Delia Zielinski

Teaching Artist Spotlight: Delia Zielinski

Delia Zielinski is the Teaching Artist Board Liaison at ArtStream and a beloved member of the DMV theatre community. Musical theatre and opera are her favorite forms of artistic expression. She is a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) and performs on stages across the country, including Annapolis Opera, Center Stage Opera (PA), the Capital Fringe Festival, and the Johnny Mercer Musical Festival, among others. Delia has also recorded a classical art song album.

We were excited to chat with her about her involvement with ArtStream since 2013!

Tell us about yourself. What is your background and how did you get involved with ArtStream?

I first learned about ArtStream from a private voice student who was also a parent of an ArtStream actor. She mentioned that I should consider mentoring with ArtStream, but I wasn’t very familiar with Inclusive Theatre. Soon after I received an email that ArtStream was looking for assistants, and I thought, why not? I applied in 2013, and I think they especially liked my music background. I was immediately hired to assist with some Self Advocacy workshops happening in schools on the Eastern Shore, and I just really quickly clicked with the work, the students – who were so endearing and wonderful – and my lead Teaching Artist, Penny Russell, who is an ArtStream veteran. It was one of those moments where I thought, “where has this work been all my life? I love this stuff!”

What is something the ArtStreamers would be surprised to find out about you?

My ArtStream friends may not know that I lived in Paris, France, for a few years after college. Over there I did some teaching, some music-making, and some au-pair-ing. I improved my French, and I even met my husband over there (he is from Poland). Together we decided to move to Maryland, and we’ve been here ever since. Those were my bohemian years, and they were life-changing!

What is your favorite ArtStream class topic to teach?

I have to go with singing, although I love the variety of things that I teach with ArtStream. Music is my everything, and through singing, I can connect with anyone. I think singing can open up a whole new place for someone. It can change a person’s state, it can energize, it can elevate. Singing is both magical and deeply human.

What do you feel is most important to teach your students?

One of the most important lessons I have learned about teaching is from reading about Mr. Rogers. Yes, the TV personality Fred Rogers from “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” He spoke about “validating” children, and I have never forgotten that. Whether working with children or adults, I think validating an individual is essential. Acknowledging their abilities, their potential, their choices, their personality, their quirks and their humor – it carries a lot of weight. You can do anything in a classroom or rehearsal room if you start from a place of respecting and dignifying each student or participant. The other equally important thing I bring into teaching is humor. Humor and laughter are like oxygen to me!

Your classes are so creative – how do you prepare for each class?

Typically the main objective in ArtStream classes is engagement, and then seeing where you can go from there. So, depending on the kind of class, whether it’s a social club, or a music class, I will draw up an outline based on the time allotted (because I’m kind of neurotic about time management!). This outline or skeleton plan will always allow for change and shifts, because you never know what’s going to happen on any given day. I have learned a lot from other Teaching Artists how to just turn on a dime if an activity or game isn’t working, how to shift to something else and still keep the energy flowing. Or, if an activity is working well, you can expand on it, or deepen it. This is where the “artist” part of “Teaching Artist” comes in! You can’t be rigid, but you also have to steer the boat!

Please share an example of something that happened at ArtStream that you will never forget.

I have many meaningful moments while teaching with ArtStream, but I can think of one that was especially nice. I was leading a Self Advocacy class with one of our partners, in Westminster, MD, for adults, and one of the ladies in the class was nearly non-verbal and very shy. At some point someone let me know that she liked to sing, and that her favorite song was “Amazing Grace.” I encouraged her one day to sing it with me, and she just burst out with a clear voice, perfectly in tune, and sang the whole song. Then she felt so good about herself. It’s times like that I think, “Yep, people are just full of surprises.” Whenever I can just make a connection with any student, I know that’s the art working.

What kinds of changes have you seen ArtStream students make in your classes?

Feedback has also been very valuable to hear, since I’m usually just focused on the task at hand when I’m in a class or activity and don’t know how it’s affecting any participant. I’ve heard from some ArtStreamers how they have learned singing skills in my classes and successfully brought them into their theatre auditions, so that’s pretty great. Also, I’ve learned how some have had successful job interviews because of how they learned to speak more slowly, clearly and confidently thanks to practicing improvisation and drama games. Others may have simply gained confidence in general, while others have made good friends in their theatre companies or in classes. The performing arts are very powerful like that.

So many people at ArtStream admire you. How do you build those meaningful connections?

I think I have built connections between our participants and our other Teaching Artists, both of whom inspire me constantly. ArtStream Teaching Artists are some of the most creative and intelligent people I know. It is a special calling to do this work, and I have learned from so many of them. I hope that wherever my life takes me, I can always surround myself with folks like our Teaching Artists and folks like our clients. This work has made me more creative, spontaneous, and wise. I’m still a work in progress, but thanks to all of them, I feel like there’s nothing I can’t do!

Why did you decide to become a Teaching Artist?

I guess I never “decided” to become a Teaching Artist; it chose me. Years of singing and performing gave me new ears which led me to teach voice and suddenly wanting to help people learn to sing. Being a part of the DC Theatre Community led me to ArtStream, and as I mentioned, the work just clicked. The depth of creativity this work requires makes me feel like I am contributing in the best way I possibly can.

For more information about Delia, check out her Teaching Artist bio!