Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
Natalie Pertz, Resident Teaching Artist

By Theresa MacNaughton, Community Engagement Associate

Natalie Pertz“As artists, we understand that building meaningful relationships are at the core of what we do. It is no exception and equally important to have the same understanding in my classrooms.”

Tell us a little about yourself.

Although I’ve lived in a handful of states, and love to travel and immerse myself in new communities, I’ll always be a Midwesterner at heart! I was born and raised in Ashtabula, Ohio. I’m the eldest of three and was homeschooled by my brilliant mom until high school. Although she never considered herself much of an artist, my mom recognized that a cultural education – involving frequent, midday trips to the symphony, museums, nature study, and the understanding/performance of Shakespeare –was of equal importance to the mastery of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Having the privilege of engaging with these rich, rewarding worlds from an early age inspired me to explore my own artistic voice (beginning with 10 years of classical ballet and later transitioning into voice and theatre).

It was not until the second half of high school that I was truly “bit by the theatre bug” and knew that I wanted to pursue it into college and beyond. In ending my ballet career, I realized that the only thing I missed about dance was the ability to tell stories and captivate an audience. This realization led me to the world of theatre, and I haven’t looked back since. I received my undergraduate theater arts degree from Gannon University; I believe it was the right choice – and quite a formative one, as it was there, in collaboration with non-profits and the city schools, that I had my first leadership experiences as a teaching artist.

You originally started your career at Hartford Stage as an Education Apprentice two years ago. How do you feel the apprenticeship prepared you for your new role as a Teaching Artist at Hartford Stage? 

Natalie (front, third from right) and James Lecesne (front, third from left) with the students from Project Transform.
Natalie (front, third from right) and James Lecesne (front, third from left) with the students from Project Transform.

The undergraduate teaching artist experience I brought into my apprenticeship was limited to what I had learned piecemeal in finding, creating, and experimenting on my own. It is incredible the difference that a season can make when you’re at the right organization with great people. As an apprentice, I became well-acquainted with, and grew confident in, my ability to teach most of our programs. Finding myself as a full-time teaching artist for the first time, I developed stamina to keep going, as well as a flexibility to adjust in the moment and embrace uncertainty. Two years later, as I return to Hartford Stage in a new role, I’m lucky in that I already have a grasp of most of our current programming as well as a strong, existing rapport and genuine support system with my education colleagues. I’m thrilled to be back and looking ahead and am excited for the creative challenges, within and beyond the classroom, that lie ahead.

Take us through a typical (or not-so-typical) day of a Teaching Artist.

Natalie teaching students at Gannon University’s Schuster Theatre.
Natalie teaching Romeo and Juliet at Ellington High School

The life of a teaching artist varies in where you’re teaching, what you’re teaching, and whom you’re teaching it to. Most weeks, you’ll rarely find me in the office before lunch because I’m at a school teaching Connections to students. With Connections residencies, one week I’m in Avon, exploring Stone Fox with 3rd graders at a small, rural school; the following week, I’m in Hartford, exploring Julius Caesar with 9th graders at an urban public school. Should you see me during the workday, I’m usually coming from a Connections program at one school or headed to an afterschool program (improvisation/comedy, reader’s theatre, creative drama) at another. With afterschool programs, I’m writing weekly lesson plans inspired by the interests and accommodating the needs of my class. These programs culminate in some kind of performance to share our work with loved ones. There’s never a dull moment; and there’s constant adventure, growth, and challenge on any given day.

How important is a show like James Lecesne’s The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey to young audiences?

When I first saw The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey in New York two years ago, it was alongside the group of high school students participating in Project Transform that season. Following the performance, these 9th-12th grade students from different backgrounds from all over the state, universally agreed that a show like this is the kind of art that you’ll never forget. Although I highly recommend this show to audience members who haven’t seen high school halls for decades – for young audiences, it is incredibly important because it is a realistic, relatable coming-of-age story about the innate superpower you possess when you embrace your true self – flaws and all. I believe that when young audiences see a timely, meaningful show like this one speaking to them, they are inspired and excited for the next opportunity to engage in a similar way.  

You’ve worked with James Lecesne previously, on Project Transform. Can you tell us about your experience working with him and what most impressed you about James?

One of the most amazing things about a program like Project Transform, for young and professional artists alike, is that there are no parameters to curtail your work and what you want to say. I consider it one of the best educational experiences of my teaching artist career. From our first encounter to the final bow of the culminating performance at The Mark Twain House & Museum, James inspired by example through his ability to always speak forthright and with intention. Young artists can be a critical audience, especially if they believe something is patronizing. With James, when he would speak to a student about a piece, it was always a dialogue rather than a dictation. The ability to balance your work as an artist and educator is not always an easy, equally divisible feat; but what I was most impressed by is that James was able to balance the two in a way that made our young artists feel equipped to take on the world through creativity. Before ever seeing him onstage, I knew from the experience of his infectious energy, openness, and sincerity in the devising process that James Lecesne is a remarkable artist.

Do you have other talents or passions outside of working in theatre?

Since moving back and residing in downtown Hartford, I’ve been spending a lot of time running (I recently ran my first 5k and am registered for two more!) and participating in community activism with different organizations from around the state.  

What is your personal motto in life?

“Toward all that is unsolved in your heart, be patient. Try to love the questions. Do not seek the answers, which cannot be given. You would not be able to live with them. Live everything! Live the questions now. You will then gradually without noticing it, live into the answers some distant day.”   Rainer Maria Rilke