Imagination Collaboration

CoachArt Kids and NHM's Performing Artists team up for dino-mite workshops.

CoachArt Design

Published August 28, 2023

NHM’s Performing Arts Department has been hosting CoachArt workshops for over a decade, and the students and their puppeteer coaches are roaring back together again this month. CoachArt is an organization founded to match kids affected by serious illness with volunteers who teach them arts or athletics skills. These programs help kids shake off a "sick kid" identity and step into new ones.

A new contingent of CoachArt participants, ages 6 to 18, will learn how the Performing Arts team collaborates with scientists to create the Dinosaur Encounters shows that bring those extinct creatures back to life. The 15-minute non-verbal performances, held regularly in NHM’s North American Mammal Hall, tell the story of a day in the life of a juvenile Triceratops using shadow puppets, rod puppets, and marionettes. Two full-suit puppeteers operate a pair of realistic dinosaurs, Dakota the Triceratops and Hunter the T. rex.

In the daylong workshop, students are schooled in narrative structure and learn how the Performing Arts team at NHM collaborates with scientists to accurately portray the environments dinosaurs lived in during the Cretaceous. Brianna Kallie, one of the participants who has been to multiple workshops over the years, has also spent some time with her family at NHM's Dinosaur Institute, getting a rare, close-up look at the ancient bones. This is the kind of long term connection that the Coach Art and NHM workshop collaborations can foster.

CoachArt kids with Nate Smith Dinosaur Institute and Brian Meredith
Dinosaur Institute Curator Nathan Smith with (from left to right) Brianna, Alexander and Christian Kallie. Brian Meredith, far right, is the current Manager and sometimes puppeteer on the Performing Arts Team.

The students create unique and fully realized supporting characters and handcraft puppet or costume to appear onstage with the expert puppeteers operating the charismatic dino stars. To conjure characters to join Dakota and Hunter or make a paleo fashion statement, the young people will have ample materials at their disposal, including felt, yarn, dowels, cardboard, paper, pipe cleaners, egg cartons, markers, hot glue, and scissors. The culmination of the day is when the students perform with their Dinosaur Encounters co-stars, Hunter and Dakota.

"I see these workshops as an immersive learning experience that combines hands-on art, science, and storytelling. CoachArt students are impacted by chronic illness, but that's not the focus of the day,” says Emily Franz, Theatrical Technician in the Performing Arts Department who wrote the lesson plan together and led the workshops. “The goal is to create a fun and supportive environment where students and their families can enjoy creating something together.”

In the past, CoachArt and NHM have worked together on a variety of workshops, such as shadow puppets and mask-making. In the new Dinosaur Encounters workshop, the characters that emerged from the kids' minds were winningly outrageous. The lessons came alive with individual sounds, movements and expressions. There was everything from a tardigrade complete with a magnifying glass to two micro raptors, an exploding volcano, and five identical dinos all named Gary. The Museum’s Performing Artists who helped with the July workshop include Zach Bones, Betsy Zajko, Oscar Nava and Jamie Hansen, with Brian Meredith serving as Project Manager. Theatrical Technician John Conant will be making sure the students have the appropriate atmospheric flourishes for their performances, adding cues in the Tech Board like rain, thunder or music based on the stories they create. Museum Educator Anthony Turner, a special guest speaker, will have a brief conversational Q&A with students, focusing on dinosaurs and Late Cretaceous facts. Meanwhile, Performing Artists Krys Baioa, Craig Gibson, Drew McCourt, Rachael Caselli, T Conde, Justine Davis and Jon Williams helped to keep the other regularly scheduled Encounters programming going.

Brianna Kallie in dino workshop in 2022
Brianna Kallie holding her stick puppet of a tardigrade, a microscopic eight-legged animal, at an NHM/CoachArt workshop in 2022.

"Teaching with my colleagues who each bring a unique set of skills, being supported by CoachArt volunteers, and working with the boundless imaginations of the students is a joy,” says Franz. “Working with these students and their families has helped me grow as an artist and educator. I'm always completely inspired and blown away by what the kids make.”

CoachArt Brianna Kallie prehistoric marsupial
Brianna Kallie working on a mask based on a prehistoric marsupial from the 2017 Mask-Making Art Club.

"The Natural History Museum continues to be a wonderful partner in our efforts to bring smiles to kids who are facing life's toughest challenges," said CoachArt Executive Director Greg Harrell-Edge. "Museum staff have been wonderfully imaginative and thoughtful in creating workshops and experiences that enable CoachArt kids to discover new abilities and interests."

Read more about why Brianna's was destined to be a dino fan in this story hereFor more information about CoachArt and their many collaborations with NHMLAC, please visit their website.

Brianna Kallie CoachArt