planning stages, as well. “We’re talking about putting together some after-school classes. If people would like to sign up for an interest list, they can email us at [email protected].” Motyka is excited to be in the middle of all these developments. “I feel like, as a new member of the community, it’s been such a supportive and enthusiastic reaction.”

“Literature Live! To Kill a Mockingbird” runs from November 5–29. For more information on the free ticket program and other Bay Street Theater educational programs, call 631-725-0818 or go to baystreet.org.

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