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Author Archive for Rick Garcia

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

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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.

Washington DC Needs More Verbs

Rick Washington DC

The following is a message I sent to a fellow teacher and dear friend,

“Hi JJ. Thank you for the wonderful resources you provided to help me prepare my words for my trip to DC. My trip was exciting, but I am sad to report that I left feeling very small in the world of bureaucracy. I appreciated the opportunity to share my stories and my experiences. Secretary John B. King Jr. is a kind and gentle soul. He was attentive and I saw the same concern in his face as I see in my dad’s face; they care for their children. But the words I heard from other educators in the room were the same stories of frustration I’ve heard in faculty meetings for the past 37 years. All the teachers there were passionate; a few were prolific and hinted at solutions. I was saddened because it was a gathering of great ideas, but no real discussion of what to do with those great ideas, or more accurately, how to fund those great ideas. I cried a lot yesterday. I felt sad for kids who get lost. I felt sad for schools that lose funding and get closed. I felt sad for Secretary King because the federal government’s relationship with the states and districts is complicated. I thought public school was bad, I discovered Washington DC is bureaucracy on steroids.”

JJ’s reply,

“I’m sorry to hear that Rick. I understand and I cry often too. But remember that sometimes we can’t change the ‘outside’ world. The only way to change things is to create our own small worlds and allow them to ripple out. The outside world is corrupt with greed and warped notions. But when some small movement begins and finds success, it takes hold and can’t be stopped. Every movement in the world started with a handful of people, you know that. From revolutions to the Renaissance. Did you know that many movements started with a group of students taught by the same teacher? Or a group of free thinkers in a pub? They didn’t try to change the world that existed around them. They created their own world…and it spread because the world was ripe for change. Don’t worry about old paradigms. When new worlds are created, the old worlds crumble. Focus on creating your world, the one you have been building all along. That is the future. It will happen. This is the way change happens. Ab intra. From within.”

JJ Jonas teaches at Salado High School in Salado, TX. She is one of the most creative and dynamic individuals I know. “Focus on creating your world,” she advised me. I love writing and receiving letters rather than concise bullet point memos. Her longer note to me is filled with verbs. An actor understands verbs. The Maestro phrase is “Actors perform actions; all actions are verbs.”  “Focus and create.”  Artists do this well.

The inequity in funding for arts in educational programming, fine arts facility construction, and fine arts equipment is historical. Even in the U.S. Department of Education I learned that the Office of Innovation and Improvement, who supports art in education, is equally limited (and in my opinion, embarrassingly limited) in the budget they are allotted. I was shocked when I compared their budget with the budget of the office for Title 1 and Title 2. Title 1 and Title 2 money targets students’ academic performance and teacher training. And despite generations of statistics that prove that involvement in the arts improves academic performance and keeps kids in schools, administrators still do not equally support the arts. Why can’t administrators hear the power of the verbs “improve” and “keep”?

The current trend to overwhelmingly fund science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) programs is dangerous. School boards and principals will funnel Title 1 and 2 grants away from humanities programs (which include the arts) because no principal wants to be slapped in the face with low performance scores. No principal wants the embarrassment of having a school closed. That pressure is immense, especially in rural communities where the school is the anchor for jobs and the heartbeat for local economy. So long as we have school performance tests, money will go to those areas to insure additional funds and to successfully meet the right amount of penciled in bubbles. So long as we have money tied into school performance tests, local legislators will interpret federal recommendations and policy to benefit their constituents and disregard the ethical intent of the grants.

Do not get me wrong, I do not want a test for theatre to justify federal grants because many of the skills the fine arts teach cannot be penciled into a bubble. I understand the need to learn STEM skills, but not at the expense of what the humanities teach:  how to think, how to communicate, how to solve, how to see what is not there, to name a few. Art skills taught me how to turn lack of resources into resourcefulness, how to take risks and leave a family farm and dismiss cultural pressures to stay home. I am a fulltime teacher and also run four other businesses. I add to the local economy via my art skills. The arts taught me entrepreneurship. Most students that take fine arts or even major in fine arts to do not become “professional artists”, yet those who do deserve a loud applause. But notice that many students that major in accounting do not become accounts or students who major in history do not become museum curators. Many of the acting majors from my college class became very good lawyers and no one questions that their acting skills are valued in a court room.

“Focus on creating your world,” JJ said. The art educator is persistent, and I think our best skill is the ability to see what is not there…yet. Despite inadequate funding we will continue to produce art. Despite inadequate funding we will continue to educate kids and provide them opportunities to succeed. Why would we do this when so many teachers feel underappreciated and ignored? Because the teacher, like the artist, is also passionate. And when you follow your passion, well happiness triumphs over pessimism.

Upon my return, I shared my experience with my students. I cried a lot Friday because like many artists and teachers, I’m philosophical and sensitive and in my heart I know what is ethically correct. I cried because I hate feeling and sounding cynical. I also cried when I told my students about A.S. Johnston High School where Celeste Rodriguez-Jensen attended school in east Austin.

Celeste is the director of The Teacher Liaison National Engagement Team for The U.S. Department of Education, the program that invited me to DC. Celeste is also one of my alumni. I was filled with pride as I saw my once 17-Rick Garcia and Celeste Rodriguez-Jensenyear-old student incorporate her UIL One-Act-Play stage manager skills to coordinate a national gathering of teachers. I mentioned to Secretary King, that her school closed her junior year because the school failed to meet academic standards. Yet here she was in the same room, in charge and successful. The Every Student Succeeds Act should include all the future Celeste Rodriguez’s in fine arts programs across the country who are practicing skills to better our world.

My first trip to Washington DC was tough but appreciated. The National Mall exudes art:  the designs, the museums, the lighting, the architecture, the history and stories preserved. Thank you Secretary King for listening to my stories. I teach at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Upper School in Austin, TX. I will continue to pray for your leadership and not worry about those critical of separation of church and state. And regarding this particular issue of educating kids, I will also pray that the gap close between between Washington DC and the states and districts. “Think globally. Act locally” is a great slogan, but I still believe that there are those in power who are better positioned to fight for change on a large scale. Thank you for allowing this soldier’s input. Thank you Celeste for being a model of how every student can succeed.

Thank you, JJ Jonas for all you do in Salado, TX. And thank you to all the fine arts teachers who continue to create resourcefulness from lack of resources. Thank you for making students’ success your trophies. Oh, and thank you JJ for the verbs. “All actions are verbs.”  Actors know actions.

Rick Garcia was one of 14 fine arts educators who were invited to Washington DC to meet with Secretary of Education, John B. King Jr. August 31, 2016. You can learn more about the monthly “Tea With Teachers” gathering and also sign up for the newsletter, The Teachers Edition at U.S. Department of Education www.ed.gov

 

 

 

Rick, Dad, a Porch, and Art

To start off the school year I made two lists for my advance theatre students. I’ll give them the two topics and ask them to generate their own lists; we will discuss their recordings; then I will share my lists with them.  The first is a list of things theatre teaches.  The second is a list of traits creative people possess. This blog will address my views on the skills theatre instills.porch

The arts in general add to a well-rounded education; as a student I knew I loved my fine art classes but I did not have the vocabulary or understanding of the practices that were shaping me to become more confident, successful and healthy.  Theatre had no value in my rural, Mexican-American, lower socio-economic world. My first exposure to theatre was church Christmas programs and a first grade musical where every grade sang a different song which loosely propelled a weak plot.  So there was not a lot of exposure to theatre from my family or my early school years.  My dad was visiting this week-end, as I was writing this blog; we have great conversations, so I thought I’d get his views on art in his farmer-rancher life. Our conversation provided some insight to begin my list of skills theatre instills.  Throughout the blog I have bold some phrases; their highlight alludes to my discoveries and marks ideas for me to later define as skills.  I hope the bold does not distract from the story-telling, but rather models the process of how I accomplished my list.

I approached the subject by asking my dad, “Where’s your old saxophone?”

My dad, Aureliano (Willie) Garcia, dropped out of school in the 6th grade.  He blames my grandfather who lured him to stay home on the family ranch with a new tractor which needed a skilled operator. Farming and ranching are the only life he ever knew; he is now 85 years old. He is passionate about working the land and it pains me to see his frustration because he can no longer climb onto his tractor as easily as he once did. His back can no longer endure the arduous, rhythmic hours of back and forth tractor U-turns.   With only a 6th grade education, my dad is the smartest man I know. Dad was also a very skilled alto sax musician.

On my front porch over-looking the Texas hill country, oak trees, some near-by grazing deer, fawn and buck we sipped our early morning coffee and I asked him, “Where’s your old saxophone?” His face changed. I saw his eyes drop.  Like me, Dad has a very serious face. My friends were scared of him saying he looked mean.  I now recognize Dad’s constant expression as one of deep thought and wisdom.  His eyes and wrinkles were not reflecting meanness, but instead a sign of earnest thought and contemplation. Dad is quick to opine and often interrupts, but not this time. I saw his lips tightened, hesitating. It was as if the muscle memory in his lips tasted the old wooden saxophone reeds.  It was as if his lost gaze scouted dancers circling a wooden dance floor.

“Well, when your mom asked me to quit the band… (pause) she asked if I loved the band more than my young kids?  Well, I put the saxophone under the bed and that ended the band.”  He’s silent again looking down the old rock side walk that leads to my porch, but that’s not what he’s sees. I know that he sees what is not there; he sees a corn colored saxophone case. He feels the old royal-burgundy velvet lining that cradled a shiny brass artifact.  That beautiful saxophone is his symbol of a passion stronger than old stepping stones. He understands symbols. His silence breaks, “Years later, I gave the saxophone to your brother, Frank, when he started band in school.”

Dad and his fellow cotton farmer-rancher-brothers, played in a band named Los Hermanos Garcia.  My grandfather, a land owner, in Spur, Texas, owned a dance hall on the south end of Main Street and on weekends the music of Los Hermanos Garcia provided a much needed escape for the barracks of migrant workers and local field hands who hoed weeds or picked cotton. “What was your favorite song to play?”  With no hesitation he surprisingly answered, “Five Minutes More.” He even sang a bit of the refrain for me.  I was expecting him to announce a conjunto title, not a Frank Sinatra tune.  The conjunto sound originated in south Texas and was influenced by the German setters who introduced the accordion and oompah-pah rhythms. Los Hermanos Garcia played conjunto-polkas, jitter-bug, and country and western. They covered the music of Isidro Lopez, Gene Autry, Lefty Frizell, and Conjunto Bernal.

Dad loves to tell the story of how he met my Mom, Lupe Gaona. He was on stage playing his saxophone, when he saw her from a distance and knew he’d better go dance with her fast before another guy beat him to her.  He bowed out of a song or two to request a dance.  He says, “I held her as delicately as I held my sax.”  Dad was slick.

“Did you take music lessons?”  He laughs and shakes his head at how ridiculous my question was.  As a child he imitated his Uncle Martin’s finger placements and taught himself to play the violin.  “Me and my Tio Martin’ were hired to play the fiddle for White people’s parties,” he brags.   He later saw a travelling band come through Spur and heard his first saxophone. His father bought him a sax and once again, Dad taught himself how to play.

“How?” I ask.

I could just feel it.  I don’t know; I just tried it ‘til it sounded right.  You have talent teaching and with drama; everybody has a talent. ” Dad is also a deacon at our family parish church, St. Michael’s in Ralls, TX.  His explanation segues into scripture as naturally as notes blend into harmonic chord progressions. “The arm can’t do what the legs can do; the eyes can’t do what the ears can do.  People have different skills. But it takes the whole body to make things work.”

“Do you miss the saxophone?”

“I sing at church.  I like when the guitars play at church.”

“But do you miss playing the saxophone?”

“I miss driving the tractor more,” he laughs.

As a student of art, a student of how creativity works, or just as an artist, I know that sometimes words are not enough to express a feeling.  Art tries to capture that mammoth inexplicable emotion via color, via line, via dance, via the images and poetry of theatre. Does my dad miss the saxophone music he created? Of course he does, but a simple yes or a shamed no is too easy.  To store one’s passion underneath a bed is… is … is too emotional to describe.

“When we played at those Saturday night dances, I knew we made people feel good, relax, dance, have fun. When I played the saxophone I got into the music; I could feel it and the music made me forget how tired we were. My body got into it; I use to swing the sax up and down while I played, not dancing or showing off. My arms just had to move with the music.  The people thought it was show, but it wasn’t.”

As an artist, I understand how art gives people pleasure and an escape and a collective gathering of universal themes and spirit. Art also gives people the opportunity to improve the quality of life in a community.  Art provides for social and emotional development, even in a dance hall in Spur, Texas. Remember your first dance?

“Were the Mexican migrant workers ok with ya’ll playing Country and Western and Jitterbug, not just Spanish music?”

“They loved it!  Everybody liked to Jitterbug.  It’s good too for a band to have different songs, some slow ones, some fast one, some English ones, some Spanish ones.”

As an artist I know how the arts can teach empathy and cultural diversity, multiple perspectives. I understand how the collaboration of theatre reflects equitable opportunity.  Art teaches that there is more than one way to reach the same goal.   The world is complex and art teaches that small differences can have huge effects.  Dad did not know that Conjunto music has its origins in German roots, “No; Conjunto is Mexican music he argued.” Once I explained and had him listen to some oompah-pah on You Tube, he said, “Well our Mexican food is better.” Competition is also a wonderful American right.

“Let me ask you a question Rick,” my Dad interjected, “You don’t listen to the radio when you drive. You don’t have a television in this house; don’t you like music?”

He’s correct; I’m the family odd ball when it comes to loud parties and music.  “I like quiet,” I explained what he already knew; “I need time to shut out everything around me and listen to what’s inside my head.”

“I pray too,” my dad added creating a harmonic jump in our theme. “You like to write; you tell good stories. When I’m writing my homily for church, I meditate.”

“I learned to tell stories from your sermons,” I complimented him; “I can tell the congregation loves when you talk.  I learned by listening to your stories.”

“God gave you that gift, not me,“ he corrects me.

As an artist I understand the spirit that the arts fulfill. I get lost in the passion of directing a play or writing or designing; I forget it’s late and do not even need sleep when the inspiration clicks.  My dad says he could feel the music.  When one synchs with one’s passion, it’s holy and complete.

Aureliano Garcia wanted all his sons to grow up and be farmers and ranchers.  Although not one of his five sons followed, I, the least likely candidate, am now the caretaker of our family ranch. I was a horrible teen farmer; I broke everything.  Dad once told me it was going to be cheaper to put me through college that to keep me on the farm.   This morning I asked him if he remembered how several years ago I wanted to implement some changes at the ranch. He shook his head no. I described how I wanted to reroute some of the ranch roads and do some landscaping.  I explained how I thought the road would be prettier skirting the hillside bluffs and winding around some trees by the stock tank.  I wanted to put some flowering bushes at the entrance gate.  He still did not recall this.  I remind him of his reaction, “This is a ranch not a park!”  We both laughed.

Like an artist, I know Dad understands the need for beauty and aesthetics.  He loves to tell the stories of how straight he cultivated his fields; “and we didn’t have that GPS,” he reminds me.  He often critiques the amateur lop-sided structure of round hay bales he sees in fields. My dad has much pride in his work.  He sometimes mentions the inconsistent color scheme of mixed-breed cows in some rancher’s herds.  Art gives individuals a connection with a deeper beauty. 

Several years ago, I considered moving back to the ranch; the romantic isolation might provide a better setting for my writing. I discussed it with my Dad.  He wisely noted, “We would like to have you here, but you belong in the city.”

The artist in me taught me to take risks and leave “la familia”. The artist in me allowed me to turn the obstacles of poverty and void of college education in our family into resourcefulness. The artist in me teaches me to shake things up, remain curious, and to fail and still look up.

Like my brother, Frank, I also played a saxophone in the Ralls High School band and was a small part of what, in unison, created something big. I also performed in our school’s theatre; learned to experience other worlds; learned to walk around in someone else’s shoes.  I designed and built sets; I found satisfaction and pride in my work, it made me proud of blue collar construction skills learned from life on a farm. I wrote in our school journalism program and craved the creative writing opportunities in English classes. All arts bring a project to fruition.  It taught me to connect the dots and see what was not already there. 

Dad was not a patron of the theatre.  He saw all my football and basketball games, but he never saw me on the high school stage. He didn’t see me perform until I was 30 years old in Cucuy, The Mexican Bogeyman, a one-man-show I had written, directed, and performed.  The show was an autobiographical piece about growing up rural, Mexican, and poor. It was about the artistic traits that alienated and labeled me ugly names in a country town. The play also wove traditional Hispanic folklore into my personal ghost stories, my skeletons in the closet.  Just before the show, my mom came backstage and said, “You know your father’s in the audience.”  She was referring to a piece in the show which recounted Dad’s absence from home and alcohol abuse.  Mom continued, “We are real proud of you, but I don’t like the way you talk about your father and I don’t like the way you talk about Jesus.”  The show went on with no edits. I was 30 years old the first time Dad saw me perform.  My Dad saw a show about me, about us. He cried. We cried together.  I’ll never forget his words that day, “You’re better than anything I see on television.” Art also heals. 

I’m writing but I do not see words; I see a saxophone underneath a bed.  I spell check and check grammar, but I can’t perfect the emotions beyond my fingertips; I can’t explain how art saved me and how art saved my relationship with my father.  I can’t communicate how the artist son now sees the beauty and metaphor in the farm and ranch he hated and dared leave.

My fingers tap on a keyboard, but that’s not what I hear; I hear a low saxophone note, F sharp, underscoring my Dad saying, “You’re better than anything I see on television.”

 

Theatre Taught Me

  1. To see the big picture, there’s more than one way to reach a goal, see multiple perspectives
  2. To fail and learn from that failure and keep your eye on the passion and the goal
  3. To communicate what cannot be spoken, think through images, music, dance, poetry, savor language
  4. To practice good judgment vs following how-its-always-been-done-rules, take risks, remain curious
  5. To feel empathy, respect those different than you, respect views different than your own, understand universal connection, recognize equitable opportunities
  6. To create community, participate in civic obligations, grow socially and emotionally
  7. To bring projects to fruition
  8. To create silence and meditate
  9. To recognize and create beauty
  10. To utilize and respect labor skills, take pride in one’s work
  11. To cooperate and work as a team
  12. To embrace one’s passion, respect another’s passion
  13. To think abstractly, understand symbolism and metaphors
  14. To become resourceful when there are lack of resources
  15. To Heal