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Archive for Inspiration

Looking Back and Looking Forward

As teachers, we’re accustomed to referring to two different calendars—-the traditional yearly calendar and our school calendar (which usually has every square filled using multiple colors of pens, some pencil marks, a few highlighted areas, some scratch-outs, various arrows pointing to additions that would no longer fit into the square for that particular date, and check marks by items that have been completed. It makes me tired just looking at it! The great thing about living with two calendars, however, is that while everyone else is celebrating the end of 2017, teachers are also able to look forward to the rest of the school year and the experiences it will bring (and to celebrate its end in May or June). This is also a great time to look back for a moment and reflect.

As I take a moment to look back, I find myself asking the following questions:

  1. What worked? To answer this question, take a moment to make a list of the things you’ve accomplished this year (or school year so far if you’re wearing your teacher “hat” at the moment). Don’t spend so much time looking forward that you don’t take the time to acknowledge the positive things that have already happened. Whether it’s in your personal or professional life, what new things have you learned that will now make life easier or happier? Which goals have you accomplished? How has your life been impacted in a positive way? How have you impacted others in a positive way? What is better now than it was in 2016 (or before the 2017-18 school year started)? What (or who) has brought you joy?My “to do” lists are always filled—up and down the page, in the margins, front and back of the paper—-with all the tasks I need to complete. When I look back at one of these lists as I transfer the few items left on the old, scratched-out list to a new page so I can continue to list more tasks, my first thought is, “No wonder I’m so tired!”. That is quickly followed by the satisfaction that somehow I have been able to get those things done that at one time I felt were insurmountable. Take a moment to reflect on the good. It will remind you of your purpose.
  2. What didn’t work? This one can be painful, but we need to reflect on what didn’t work if we want to learn and grow. Over two decades ago, I directed the Teahouse of the August Moon, John Patrick’s Pulitzer award winning play. I’ve always remembered Sakini’s words from his opening monologue, “Pain make man think, thought make man wise, wisdom make life endurable”. Recalling failures is not a time to merely complain or indulge in self-pity. This is a time of honest and sometime uncomfortable reflection. What things did you experience that made your life more difficult or impacted you in a negative way? Which goals did you not accomplish and how could you have done things differently? How did you impact others in a negative way and how were you impacted by others in a negative way? What is not as good as it was before this year started? What or who has stolen your joy? Think about what didn’t work. Resolve to learn from it and change it rather than repeat it.
  3. What/whom do you have to be thankful for/to? Gratitude is good for the soul. It takes the focus off yourself on places it on things and people who had a positive impact. It also makes us realize how truly blessed we are. I had a principal whose mantra was, “Many hands make the work light”. Most theatre departments have only one theatre teacher. It can be a bit lonely and stressful. But there are usually those who are willing to help along the way. Let them know that you appreciate what they’ve done for you. Sometimes, we don’t even realize how good we have it until a change occurs. Our school experienced a lot of changes this year with a new principal and a new director of fine arts. Both ladies who previously held these positions were exemplary. I am so blessed that both gentlemen who currently hold these positions are also exemplary. Change brought about uncertainty and fear, but I am so thankful that I continue to be supported as a teacher and director of theatre at my school by an amazing administrative team. Realize what and who you have and let them know that you appreciate them.

So now, it’s time to look forward, and I’m asking myself the following questions:

  1. What do I want to accomplish? How can I have a positive impact? Where/how can I continue to learn so I can continue to grow as a person, teacher, mother, wife, grandmother, etc…? What is going to truly bring me joy and what do I need to do to achieve it? Winning at contest is great, but it should not be the only goal. It shouldn’t even be the primary goal. Is that sometimes hard to remember? Absolutely! The goal is to tell the story in the best way possible. That’s all your truly have control over. Only you know where your students started the year and the trials and tribulations you’ve overcome as a group. There’s much to be celebrated if we’re willing to look past the trophies and medals.
  2. How can I learn from the mistakes I’ve made in the past? Do I need to re-evaluate my goals? What can I change? Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that we can’t change others. And sometimes, the change is to remove yourself or someone else from the situation. The only person you can control is you. Don’t allow others to steal your joy. Sometimes that means it is time to look for another teaching position because you no longer see yourself as being a good fit for your current position (or the school is no longer a good fit for you). Sometimes that means that casting changes need to occur. Sometimes it means we need to change the way we do things. Make changes when they’re needed. Learn from mistakes and move forward. As long as your pain makes you think and your thought makes you wise, it will lead to wisdom that will make life more endurable. (Thank you, Sakini and John Patrick!)
  3. Who do I need to surround myself with? Who are the people that I know I’ll be thanking at the end of the year for making my life easier, better, and happier? Who is going to bring joy to my life and the lives of the people I love and care about? How can I bring joy to the people I come in contact with each day? As Mark Twain once said, “To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with”. Who will you choose to divide your joy with?

As 2017 comes to a close and we welcome 2018 and all the wonderful experiences that will be coming our way, I’d like to take this moment to say thank you to each of you who have purchased our curriculum, liked our Facebook page, attended a workshop, recommended our publications to other theatre educators, or in any way supported Maestro Theatre Publications, LLC.  May your 2018 be filled with happiness and success. May you and your students create many moments that will turn into precious memories. Most importantly, may be surrounded by love and by many wonderful people with whom you can divide your joy. Happy New year!

My Facebook Friend, Don Nigro, Or Why You Should Be Speaking to Your Playwright

I remember the day I pressed enter to send a request to be Don Nigro’s friend on Facebook.  I was sitting across from Mandy Connor, who had just produced his play, Paganini, and she and I were discussing our love of his plays.  I shared how much I loved directing his play about Edward Munch called Madonna as we discovered he had an actual account on Facebook, not just a fan page.  We both decided to friend request him and like giggling school girls, we pressed send at the same time.  We were over the moon when it came back accepted!  I was even more shocked to see that Mr. Nigro was open to discussing my show, was complimentary of the production photos and was interested in my program.  When I shared with him my desire to produce another one of his shows and told him my available casting options, he sent me several scripts, some not published yet, and offered his help.  I was in awe of his generosity and appreciation for what I did as an educator.

With my new friend’s encouragement, I began to approach play selection differently.  Not only did I look at the suitability of the work but also the possibility of connecting with the playwright so my students would have an additional layer of instruction.  By working with the playwright, when possible, my students had the opportunity to not only explore the work as a piece of literature with the author but, they were also exposed to another career opportunity in the field of Theatre.  I pushed my fear of rejection aside and began communicating with playwrights through their agents and publishing companies and almost every playwright has been open to e-mailing me or even communicating directly with my students when we produce their work.

It is funny but, as directors and educators, we sometimes forget that the playwrights who generate the material we work on are open to collaboration and are a tremendous resource for us and our students.  For many playwrights, the idea that their work is being produced in educational theatre is not only exciting for them but lucrative.  I have found in working with playwrights like Jeffrey Hatcher on Smash, George Brant on Elephant’s Graveyard , Heidi Stillman on Hard Times For These Times , Sharman Macdonald on After Juliet, and Matthew Burnett on Theophilus North, a real appreciation for what we do in developing young talent.  Playwrights are eager to see their work produced and many are willing to work with you and your company to clarify objectives and broaden the production experience.

Some playwrights have tailored their shows to be student centered and may even have study guides or supplementary materials available as I found when I worked with Matthew Burnett on Theophilus North. When I applied for the rights, Samuel French Inc. asked me if I was interested in Skyping with him.  I was thrilled with the possibilities of such an opportunity and connected with Mr. Burnett before and after the Skype with my students.  I told him my concept and discussed symbolism and meaning in the show.  We discussed his adaptation and I submitted my ideas for adapting his show for UIL.  Mr. Burnett worked with the students during the Skype session, answering their questions regarding the dramatic structure of his plot, his adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s novel and how he became a playwright.  The experience went beyond my expectations with Mr. Burnett sending his support to the students and empowering them to make the show their own and enjoy the journey.  His frequent shout outs to our company on Facebook were a real treat throughout the run.  Mr. Burnett connected with the student’s love of theatre and was a tremendous inspiration. Following our UIL debut of his production, he produced his own one-act version of the show.

I have had many colleagues share their positive experiences about working and corresponding with playwrights and I challenge you to reach out to your playwright.  Like me, you may be surprised at the amazing generosity of your playwright.  At the beginning of the year, I posted a simple status update “Ambiguous Dialogues anyone……”  It was an assignment we were covering that day in Theatre I class.  By the time I got to work, my good Facebook friend, Don Nigro, had e-mailed me two original scripts with ambiguous dialogues.  Wow! Nothing like having a direct line to a playwright!  And for the record, Mandy Connor, who so boldly encouraged me to hit send on the friend request to Mr. Nigro is now a published playwright herself!  I highly encourage you to check out her scripts, published by Playscripts, Ago and Lafayette No. 1.

Without hesitation, I encourage you to make contact with those individuals who wrote, adapted, and cultivated the script your students will be using to create their next masterpiece.  The guidance, encouragement, clarification and direction you will receive are well worth your time and effort to make a connection.  As you plan this year’s shows, look into corresponding with your playwrights.  Your students will benefit from the experience and you could find a resource that continues giving even when the curtain closes.

Counting Down to Year’s End- Strategies For Review, Reflection and Celebration!

 

Almost there, almost there, almost there…  The days are warming up and the students are starting to talk about their Summer plans.  You are in the home stretch, the annual countdown of days has started to be posted on your classroom white board and ending the year on a high note is a priority.  As I sat down to write this blog installment, I scrolled through Facebook one last time for the evening.  I saw teachers asking for advice on how to use independent study time in the final days of the year as multi-level theatre classes are pulled each day for various grade level testing and asking for ways to revive the students through final reviews.  Yes, It is that time of year again and you too may be looking for ways to review, reflect, discuss, and most important, celebrate the learning and growth your students have experienced this year.

Here are a few strategies to engage your students in a variety of reflections that not only close out the year in celebration but help you to take positive steps into even better instruction for next year:

#1. LEARNING TIMELINE:

Start first with a long piece of butcher paper that you will eventually display on the classroom or auditorium wall. Review with the students all the learning that took place during this school year or production cycle. Pick a scribe or scribes to help document, via timeline, the key activities, projects, and content from each unit of study in class or objective mastered in production. Have students create visuals to add to the timeline to help students with recall as they gather from the past school year all the learning they’ve done (for example, display a photo of a project, an image of an author, designs or production photos). Have students write statements on the timeline about how what they learned made them feel or how they see it helping them in the future.  Once completed, this is not only a great way to review for final exams, but also a great introduction to the class for next year’s students when you cover the syllabus at the start of the year.

#2. TWEET ABOUT IT:

After reviewing the year or production experience, ask students to use no more than 140 characters to summarize their experience with units or the class as a whole or productions.  If they have a twitter account you can encourage them to send these reflections as a tweet. They can even create a hashtag that reflects an aspect of each unit you studied in the year or production you created. Do a twitter board in the class where students can physically post their tweets and hashtags and have the whole-class share out so students can comment on the tweets and hashtags of fellow classmates.

#3. SYNERGIZE WITH SOCRATES:

Socratic seminars may be a technique you have used throughout the year or you may be trying it for the first time.  They are one of my favorite ways to engage in meaningful student-led discussion — and reflection. In Socratic seminar, the goal is for students to help one another more deeply understand ideas, values, information, and concepts. Essential questions — or guiding questions — drive the discussion. Consider the following guiding questions:

  • What has been some of your most important learning this year?
  • What has been some of your favorite experiences and learning this year?
  • What learning moment made you feel the most accomplished?
  • What did you think you knew when you entered the class or production but you realized through experience, you had much more to learn?
  • How might you be able to apply what you learned this year in the future?
  • What activities made the most impact on your learning?

#4. LETTERS TO FUTURE STUDENTS OR YOUR FUTURE SELF:

Invite your students to write a letter to a student in next year’s class.

  • What advice might you give him or her?
  • What should the student do in order to be successful in this class or in auditions?
  • How will what they learn help them in other classes?
  • How about in life?

You keep the letters and pass them out to incoming students during the first week of school in the fall. This is a great task for seniors.

Students returning to your program can also write a letter to his or her future self. They record some memories and important learning from their experiences in your class or productions. They can also write their hopes, fears, and expectations for the next year. Keep the letters for them and give them out on the first week of class next year. Before sealing the envelope, invite students to share excerpts of their letters with each other and with the whole class.

Reflection is a great way to help your students process all they have learned in one year.  These activities can bring about awareness of just how much they have accomplished and also help them make a plan for continued study.  As an educator, these activities also engage you in a process that supports your continuous improvement as well as you process what they learned well and areas that need reinforcement.

In all the review, don’t forget to celebrate.  Great learning happened and both you and your students have been inspired.  The slow chug up the incline of the rollercoaster is well worth it when your hands are high above your head, the wind is whipping through your hair and you are screaming with joy at the drop to the end.  Enjoy the final days of this year’s ride!

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.

 

 

 

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