Thursday, June 28, 2007

So cute!

This has nothing to do with Shakespeare or teaching, I just have to share this website that has brought me many laughs and much joy. If you like cute things, you'll like this. View it here.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Moving Back Accross the Mason-Dixon Line

Hello and Happy Summer!

I'm in the midst of moving back to Massachusetts from North Carolina in order to help my family care for my 99 year-old grandmother, and to re-assess what I want to be doing career-wise. (I've decided that "work myself into an early grave" is an unacceptable goal.) I feel good about my replacements. I tried--and failed--to get Emily on board, but we ended up with a guy who used to be an actor for the National Theatre of the Deaf who is very grounded and calm. I'll miss the hell out of the kids, but not the 80+ hour work weeks.

Anyway, I was packing all my Institute stuff and remembering fondly the work of last summer. I hope you are all well and resting up. It's an essential time for high school teachers to re-charge!


Thursday, June 21, 2007

I would like to take a moment...

to wish David a happy pride week!!

Love ya!

A Poem You May Like

from The New Yorker
February 12, 2007

In Shakespeare
by James Richardson

In Shakespeare a lover turns into an ass
as you would expect. People confuse
their consciences with ghosts and witches.
Old men throw everything away
because they panic and can't feel their lives.
They pinch themselves, pierce themselves with twigs,
cliffs, lightening, and die - yes, finally - in glad pain.

You marry a woman you've never talked to,
a woman you thought was a boy.
Sixteen years go by as a curtain billows
once, twice. Your children are lost,
they come back, you don't remember how.
A love turns to a statue in a dress, the statue
comes back to life. Oh God, it's all so realistic
I can't stand it. Whereat I weep and sing.

Such a relief, to burst from the theatre
into our cool, imaginary streets
where we know who's who and what's what,
and command with Metrocards our destinations.
Where no one with a story struggling in him
convulses as it eats its way out,
and no one in an antiseptic corridor,
or in deserts or in downtown darkling plains,
staggers through an Act that just will not end,
eyes burning with the burning of the dead.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Checking In

Happy Summer to us all. Wishing you all a restful and rejeuvenating break.

I can hardly believe NITS was a year ago. I'm thinking of you all as I'm teaching a few classes this summer at the Cleveland Play House (the country's oldest regional theatre). Cleveland can claim anyone and anybody! And often does. And we're home of the NBA Eastern Conference Champions!

Anyway, wanted to "check in." I think of you and NITS every day when I do check in, reinforcements, text layups or a Full Professor Bob Davis vocal warmup!

We're doing a Midsummer Night's Dream. And we are creating a green world for young people from the inner city and the private schools. It's very exciting and rewarding.

Best wishes for summer,

PS Even though I don't respond much, I'm so glad the blog lives on.

Speaking of good speeches

Monday, June 18, 2007

"The fullness of our being"

Hi friends,

I wanted to share with you Dana Gioia's Stanford commencement speech given yesterday, which I thought spoke to all of us so so well. A bit of background: there were a lot of protests from silly Stanny students about the "lack of prestige" of this year's speaker, but I had hope Gioia would be good. He was fantastic. I know you already know all of what he said, and that you do it every day. How nice to have my admittedly elitist alma mater hear this as well, and have our work reaffirmed.

There was even a little mention of green that made me smile and think of you...


June 17, 2007 Stanford Commencement address by Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts

Good morning.

Thank you, President Hennessy.

It is a great honor to be asked to give the Commencement address at my alma mater. Although I have two degrees from Stanford, I still feel a bit like an interloper on this exquisitely beautiful campus. A person never really escapes his or her childhood.

At heart I'm still a working-class kid—half Italian, half Mexican—from L.A., or more precisely from Hawthorne, a city that most of this audience knows only as the setting of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown—two films that capture the ineffable charm of my hometown.

Today is Father's Day, so I hope you will indulge me for beginning on a personal note. I am the first person in my family ever to attend college, and I owe my education to my father, who sacrificed nearly everything to give his four children the best education possible.

My dad had a fairly hard life. He never spoke English until he went to school. He barely survived a plane crash in World War II. He worked hard, but never had much success, except with his family.

When I was about 12, my dad told me that he hoped I would go to Stanford, a place I had never heard of. For him, Stanford represented every success he had missed yet wanted for his children. He would be proud of me today—no matter how dull my speech.

On the other hand, I may be fortunate that my mother isn't here. It isn't Mother's Day, so I can be honest. I loved her dearly, but she could be a challenge. For example, when she learned I had been nominated to be chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, she phoned and said, "Don't think I'm impressed."

I know that there was a bit of controversy when my name was announced as the graduation speaker. A few students were especially concerned that I lacked celebrity status. It seemed I wasn't famous enough. I couldn't agree more. As I have often told my wife and children, "I'm simply not famous enough."

And that—in a more general and less personal sense—is the subject I want to address today, the fact that we live in a culture that barely acknowledges and rarely celebrates the arts or artists.

There is an experiment I'd love to conduct. I'd like to survey a cross-section of Americans and ask them how many active NBA players, Major League Baseball players, and American Idol finalists they can name.

Then I'd ask them how many living American poets, playwrights, painters, sculptors, architects, classical musicians, conductors, and composers they can name.

I'd even like to ask how many living American scientists or social thinkers they can name.

Fifty years ago, I suspect that along with Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Sandy Koufax, most Americans could have named, at the very least, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Arthur Miller, Thornton Wilder, Georgia O'Keeffe, Leonard Bernstein, Leontyne Price, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Not to mention scientists and thinkers like Linus Pauling, Jonas Salk, Rachel Carson, Margaret Mead, and especially Dr. Alfred Kinsey.

I don't think that Americans were smarter then, but American culture was. Even the mass media placed a greater emphasis on presenting a broad range of human achievement.

I grew up mostly among immigrants, many of whom never learned to speak English. But at night watching TV variety programs like the Ed Sullivan Show or the Perry Como Music Hall, I saw—along with comedians, popular singers, and movie stars—classical musicians like Jascha Heifetz and Arthur Rubinstein, opera singers like Robert Merrill and Anna Moffo, and jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong captivate an audience of millions with their art.

The same was even true of literature. I first encountered Robert Frost, John Steinbeck, Lillian Hellman, and James Baldwin on general interest TV shows. All of these people were famous to the average American—because the culture considered them important.

Today no working-class or immigrant kid would encounter that range of arts and ideas in the popular culture. Almost everything in our national culture, even the news, has been reduced to entertainment, or altogether eliminated.

The loss of recognition for artists, thinkers, and scientists has impoverished our culture in innumerable ways, but let me mention one. When virtually all of a culture's celebrated figures are in sports or entertainment, how few possible role models we offer the young.

There are so many other ways to lead a successful and meaningful life that are not denominated by money or fame. Adult life begins in a child's imagination, and we've relinquished that imagination to the marketplace.

Of course, I'm not forgetting that politicians can also be famous, but it is interesting how our political process grows more like the entertainment industry each year. When a successful guest appearance on the Colbert Report becomes more important than passing legislation, democracy gets scary. No wonder Hollywood considers politics "show business for ugly people."

Everything now is entertainment. And the purpose of this omnipresent commercial entertainment is to sell us something. American culture has mostly become one vast infomercial.

I have a reccurring nightmare. I am in Rome visiting the Sistine Chapel. I look up at Michelangelo's incomparable fresco of the "Creation of Man." I see God stretching out his arm to touch the reclining Adam's finger. And then I notice in the other hand Adam is holding a Diet Pepsi.

When was the last time you have seen a featured guest on David Letterman or Jay Leno who isn't trying to sell you something? A new movie, a new TV show, a new book, or a new vote?

Don't get me wrong. I love entertainment, and I love the free market. I have a Stanford MBA and spent 15 years in the food industry. I adore my big-screen TV. The productivity and efficiency of the free market is beyond dispute. It has created a society of unprecedented prosperity.

But we must remember that the marketplace does only one thing—it puts a price on everything.

The role of culture, however, must go beyond economics. It is not focused on the price of things, but on their value. And, above all, culture should tell us what is beyond price, including what does not belong in the marketplace. A culture should also provide some cogent view of the good life beyond mass accumulation. In this respect, our culture is failing us.

There is only one social force in America potentially large and strong enough to counterbalance this profit-driven commercialization of cultural values, our educational system, especially public education. Traditionally, education has been one thing that our nation has agreed cannot be left entirely to the marketplace—but made mandatory and freely available to everyone.

At 56, I am just old enough to remember a time when every public high school in this country had a music program with choir and band, usually a jazz band, too, sometimes even orchestra. And every high school offered a drama program, sometimes with dance instruction. And there were writing opportunities in the school paper and literary magazine, as well as studio art training.

I am sorry to say that these programs are no longer widely available to the new generation of Americans. This once visionary and democratic system has been almost entirely dismantled by well-meaning but myopic school boards, county commissioners, and state officials, with the federal government largely indifferent to the issue. Art became an expendable luxury, and 50 million students have paid the price. Today a child's access to arts education is largely a function of his or her parents' income.

In a time of social progress and economic prosperity, why have we experienced this colossal cultural and political decline? There are several reasons, but I must risk offending many friends and colleagues by saying that surely artists and intellectuals are partly to blame. Most American artists, intellectuals, and academics have lost their ability to converse with the rest of society. We have become wonderfully expert in talking to one another, but we have become almost invisible and inaudible in the general culture.

This mutual estrangement has had enormous cultural, social, and political consequences. America needs its artists and intellectuals, and they need to reestablish their rightful place in the general culture. If we could reopen the conversation between our best minds and the broader public, the results would not only transform society but also artistic and intellectual life.

There is no better place to start this rapprochement than in arts education. How do we explain to the larger society the benefits of this civic investment when they have been convinced that the purpose of arts education is mostly to produce more artists—hardly a compelling argument to either the average taxpayer or financially strapped school board?

We need to create a new national consensus. The purpose of arts education is not to produce more artists, though that is a byproduct. The real purpose of arts education is to create complete human beings capable of leading successful and productive lives in a free society.

This is not happening now in American schools. Even if you forget the larger catastrophe that only 70 percent of American kids now graduate from high school, what are we to make of a public education system whose highest goal seems to be producing minimally competent entry-level workers?

The situation is a cultural and educational disaster, but it also has huge and alarming economic consequences. If the United States is to compete effectively with the rest of the world in the new global marketplace, it is not going to succeed through cheap labor or cheap raw materials, nor even the free flow of capital or a streamlined industrial base. To compete successfully, this country needs continued creativity, ingenuity, and innovation.

It is hard to see those qualities thriving in a nation whose educational system ranks at the bottom of the developed world and has mostly eliminated the arts from the curriculum.

I have seen firsthand the enormous transformative power of the arts—in the lives of individuals, in communities, and even society at large.

Marcus Aurelius believed that the course of wisdom consisted of learning to trade easy pleasures for more complex and challenging ones. I worry about a culture that bit by bit trades off the challenging pleasures of art for the easy comforts of entertainment. And that is exactly what is happening—not just in the media, but in our schools and civic life.

Entertainment promises us a predictable pleasure—humor, thrills, emotional titillation, or even the odd delight of being vicariously terrified. It exploits and manipulates who we are rather than challenges us with a vision of who we might become. A child who spends a month mastering Halo or NBA Live on Xbox has not been awakened and transformed the way that child would be spending the time rehearsing a play or learning to draw.

If you don't believe me, you should read the statistical studies that are now coming out about American civic participation. Our country is dividing into two distinct behavioral groups. One group spends most of its free time sitting at home as passive consumers of electronic entertainment. Even family communication is breaking down as members increasingly spend their time alone, staring at their individual screens.

The other group also uses and enjoys the new technology, but these individuals balance it with a broader range of activities. They go out—to exercise, play sports, volunteer and do charity work at about three times the level of the first group. By every measure they are vastly more active and socially engaged than the first group.

What is the defining difference between passive and active citizens? Curiously, it isn't income, geography, or even education. It depends on whether or not they read for pleasure and participate in the arts. These cultural activities seem to awaken a heightened sense of individual awareness and social responsibility.

Why do these issues matter to you? This is the culture you are about to enter. For the last few years you have had the privilege of being at one of the world's greatest universities—not only studying, but being a part of a community that takes arts and ideas seriously. Even if you spent most of your free time watching Grey's Anatomy, playing Guitar Hero, or Facebooking your friends, those important endeavors were balanced by courses and conversations about literature, politics, technology, and ideas.

Distinguished graduates, your support system is about to end. And you now face the choice of whether you want to be a passive consumer or an active citizen. Do you want to watch the world on a screen or live in it so meaningfully that you change it?

That's no easy task, so don't forget what the arts provide.

Art is an irreplaceable way of understanding and expressing the world—equal to but distinct from scientific and conceptual methods. Art addresses us in the fullness of our being—simultaneously speaking to our intellect, emotions, intuition, imagination, memory, and physical senses. There are some truths about life that can be expressed only as stories, or songs, or images.

Art delights, instructs, consoles. It educates our emotions. And it remembers. As Robert Frost once said about poetry, "It is a way of remembering that which it would impoverish us to forget." Art awakens, enlarges, refines, and restores our humanity. You don't outgrow art. The same work can mean something different at each stage of your life. A good book changes as you change.

My own art is poetry, though my current daily life sometimes makes me forget that. So let me end my remarks with a short poem appropriate to the occasion.

[Part III of Gioia's poem "Autumn Inaugural"]

Praise to the rituals that celebrate change,

old robes worn for new beginnings,

solemn protocol where the mutable soul,

surrounded by ancient experience, grows

young in the imagination's white dress.

Because it is not the rituals we honor

but our trust in what they signify, these rites

that honor us as witnesses—whether to watch

lovers swear loyalty in a careless world

or a newborn washed with water and oil.

So praise to innocence—impulsive and evergreen—

and let the old be touched by youth's

wayward astonishment at learning something new,

and dream of a future so fitting and so just

that our desire will bring it into being.

Congratulations to the Class of 2007.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Show choices

I am currently trying to compile a list of possible shows I could direct this year at my new school (every word in that sentence makes me happy). I know I can't absolutely decide on a particular show before I meet the kids, but I should have a handful of shows in mind.

Typically, this school does three shows a year: the competition one act in December, a full length show in March, and a musical in May. For the musical, I'll just do one of the Broadway Junior shows. For the full length, I imagine I'll probably do a Shakespeare show. But I'm having a tough time coming up with something decent for the one act.

Here are the basic rules for the one act competition: no more than fifteen actors, no more than forty minutes, a basic unit set of platforms and step units shared by all schools. I can cut a full length play down to under forty minutes, or I can do a short play.

My problem is, I don't really want to do a children's show. It seems that most plays are either good for an audience of adults or an audience of five-year-olds. I think middle school kids are going to get bored with a "baby" show, but they'll be in over their heads with Eugene O'Neill.

I'd like to find some shows that are within the grasp of middle school students' comprehension, but could conceivably be acted by adults in a theatre for adults. I've been scouring the Web sites of community theatres, but I haven't found much that I like. I think The Miracle Worker is along the lines of what I'm looking for, but that's definitely a show I can't pick without really knowing what my kids can do. I'd like to find a show not so dependent on one or two actors, but is more of an ensemble.

A holiday show, like A Christmas Carol, might not be a bad idea. A murder mystery would be fun, but I'd rather not have to deal with English accents. I'd love a comedy, but it's hard to find a good one that doesn't have material inappropriate for kids. Any ideas?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Oh! For Second Chances!!!

If I was granted another month in Northampton, I think we'd have to invite these good folks out to Hubbard for Encore.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Frog Belly Rat Bone

I've been coerced into directing the Rogue Artists' educational show this summer. It's an original adaptation of Timothy Basil Ering's Frog Belly Rat Bone. He illustrated The Tale of Despereaux, too, so you might know his work. In true Rogue fashion, it's got puppets, video projections, full body costumes, and other neat-o things that will keep a young audience engaged.

It's a cute show about friendship, imagination, patience and flowers. If anyone's in SoCal July 6-8, let me know. We're also planning to tour the show to -- well, to pretty much anywhere within a day's drive.

You can see more about the show here. I love you all and I could use some support as I direct my first professional production.

In other news, I checked out of my school today, turned in my laptop and keys and made a clean break. Whew!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Since You Aren't Reading Andrew Gurr This Summer

I'd suggest LibriVox for your iPod (or in my case, phone with expansion card).

Tons and tons of public domain books just waiting for download!! I'm starting with Jane Eyre, share what you find to download!

How About You?

Hey, friends!

A question for you: I'm compiling a list of things teachers have been called in their classrooms. Do you have any names/titles to add?

Here's some of mine to get you started:
Mrs. Waterhouse
Miss Waterhouse
Hey, you!

I'd love to hear yours!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

A Midwinter's Tale

I just watched this strange Branagh movie. Have any of you heard of it? It's about an odd group of actors putting on an odd production of Hamlet. It's, well, strange in a Woody Allen-kinda way, but there are some very funny bits.

One of my favorite lines: (Laertes, handing Hamlet a boot)
"The fight! If it all goes wrong, drop the sword, take this off, and throw it at me. Then I say, "The boot! The boot was poisoned!" and die. "

You can read more quotes from it here.

It does lack, however, an inscrutable globe.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

A new beginning

One year ago I was going to give up theatre. I had spent a decade filling out dozens of applications and sending hundreds of query letters each spring, and I was just too beaten to try anymore. I was sadly resigned to never getting what I most wanted.

Then I got the “miracle” call from Kevin, and I got to go to Northampton to work with all of you. I learned so much about community, and listening, and personal fulfillment that it changed everything about how I teach.

As excited as I was to be a new person in the classroom, I was extremely discouraged by my principal’s decision to prevent me from attending the month-long intensive in January. She never forgave me for filing a grievance against her decision, and she started building a paper trail of minor infractions in what would become an effort to fire me. My year was one of antagonism and animosity, and it was very hard on me.

But unlike previous hard years, this year I had all of you. You offered me consolation and support when I most needed it, and you reminded me why this work is worth fighting for. Your encouragement must have changed something about my luck, because I just signed a contract in a new district to be a theatre teacher.

It’s not my ideal job (it’s a Title I middle school), but it’s far better than a school that hates me. For the first time in my adult life I’ll actually be getting paid to teach theatre. I’m excited, and very nervous at the same time. I’ve never filled out a purchase order, or arranged bus transportation, or publicized a show. I’ve never taught this age group. I haven’t even directed a play in several years. If you run a theatre department and/or teach middle school I’d love to bend your ear, especially about show choices. I know thirteen-year-olds won’t be playing Willy Loman, but I don’t want to be stuck with Winnie the Pooh either.

Once again, thank you so much. You helped me be a better teacher, which means you gave me everything I ever wanted.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Studying on a Mountaintop in TN

On Monday I embark on a six week trip to Sewanee, TN to begin work on my M.A. It will be a summer of Faulkner and Spenser, and I can't wait. It won't compare to NITS, but I expect it will be an enlightening experience nonetheless. While I am there, I plan to see if our NITS friends below the Mason-Dixon line are right about Southern hospitality. I miss you guys and think of you often. I hope you all have a happy and healthy summer!