In Episode 12, I enlist my husband George (the coolest guy on the planet) to ask questions about stage direction. I cover how to approach work when you are a beginning director, how to collaborate without giving away your job to enthusiastic performers and staff, and how a director can make an impact on an audience.
What’s the most important advice for a successful collaboration? Communicate with your stage direction team. They can keep you on point while they lighten the load.
What’s the best way for a beginning director to approach stage direction? Start small and keep it simple. We used to say, “Keep It Simple, Stupid” or K.I.S.S. Now we say, “Keep It Simple, Simon.” It’s nicer.
What’s the most important thing for a director to remember? The Story, The Story, The Story. Everything we do must serve the story. That truly is all there is. We are, after all, story tellers.
What does it mean to create a safe space in terms of stage direction. Andhow would you do that? It’s about maintaining a rehearsal environment where actors feel free to collaborate. It doesn’t serve anyone if your team is afraid to express their ideas in what is, essentially, a creative space.
What do the most successful directors do that we can emulate?Collaborate while maintaining the vision. For the director, the vision is what holds the whole together; set, lighting, costumes, performances, script. Without vision, these are a jumble of pieces that don’t necessarily go together.
What is the unseen work in stage direction? A good director will spend a lot of time with the script. They will also talk to designers and other staff before performers are selected. Do your stage direction homework. Solid front end work saves time and creates confidence in your performers.
How can directors make an impact on an audience? Have a clear visual notion of the story you are telling. Design cohesion in stage direction means paying attention to details and honoring the work of collaborators. Everyone’s contribution counts as long as everyone is building the same world.
Birthing the Crone
You will often hear women (and men) bemoaning the lack of meaty roles for women in film, TV, and on stage. I agree, yet I do so with a caveat: Meaty roles for women written by women are different from the meaty women’s roles written by men. This is not to suggest in any way that men are unable to write for women. My son is a damned good playwright who writes women’s roles with great sensitivity and insight. Yet, much as an elevator stop in the sub basement, performing your own work written from your unique perspective reveals new mysteries.
A Writer Observes
Writing a play about someone else’s life experience seems like a tough job. It’s especially hard when writing for more than one character. Consequently, the writer’s own experience gets spread like peanut butter over every character. This character speaks from your high school point of view. And this character says things you wanted to say to your grandmother but didn’t get the chance. And this character speaks from the feelings wrapped around a moment of deep embarrassment, or grief, or shock. The payoff comes because we improve our skills of observation. Lisa Wilson embodies this skill.
Birthing the Crone
I interview actor, director, playwright, and University of Tulsa Women’s Studies professor, Lisa Wilson. Lisa acts as playwright, performer, director, and producer of her own work. As a result, she shares her observations with a live audience. It sets her work apart from the performances of actors depicting lives written by other playwrights. Because Lisa so richly embodies the character based on her own life, you forget you’re watching a play.
Lisa Wilson – Old Crone with a New Voice
Furthermore, Lisa is a recipient of the prestigious Jingle Feldman Individual Artist Award for her original one-woman show, “Only Four People Know About This”. “Birthing the Crone” is the second play in a series titled, “The Crone Chronicles”. Lisa based the series on her experiences of aging and loss with some hilarious and vulnerable insights. Finally, we talk about women’s voices and the effect of life’s changes on the artistic process.
Listen to Episode 4 – Producing a New Play with Emile Adams
Taking on a big project has pitfalls. When the big project is an original play you wrote, the pitfalls include emotional exposure, frustration, and maybe even some embarrassment. But anybody who’s given birth to a work of art knows there are big payoffs. Emile Adams is a study in therapeutic writing. Emile claims to get some emotional benefit from her writing. She also happens to have been recognized many times over for her humor, pathos, insight, and dynamism as an actor, director, and playwright. When an individual takes on the task of producing an original work, they must be prepared to grow. The desire to produce a letter-perfect production may give way, as it often has for Emile, to a higher ideal; artistic growth. From her early Tulsa City-County Library play to her most recent Summerstage production, Emile pushes past obstacles including bipolar disorder. The willingness to grapple with a common truth is one of the most important things an artist brings to the process of staging an original work. Emile brings this with her every time, even if she is doing it kicking and screaming in an attempt to bring the creation fully alive. Listen to Episode 4 – Producing a New Play with Emile Adams
Listen to Episode 4 – Producing a New Play with Emile Adams
Ayah Bdeir at TED: Building blocks that blink, beep and teach How does approaching a complex problem with the mind of a child elicit fresh, creative, accessible new things? Ayah Bdeir, an artist/engineer looked at Legos and was inspired to consider transistors in a new way. I have often told my students that art is a unique expression of a universal idea. This broadens the concept of art significantly. If we want to inspire creative thinking, we must be willing to encourage and celebrate differentness and its contribution to the creative process. Diversity, a buzzword for racial and gender integration, takes on powerful meaning in the world of art and education. Diversity is a necessity for artists. But children who are different often feel at odds with a system that rewards sameness. I look at a classroom full of middle school kids and I sometimes wonder if teaching them how to work to a standard is one way to let them off the hook. Kids do the minimum required rather than push for greater understanding, deeper knowledge, and personal best skill development. Once a student recognizes the objectives of the academic game, he or she is free to play at any level. If good grades are the goal, many savvy learners do what is required to get to the goal, but no more. For those not interested in the game, playing at academics is boring, annoying, or off the radar. For those who have been trained to believe their grades have some connection to an individual’s character quality, the game of school can produce paralyzing anxiety.
How do we, as educators, provide the assessments kids want without attaching them to a child’s self-worth? This non-judgmental assessment feature is no fantasy. Children who play video games live in a world of action assessment. When a character dies on a video screen as a result of a lack of skill or knowledge, there is rarely a response like some I have seen in school when children do poorly on tests. The gamer’s reaction to a lack of skill is to get better at the game whether through repetition, research, or online cheats (don’t be fooled by the name; cheats have their own learning curve). When the expectations for schoolwork reach beyond skill building and touch the sensitive nerves around a student’s developing sense of self, there is room for reassessment of our assessment tools.
Rather than push for homogeny, we could reward new ways of thinking. The weird girl who thinks differently will be included at lunch because the school’s environment embraces and rewards her contributions. The weird boy who daydreams will be lured into conversations to mine his mind for unique ideas that cause an upward spiral of abstract thought in the classroom. We have a role to play as teachers in creating an environment where divergence is no longer frowned upon but encouraged. In fact, we now know it is this divergent thinking that creates great ideas such as Legos and littleBits. It’s about time we stop rewarding imitation. Let’s celebrate the weird kids and give everyone permission to reveal his or her diversity.
I first learned of Ernie Kovacs on a random stop in 1984 when I stumbled into the New York Radio and Television Museum. I was dumbfounded when I learned I could view old Kinescopes of shows I had never even heard of. A docent recommended an Ernie Kovacs kinescope and I was hooked. I spent a couple of hours looking at rare footage and falling in love with his childlike spirit and risk-taking comedy. As an arts teacher I am constantly in search of ways to show my students what artistic expression can be. Ernie Kovacs used the medium of television the way Picasso used brush and canvas or Julie Taymor uses the stage. Unfortunately, for Kovacs, his legacy is only just now being heralded with a release of a retrospective by Shout! Factory. He was a clear creative genius at a time when his talent found a voice in a brand new medium of expression. His ideas and the medium were new. Everything about his art was difficult to assess as there was no precedent for what he was doing. This lack of a grade or measuring stick made it possible for Kovacs to play as a child would play. It was a gift to television and comedy in general that he create fearlessly. Some ideas failed, others were before their time and still others kept his fans tuning in and his fan base growing. To this day there are numerous iterations and flat-out copies of his work. His comedy is as fresh and funny as it was when he was competing with Uncle Milty, Jack Benny, Steve Allen and Danny Thomas for laughs. Television comedy is an art form that doesn’t garner a great deal of respect. But if you are interested in seeing the work of a true artist regardless of the art form, consider giving Ernie Kovacs your attention.
This series could go on indefinitely but I thought I should wrap up this segment on reconceptualizing education with an idea. Reconceptualizing isn’t just about innovating. It’s about how and why we innovate. So, instead of featuring an education innovator from the national stage, today I want to acknowledge the innovation of teachers a little closer to home. Last night I attended what we refer to at my school as School Out of Doors or SOOD for short. For my team, it was a chance to take 70 7th grade students into the wilderness with tents and sleeping bags and create something memorable for the class of 2016. But we live in the only state about which Will Rogers famously said, “If you don’t like the weather in Oklahoma, wait five minutes.” With sudden thunderstorms, threats of baseball-sized hail and an eerie tornado warning, we spent our School Out of Doors INdoors. While sirens were blaring outside, we gathered the kids into a cinderblock hallway near the gym and sat them on the floor with all their belongings. The amazing part to me is due to the calm and positive response of the teachers, all the students behaved as though this was an expected part of the weekend. They played cards, sat and talked with friends, read books and seemed genuinely happy to be in a hot, dark, smelly, cramped hallway with 70 of their closest friends. When it became clear there would be no night hike, cooking over a flame, or outdoor games, the 7th grade teachers sprang into action. Okay, maybe we didn’t spring, but we all had a trick or two up our sleeves. The Dean set up a projector and sound system to show a movie on the gym wall to rival any drive in. Parents brought in pizzas, the 7th grade teachers helped the students create an indoor campsite complete with tents and flashlight games. In the morning, they supervised the breakdown of the campsite treating it as they would any clean up they would have to manage in the woods. This morning we took our students to the school’s courtyard where they made pancakes on camping stoves and ate off tin plates. There were buckets of suds outside the library where the kids washed their dishes and after eating they broke down the cook sites. It may not sound wildly innovative but in light of the circumstances the teachers were creative, innovative, encouraging and modeling a critical skill; flexibility.
As teachers and parents we often get caught up in the outcomes game. If the outcomes don’t match our expectations, there is disappointment and frustration. We too often pass this culture of inconvenience to our kids. What would it take to change the mindset that has us become irritable when things don’t go as planned? If we could make that important adjustment and teach our kids that a change in plans doesn’t have to be negative, we would create a generation of curious and motivated innovators. I’m all for making plans and following through, but if change is necessary or a better idea reveals itself, shouldn’t we be vigilant and prepared to shift gears?
Smart Dust, now used as a tool in destroying tumors, was a graduate student’s ruined homework. At USC, Jamie Link accidentally blew up a silicon chip. Because she was vigilant, she discovered properties in the detritus that made her famous in medical circles providing a previously unknown cure. The Popsicle, invented by Frank Epperson, was a result of a mess left outside when Epperson was 11 years old. He left a drink with a stir stick on his front porch. The cold night left him with a frozen treat on a stick the next morning. He patented the dessert two decades later much to the relief of kids everywhere with sore throats. In 1928, Alexander Fleming‘s experiment with bacteria was ruined, or so he thought, when mold showed up in the Petri dish. His vigilance allowed him to see where bacteria were avoiding the mold. This led him to a discovery that has saved millions of lives. Penicillin was the first antibiotic and his flexibility and open mind allowed him to create something exponentially better than what he had initially intended.
The most important lesson we can learn about innovation is this: If we are vigilant, a change in plans can produce greater results than any outcome we could have imagined. There are myriad stories of greater-than-expected outcomes in science, math, art, literature and every other academic discipline. This mindset is what we can teach our kids in an age where knowledge is secondary to creativity. As one of our greatest thinkers once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
This 19 minute TED talk is well worth your time. I have ADD and I couldn’t find a distraction that could tear me away from this man’s talk!
Charles Leadbetter is an unintentional innovator by virtue of his intense curiosity. His interest in finding out what’s available in the world of education beyond the borders of ‘sanctioned methods’ is one of the most exciting reformist efforts today. Rather than speak about education with a collection of theorists, he is out in the field on a quest. His quest is every bit as important (perhaps more so) as the panel discussions, policy debates and academic lectures. He has discovered the purest form of learning; people hungry for knowledge are using available resources to feed their hunger. What could be any more pure? This ties in with the slide show titled “Shift Happens”http://www.slideshare.net/slideshow/embed_code/33834 created by Karl Fisch which compares India, China and U.S. digital and educational revolutions by the numbers. It’s very provocative and I think it informs the conversation concerning what’s happening in education in rising nations.
I am sharing some insights by a few profound thinkers on the subject of arts education. I hope you will find these ideas though-provoking. Please let me know what you think. If you have a quote that should be included, share it in your comment.
“In America, we do not reserve arts education for privileged students or the elite. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds, students who are English language learners, and students with disabilities often do not get the enrichment experiences of affluent students anywhere except at school. President Obama recalls that when he was a child ‘you always had an art teacher and a music teacher. Even in the poorest school districts everyone had access to music and other arts.’
Today, sadly, that is no longer the case.”
– U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, April 9, 2010
“The arts in the schools do not, cannot, and should not exist in isolation. They necessarily must operate in the framework of general education. When they are part of the curriculum of American schools – and this cannot be taken for granted – inevitably they are there because they give students an indispensable educational dimension… The arts are affiliated with the schools’ important responsibility to pass on civilization.”
-from Strong Arts, Strong Schools by Charles Fowler 1996 Oxford University Press
“Education minus art? Such an equation equals schooling that fails to value ingenuity and innovation. The word art, derived from an ancient Indo-European root that means “to fit together,” suggests as much. Art is about fitting things together: words, images, objects, processes, thoughts, historical epochs.
It is both a form of serious play governed by rules and techniques that can be acquired through rigorous study, and a realm of freedom where the mind and body are mobilized to address complex questions — questions that, sometimes, only art itself can answer: What is meaningful or beautiful? Why does something move us? How can I get you to see what I see? Why does symmetry provide a sense of pleasure?”
-Jeffrey T. Schnapp is director of the Stanford Humanities Lab at Stanford University, a prominent cultural historian of the 20th century, and a frequent curator of art exhibitions in Europe and the United States.
“All kids have tremendous talents and we squander them pretty ruthlessly… We (educators) stigmatize mistakes… We are educating people out of their creative capacities… We don’t grow into creativity, we are educated out of it.”
-Sir Ken Robinson, PhD is an internationally recognized leader in the development of creativity, innovation and human resources.
“Learning to think within the affordances and constraints of the material is one of the things that the arts teach… we can look at the arts as tasks which develop the mind because of the kinds of thinking that they evoke, practice and develop… What we need in American education is not for the arts to look more like the academics… but for the academics to look more like the arts.”
-Elliot W. Eisner, Lee Jacks Professor of Education and professor of art at Stanford University, speaking in September 2006 on “What Do the Arts Teach?”
There are many reasons for a child to receive a compulsory education. In ancient Greek and Roman cultures it meant training young men for military service. During the post Civil War era it provided leaders for the industrial age. Many modern students focus on career-preparedness. Before we can address “education reform” we have to have an objective. Any teacher knows that lessons plans begin with a goal. What is the goal of a transformation in how we teach? A new term that has cropped up in many blogs is world-readiness. The information age, a period of development that may prove more potent than the European Renaissance, provides for global networking that could barely be imagined in the fast-moving 1970’s and 80’s and even 90’s when many teachers were having their own student experience. Our students can now see children in remote villages all over the world in real-time. American kids can see videos of their Japanese counterparts’ decimated homes shot with cell phones on the day the tsunami struck.
Instead of identifying these fast times as too fast and fighting to hold this technology at arm’s length, we have an opportunity to engage students in a conversation to help them identify what information is useful, entertaining or meaningful. By learning to categorize the information that comes in at what we old farts qualify as “too fast”, young people will begin to make valuable fast-paced decisions that insure world-readiness.
The hit-and-miss style of education we’ve been pursuing probably looks to kids like a grand game of Whac-a-Mole. Take a whack at the math mole, then swing for the science mole before an arts mole pops his head up for a split second. While this compartmentalization of subjects has served a purpose, a change is long overdue. We have to address the need for world-readiness by teaching and mentoring students in the decision-making process rather than in the traditional “reading, writing and arithmetic” model. In his own style, Stephen Nachmanovitch promotes this type of learning as does James Gee. Nachmanovitch says, “The important thing is to start someplace, anyplace.” While Gee points out “We can put you [the student] into a goal-directed world in which you’re directed to solving problems.” They both agree that holistic learning can have value far beyond the surface subject area. Study after study shows that when kids are allowed to research, try out different scenarios, problem-solve with their peers and fail without the consequences of poor grades and low scores, their learning has legs. Digging to the deepest part of a problem garners answers even teachers miss. This kind of learning is invigorating but scary. If educators don’t have the answers, we become students as well. The possibility of creating a learning environment where students can choose a medium and pursue the ancillary subjects while learning the basics makes curriculum choice a real option. Learners can choose what interests them and identify the information trail they want to follow. This is closer to the real world than anything we are currently doing in education today.
World-readiness is about having the tools and soft skills to make meaningful choices. Too many young people are graduating from college without the ability to make a potentially wrong decision. Our current education model frowns upon risk-taking and yet it is one of the absolutely essential skills for solving world crises.
As teachers we can help students develop their own determinism. If they are learning anything outside of school it is this cause-and-effect model we echo so poorly in the school setting. We have an opportunity while this conversation is gaining momentum, to make certain we know why we want education to change. Get ready world, here comes the next generation.
Art is everywhere. It is in everything we use, see or express. The art we experience is the art created by millions of people who express creativity through design. These are people who move beyond traditional models of art. They have all been practicing artists. Because of their commitment, training and creativity, we are so immersed in the arts we aren’t even aware of it. We respond to the arts as a fish responds to water. We rarely acknowledge its existence. When we do, we speak of music, visual art or theater as if they are things we must create in order for our children to have an “arts experience”. Kids are no more cognitively aware of their arts immersion than the adults. Let me give an example: When I wake up, I often hear music on my radio. This is an obvious arts experience. But when I trudge to my bathroom I am immersed in design. My toilet, mirror, sink, the colors on my bathroom walls, the shape of my toothbrush may be based on utilitarian notions, but there is an artistic design element to everything I use. Even if everything were gray and made of steel, someone would find a way to insert a level of personal expression into a utilitarian product. This ubiquitousness of artistic expression is not limited to design. According to Mr. Webster something is theatrical if it “has the qualities of a staged presentation”. If I attend church or synagogue or mosque or even a Buddhist temple, there is theater just as there are players in a courtroom, classroom or sports arena. We call these events by different names but the term ‘live theater’ applies. Dance is also an area of self expression that shows up everywhere from the traffic circle to the crowded hallways of Grand Central Station. Many of our driving patterns are choreographed as are the flight patterns around an airport. It is our perception or lack of it that makes artistic expression seem scarce. Let’s return to my modern morning ritual. At some point I will dress in clothing designed by an artist. It won’t matter if I bought it at a thrift store or WalMart or Saks Fifth Avenue. Before it could be made, it had to be sketched. The design was then rendered through an artistic process. Trial and error revealed a useful, aesthetically pleasing garment. Fabrics and details were selected which were also designed by artists in those fields. After all this creativity a piece of clothing appeared. The same goes for my coffee and creamer and anything that didn’t come directly from the earth. The coffee maker I use is different in design from my brother’s coffee maker, or my sister’s, or my parents’. If there is no need for art outside the areas designated for expression, why is there a need for differently designed appliances? Business leaders understand the appeal of design. They spend billions of dollars on designers and artists every year to create products that appeal to our cultural and aesthetic sensibilities. If there is no need for art outside of its designated areas, there is no reason for design.
There has never been a time in history when art was not being created. There are numberless examples of profound works of art emerging from dark periods of human history. This includes the great Jewish artists of the Holocaust, Byzantine art following the fall of the Roman Empire, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, the photography of the Great Depression and Dustbowl period. Even the balladeers, bards and brilliant thinkers of the dark ages whose work is lost to us set the stage for the European Renaissance that followed. The indispensable and urgent human need to express has been with us since cave paintings and dances ’round the fire. After I finish writing this blog post, I will grab my beautifully composed leather bag and place in it my aesthetically pleasing computer full of music and media files. I will walk outside my house that was designed by an architect who was an artist in the field of building design. I will press a button on the elegantly fashioned car key that opens the door of my goldenrod minivan. There will not be a moment in my day when I do not experience another human being’s artistic expression. This expression is not about talent, it’s about practice. For everyone who believes it is more important to learn the answers on a test than to learn how to artistically express an idea, it’s time to wake up and smell the artisan coffee.