The Only Constant is Change

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Why theatre when there’s virtual reality?

chaos divine maxresdefaultIn a world that makes it so easy to exist almost completely in a virtual world what would beckon us into a three dimensional archaic art form like theatre? Theatre requires us to leave the isolation of our homes, get dressed, go to a venue, sit with other real people and listen to real people tell stories in a linear fashion, while we witness – usually without participating – as the plot unfolds. Why not just turn on a tv and sit in the safety of isolation in our homes? Why not turn on the computer, create an avatar and maneuver our way through fabricated worlds creating an illusion of who we are? Why would we WANT to experience live theatre?

Perhaps because as of yet, we still exist in fleshy bodies. And being fleshy, organic humans we still long for connection with other human beings. We still long for self-expression, self-knowledge and self empowerment and want to know and understand our history. We still have a curiosity about our neighbors, and yearn to be part of a tribe.

But there is a price for connection. Connection brings together things that are not necessarily the same, and things that are not the same can sometimes lead to conflict. Conflict has gotten a bad rap, because conflict without good communication can lead to combustion. Conflict, and in particular combustion, can be uncomfortable. So much easier to pull back, and choose to live “virtually”; no real risk – but no real connection either.

We can actually have both. Virtual reality can allow us to explore without the repercussions of real world conflict; practice in imaginary worlds how to deal with imaginary conflicts. But eventually we will want to reach out to real humans. And real humans come with real world differences and conflicts. They also come with real hearts and souls that are life affirming and nurturing to our human fleshy needs.

As our access to virtual worlds expands, our access to other real world people is also expanding. It is easier to travel to other cultures and the globalization of business, laws, banking, education and war require deeper and more authentic communication skills. So learning to be less ethnocentric, and more accepting of others is necessary and desirable if we are going to co-exist with so many different cultures of people connecting on earth. We will need to learn to embrace differences with some sort of co-operation. To do that will require a social change that encourages people to look at themselves and others in new ways. We must learn to embrace opposable minds with new conceptual visions and an expanded understanding of what education and communication can be.

Creativity and innovation are the bedrock of the conceptual age. All disciplines of thought will require a deep vein of communications through visual, spiritual, emotional and energetic means. We must agree we are all “the blind men sitting around the elephant” and that we need to learn to listen to each other in order to understand what is really in front of us. That’s how we will ‘see and see again’, in order to perceive things from another viewpoint, and create things that do not exist yet.

Theatre helps us to develop our creativity by putting us in our own shoes, embracing passion, and feeling deeply by compassionately exploring and telling stories. We are required to stand in our fleshy passionate bodies and perform or actively witness stories, using our emotional energetic bodies, and allowing our relations to effect the very stories unfolding in front of us. This is the power of live theatre. No one is virtual. Everyone is connected. The story is co-created – performer with audience and back again in an energetic spiral.

Theatre is still powerful and has increasingly new forms of technology available to create three dimensional live stories. But at the core are the actors, the fleshy passionate humans, reaching out to each other with the hope of connection; hoping that for an instant what they feel inside will be shared with another human being. This is done through the magic of the theatre.

Professional theatre, educational theatre, theatre for the community, comedy, drama, musicals, dancing… Theatre that encourages and allows the common man and woman to stand in their own voice, explore their own stories, and participate in the stories of people who are different. Theatre is the voice of the soul, and beckons us into a three dimensional fleshy world of humans, beckoning us to risk… connection.gold logo

Now I can Fly Anytime I Want

Source: Now I can Fly Anytime I Want

Now I can Fly Anytime I Want

laser burst beamsI had a dream that I was in a flying contest. I was flying my own plane and I had a “crew” of people. We were supposed to fly somewhere and then back and the place we flew to seemed to be like a futuristic apartment building. I got there ok, but the plane stalled a couple of times; I didn’t check everything before getting back in and the bolts and screws were completely off. I took off after fixing a couple of things – I wasn’t thorough, I was just trying to get there first. And so the plane kept stalling and I had to do an emergency landing at a school. I found out that everything was loose and I fixed everything and got back in the air. The kids at the school helped me. So when I took off again everything was tighter. I had a smooth confident flight back and when I landed I found out I came in last – and it’s like no one noticed because they were busy celebrating the winner. And I sarcastically said “thanks to my crew – all the screws came off and I had to stop and fix them”. No one cared. Just suddenly stopped and went about their business.
This dream is so representational of my life. I actually stopped at a school for fifteen years; this really happened – I was “flying” (metaphorically most of the time) but all the screws were loose and I had to emergency land – go off track of my life path – to the school where the kids helped me fix everything. And when I “got back in the plane” I safely went to the next stop and life had just gone on. No one noticed I had to stop or even cared. But I did. I felt a loss for while. The truth is I needed to discover the screws were loose and take the time to fix them. Now I can fly anytime I want.

Seminars for … What are we selling?

cropped-polar-bear-broken-heart.jpgI just got back from another seminar… a “how to” seminar. You’d think I’d just pull up youtube and learn but I felt the need for human connection. I wanted a human standing in front of me to make the plunge into MORE tech connection palatable. I looked up at the human who was standing in front of a HUGE screen pointing out how I too can tweet messages that have nothing to do with my business to get more fans so I can be a social media rockstar. A quick check around the room and I learned everyone is there to learn how to get connected to people to sell their service… most are services. Many are how to do more social media services. How to connect to websites that can link to blogs that can tag people that can tweet it out to their million followers. Wait, what am I here for again?

I was walking in the mall and some facial product guy came up and started putting lotion on my hand. I had ten minutes to kill and the shop was new so I went in. I had learned the seven steps to successful selling the night before, so I immediately recognized the guy’s earnest connection and offer to pinky swear a promise as he went down the checklist to the sale. Yes, I bought, the cheap thing, cuz I liked the packaging. He immediately asked if I was sure I wanted what he had worked so hard to sell – that’s the final step of selling – and I had to laugh out loud.

Seems we’re all going to the social networking classes and the how to do a perfect sale (or at least minimize wasted time on customers who don’t want any) so we can sell each other crap we don’t need or necessarily want. Where is the connection? I don’t trust anyone anymore because I’m looking for their angle.

I gotta go. I’m late for my next seminar.

My Sister and Best Friend.

fern horseWhen I was eight we had already moved about six times, (this time to La Canada), so I didn’t have alot of friends. That made my sister my best friend, which was a problem because she was also my worst enemy; mainly because we were only eleven months and twenty three days apart – and she was older. There was a rumor in my family that Regina had a twin, but she kicked her out in utero, causing a partial miscarriage, me, and I came back less than a year later to haunt her. That was us in a nutshell. Can’t live with her, can’t live without her.

At St. Bede’s in second grade I was the shy, quiet girl, and Regina was the loud third grader; everyone in the school knew her name – and they knew I was her sister. So I did my best to be the absolute opposite of her – unnoticed. There were fifteen boys and sixteen girls in my class and like all second grade classes the cliques formed fast and I was not in any of them. I was the observer, the terminal “new girl”. But this one day I broke into the inner circle of the inner circle of the second grade girls.; Kathleen McDonald asked me to come over to her house and play. It was a big deal – everyone wanted to go to Kathleen’s house. Of course I said yes – to Saturday – twelve o’clock – I had a friend.
My mom turned onto Linda Vista Avenue curving above the Rose Bowl where we watched fireworks on the fourth of July. The air was warm and the speed of the car added to the excitement growing in my belly. We turned right and moved up the hill, curving along the narrow streets “where all the doctors and lawyers lived”. Her house was a huge rust colored stucco castle with trees all around. It was majestic. We knocked on the large brown oversized door and the maid showed me in as I turned to wave goodbye to my mom. The entrance hall was enormous, high ceilings with a large chandelier, and further down the hall huge windows overlooking the entire valley. The maid mumbled something I didn’t understand, clapped her hands sharply and led me down another hall to some huge brown double doors.
“Miss Kath-a-leen,” she yelled as she opened the door. “Patri-ci-a para tu.” She swept me into the room and closed the door.
Kathleen’s room was enormous. You could fit our entire living room and family room and even maybe my bedroom into it. Against one wall on the far side of the room was a huge double bed high off the ground with four posts and a beautiful pink and green patterned bedspread. It looked lovely against the deep wooden walls. Alongside the entire left wall were a series of four large windows, which also looked over the sloping valley and neighborhood. The wooden floors were vast, dolls neatly lined on shelves next to the very large dollhouse.
“What do you want to do?” Kathleen asked. I saw a jump rope coiled in a basket and picked it up. The girls always played jump rope at school. I was good at jump rope.
“Want to jump rope?” I offered.
“There are only two of us,” Kathleen laughed.
“Tie one end on the door?” I said as I rushed to do it. “See?” I started twirling the other end as Kathleen entered perfectly in tempo, jumping over the rope. She made it look effortless. We took turns for what seemed like hours, evolving into a “jump rope championship”, squealing with laughter at each other’s “fails”.
“You’re really good at this,” Kathleen said.
“I know,” I said. “We play all the time at my house.”
“I’ll get you this time,” Kathleen challenged and leaning on the windowsill laughing, as I bent over to pick up the rope.
“Betcha won’t!” I laughed turning back and lifting the rope to begin twirling. Kathleen was gone. “Kathleen? Where are you?” I looked around the room, confused. There, now gone. In slow motion, I realized the screen was off the huge window above the window seat where she had been laughing just a moment before. I ran to the window and looked the three stories to the ground. Kathleen’s body laid limply on the sloping hillside, absolutely still.
“Kathleen,” I called. No answer. I didn’t know how to get down to her. I didn’t know what to do. So I ran to the door, pulling it open and screamed for help.
The maid ran frantically toward me, “Miss Kath-a-leen?” I pulled her to the window and pointed to the ground. She gasped and started speaking in Spanish, very quickly, I didn’t understand a word. We ran out of the room to the kitchen and dialed the phone – more Spanish, pointing at me, then to the room, them motioning to the ground. She was scared. I was scared too. As the phone clicked back into the receiver, she pulled my sleeve, dragging me through a maze of hallways and stairs until at last we were on the bottom floor, opening the back door and rushing outside to the hillside where Kathleen laid. Kathleen’s arms started moving, and I could hear her groan as we got closer. We knelt for what seemed like forever, me holding Kathleen’s hand as she tried to focus, and the maid rocking back and forth. I could hear the ambulance approaching.
There was so much confusion, the maid not speaking English, the ambulance attendants helping Kathleen. Someone called my mother, who arrived at about the same time that Kathleen’s father arrived. He looked so angry, he glared at me and spoke something to the maid. He spoke shortly to my mom, jumped into his car to follow the ambulance, and we all pulled out of the driveway in an odd procession.
The ride home seemed to last forever, as I sobbed, wanting to tell my mom what happened, confused, sad, sorrowful. But the sobs wouldn’t let the words come. “It must have been my fault,” my little eight year old mind thought I as tried to sort it all out.
“She’s going to be ok,” my mom offered quietly. “What happened?”
“We were jumping rope and she just fell out the window.” I sobbed again. My mom was quiet as we finally pulled in our driveway. As I got out of our car I heard horse clops, and looking up I saw my sister, atop a beautiful horse, looking like a dream. She didn’t own a horse, but she loved them, wanted to be one in fact. I was sure she willed this one into existence.
Regina’s face softened as she read me, absorbing my sorrow. “Hey, you wanna ride?” It was my sister, trying to make me ok by offering me her prized possession. See? I told you she was my best friend. I buried my face in the horses mane, reaching my hand up toward the horn on the saddle and Reg held it. We stood like that for a long time.
I somehow got to sleep that night. My mom called the next day to see how Kathleen was. Her father said she had suffered a concussion, a broken knee cap and a sprained back. I made her a crepe paper flower and put it in a red brick planter vase, the color of Kathleen’s house. We drove to the house and I knocked again on the huge brown wooden door. Kathleen’s dad answered and I held up the potted flower.
“Kathleen can’t have visitors,” he said brusquely and asked to talk to my mom alone. I went back to the car and sat as they talked. He was angry, his arms moving dramatically. My mother’s face remained controlled. They parted and she returned hesitantly to the car.
“What did he say?” I asked.
It was quiet for a minute. “How did Kathleen fall out the window?” She asked.
“I don’t know. I think she just leaned back. I was picking up the rope and when I turned around she was gone.” My mom nodded slowly. “What mom?”
“Dr. McDermott doesn’t want you girls to play together anymore.” My mom looked angry.
“Why?” Silence. He thought I pushed her, I thought.
“It doesn’t matter. I agree. I don’t think you should play together either.” She looked into my eyes, I could read the story. I felt desolate.
The next few weeks at school were horrible. My stomach was in knots because I wanted to ask Kathleen if she was ok, but I wasn’t supposed to talk to her. She didn’t seem to mind. She had become the center of attention, first with her wheelchair, with all the girls fighting over who would push it. Then her crutches, using just the right amount of helplessness. She was basking in the attention, with everyone signing her cast: except me. I was in the back of the room again, alone, and observing.
The beginning and ending of a friendship in one day. It would be quite some time before I tried that again.

The Dream – I took a detour

Yellow-Angel-Wings-800-800x380I had a dream that I was in a flying contest. I was flying my own plane and I had a “crew” of people. We were supposed to fly somewhere and then back and the place we flew to seemed to be like a futuristic apartment building. I got there ok, but the plane stalled a couple of times; I didn’t check everything before getting back in and the bolts and screws were completely off. I took off after fixing a couple of things – I wasn’t thorough, I was just trying to get there first. And so the plane kept stalling and I had to do an emergency landing at a school. I found out that everything was loose and I fixed everything and got back in the air. The kids at the school helped me. So when I took off again everything was tighter. I had a smooth confident flight back and when I landed I found out I came in last – and it’s like no one noticed because they were busy celebrating the winner. And I sarcastically said “thanks to my crew – all the screws came off and I had to stop and fix them”. No one cared. Just suddenly stopped and went about their business.
This dream is so representational of my life. This is what happened – I was “flying” but all the screws were loose and I had to emergency land at a school where the kids helped me fix everything. And when I got back in the plane I safely went to the next stop and life had just gone on. No one noticed I had to stop or even cared. But I did, so I had to blame someone. The truth is I needed to discover the screws were loose and take the time to fix them. Now I can fly anytime I want.

I wrote: “Trish loves ice cream and moondances and yearns to belong.” Trish is my childhood name, and she is a forceful complicated girl who loves ice-cream and moondances and yearns to belong. And she’s five – in a yellow dress with a yellow soda in a concrete clearing with trees all around, and a yellow ice cream shop on the edge of the clearing filled with yellow tables with yellow umbrellas. Yellow felt safe. A soft breeze rushed the green tree leaves. Nothing could touch me there. But nothing could soar either.

When I was eight I loved music and building worlds. I loved playing the piano. Time would stop and I would love the sounds my fingers could make. I must not have been very good when I was little, cuz my piano teacher, Mrs. Carver, told my mom I was only taking piano cuz my sister was. She was just wrong. That was an echo in my life – “You’re just in theatre cuz your sister is”;  that was one of the screws coming off. “… we gave you the role cuz we knew your sister could do it,” the screws and bolts were flying. Yellow wasn’t present during those moments. Blackish silver screw like flynt was. Black was comforting here. I could be invisible in the black. I release those ties, untether young Trish and take off again. I love music and I love building worlds.

I will fly.Yellow-Angel-Wings-800-800x380

Future-Shocked at twelve

In 1970 the best seller was Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. I was twelve, my dad bought it and I read it. Do YOU remember Future Shock? Toffler – the genious seer of our times – seemed to be more accurate than Nostrdamas in predicting all sorts of psychological, social, and economic maldies and turbulence of the next thirty, forty, fifty years. And I got to live them. Course you did too. So isn’t this a kind of denial? Or did the rest of you just not read the book? You need to stop right now, get the book and read it. We need to break out of this collective denial and do something before it’s too late.
For those of you who are too lazy or Twitter-headed to actually read a book anymore, here’s the sound bite version: Toffler (the previously mentioned Nostradamos of his time) offered an overwhelming mountain of evidence that technological, social, and economic change, largely stemming from the growing influence of science and technology into every area of contemporary life, would bring a torrent of change that would cause humans to become un-human machines. He said this in 1970! Of course Ray Bradbury said it earlier, but I digress.
In order to get all this change it was determined that companies should bring people from different backgrounds together. Diversity creates change. So if companies needed to hire new people, don’t promote locally – move families from California to Cape Cod and back, then to Dallas, Texas, then to Ann Arbor Michigan, then to Elm Grove, Wisconsin and maybe even Belgium (that one never actually happened, but the talk of it left a scar). Lots of new towns, new people, and LOTS OF NEW SCHOOLS! Just try to make friends. Did I tell you we moved alot? That was a shitload of change.
See Toffler thought that while a human being’s capacity to adjust physically, psychologically, and socially to this “torrent of change” is finite and limited, the “pace of change” is unlimited and is increasing and expanding into more and more areas of individuals’ lives. And it’s not like people were asking for these profound and endless changes. Sure, they were starting to make more money; lots more money, which made more money and made them want to make more money; but the plan was never laid out with all its accompanying implications.
The question is, and this is the important part: did all this change which brought all this money actually make our lives better? I for one say NO! Well, kinda in some ways, because I like alot of the technological stuff, but ultimately as long as we are still in the flesh form and have these goddamned emotions, A BIG HUGE NO!
Because “Future shock” is what happens when people are no longer able to cope with the pace of change. Lots of symptoms and maladies ranging from depression (check) to bizarre behavior (check) to increases in susceptibility to disease (check) to absolute emotional breakdown (well, not all of us – we have antidepressants now) would occur.
This book scared me. I was already feeling it and I was only twelve. It was the second scariest book I ever read. The Exorcist was the first, because I was raised Catholic.
Future Shock sucks!

Theatre Arts Through the Common Core

The workforce of today has changed quite a bit from the time I went to high school. I graduated in 1976, went to college and acting school and entered the workforce in the 80’s. I remember when the first electric typewriter came into the office, and shortly after the first PC. Personal computers used to be no more then enhanced word processors and spreadsheet programs. Then came the World Wide Web, connecting us to limitless possibilities. Today with various applications available to computers, laptops, phones, watches, medical systems, androids, and bionics we have a different set of skills that are necessary for entry level workforce and higher education opportunities. According to the Common Core Website “The college- and career-readiness standards were developed first and then incorporated into the K-12 standards in the final version of the Common Core we have today.” California is one of the forty three states that are adopting the standards and this will be a summary of the California Common Core Standards for Reading and Literature for 9-12 grades as they apply to Theatre Arts.

It is no longer enough to know what to think, it is increasingly important to know how to think. The workforce of today and tomorrow will be adapting to new work platforms, tools, and global partners so it is vital that education set a frame from which students will gather the tools necessary to be effective learners.

I teach drama for grades 9-12. I teach beginner classes which give an overview of several acting schools as well as theatre history and several contemporary and classical works. I also teach advanced theatre classes where we delve deeper into more complex texts, some of which culminate in fully staged productions.

It is important when reading any text that the student be able to comprehend the text in an authentic voice. The standards require that the student “Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly, as well as inferences drawn from the text.” This is especially important when the student is an actor, as the actor must know the text well enough to make emotional and motivational choices throughout. This is done with the director, by choosing a theme, or central idea of the play. It is important that all players agree upon the theme in order to make effective choices to support the telling of the play. In addition, there may be sub-themes to be explored as well. Each character will support the overall theme and may be important in the fleshing out of sub-themes. Most of this work is done through first read and in-depth discussion during first read. Individually the student can write character histories discussing how a different family, culture, background (including schooling and economic background) would be necessary in order for the character to make the choices required to fulfill the theme and allow the plot to move forward.

Once themes are identified, the character construction needs to be addressed. This is done by identifying motivation, possibly multiple and/or conflicting motivations, and discussing how they interact with the other characters in order to develop the theme of the play. A careful analysis of the text structure is necessary in order to remain true to the intention of the author which will include an analysis of the word choices and figurative and connotative meanings. We are working on this right now with Pippin, Identifying the theme of “Looking for Fulfillment in all the wrong places” and the sub-themes of each characters’ battles with validating themselves through outside material means. Live situational improvisation is used often, to allow the actors to flesh out moments that are referred to in the script, but that never actually are seen on stage. This helps the actors make the connections necessary to fulfill the character arcs which need to be in place in order for the plot to unfold.

It is important that words and phrases are clear while working the script, including figurative and connotative meanings. This includes word choices on meaning and tone, and words with multiple meanings or language that are particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. Analyzing author’s text structure choices is important to uncover clues for plot structure and character development. Things such as order of events, parallel plots and how they manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks, soliloquies) in order to create such effects as mystery, tension, and surprise are important to discover and deconstruct the text. For instance, “Analyzing how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.” Good exercises to uncover meanings are situational living improvisations where actors act out moments not actually on stage to flesh out relationships between characters.

It is also important to analyze “a particular point of view or cultural experience reflected in a work of literature from outside the United States, drawing on a wide reading of world literature.” We do this through working plays on Commedia Del Arte, Shakespeare, Christopher Marlow, Sophocles, Charles Dickens, and more. It is important to identify distinguishing tones (satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement) that may effect the understanding of the author’s choices. There are many improvisation exercises that work to make the actor comfortable using different cultural norms. For instance, having an “insult off” in Shakespearean language can connect the actors with how much fun the  comedy of the renaissance can be as well as giving them comfort with the unusual language used.

It is very helpful to analyze how a subject or a key scene in two different artistic mediums, (including what is emphasized or absent in each treatment) inform one another. By analyzing multiple interpretations of a story, drama or poem the student can grow in understanding of how the director’s or artist’s interpretation of the material can change through the point of view of various directors or actors. For example we did Othello, set it in 2050 to discover if the business machinations, jealousies, and dishonesties still apply in our modern day world. It was interesting to put the clowns as droids, creating the reality that they were to learn about human emotional choice by studying the people in the household. It caused the droids to short circuit by the end, as they watch the humans make completely illogical choices to deal with conflict as it arises during the play.

We have analyzed multiple interpretations of A Christmas Carol, one a Commedia style modernized version, one a classic version, and one an original adaptation bringing the Cratchit family into the 1990’s. We have also studied various versions of Richard III, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and MacBeth.

When possible, we analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work (e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare) and demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth- century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics.

  All of this compelling and complex literature can be explored best in small groups, using different exercises, thus using a scaffolding technique to introduce new information and empower the actors throughout the rehearsal process, as each actor is at a different skill level, yet they need to work together as a cohesive group.

By the end of grade 10, students should read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems independently and proficiently. By the end of grade 11, students should read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems. By the end of grade 12, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems independently and proficiently.” A variety of material is used to fulfill these guide lines including Dead Man Walking, The Great Gatsby, Waiting for Lefty, Custer, Les Miserables, A Line in the Sand, and more. Each of these works took on a different time period and several were cross curricular projects with the English, Social Science, Morality and History Departments. Each of these shows took a team effort and a great deal of work.

I am in process of following these guidelines to flesh out Pippin, our spring musical. I am enjoying learning about Common Core and am using many of the ideas to further the exploration or the text, and it is comforting to know that most of these requirements we have been using. I find the Common Core to be a good solution to our present education dilemmas. Teaching to the test has done so much damage and has made it difficult to explain why the arts are necessary in education, as they are not one of the skills tested on any of the standardized testing that has driven education for the past thirty of so years. Having Common Core establish the need for critical and creative thinking skills and teaching the “Who, what, where, when and whys” of curiosity brings the arts back to a relevant standing.

“When here and now cease to matter.” – T.S. Eliot:

suicide_quoteMy friend died this week. There is an empty space that he once occupied, not daily or weekly or monthly… but all the time. I don’t know I would have been aware of that last week or last month or even last year. But I am aware today. Jim is one of those people I’ve known for more than half my life. He passed in and out of highlights of my memory, a young man on stage in PVT. Wars, ‘The Man’ in the cult classic Forklift Drivers From Hell, a young writer working on his latest piece, a improviser, teacher, musician, magician, always very close to something wonderful. He reached generously to young actors teaching his tricks of the trade willingly. always smiling, always funny, witty, that baby faced man with the debonair way about him. He inspired confidence in others and filled the room with the energy of a young boy about to do something naughty. He has left an imprint on my life, on our community, on a generation of improvisors who walk on the edge of funny. Jim’s exit was dramatic, sorrowful, and tragically sudden to most of us. I can only imagine the pain and loneliness he was feeling that nothing earthly could appease. I am so grateful for your time with us and will always be the better having known you. I will miss you Jim Kasmir, I love you and wish you God speed and a friendly audience as you take your final bow and make your way home.

ARTS ARE A CORE CURRICULUM? WHY? GLAD YOU ASKED.

With No Child Left Behind declaring the Arts as a core curriculum (Ed.Gov, 2004), it is increasingly important to recognize and understand the influence of the arts in the education system. Businesses are calling for elevated education standards that include a strong education in the creative arts. According to the National Center for Education & the Economy’s (NCEE) Tough Times Tough Choices, our jobs of the future will depend not only on new and better technologies, but on strong creative leadership, as NCEE outlines:
leadership does not depend on technology alone. It depends on a deep vein of creativity that is constantly renewing itself, and on a myriad of people who can imagine how people can use things that have never been available before, create ingenious marketing and sales campaigns, write books, build furniture, make movies, and imagine new kinds of software that will capture people’s imagination and become indispensable to millions. (NCEE, 2007, pp. 5-6)
America is in a technological transition shifting from a manufacturing to a service driven economy. As the globalization of the world’s economy evolves many middle class jobs are being automated or outsourced to the lowest bidder, and many high skilled jobs are going overseas as we “compete with countries that can offer large numbers of highly educated workers willing to work for low wages” (NCEE, 2007, p. 4). To maintain the United States standard of living we must be on the cutting edge of new technologies and innovative business solutions.
Tomorrow’s workers will require a rich blend of highly developed analytical skills and creative ingenuity. However, the current educational system continues to prepare students for the manufacturing jobs of yesterday answering “political demands for accountability based on high-stakes tests” with “unprecedented standardized testing” (Oreck, 2000). Simultaneously state standards in the arts have been adopted in 47 states (National Center for Education Statistics, 1998), usually without additional funding, as if mandating tests and standards will provide the analytical and creative education needed to ensure success in the new global economy. The connection between process of arts education and standardized testing, offered by the artistic process, is lacking.
The Conference Board and Americans for the Arts, in partnership with the American Association of School Administrators, came together in November, 2007, to develop a survey that would determine whether “educators and executives [were] aligned on the creative readiness of the U.S. workforce” (Lichtenberg, 2008, p. 2). The 1997 survey of public school superintendents and American business executives (employers) reported that:

Innovation is crucial to competition, and creativity is integral to innovation… Overwhelmingly, both the superintendents who educate future workers and the employers who hire them agree that creativity is increasingly important in U.S. workplaces (99 percent and 97 percent, respectively), and that arts training— and, to a lesser degree, communications studies— are crucial to developing creativity. (Lichtenberg, 2008, p. 2)
Richard Deasy (2003), director of the Arts Education Partnership (AEP) added, “Arts develop the imagination, and imagination is the cognitive capacity that most directly prompts innovation. Given the overwhelming support for education that develops the imagination, policy leaders can now stand firmly on that platform” (p. 3).
Neil Postman describes education as both an “engineering problem, and a metaphysical one…if the engineering part is given too much importance education will suffer” (1996, p. 3). Standardized testing has increased dramatically, while funding for arts programs and foundations have been drastically cut, suggesting a preference for analytical skills and a reliance on testing data as proof of knowledge. The artistic process is a vital component to the success of today’s students and educators as well. In order to effectively teach the arts, teachers need training in the arts. Barry Oreck (2000) explains,
The nature of artistic discovery is in stark contrast to the preconceived ends of ‘covering’ curriculum or increasing the number of correct answers on a test. The teacher’s ability to allow students to truly explore and make discoveries, find and pursue problems, and arrive at unique solutions, requires both an artistic pedagogy and the understanding to preserve the aesthetic qualities of the artistic experience (p. 5).
Teachers are experiencing an increasing demand to keep up with new technological advancements. Dr. Chris Dede, the Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies at Harvard University, testified before Congress in 1995 predicting “a new instructional paradigm” that would enhance the “pedagogical repertoire of teachers” (p. 3). Dede’s (1995) stated that in order to react to the global marketplace’s technological demands, the education system must require students to master a new type of literacy described as “immersing oneself in data to harvest patterns of knowledge just as fish extract oxygen from water via their gills” (Dede, 1995). Dede (1995) predicted that the methods of the conventional classroom would be replaced by “knowledge webs, virtual communities, synthetic environments and sensory immersion to help learners grasp reality through illusion”; field trips would be replaced by virtual exhibits, and hands on science labs replaced with virtual experiments. Simultaneously Dede (1995) emphasized the importance of educators stating that a “bottom-up human infrastructure of wise designers, educators, and learners” is needed to prevent today’s “couch potatoes [from becoming] tomorrow’s couch funguses immersed as protagonists in 3-D soap operas while the real world deteriorates” (p. 19). While presenting the tremendous benefits of technology in the education system, Dede suggests a need for creative interactive pedagogy through innovative educators.
Postman’s (1998) theories of technology suggest that culture always “pays a price for technology; the greater the technology, the greater the price.… Technological change is not additive; it is ecological in that it changes everything” (p. 7). Throughout history technologies have changed the way we communicate and think. “The printing press annihilated the oral tradition; telegraphy annihilated space; television has humiliated the word; the computer, perhaps, will degrade community life”. Internet technology is “more then the world plus the Internet”; our reality is different because of its existence.
Postman’s (1998) ideas suggest the need for creative and critical analysis in anticipation of the future implications of technology. Creative analysis can serve to counteract or prepare for technological outcomes that may prove detrimental. Reflecting on Postman’s theories and highlighting the importance of responsible technology development Dede (1995) warned:
How a medium shapes its users, as well as its message, is a central issue in understanding distributed learning in K-12 schools. The telephone creates conversationalists; the book develops imaginers, who can conjure a rich mental image from sparse symbols on a printed page. Some television induces passive observers; other shows, such as Sesame Street and public affairs programs, can spark users’ enthusiasm and enrich their perspectives. High performance computing and communications are creating new interactive media capable of great good or ill (1995).
Marshall McLuhan (1964) proposed that “technical change alters not only habits of life, but patterns of thought and valuation” (p. 63) suggesting that we are moving from a literary, sequential thinking world to a digital, web-like thinking world. McLuhan’s idea that “the medium is the message” suggests that technologies shape the way messages are communicated, and that eventually society itself will operate as the technology it worships.
School systems are responding to the new communication channels and their success will determine the nation’s global competitiveness. The vital importance of the artist and the artistic process lies in its ability to interject clarity and cohesiveness as new technologies are introduced and integrated into society. McLuhan (1964) highlights the importance of the artist and the artistic process saying:
The artist picks up the message of cultural and technological challenge decades before its transforming impact occurs… the artist is indispensable in the shaping and analysis and understanding of the life of forms, and structures created by electric technology…The ability of the artist to sidestep the bully blow of new technology of any age, and to parry such violence with full awareness, is age-old. Equally age-old is the inability of the percussed victims, who cannot sidestep the new violence, to recognize their need of the artist… The artist is the man in any field, scientific or humanistic, who grasps the implications of his actions and of new knowledge in his own time. He is the man of integral awareness” (p. 64).
Artists possess the creative originality and foresight the U.S. workforce will need to succeed and adapt to the global technological and economic changes we are encountering. John Dewey (1934) suggests that everyone is capable of being an artist saying, “what is called the magic of the artist resides in his ability to transfer these values from one field of experience to another, to attach them to the objects of our common life and by imaginative insight make these objects poignant and momentous” (p. 118). If we value the artist, the arts must be shown a prominent place in the education system. Richard Riley, the Secretary of the Department of Education during the Clinton Administration (1993-2001), writes “if young Americans are to succeed and to contribute to what Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan describes as our ‘economy of ideas’, they will need an education that develops imaginative, flexible and tough-minded thinking” (NCEE, 2007). Major business leaders agree that arts education is fundamental for tomorrow’s workforce. According to NCEE’s report, within the next ten years “the prototypical U.S. industry will be engaged in ‘creative work’ — research, development, marketing and sales and global supply chain management; these areas depend on leadership rooted in creativity, imagination and the arts” (Lynch, 2008, p. 2). Lynch explains that the erosion of the arts in our education system limits creativity, spatial thinking, and abstract reasoning necessary for the innovative jobs of tomorrow. Secretary of Education Richard Riley states that “the arts powerfully nurture the ability to think in this manner” (Fiske, 1999, p. vi).
Arts education is essential to the development of creative minds as it “promote(s) creative thinking, fluency in thought, originality, focused perception, imagination, risk taking, task persistence and ownership in learning” (Gulatte, 2007, p. 213). The learning processes in the arts is comprehensive, and changes are often noted in students’ performance overall when they participate in the arts (Deasy 2002).
Although it is difficult to evaluate the effect of the arts, there have been some promising correlations drawn. The 2005 College-Bound Seniors report stated that “students who took four years of arts coursework outperformed their peers who had one half-year or less of arts coursework by fifty-eight points on the verbal portion and thirty-eight points on the math portion of the SAT” (p. 5). Two years later the College Bound Seniors (2007) analysis reported significantly higher SAT scores in students who took drama and performing arts:
in the State of California specifically, drama students scored fifty points higher on critical reading, twenty-eight points higher on Math, and forty-nine points higher on Writing. Those with acting or production experience were sixty-eight points higher on critical reading, thirty-two points higher on Math and sixty-five points higher on Writing than non-dramatic arts students (p.9).
The AEP’s (Deasy, 2002) report: Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development studied five major art form areas: dance, drama, visual arts, music, and multi arts. The results identified six major benefits: reading and language skills, mathematics skills, thinking skills, social skills, motivation to learn, and positive school environment (Deasy, 2003).
The arts enhance lives in many ways. Young people who participate in the arts for at least three hours on three days each week, through at least one full year are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement. They are three times more likely to be elected to class office within their schools and four times more likely to participate in a math and science fair. They are three times more likely to win an award for school attendance; four times more likely to win an award for writing an essay or poem; and young artists, as compared with their peers, are likely to attend music, art, and dance classes nearly three times as frequently. Young people who participate in the arts participate in youth groups nearly four times as frequently; read for pleasure nearly twice as often; and perform community service more than four times as often (The Nebraska Arts Council).
Although the statistics are impressive, academic evaluations are not always good indicators of creativity and leadership ability (Walberg, 1971). According to the nonprofit advocacy group Fair Test, “…about thirty percent, or nearly 760 colleges and universities out of the approximately 2,500 accredited four-year institutions across America have made at least some standardized tests optional for some applicants… Several other schools dropped the test requirement for admissions after the revised SAT came out in 2005, after seeing that the new version did not address concerns about access and poor predictive value” (Landau, 2008). As a result, new evaluations are being sought. The National Education Association found correlations between amounts of arts education received and later success saying “… education is generative – more education in the arts also shows higher levels of general education and vice versa” (Peterson, 1997). There is a link between arts and high school graduation rates in that “high school dropouts reported having received much less school-based arts education than did high school graduates.” Although correlations have been drawn between academic achievement and the arts education in general, specifically music and visual arts, more studies are needed.
The real benefit of arts programs is more comprehensive than any testing will reflect. The Arts Education Partnership’s Gaining the Arts Advantage states that “the arts improve the school climate, the arts’ comprehensive tasks challenge students, and the arts turn schools into communities” (AEP 1999). Arts challenge students with tasks requiring multi-level processing skills. “The real driving force behind dramatic arts is what it does for the emotional, physical, and cognitive abilities of the student” (Jensen, 2001, p. 76). Cognitive functions are processes which are difficult to evaluate, but directly affect the outcomes which can be evaluated. Therefore, correlations in academic performance can suggest that the processes exercised in artistic pursuits enhance the outcome of academic performance. It can be helpful to study the academic success of a student, but equally helpful to study the strengths a student may possess in cognitive functioning.
Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence theory and Daniel Goleman’s theory of Emotional Intelligence provide some insight on different cognitive functioning abilities. Gardner (2007) describes eight categories of intelligence including linguistic, logical mathematical, spatial (pictures), bodily-kinesthetic (the body), musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal (the self), and naturalist (nature), yet the majority of standardized testing is focused only on math (logical) and reading (linguistic). Goleman presents five characteristics and abilities including self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills (Goleman, 2006, p 318) as important to success. None of these abilities are addressed in standardized testing methods. He asserts that emotional intelligence skills are synergistic with cognitive ones and that top performers have both (p. 22), suggesting that “in the new workplace, with its emphasis on flexibility, teams, and a strong customer orientation, this crucial set of emotional competencies is becoming essential for excellence in every job and in every part of the world” (p. 29). To educate our children for tomorrow’s jobs, the emotional and cognitive literacy required in arts education are as important as academic excellence.