Tag Archives: arts

Kids. Theatre. Art.

14 Mar

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Stumbled on a Tumblr last night, linking to others that, all-collected, formed most of a young cast and their experiences of putting on this show.

…Totally fascinating…reading their processes in raw-thought form, thrown out there with zero editing of  their emotions and frustrations as they fought to balance out school schedules, homework, dating, rehearsals, finals and wrapping their heads around the history of the piece.

Written in 2006, these back-and-forth tagged Tumblrs and blogs are free-formed by High School students, who by now have most likely graduated College and gotten married, and started having children of their own.  Which is kinda mind-blowing, even not having known the kids personally…only because of the knowledge that they have this forever-record of that point in their lives, written down (much like Anne), which others can read and experience, further mirroring the book and show itself.

Really intriguing thoughts, actually. 

…Some in simple questioned innocents, some with down-and-dirty sleeves-rolled-up research, some likening their own personal experiences to Anne and their own characters…and some just excited by the whole process.

The thing that really got to me though, was the point…totally individual to each…when they “got it.”  The point where the full weight of what the show and this girl’s experiences were all about, actually sunk into them…and how each of them dealt with it.

Personal. Raw. Specific.

…These kids, through ART, were given a new way to access and view something from history that they already knew about since middle-school.  That restriction of: “this is a book about a teenage girl, in Amsterdam, in WWII,” was suddenly (and in some cases emotionally violently) altered for them once the process of physical “empathy” was put into place.

To read about a girl from the far-past, in a place they could not recognize, and had no tangible relateable association with at first glance…had limited a lot of them at the book’s first reading. Some were embarrassed by it’s pubescent topics, some shut off by the distant time frame in which it was written, some by the country they didn’t recognize…or the Politics they couldn’t understand…while some did actually take it personally and to heart. But the range there was wide.

…Through the process of ownership in their roles, though…you can actually SEE that begin to change…and the kids changing with it.

What they start out writing about in an off-hand remarks, early in the rehearsal process, begins to change to a kind of hungry obsession over time. They begin pulling out quotes from the script, and matching it to the diary…they write mini-bios, and suck up European political history like sponges. They become in awe of the magnitude in the numbers…which are no longer just “numbers,” but for the first time begin to represent actual “people” to them, now that they are actually portraying one of them…each with lives and families and homes and dreams of their own. They begin to question, and get angry, and become activists for a cause which now has become as real to them as anything they may have to deal with in their current day-to-day lives. They build genuine affection for their “characters”…defending their deeds in posts, and against Anne’s words…and explaining WHY they think and act and say the things they do.

…They become totally engrossed, as the posts move along…building not only on their own, but commenting on one another’s in debate, and agreement, and camaraderie.

And it is fucking FANTASTIC.

You see: THIS is what “Art” does.

THIS is why it is so essential, and why it’s disappearance from our Schools is so completely devastating.

“Art” is not just a “hobby.” “Art” isn’t an “extracurricular activity.” “Art” is “Humanity.” Straight-up. It is our one point of access to all that it is (and ever was) to be human. And without it, we are sorely damaging our future potential…and in severe danger of repeating our greatest mistakes.

And HERE is a prime example.

…Written by school children, grown now into adults, who BECAUSE of “art” experienced something so palpable that “History” became alive to them, “Politics” became important, “Numbers” meant more than mere addition and subtraction, the “Written Word” jumped off the pages at them, and “Science” in the research, reason and attempt to understand why and what it all meant, became totally essential to them.

…And yet, with all of that put together, it STILL could not hold the realization of the emotional strength and repercussions that actual “embodiment” had on each of them. The power of empathy…of PUTTING YOURSELF into another’s place…of FEELING the fear, and hunger, and pain, and sadness…of MAKING IT PERSONAL…it changed them, not just as “children” or “students,” but as HUMAN BEINGS.

…Once taught empathy, education, the difference between right and wrong…passion for history and learning…you can’t un-teach it. You can try, attempt to mind-wash and assault the brain all you like. But if given a good, strong, root to grow…early on…I don’t believe there is anything that can break that. Or the spirit it infuses, like Anne’s, to fight for your right to it.

“There are no walls, there are no bolts, no locks that anyone can put on your mind.”

…It was something Mr. Frank once told Anne, and something she often went back to as a form of solace, a comfort, an outlet…a form of expression.

…Because any form of educated obsession, release, curiosity, excitement, empathy…is a kind of art.

Because SHE was encouraged to release herself in it, we have her diary today. Because those kids were encouraged to release themselves in it, their lives were changed. The same way that mine constantly is. And Meryl Streep. And Picasso’s was. And Steven Spielberg. And Maria Callas. And Leonard da Vinci, and Stephen King, and Gertrude Stein, and Albert Einstein, Billie Jean King, and Stephen Hawking.

…So really, what I’m saying is: people learn and become inspired in so many different ways…going on to inspire and educate others, likewise. I’d like to assume you’d want every opportunity you can grasp onto, to make sure your kids get every option to become the best that they can be…as people and parents of their own children someday.

If you already practice an art of your own, there’s no need to tell you this, but if not: Listen up. I promise…it isn’t just a flippant accessory to life. It is a necessity. It’s brought us our greatest humanitarians, and thinkers, and doers we have ever produced as a human race. It breeds intelligence. It fosters hope. It counters depression, and fear, and anger.

It belongs in our schools.

…If only, to dust off the tired words in old textbook pages, and make all the other academics and political concepts and histories and numbers and sciences more real to the people who will be running this planet some day.

Think about it.

~D

Dear Dennis

2 Dec

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Good morning, all.

…My fellow casties are prob’ly still well passed out at the hosting house of our cast party, which I spent all of fifteen minutes at before going home.  It was a choice I needed to make, and I know I missed out on everything, and it sucks, but sometimes being smart takes precedence.  Even in the theatre.

…And speaking of that…

…I would like to share with you a “present” we received from the Artistic Director before fight call last night.  Marty, who had already previewed it at rehearsal yesterday, was giddy with laughter, that it would be the absolute best part of our day, bringing endless joy and wonderment.

She was not far off.

…But before I launch on: let it be known that the theatre receives dozens and dozens of feedback comment, emails, facebooks, blogs and personal notes, for each show, indicating a positive reinforcement on the production, its cast, designers and crew.  And amongst those several dozen, they will also get a few negatives.  These are usually people disturbed by content: like too much kissing, or groping or foul language.  It is (most of the time) a matter of personal offence levels, and rarely has anything to do with the actual performances given.  But lets face it: people can be dicks, and are highly encouraged in this country to speak their mind whether asked their opinion or not, and anything that politically, emotionally, sexually, religiously or otherwise which offends them, means that we should all be shamed, and go to hell for it, purely because they say so. 

…Also, they seem (for some reason) to believe that it is their “divine purpose,” to tell us this.

But last night’s shared patron letter, gobsmacked us entirely because it was by all means in the negative column, but for “intellectual” purposes…blowing our minds three ways to Sunday.  Where does one even begin an answer to something like this without being smarmy about it?  I have no idea.  So I’ll let SWAL do it, instead. 

…First though, I take you back to last night:  We are assembled and chatting on stage, pre-show, while some do physical warm-ups and others: vocals.  Chatting is happening over in the front row seats by some members, others are swilling coffee or munching on popcorn, ripped from concessions. Several of us snerffle our noses and swap cold drugs like street dealers.  Then: Mr. Artistic Director calls for our attention, with his phone loading an email he received the night before.

…He “has a present to share with us, ” he tells us, with a serious face but twinkle in his eye…as Marty in the far seats on the side starts squirming with delight. “Oh my God you guys, it’s beautiful…I can’t even wait.  You will laugh so hard your faces will fall off.”

…And then, with a total straight face, Mr. Artistic Director reads:

Subject: Twelfth Night

I went to the play, Twelfth Night, Thursday night. I left early.

(we boo and hiss loyally)

I don’t understand Shakespearian or Elizabethian English. You have a Parental Advisory on your website for the play, but no advisory that the play is spoken in a language that is centuries old.

(general burst of laughter.)

The Twelfth Night was written in the mid 1590’s. Even the King James Bible, written in 1611, has been rewritten in modern English.”

( “Cliff Notes!” someone yells.)

So, I could not understand any bawdiness, if any was spoken.”

(another burst of laughter.)

I did see a male character’s hand on a female character’s breast, but without a funny dialog, it’s not funny.”

(A call-out to me: “Your boobs aren’t funny! They’re fired!”)

Looking at the, Setting, in your magazine size program, I’m not sure when I left. I did not see a kitchen. I did not see a street outside a house. I did not see a sea coast.”

(twitter laughter begins to build.)

Am I supposed to imagine that the players bringing into a room a large wooden chest was supposed to be on the coast? It looked like it was just being brought into another room in the same place as the other scenes.

(twitter grows to guffaws.)

What were your scenic designer and artist doing? Even your youth class could draw and color a short but long picture of sand and waves, to put in front of the stage, to depict a sea coast.

(every last one of us completely loses our shit.)

I left after two characters with swords in their belts exchanged words. Very disappointed.

(we try to breathe through the giggles.)

“Not interested to go to the [theatre name] for a long time.

~ Dennis

…At it’s completion we sat, stood and laid there on stage making fun of this letter for the next ten minutes…all insisting it be forwarded to us directly so we could pull it out at parties and blog about it to the general masses.

This is the kind of thing the Arts are up against, people…and it’s only gonna get worse.

With Hollywood and video games and cell phones and computers, an entire generation of children have grown up without ever once having to use their actual intellect, imaginations, or focus on something like conversation without fights, blood, wars and graphic porn-level humping in front of them. Give them anything less, challenge them in any way more than that…and they are now being bred to be incapable…actually incapable…to go with you on a journey played out for them…live…on a stage…with immediate response.

…They are just lost, poor bastards.

Completely and utterly lost.

…Our society and technology has brought them to this level, so how in the hell are we supposed to fix that? What does one answer a full grown man who can’t manage a simple game of make-believe that any of us could master at age three?

…This is why underfunding the Arts is so tragic, you guys.

If he had been TAUGHT these things, encouraged to engage in them as a young person, this would have been an entirely different story. How I know this is: the five schools of children packing out our theatre last Tuesday, caught every single sexual innuendo, dirty joke, insult, trick and love twist that we threw at them. Why? Because they had been immersed in the language, studying it for an entire semester, that’s why. They had been taught to appreciate all the wicked winks and plots that Shakespeare put there, and had no problem, AT ALL, following our characters and stories, on a set NOT built on a million-dollar budget with pyrotechnics, and NOT necessitating dummy cards produced on where we are, when to laugh, and when to applaud.

In a blog that started out wanting to smart-ass a whiplash reply right back at this guy, I sorta don’t have the heart to anymore. It’s almost like kicking a puppy. He just genuinely doesn’t understand the Art, or the History, or the Language. And sure, you can totally make fun of that…but it’s sort of more depressing to me than anything else, really. So instead of a saucy SWAL response, how about just a genuine one?

***

Dear Dennis,

I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy the performance last Thursday. By your comments, it seems you were expecting a much different experience at the theatre than you were given, which happens sometimes, and we totally understand how you could be frustrated by that fact. In saying that, however, I wonder if you would be willing to do a little experiment for us…just a few moments of your time.

…We know you have a favorite jam, everybody does. Some song you really connect with…the one with your favorite guitar riff or base hit or whatever it is…one with no words in it. Just music. Put that bad boy on, would yuh? Earphones even, if yuh got ’em, and blast that shit as loud as you want!

…Now: turn out the lights. I’m not getting weird here, just trust me. Total pitch black.

…Just listen. Listen to the music…your song…and let your mind open up and trip all it wants to on wherever it goes: pictures of things, places you’ve been to, that one girl you knew once, the vacation you took that one time, roadtripping your senior year with all your buddies…whatever it is. Whatever makes you love this song should be comin’ at you right now from all different directions of your mind.

…And when the song is over, set it on repeat. Listen to it again. Pay attention to when you think of what…and who you think of at what place in the music itself. Lust. Sadness. Joy. Come on…you’re right there again, remember where you were, what it looked like, the weather, the color of the paint on the walls, the make and model of car, the way she did her hair. Remember the smells, and the textures as deeply and as specifically as you can. Got it?

End of experiment.

…It was just to prove you could actually go on the trip we were wanting to take you on in our performance last Thursday, but much like now: you have to be willing to open yourself up to the possibilities and use your imagination and memory.

Your music had no words you could understand, as you claim of our show: yet you understood the story it told, perfectly.

Your music had no sets or lights or costumes or props, but the ones which you provided yourself, in imagination and memory.

Your music had a bunch of separate scenes and characters and story plots, that ran together at the same time and still made total sense to you.

Your music made you feel things: lust, anger, passion, pain…with no special effects, or fight scenes, or sexual encounters aside from those that you yourself created.

…So it is with our job.

And we hope, at some point, you will be willing to come back, sit in a seat in this theatre, and as the lights go down: listen to our music with a willing ear, and open mind…and see if you can’t find something in there that means something to you.

…We just wanted to share our jam with you, man.

That’s all you have to think about, if you ever happen to want to come back.

Sincerely,

SWAL

~D

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