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Author Archive for Rick Garcia

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.

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