Daniel Sheridan’s commitment to his craft comes across loud and clear. Currently the artistic director of Davenport Junior Theater (DJT) and the performing arts supervisor for Davenport Parks and Recreation (DPR) in Davenport, Iowa, Sheridan has dedicated more than half his life to learning the art of theater and passing those techniques on to the next generation. He believes the theatrical arts play a vital role in developing communication skills, capacity for teamwork, empathy and fitness in young people. We recently convinced Sheridan to take time out from his busy schedule to share some of his insights from the artistic side of the recreation industry.
Parks & Recreation Magazine: Start by giving us some personal details.
Daniel Sheridan: I just turned 31 years old. My wife, Jessica, and I have been married for five years. We live in Davenport, Iowa, with our three cats — we have no children of our own yet, but I have hundreds and hundreds of kids at [Davenport] Junior Theater. I have been with Davenport Parks and Recreation in my current capacity since August 2008; however, I grew up working for parks from 1997 to 2001.
P&R: Talk about how your career has evolved. You have an extensive background in theater — did you ever imagine you’d be working as a park and recreation professional?
Sheridan: [Becoming involved in parks and recreation] really snuck up on me. I took this job to help kids access the art and craft of theater. However, over time I have come to passionately believe in what parks and recreation accomplishes within a community. We have expanded the scope of [DPR’s] performing arts [programming] to reach even more of our citizens.
The Davenport Junior Theater program had deteriorated to the point [that] it was going to get rolled up into a more general program concept back in 2007/08. The world without DJT just didn’t compute to me. I came back in August 2008 as a 20-hour-a-week coordinator with only a few fellow part-time staffers. Now we have 30 staff/instructors, and I am blessed to have earned a full-time position. I get to do what I love each day!
P&R: Why do you feel arts are an important part of programming for a park and recreation agency?
Sheridan: DJT is all about developing the tools to communicate clearly, confidently and creatively. Lucky for us who love sharing the performing arts, we get to use dance, theater, design and more to reach these goals of communication. We also have fun! If students are having fun, they cannot help but learn and want to learn more. The performing arts are much more physical than people give them credit for, which makes them a perfect fit for parks and recreation. As the performing arts are currently in a downswing in public education, there is a gap for us to fill in the recreation field.
P&R: Tell us about one of your proudest moments as performing arts supervisor and artistic director at DPR.
Sheridan: Wow — there are a lot. Honestly, any time one of my students discovers something new. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing the kids, 3 years old or 18 years old, succeed. There is a light that goes off behind their eyes. I have learned never to count a kid out. It is our job to believe in them and teach them all we can.
P&R: What advice would you give to other agencies that might want to expand their arts offerings or start a new program?
Sheridan: Know why you are doing what you do and make it about something that affects your students for life. The goal of your arts programs must be about developing the whole person and their skills, then find a way to prove you are accomplishing your goals to your community. The proof is in the pudding, which is why all our performing arts programs end with a performance onstage for family and friends. The students need the experience of seeing what it feels like to use their communication skills in front of an audience...and parents seeing the result [of that work] connects them more to their child’s activity.
Interview by Samantha Bartram, Associate Editor of Parks & Recreation Magazine