Image

Author Archive for Rick Garcia

If Eastwood Hill Could Talk

“Relationships before issues,” is the phrase I use to begin every Maestro Theatre training workshop. I stole that phrase from a Catholic priest who began my summer high school church camps this way.  Most people are naturally uncomfortable with ice braking, get to know one another, team building activities.  It is scary to to expose yourself and possible set yourself up for rejection or to set yourself up for a negative evaluation regarding your social interaction skills. Unfortunately, this natural fear of social interaction is now more severe with current generations being raised with cell phones as their best friend.  And it’s not limited to the young.  Through Maestro Theatre workshops I have observed teachers who are just as lonely as young people.  I meet teachers hungry for friends, conversation, and acceptance.

Many returning teachers arrive and hug me in thanksgiving, “I started crying the minute I drove onto the Eastwood Hill property,” I recall a teacher saying, “It’s like I’m home.”  Home is where a family gathers.  I, as the Maestro director, and we, as teachers, must work harder than ever to create community.  New teachers are understandably uncomfortable when they arrive at to Eastwood Hill and see returning teachers, scream, hug, jump into familiar and energetic conversations.  “Well it’s because of the friendships that were developed here,” a teacher explains to a new comer.  Once the workshop begins and I force conversation, force face to face interaction with a stranger, force activities that encourage seeing a stranger as a person with the same issues or experiences we all possess, the magic of community begins.

All of a sudden the living room space at Eastwood Hill, get louder, all of a sudden I have to interrupt talk as new relationship are being formed.  All of a sudden the new teacher is off Facebook or not texting because they are visiting with a hopeful new friend.  Although some of these forced friends are directed, “I’ll be your friend right now because Rick makes us do this, we soon discover that our commonality creates a bond.  You are attending a Maestro workshop for the same reason everyone else is, you have the same interest in theatre, art, students, improving.  You discover that you are talking to person who understands the challenges of teaching, the inequity of finances, the exhaustion of long days plus rehearsal, the struggle to balance work and home life.  People who share your same interest and experiences become your life long bonds.

I love when 20 new teachers at a Maestro workshop stay up until 3:00 in the morning because they are with people who speak their own language and can’t stop talking. I love when the kitchen island is littered with snacks and beverages as new friends congregate and laugh, share successes AND FLAWS.  In three days, exhausted educators, who were feeling defeated are now energized and optimistic.  The face to face relationships with other caring friends are powerful drivers of engaged learning.  Without these relationships it is easy to give up and quit.

What are you providing for your students to create community? What are you designing for yourself?  Do you ever put down your cell phone to be more present in a room?  Do you have rules for yourself, and students about how you use technology in a social situation? So create an orientation for your classes and your acting companies?  Is your department a home?

Wonderful relationships have developed under the Eastwood Hill roof.  Many tears been shared and accepted within these walls. Eastwood Hill has heard many stories of success, many confessions of failure and self-doubt, many stories which made us laugh.  As theatre directors we coach relationships onstage; let’s take that connection off stage and help create a healthier community. Have a holy holiday season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Millennials in Theatre

I do not have a television in my house.  Some guests comment in disbelief, “How can you live without a television?” Television is not bad; too much television was bad for me. It was hypnotic and encouraged me to waste a lot of time, so I got rid of the machine.  I also got tired of the news and commercials telling me what to believe and what to purchase.  Similarly, I hate visiting friends and their entire living room is arranged around a television, which remains on. Hello; let’s look at each other and talk. Can you imagine growing up today? The relationship our students have with technology is beyond description.  My three-year-old niece operates her mom’s cell phone!  How has technology effected our students and what is our role in teaching theatre which is about people, not gadgets?

I grew up in rural Texas; our closet neighbors were the Sellars family, 3 miles away.  I grew up playing outdoors. Jan Sellars and I often rode our bikes for miles, but my favorite childhood game incorporated my chores and my imagination.  It was my job to feed our livestock. I had to cut down some of the maize or milo from the nearby field and wheel barrow it to feed the calves and pigs.  Instead of efficiently cutting down the green stalks from the nearest corner of the field, I sliced winding paths into the living greenness creating a meandering maze of trails and secret rooms and hidden passages.  I knew the paths.  I can still hear the wind gently vibrating the leaves sounding like a giant hand gliding across a rusted harp.  And each day I fed the animals, the maze got deeper and more complicated and the High Plains’ wind was my soundtrack.  When my city cousins came to visit, we would spend hours devising games and scenarios in the mysterious paths.

But today, many of our students only play indoors and they are attached to their devices, computers, and video games. Some of the games have great effects and soundtracks, but it’s all been designed and created for them.  I grew up with friends, real friends; I still visit with Jan Sellars Bates.  Our students have virtual friends. Today’s Millennial boosts his or her self-esteem by counting hundreds of Facebook friends.  But the truth is that they have never seen most of them and they only know them superficially and add friends from the invitation of an intrusive app suggesting, “You might also know…”. A teen today sends an average of 3,000 texts a month. I use to get one snail mail letter every two months from my pen pal in Minnesota.

There is much negative criticism of Millennials.  Many say they are tough to manage, narcissistic, unfocused, lazy, entitled.  I’m not quite that harsh but, I admit, I sometimes describe my students as so, until I need help with my computer or, sound system, or downloading something, or hooking up to Wi-Fi. Then I’m reminded that they are actually efficient, genius and skilled! Millennials grew up in a Facebook and Instagram world. They grew up with filters that only show the good and happy world.  Consequently, many are suffering from depression and low self-esteems. The trauma for young people to be unfriended is real.   It’s no fault of this generation; this is the time they were dealt.  They grew up with instant gratification and yet older people describe them as impatient and wanting everything now, now, now, with no understanding of having to work for it!  If they want information, it’s at their fingertips.  I had to plan for a week and drive 30 miles to see a movie. They don’t even have to worry about movie times; they just click and download.  Food? Click, order, pay, delivered, and not just pizza.  Same with shopping; Amazon order and it’s in your possession tomorrow.  And dating?  They did not have to go through the awkward humiliation of breaking the ice and stumbling out words that sounded more like soggy Jell-O than courting. They just swipe and bam, a hook-up.  They swipe and crash, a break-up.  They are failing at building meaningful relationships. They rarely practiced the skills.

But theatre teaches communication and relationships.  We teach the essential social coping skills. We teach that the process matters more than the immediate outcome.  Today’s kids do not have a realistic understanding of the journey.  They care more about the short term gains than the life-long lessons.  Through the rehearsal period, we model patience and teach that projects come to fruition with time, flexibility and persistence.  Theatre rewards with the fulfillment of working hard and seeing a project brought to fruition. Theatre teaches that we care about people rather than corporate gains, or profits, or brands, or how many likes your posting gets.

It’s always been tough teaching actors character development and relationships; it’s even harder now because of how alienated they have been raised.  It is even more difficult now to teach looking at one another in the eyes.  It’s more difficult to teach touching.  Remind yourself of when your students grew-up.  Discuss the humanity necessary for theatre and all art.

There should be no cell phones while your company is creating art and while you are teaching communication and relationships.  The presence of the phone invites distraction, and allows kids to surrender to the addiction of the cell phone, just like me and television. I believe it’s rude to have a cell phone out on a table when you are supposed to visit with family or friends. I believe it’s rude to have a cell phone out during a business meeting where you are supposed to be engaged and communicating.

Theatre directors teach art, but we also teach life-long skills.  Thank God I did not have an I Phone in my childhood maize field; I would have laid down on the cool dirt and played a video maze game, like Portal 2, rather than cultivating my own imagination. Instead I built my own life size magical world of green corridors and giant hands playing the High Plains harp.

WHO’S GOING TO STOP ME

In the late 1980’s I submitted scenes from A Lie of the Mind, by Sam Shepard, as our entry into the Texas UIL One Act Play Contest.  Lynn Murray, the State Director, called me to tell me the reading committee was split on the title and that he had to make the decision to approve or deny our selection.  He was an ex-college professor of mine and was known for his “sailor” vocabulary. His final ruling was, “If you want mount that piece of sh*t, go right ahead and mount it.”  A Lie of The Mind was named the AAAAA State Champion that year.  At last year’s Texas Educational Theatre Association Convention, Lynn Murray kindly told me it was the best UIL show he saw in his tenure as State Director.

I judged last year’s State AAAAAA contest and was one of the three panelists who awarded Houston Carnegie Vanguard High School’s scenes from Holy Day, by Andrew Bovell, the State Championship.  Now State Director, Luis Munoz, told me that Holy Day was his A Lie of the Mind.  There was much rumbling about Holy Day: parent protests, attorneys, threats of law suits, police escorted students at performances. A Lie of the Mind stirred some discussion and letters to newspapers, but we now live in the age of texting and immediate news and social media protesting.  My principal back in the 1980’s received numerous phone calls, letters, and newspaper interviews.  I remember him telling me, “We trust you and how you teach our kids. We are proud of our theatre program.  So what do I care what they are saying in Conservative, Texas.”

Should the Texas UIL One Act Play Contest censor play selection and play content?  Should high school students be protected from “mature” literature and not be allowed to speak the “mature” words written by a playwright?  My answer is no. Every administrator has to sign an agreement form to enter a contest: “The production does not offend the moral standards of our community and is is appropriate for presentation by the students of our school. “I have seen “mature” plays produced in small rural towns as well as large urban schools.  I have seen The Small World of Millie McIvor produced in a large AAAAAA school.  I have seen The Rimers of Eldritch, with its murder, rape, and bigotry cloaked in Christianity produced in small one A schools.  A good theatre director lays a foundation with its school and community to create art and not all art is pretty, thank God.  A good theatre director creates trust through clear communication and objectives.  A school must know and understand why a company is producing its selected title.  I recall casting a Jewish student in the role of Shylock. That sensitive decision did not happen without conversation with the parents of that child.  They disagreed with my choice of play selection, but allowed their child to play the role as a learning experience.  We all learned. A good director communicates with parents and administrators. I do not ask our librarian what books to put in our library. I do not ask the English Department what literature they are teaching.

Theatre is didactic and outside institutions have no right determining what is appropriate for a particular community.  We hear the same argument in politics where many believe the federal government should stay out of state decisions.  I believe the state should stay out of local decisions.  I served as a clinician for several UIL productions this year.  Directors have been told to eliminate all curse words and many directors were told to clean up plot driven relationships. I’m sorry, but Eddie has to be hot for Catherine in A View From the Bridge.  I’m sorry, but Brian and Mark are in a Gay relationship in The Shadow Box.  Can high school kids handle discussing incest?  Can high school kids handle discussing Gay issues?  I am sad to say that in my career I have had to deal with more than one student who was sexual abused by a family member.  As an openly Gay man, I wish a teacher had allowed me to talk about sexuality when I was 16 years old.  A Lie of the Mind deals with spousal abuse, alcoholism, and controversial use of the American flag.  I cannot think of a better way to stimulate discussion and allow actors and audience to define their values.

We teach the Google Generation.  You are naive if you think our high school students have not searched the nastiest thing you can imagine.  Every “mature” subject is at their fingertips.  Let teachers and directors safely provide platforms for discussion and adult supervision of their questions.  I wished Texas UIL had stood more firmly against threats of lawsuits.  There are attorneys who could argue in favor of freedom of speech.  There are attorneys who understand freedom of choice.

No matter how hard we try to protect our kids, they will get hurt. Theatre can provide a practice role to prepare them for those inevitable hurts.  I am thankful for my American freedoms.  The freedom to compete in UIL provided me with success and the foundation to believe in myself.  Competition is one of America’s greatest freedoms. UIL made me who I am today. We live daily watching a presiding president try and control the media.  We should not censor.  UIL taught me to believe in myself and take risks.  As a mature teacher and director I have learned to stop wondering if principals and society is going to let me…   UIL gave me the confidence to rather say, “Who is going to stop me from doing what I know is best for my students.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Tongue, Two Ears

How much voice or opinion should your students have in a theatre company?
• Should students have a choice in selecting play titles?
• Should students have a say in casting?
• Should students be selecting technicians?
• Should students have a say in whether they like their costume?
• Should student’s input be considered in how you direct?
(Note that these same questions could apply to parents and booster clubs.)

A good company operates with a knowledge of its members and considers the client it serves in all decisions. Trust and respect are key in successful companies. What’s best or easiest for the director is not the correct choice. Educators are in the business of teaching students. All decisions should be based in what is best for students. Two years ago, our school redesigned the school day hours from 8:10 – 4:10. We studied various school day schedules. Many teachers preferred a school day ending at 2:30 pm. I selfishly loved the idea of rehearsals beginning earlier. I remember colleagues mentioning benefits like beating rush hour traffic and easing babysitter hour costs. However attractive, these benefits were all teacher based and did not include the benefit for the student. We eventually chose an 8:30 – 3:30 school day based on what was best for student success. The larger conversation included studying bus route schedules, all after school events like rehearsals and athletics, a scheduled time for students to meet with teachers for tutoring and make-up tests, and even a time for students to meet for their clubs. What is best for the client should be the first thing considered when managing your company. This focus invites trust from all served.

Is it best for your program to have students vote on play titles? Although their degree of investment or degree of enjoyment is important, the flip side of that is that they are not as well read as you are. Also, they may not have a mature sense of literary merit or challenging work. I am, of course, assuming your company goal is to educate your students about good literature versus weak scripts. I listen to student input and often allow them to vote, but I clearly clarify that their vote may or may not be the deciding factor. Some years my students and I have agreed on titles. Other years, I vetoed their choice and trusted my expertise regarding what is best for them and the program. A strong teacher and director unites the disappointed. Students will take their director’s lead if that trust has been established. (In UIL contest critiques, I have seen many directors model unprofessional reactions and consequently the students do as the director does). A director is a leader; know where you are leading them.

A healthy company feels respected and valued. Do not forget that many theatre directors feel unappreciated, over worked and less valued in the big picture of school business. Do not practice that same neglect with your students. Value your company members. Respect their voice. Compliment their commitment and participation. Notice and recognize their improvements and growth. Creating respect in your company members will make it easier when you, as the leader, challenge and disagree with their opinions or vote. There is no one correct answer as to whether your program should be an equal vote democracy or a dictatorship. All successful relationships rely on trust.

An environment of trust assumes that all parties will be safe, and that you have everyone’s best interests in mind. That is why students can accept criticism from a director they trust. Once trust is lost, it is hard to recapture. So in a theatre environment, a director must trust the student company members and they must trust the director. They must trust that can take risks free of judgment and create art freely. This code will allow for student-based decision making, director dictated decisions, or a combination. The leadership style should be an extension of the director’s personality. So the necessary question becomes, “How do you develop trust between participants in the company”? All people are sensitive about being told what to do, and they often want to prove themselves. So rather than lecture students, consider using reflective questions, such as, “What do you think about …?” “Have you thought of …?” and “Would you consider …?”

Epictetus is credited with the statement: “Man has one tongue but two ears that we may hear from others twice as much as we speak.” Listening to value your student’s feelings and ideas gives directors the ability to effectively communicate with and influence their company. Listen to learn means not inserting your opinion and not judging. Effective directors know that delegation is essential for building trust. When you hold onto tasks and do not delegate, you deprive your students of an opportunity to advance their skills. Treating people as if they are responsible and empowered increases their chances of becoming so. Most theatre directors are a one-person operation. Our best students become our assistants. Empowering them to practice their leadership skills make them better leaders. Theatre departments rooted in trust allow for multiple ways of making company decisions. Lecture and criticize less. Listen to your students. Empower your students. Lead with confidence.

Introducing The Maestro Arts Project

map

 

I would like to share the not-so-well-known origins for creating Maestro and introduce our plans for the next phase, The Maestro Arts Project (the MAP). Maestro Theatre officially began in 1991.   The founding members were a group of Texas educators, Leyla Cohlmia, Austin High School chemistry teacher, Larry Preas, Austin High School Theatre Director, Lisa Hale, Plano East Theatre Director, Peter Dias, Conroe High School Theatre Director, Terri Pena-Ross, San Antonio Middle School, and myself, then at Klein Oak High School. We each contributed $250 to finance a summer production of To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday at the Larry Preas Theatre at Austin High School. Proceeds from the project were awarded to a student pursuing a degree in Theatre Education.

Maestro now operates out of Eastwood Hill Bed and Breakfast in San Marcos, TX and conducts Fall and Summer Intensive Theatre Education seminars. More than 200 teachers attend each year, with a waiting list, reflecting demand for additional sessions.  The Maestro staff regularly directs at college summer theatre camps across the state. Maestro staff also conduct on-site theatre clinics as directors and students prepare their UIL One Act Play productions.  On average, I clinic over 100 UIL plays a year. A College Audition Training Seminar was offered this year and, once again, the numbers in attendance, reflected a need for more audition training sessions.  Maestro Theatre has created a subsidiary branch, Maestro Theatre Publications and has published The Body, The Voice and The Imagination, a Teacher’s Resource Book which is currently being used in over 260 schools across the state. Maestro will release one of two, new teacher resource books next Friday, October 21.

Where did the idea for creating Maestro begin?  When I was too young to give my dream words, Ricky Garcia, a freshman kid, in the High Plains of Ralls, Texas, intensely wanted to attend The UIL University of Texas Summer Theatre Camp, but there was not enough money.  Every year, I was named All-Star Cast or Best Actor in the UIL One-Act-Play contests and each year I received a letter from UT and the University Interscholastic League inviting me to apply to this great camp. And each year, my Dad had to explain to me that there was not enough money. In my junior year, I recall waiting until all my brothers and sisters had gone to bed to knock on my parents’ bedroom door and one last time beg my dad to allow me to go to the camp. I guess I asked in late night solitude so that my siblings would not have to witness the shame of “not enough money.” Those yearnings and sad regrets still pain me today.  I now visit schools across the state and see extraordinary talent and I wonder if those dream-filled kids are sadly anchored with the same limitations I once cried about.

I never attended the UT camp, but I did later graduate from The University of Texas.  And who would have predicted that I would one day serve as guest faculty and director along UT professors?  I have been blessed with a successful career in theatre and education.  I want to give back to kids that yearn for art, but do not have the means to pursue their passion.  And so, the next phase of Maestro is to establish The Maestro Arts Project (The MAP), a 501 C3, non-profit, to continue giving teachers and kids skills and opportunities for success.

  • The MAP will provide an accessible summer camp, targeting young artists isolated in rural areas and Title 1-2 schools across Texas.
  • The MAP will serve as a warehouse for theatre educators to learn and network.
  • The MAP will provide a home for writers to develop much needed new works by women for women.
  • The MAP will provide employment opportunities for new fine arts graduates out of college, to provide a springboard to develop their portfolios and resumes.
  • The MAP will provide a center to develop all Fine Arts: theatre, music, film, visual arts, dance, and literature.

The Maestro Arts Project will soon begin an inaugural fund-raising campaign to acquire the property and begin Phase 1 of this vision.  We will soon ask you to join other Texas theatre teachers, their celebrity alumni, and your alumni to bring The MAP to fruition. Our students are our trophies.  The initial fund raising campaign will invite you to contact your alumni and art supporters to help build The MAP, a place to guide the next generation of Texas’ artists.

My resume states that my strongest skill is bringing projects to fruition.  Last month, I sat in my fifth bank parking lot, wiping away tears as I recomposed myself from yet another denied bank loan application. I tried to do this on my own. I need your help. I will not let this dream end in a bank parking lot; too many teachers and young artists need The MAP.  Theatre teachers are pros at taking the lack of resources and becoming resourceful. How many times have we stared at a blank empty stage but have seen an entire word in that empty space?  Join The MAP in visualizing:

  • 20 acres of beautifully preserved green space in the San Marcos hill country
  • a 200 seat theatre and visual art gallery
  • 6 writer’s cottages
  • an amphitheater music venue
  • a music recording studio
  • a multimedia-film editing studio
  • sculpture gardens

One day we will say that The MAP was built by the goodness of teachers and the students they loved.