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Archive for Education

It’s Audition Time Again

I have a love/hate relationship with auditions.  As a director, I’m excited to see the growth of my students’ auditioning skills from their previous auditions.  I’m optimistic that new jewels are about to be discovered, and that those diamonds-in-the-rough from the previous year are now sparkling and ready to “wow” me. Watching students enter the audition process with excitement, hope, and determination is something that I absolutely love.  I hate, however, the eventual task of making those difficult (and many times hair-splitting) decisions, breaking hearts, and disappointing kids. Unfortunately, it’s part of the process if your students are truly invested in your program.

With the beginning of another school year, many directors are currently going through the audition process.  Below are a few tips that have worked for me.

  1. The CALENDAR. Have a calendar with dates of rehearsals, performances, contests, and any other dates that your company members will be required to attend.  It’s important to be very specific concerning the expectations you have of your students’ time. This will, hopefully, eliminate conflicts in the future. It will also give you leverage later should a student ask to miss a required event due to a conflict that was not previously approved.

 

  1. The CONTRACT. A contract listing your rehearsal, performance, and contest expectations, along with information concerning the dates you require students to attend these events (attach calendar mentioned in #1) should be distributed at auditions.  Have students read the contract and allow them to communicate any questions they may have. Contracts should be signed by both the student and a parent. There should be a statement indicating that the parent and the student both understand and agree to your expectations and the student will be available on all dates indicated as a required event.

 

  1. The AUDITION FORM. I include a section for students to list their other activities (job, school activities, church activities, private lessons, etc…) on the audition form. Have students list all possible activities they will be involved with during the rehearsal process and through the run of the show (including advancement dates for contest and any rehearsals to accompany advancement). They should include dates/times for these activities.  It’s important that you get an idea how busy the student is and with which activities they are involved.  It’s best to know that a student has conflicts prior to casting them.  Sometimes, you can work through the issues and the student can still participate, but if the student is going to have to make choices, it’s best for them and for you to know that now.

 

  1. The PROCESS. It’s important to consider many things when perusing scripts: your talent pool, your audience, your community, your budget, and the literary merit of the material you’re considering just to name a few. Finding “the one” is often a time-consuming process.  If more than one script could be “the one”, consider auditioning multiple scripts to get an idea of which is the best.  During the audition process, include a brief interview with each of the students who receive a call-back (and, if time allows, during regular auditions). If you haven’t already discussed possible conflicts from the audition form with each student, the interview process is a great time to have that discussion. Interviews can be done during lunch and before or after school on non-audition days if desired. Also, consider using various audition techniques in your assessment of auditions.  A cold reading of the chosen script can be useful, but not all students cold-read well.  Warm-ups and improv activities can be valuable in discovering who is quick-witted, creative, or willing to get out of their comfort zone.  Having students memorize a brief monologue or scene for call-backs is yet another way to access a student’s abilities. Pantomime activities are a great way to observe a student’s use of physicality when acting.  When multiple assessments are used, a director can consider how each student uses the body, voice, imagination, and script.  This will give you a much better picture of the actor you are casting.  Crew members should also have an audition and interview process.

 

  1. The “TALK”. I give “the talk” prior to the start of auditions and at the conclusion of each audition session.  The “talk” at the beginning of the audition session will include information concerning what I’m looking for in auditions.  I also give each student a list of characters with character descriptions, a synopsis of the play, and the calendar/contract/audition form. I want the students to have all the information they need to be successful and to understand the expectations of them. At the end of each audition session, and especially on the final day of regular auditions and call-back auditions, I conclude with another “talk”.  I explain to the students that I have to make very difficult decisions, and not everyone will get what they want.  I ask that they look at me and really hear the following words, “I’m talking to you”.   So many of them truly believe they’ve aced their audition, and there’s no way you can’t choose them. They need to understand that rejection is a part of the process.  If you get the part you want, that probably means someone else (or several people) have not gotten what they wanted.  It happens.  It’s disappointing, and it is alright to be disappointed.  It’s NOT alright to be angry, bitter, or disruptive to the production process if you’re disappointed.  During the production process, we teach theatre, but we also teach “life”.  Teaching them how to handle disappointment and triumph is part of what we do.  I tell my students, “You’re always auditioning” in hopes that this will encourage them to reflect before reacting negatively. Help them learn that you love them enough to hold them accountable for their behavior.

Don’t forget that you, too, will be auditioning during the student audition process.  Students come into auditions evaluating you, your program, & your choice of script. They’re considering, “Do I want to spend my time being a part of this process?”, “Does this director seem like someone I want to work with?”, and “Do I really want to be in this particular play?”.  Be organized. Be engaging.  Be excited.  Students want to make sure that the commitment of their time, talent, and efforts is well placed. The audition process will help them make that decision.  Best wishes with your auditions this year, and remember—-you, and they, are always auditioning!

Perseverance

In the past few weeks, I have had the fortunate opportunity to clinic sixteen shows in different parts of Texas.  I always leave feeling challenged, inspired, and blessed.  This past weekend, I returned with a huge appreciation for the life lessons we teach students while working on a production.  We teach students about perseverance, commitment, and the strength we gain when working with others.

As I have worked with each director, I recognize the toll the long hours and stress put on each of us.  Preparing for the competition season, working within a budget, lesson planning, teaching, grading etc. (not to mention having a family) is draining on all of us.  With the earlier contest dates, we are all scrambling to re-adjust our schedules to be prepared for that first contest.  Even with the best-laid plans, unexpected delays seem to pop up.  I know many of you have had additional, unforeseen complications with obtaining production rights, commitments (or should I say non-commitments) from students, and the flu season.

About the time I am at the end of my stress level and ready to throw in the towel, I am reminded of the invaluable lessons we are teaching our students as we press through all of the obstacles to prepare our production.   When students see us continuing to work hard, staying positive, working around all hurdles, they are learning life lessons.  These are the lessons a student cannot learn from a book, they learn from example and their own experience.  This is why we continue to pick up our bootstraps and keep moving forward.

In the past couple of weeks, I know of three productions that have had to start all over.  All three companies had created their super-objective and commanding image, prepared their scripts, begun costuming, designed a set, gathered props, etc.   Their students had already memorized their lines, were blocking and developing a character.  Then, because of some unexpected obstacle, the current production had to be halted.  I am afraid in today’s society, too many people would give up and quit – but not theatre teachers.  We know how to look at the worst of situations and turn them into the best possible scenario.  What a gift we give our students.

We all could tell stories about companies who pulled together to overcome complications – stories about changing productions with few rehearsals left before a contest or opening night, students who failed to commit, administration that stopped a show or concept, unfortunate accidents or sicknesses.  This list could go on and on.   Very few times can we name the times a company quit because of these unfortunate incidents.  Instead, we have watched as directors and students pulled together to produce quality theatre.  More importantly, we have watched as directors taught young adults how to persevere in life.  When the going gets tough, the tough get going.  We cannot quit in the face of adversity,

As I watched a group of young actors enthusiastically welcome a production change due to the lack of commitment from some of their classmates and peers, I stood in awe.  I never heard one complain.  I never heard one say they could not do it or that it could not be done.  I watched these students embrace the challenge with a contagious eagerness.  Those students are the ones who will survive in life.  They are the ones who will succeed in their endeavors because they did not quit when it was difficult.  They backed up, re-evaluated the situation and embraced a solution.

As theatre teachers, we begin modeling how to persist through adversity early in the production process. When we begin designing a set and have to adapt our vision with the reality of the space, contest or our budget, we are modeling perseverance.   When we find the need to recast the lead actor, we are demonstrating how to work through adversity.   Students watch us face an obstacle, re-evaluate and develop a solution through all aspects of the production process.  I realize now, that every time we adjust our plan of action to meet the needs or restrictions at the moment, we are modeling life lessons to our students.  What a gift we give our students every day without even realizing it.

As you continue preparing for your competition season, don’t disregard the little lessons you are teaching everyday.  Every time you stay positive in the face of adversity, your students are watching you.  Every time you refuse to give up or quit and, instead, continue to work hard, re-evaluate and keep going, you are modeling the lessons in life that make people succeed.   Those lessons are more important than any administrative evaluation or trophy you can win.

 

 

 

So, Your Child Wants to Major in Theatre?  

It’s that time of year again. Many seniors are going through the process of making very two important decisions. The selection of a university and the commitment to a major can be both exciting and stressful for students, but I’ve found that it’s every bit as agonizing for the parents of these young people. After all, most parents will be making a huge monetary investment in their children’s college educations and future careers. They want to feel confident that their money is well spent, and to be honest, many of them are not so sure that will be the case when they hear the words, “Mom, Dad, I am going to major in theatre!”.

In their defense, most people are not aware of the impact of a good arts education and the range of skills a strong program will develop in a student of theatre. Just take a look at Wells Fargo’s current “Teen Day” campaign which features today’s “actor” and “ballerina” abandoning their individual art forms to become tomorrow’s “botanist” and “engineer”. The ad paints the arts as a passing fancy, nothing more than a hobby to be pursued before a student learns about important fields of study. It sends a message to young people and their parents:  the arts are to be practiced when you’re a child, but once you grow up, you need to find a “real” career. I recently spoke with mothers of two of my seniors, both of whom are planning to major in theatre. One mother was completely comfortable with the idea of her son’s intended major. She also has a daughter entering her sophomore year of college as a theatre major. The other mother was concerned. After researching the average salary of a working actor, she was distressed to learn that her son would potentially be making a salary below the poverty level. She had also, however, dug deeper and found a plethora of information supporting an arts education. Our conversation inspired me to do a little research of my own, and what I found made me laugh, made me cry, and took me for a walk down memory lane. But more about that later…

Our discussion about this topic continued when I received an email from my student’s mother last week. She had found a blog titled “10 Ways Being a Theatre Major Prepared Me for Success by Tom Vander Well. The following is a link to his blog: https://tomvanderwell.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/10-ways-being-a-theatre-major-prepared-me-for-success/ . I encourage you to read it. It presents an outstanding case for the pursuit of a degree in Theatre and how it impacted his career (which doesn’t happen to be in the world of theatre). When I saw the title of the blog, I decided I wanted to make my own list before reading his. I actually wrote a total of twelve ways I believed majoring in theatre would prepare a student for success, and then began comparing my list to his. I was astonished at how similar they are. The wording may have been different, but we came to basically the same conclusions. You might want to try it for yourself by making a list of your own prior to reading my list or his blog.

12 Ways Being a Theatre Major Will Prepare You for Success

  1. Collaboration
  2. Professionalism
  3. Passion/Enthusiasm
  4. Work Ethic
  5. Self-confidence
  6. Communication Skills
  7. Empathy
  8. Creativity
  9. Problem Solving
  10. Flexibility/Adaptability
  11. Resourcefulness
  12. Ability to multi-task in a fast paced environment

After making my list and reading Mr. Vander Well’s blog, I thought back to a book I read last summer, Creative Schools by Dr. Ken Robinson. He discussed how in 2008, IBM had published a survey of characteristics their leaders needed most in their teams. Two priorities emerged: adaptability to change and creativity in generating new ideas. Leaders who were surveyed had commented that these qualities were lacking in otherwise highly qualified graduates. Both of those skills made my list of twelve qualities. Mr. Vander Well also had several qualities listed that involved both creativity and adaptability. Yet these qualities aren’t measured on all those standardized tests that are given each year, leaving the impression that they’re not particularly valued. They are, in fact, qualities that are stigmatized or marginalized in some classroom settings, and yet these very important skills are learned and practiced daily by theatre students in classrooms across the nation.

I wanted to put the list I compiled to the test, asking my former theatre students for feedback. I posted the following on Facebook: “I’m interested to hear your take on how (if at all) having a theatre education and/or participation in theatre productions has helped you in your career/job.” Many of these students did not pursue the arts after high school, but there are a few artists in the group. Among the participants are an attorney, a nurse, businessmen and businesswomen, a sales representative, a real estate agent and former Chairwoman of the Contractors Safety Network at ExxonMobil, a customer service representative, an artist, an actor, an opera singer, an IT Specialist, an elementary teacher, a high school teacher, an adjunct faculty member and field supervisor for a Texas university, an airline transport pilot and owner of a Gyrocopter business, a jewelry store owner and designer, a long-term care provider relations advocate, a computer technician, and a stay-at-home mom. Reconnecting with them while reading their reactions filled my heart with many beautiful memories and filled my eyes with a few happy tears. Although some of the responders are just a few years younger than I am, they’ll always be my “kids”. And they reiterated what I already knew. Some of their reactions utilized words lifted straight from my list or straight from Tom Vander Well’s list; lists they’d never seen before. Here is a condensed version of their individual responses:

“From being involved in theatre, I learned the comfort of being in front of a crowd, the ease of mingling with and talking to people, and honestly, it helped make interviews a breeze. It gave me so much confidence.”

“Working with set design and makeup gave me the experience I needed to become a successful artist.”

“Being involved in theatre helped to enhance my verbal and written communication. It gave me a confidence I don’t think I’d have otherwise.”

“I was very unsure of myself, and I was incredibly afraid of failure. I was able to overcome those things. Along with my parents and family, I credit theatre with shaping me into the person I am.”

“Thanks to my involvement with theatre, I had no fear when I chaired the Contractors Safety Network at ExxonMobil and stood weekly in front of 400 managers, all men, all old enough to be my dad!  I was prepared and confident every single time. It has carried over into all aspects of my adult life.”

“Theatre gave me the confidence to speak in front of large audiences. It showed me the value of being prepared as well as how to continue rolling with things when things don’t go as planned.”

“It taught me to speak loudly, confidently, and clearly. Theatre teaches body awareness and nonverbal communication skills and how to work as a team member. It teaches how leadership and partnership aren’t too far from each other. One of my favorite things theatre teaches is when you help others in your ensemble, you are really helping yourself. You also learn to be flexible. Things won’t always go as planned.”

“It made me feel comfortable to talk to people. And now I’m a nurse and have to talk to people every day.”

“Theatre helped me in my professional life more than most subjects. I majored in business, and I excelled at presentations. In fact, I was offered a great job my last semester of college because of one of my presentations. I was also offered a promotion after a great presentation. Theatre and UIL competitions were key in my professional and personal success.”

“It helped me be more comfortable in my skin.”

“I had no idea how fun it would be! Theatre helped me become more confident and expressive. Now that I’m a teacher, I get in front of my students and act every day! I found the niche I’d been looking for since middle school. I definitely think ALL students could benefit from speech/theatre.”

“I was also involved in band and choir throughout middle and high school, but that can’t compare to the lessons I learned from theatre. Theatre gave me a backbone and a platform to be a more confident me. It was my safe place, my home, where I fit best.”

“Theatre was the first place I felt safe being vulnerable. It was the first place I had to truly trust in the group. We supported each other. It helped me to learn to interact with people who were very different from me. I gained an amazing base of life skills I use every single day as an adult.”

“I loved improvisation. It helped me to think on my feet, create an idea quickly and completely, and learn how to read an audience, all skills I use when working with my clients as a computer technician. I was also in band, and I still love music, but I don’t play my clarinet anymore. I still use the theatre lessons I learned daily! As an added bonus, theatre opens a world of literature up and gave even this avid reader more material to explore!”

“I would definitely say that my flair for performance, fostered on stage in high school, proves useful for litigation in law.”

“Out of all my childhood experiences, I remember having a great family apart from my real family.”

“I became an elementary teacher and having that theatrical background helped me unleash my creative side.”

Well, there you go. My “kids” confirmed what I knew all along. A theatre education is invaluable. I truly don’t believe you can put a price on what our students learn when studying theatre and participating in productions. So, your child wants to major in theatre?  I say, congratulations! I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. If your child loves theatre, he or she will find a way to make a living doing it. Lots of people have. I did, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. Many thanks to my wonderful former students, my forever kiddos, for participating in my survey. I love and miss you all.

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