Dear Washington Post
To whom it may concern,
Today I write to you on behalf of two thriving professional theatre companies in our area: Imagination Stage and Adventure Theatre MTC.
It has been brought to my attention that The Washington Post no longer writes reviews for Theatre for Young Audiences productions. I find this very troubling.
By making the choice not to publish reviews for TYA productions, your institution sends a very powerful message to the public: Children are not a valuable, legitimate, discerning audience, and the pieces of theatre created with this audience in mind are not worth your time and not to be taken seriously.
As a Classroom Teacher turned Teaching Artist and Theatre professional, I am here to tell you that this needs to change. Providing quality reviews for TYA productions gives them the publicity and quality time they deserve.
Why do they deserve it?
To be brief, theatre has always been a crucial aspect of community development and civilization itself. From Ancient Greece to Elizabethan England, from Medieval Cycle Plays to Modern Drama, theatre as been at the heart of society, used to impart wisdom, teach valuable lessons, and ask tough questions. Beyond mere entertainment value, Theatre accomplishes the following:
Audiences, young and old, benefit from witnessing the human condition through the live, visceral experience of theatre. Children who attend live theatre performances are better able to understand their emotions and social interactions, becoming positive members of society.
Please reconsider your choice to not review TYA.
Michele D. Vicino, M.A.T.E.
This one's for you...teachers!
The bell rings, high-schoolers pour into the choir room. By the piano in the middle of the space, I stand, taking attendance as they enter, trying to get a grasp of names in a moment, as I greet the individual. There is a ruckus behind me at the door, spilling into the hallway. Before I reach the doorway to see what’s the commotion, a few boys push their way past me into the room, followed by a girl who then smacks one of the boys in the face.
It is now.
At this moment.
When the role of the "teacher" is defined.
Merriam-Webster defines teacher as "a person or thing that teaches something." This is a drastic misnomer. Yet, I can tell you, unfortunately, from years of experience, there are many among us who live up, or should I say, live down to that definition.
Now, back to the moment above. This sort of behavior is not uncommon in the high school classroom; though how we react to that moment can change the course of the entire year. The way I see it, you have two options, and a fraction of a second to decide:
WRONG! Because then, what happens to the girl and the boy who were sent out of the room? They go to the office, the parents/guardians are called, a meeting may happen, suspension possibly... but really, what purpose does all of that serve? Nothing and no one. Because what you’ve now inadvertently done, is create two enemies. They did not get to participate in that lovely lesson you planned. They spent that time, instead, being reprimanded, or punished, and now these students have a tainted view of you and your class. It may not happen overnight, or after one instance, but I can pretty much guarantee, that these two students are going to get into it again, and a brutal cycle begins.
Or, you could go with option two. In the moment, it seems that this strategy would not benefit the group. You would speak with the individual, while the rest of the class works on something independently or in small groups, but that awesome lesson you created is pushed aside. Well, that’s the thing - I believe you must take time to make time. Instead of trying to preserve the lesson, make an effort to connect with these students and get at the root of the issue. Now, this might not be possible; these students could just be that stubborn. They may continue to have a bad attitude, being a nuisance in the class. If that’s the case, you can at least say you tried, and what’s more, the students see you as someone who makes an attempt to understand where they are coming from, and doesn’t just blindly punish the observable behavior.
The earlier vignette was a moment from a day I substitute taught for a high school choir teacher. Even though I was “just” a sub, I did take that moment to talk to the girl. I told her that she had a choice in the situation, in how to react. I explained that we always have a choice, and to give in to that knee-jerk reaction, is to give that other person power over you, allowing him to influence you negatively, therefore bringing you down. I gave her this empowering pep talk, even though it took away from class-time. A colleague witnessed this, and later noted that after this one-on-one chat, the student participated more in the class than she ever had before.
I don’t have all the answers, I don’t presume to be an expert, but in my years as a classroom teacher and now as a substitute teacher and resident/visiting Teaching Artist, I have learned a lot. Any insight I deem valuable and worth sharing, I will, and hope that someone out there benefits from my experiences.
A New Frontier
As I embark on this new freelance adventure, I am finding myself vindicated. I truly believe that I am on the "right path" as I speak with professionals, during interviews in local theaters. With strong education programming, and a focus on "skill-building" I not only feel like I have done right by my former students, but am nearing a journey that is more in-line with my mission on this planet: to bring the joy of theater to as many students, young and old, as possible, while showing the world the power of the art form, in and out of the classroom!
I think I have truly found my niche... now it's still early, and I'm still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and with any new "gig" comes new challenges, but I have a feeling that those I face will be more easily met and surpassed given the support network, professional development, and like-minded folks with which I will be surrounded.
Back in December of 2013 I met with an administrator regarding our most recent musical production. Concerned with creating an “excellent product”, the conversation became a list of what needs to be done to create a polished production. Now, don’t get me wrong, that is most definitely a goal in each theatrical endeavor, but with all due respect, that is not the proper place to begin. One does not achieve a high-quality, well-put-together production, by focusing on the end product. We are not a professional theatre company; we are an educational institution. Even if we were a professional company, solely considering the larger end goal is not the way to a successful program. We would focus on actor training, establishing specific jobs and clear expectations therein, and on creating an environment in which art can flourish.
There is no piece of theatre that is without fault; from Broadway and The Kennedy Center, to local community theatre and high school programs, there is always something that could be better. ‘Tis the nature, and the beauty of any art form. It is also worth mentioning that since theatre is indeed a piece of art, each viewer will see something different, will pick up on varying nuances, could experience completely different things. That is why theatre is so powerful in its ability to speak to an individual as it presents to a group.
For any one piece of art to even happen, there has to be room for development, change, and fluidity. There cannot be direct control of any one part, because this will restrict the full potential of creating the piece of art. Art exists as a form of self-expression, and I strive to facilitate this understanding in my students, programs and broader community.
My philosophy of eduction, in complete harmony with my philosophy on creating theatre, has a strong focus on skill-building. No matter what I am teaching, math, science, reading, or drama, I begin with the basic skills needed as a foundation of the larger discipline. Process-driven work, focusing on creativity, discovery, collaboration, and self-control, is what gets us to the finish line, where all involved get to enjoy a clean, successful production.
I try to journal. Often. I think it's therapeutic if nothing else. I think it would also be pretty cool if one day, my grandchildren stumbled upon the tattered paperchase books, reading through the highs and lows of my life.
But, beyond that, I guess there is a desire to get some of my most poignant thoughts out there for the world to see, as they may help someone, or even inspire.
I hope you enjoy my ramblings, musings, questions, and philosophies.