Posts tagged with The Arts

Case of the Missing Classes, Ep. 1

Episode the First: Junior High Enrollment Days! This past week, Little Madison and Lanky Spencer brought home their enrollment catalogs and forms for their next exciting school year. Little Madison and Lanky Spencer want to branch out from the visual art, vocal music, and band or orchestra classes they have taken and want to try a new performing art drama! You strongly support this endeavor because you have read the report from the U.S. Department of Labor that says the arts are "as important for certain "foundation" skills which include thinking creatively, problem solving, exercising individualresponsibility, sociability and self-esteem." (1) You also know the statistic that says the art industry is "an industry that providessubstantial employment opportunities, about 1.3 million jobs per year, a fact sometimes overlooked by educators. The economic dimensions of the nonprofit arts sector are extensive at $36 billion. It jumps to $314 billion when the commercial arts sector is added." (2)Awww, heck:you took drama in junior high and had a lot of fun! But:neither they nor you can find any mention of drama classes in the fine arts or performing arts section of the course description book. In fact, you can't recall any recent mention of drama under fine arts in those nifty special sections about the public schools with all the smiling pictures the newspaper prints out a couple times a year.Strange, you think, because you know there are both a drama program and a drama teacher at your neighborhood junior high. Did they leave the class out of the catalog? You frantically search the catalog to no avail. Then you decide to see what will be taught in English class next year and skim through the language arts section to discover:(insert trumpet fanfare here ): some courses titled "Exploring Interpretive Literature" and "Experiencing Interpretive Literature." Little Madison and Lanky Spencer groan and beg not to be enrolled in another literature class on top of English and Young Adult Reading. You convince them to write one of them in, even as their last elective choice, because the course description sounds a lot like drama class to you. Then, burning with curiosity, you call the drama teacher at your neighborhood junior high to ask "What's up with that?"Next week's episode: The drama teacher wearily explains.Reports cited: 1.Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, U.S. Dept. of Labor, quoted from the 21st Century Learning Report at www.21stcenturyskills.org2. Arts in the Local Economy, National Assembly of Local Arts Agencies, 1994 1992 State of the Arts Report, National Endowment for the Arts


How do you Deal

Cue cheesy music and twinkly lights. Audience applauds as polyester-suit-clad Bob Talksalot prances onto the stage.BOB: Hello Ladies and Gents, welcome to "How do you Deal," the game show where parent contestants get to try out responses to the news that their child has just read the results of the school play auditions and found that their name was not included on the cast list. I am your host, Bob Talksalot. Let's play!Cue music and applause.BOB: Contestant Number One Little Jaynie has just come home in tears because she didn't make the play:What do you do?DAD ONE: Well, I'd call that director right away and tell him that he's obviously blind if he can't see how much talent my Jaynie has. Why everyone else has always said that she has got dramatic talent, the way she can cry on cue and all. I would demand an immediate explanation, and I would tell that director to look for another job if he can't cast the really talented kids. And I'd make sure the other parents know how unfair that director is.BOB: Thank you, contestant Number One. Contestant Number Two, same question.MOM TWO: I would keep her away from those drama types, and never let her audition again. She's too good for them anyway. And then I would write an anonymous letter to the director, and send a copy to the principal of the school, letting them know how displeased all we parents are that only 30 kids seem to get all the good roles. And who cares about things like occupancy limits, and fire codes, and personal safety, and budget limits and presenting a quality performance surely supervising 70 teenagers in the dark can't be THAT difficult for two adults.BOB: Thank you! Now on to Contestant Number Three. What do you do in this situation?DAD THREE: First, I'd ask Jaynie if she had filled out all her audition forms completely. Then I'd ask if she showed up on time for her audition and was courteous, polite, and confident. Then I'd ask her to tell me about her audition what she thought she did well, what she thought she could improve on for next time. I'd ask her if anyone else she auditioned with got cast, and what strong qualities she saw in them that she could model next time. I'd let her cry, we'd talk about disappointments and how they present some great learning opportunities in life this won't be the last disappointment she knows. And a few days later, I'd encourage her to ask the director when she could find some time to talk about what skills she could improve for her next audition, and to inquire how to be a member of the technical crew.BOB: Judges?Cue sound of dinger and wild applause from the crowd.BOB: Congratulations, Contestant Number Three! You know How to Deal, and so will your daughter! In fact, she's more likely to see her name on the cast list at the next audition, AND she'll get to participate in this current production by being on the crew. After all, I wouldn't look or sound this good without all the technical assistants! (laughs) Thanks for playing. See you all next time on "How do you Deal."Cue cheesy theme music, and fade out.


On With the Show!

Thursday night around 9 pm, a significant portion of the city lost electrical power, including Lawrence High School where the opening night of "Lend Me a Tenor" was just twenty minutes from curtain call. So what do you do when you are performing a show and the electricity goes out? You perform by flashlight, of course!The adage is "the show must go on" and that's exactly what happened. Without hesitation, Director Charles Goolsby told his cast "Don't leave the stage, just keep going," while he and Assistant Director Ceri Goulter stood at the front edge of the stage wielding flashlights as spotlights. Luckily, most of the action toward the end of the second act involves only two people on stage at a time, so the lighting demands were simple. I went to see this hilarious show Friday afternoon. While I was commiserating with Charlie over his memorable opening night, I thought back upon some of my own memorable openings. I can laugh at them now, but at the time they were sometimes horrifying and sometimes merely disappointing.Like the time about eight years ago I had a high school actor on drywall stilts playing the Uncle Sam character in the parade scene of "State Fair." Despite weeks of carefully choreographed rehearsals, someone put a bench in the wrong place at the wrong time backstage and Uncle Sam tripped over it in the blackout for the scene change. When the lights came up, I saw Uncle Sam all nine feet in height sprawled on the floor with his head too close to a platform. He wasn't moving. I rushed backstage with my principal and head custodian to find several girls in hysterics. "He's dead!" they cried. "Don't be ridiculous!" I snapped. Then we grabbed his stilted feet and dragged him off stage during the next transition. When I asked why he didn't move or give a sign he was okay, he explained he thought he would be less conspicuous and the scene would look better if he stayed as flat as possible. "After all," he said, "the scene must go on."Just a couple of years ago, I had a student discover why it is that we never say "Macbeth" backstage. He scoffed at the tradition, being new to theatre, and would go around backstage saying it just to prove the more serious Thespians wrong. We were performing a double bill of one-act adaptations: "The Importance of Being Earnest" and "Much Ado About Nothing." Opening day, he came down with a serious case of some stomach virus. He tried to stay at school rule is you have to be in attendance at least half a day to perform but I could see he wasn't going to make it. I suddenly questioned my practice of working without understudies. So, opening night the role of the Prince in Much Ado was played by one of the lead actors from Earnest, script in hand. He was so natural that you'd never know he had never rehearsed the show and had only watched one rehearsal.Good thing the costume fit, because the show had to go on. The Prince was disappointed, but was well enough to perform the second night of the show. I'll have to save my most potentially disastrous show for another entry. But if you want to know why the arts are essential to the future of our youth, consider the lesson they learn in these seemingly hopeless situations. You want creative problem solvers in your workforce? Hire those who've been in theatre they know how to make magic from a possible disaster.


Ghost Light

Theatre folk are notoriously superstitious. Never say "good luck" -- say "break a leg." No whistling backstage, no practicing curtain call until opening night. And, under no circumstances whatsoever, never ever ever mention the name of 'that Scottish play' in the theater -- just ask one of my former students who scoffed at our superstitions. He learned.

One of my favorite superstitions is that of the ghost light. One light left burning on stage so that the theater is never completely dark -- supposedly so no ghosts come to haunt the stage. I love the image of that one light on a bare stage. A bare stage is nothing but pine boards and brick walls to some, but to me it holds a universe of possibilities, a place where dreams come to light.

I love the theater, the space itself. I joke with my students that a person who is afraid of heights and afraid of the dark should never work in a theater, so I'm not quite sure what I'm doing there!

But I love the theatre. And when it came time to decide what my teaching certification should be, I thought about how much I love theatre despite the fact that I never had a dedicated or qualified theatre teacher all throughout my junior high and high school years. And so, it became my professional goal to provide my students with the kind of theatre education and opportunities I wish I had been granted.

I spend a lot of time in the dark -- as a director watching a rehearsal, as an audience member watching a performance, as a performer waiting in the wings. But I also think that in some ways our community is also 'in the dark' -- unless you have a child or friend in the public schools, I don't think you are really aware of the outstanding talent and programs our students participate in.

So my goal with this blog is to shed some light -- "a little...illumination" to quote The Phantom of the Opera -- on what we do in arts education in our community. To keep that ghost light burning so that our theaters are never completely dark.