Monday, November 26, 2007

Alright, I've got one

Latino 96.3 (big radio station here in LA) came to my school on Halloween (and has since adopted us and will be hosting fundraisers for us, yay!). Since my classroom is unusual (no desks or chairs), I'm one of the stops on the basic KIPP:LA tour for visitors. The kids were doing a story writing project with scary story elements, and the guy (Calla 13) came in, with cameras and entourage, walked about five feet into the room, turned a full circle, made a comment to someone, and left. Of course, the kids all got silent when they walked in, some tried to continue working, others just stared. I did my best to look like a "good teacher"... whatever that means.

After the camera crew, etc. left, one of my boys looked at me and said, straight-faced,

"That was awkward."

I agreed with him.

I don't know how well this story translates in print, but it was hilarious in person.

Also, as I type this, my cat is on my lap, industriously sucking on my tshirt.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Testing?? Is This Thing On??

I don't know why I was driven to this blog's archives tonight, but I've just read few a few months and remembered how hilarious and generous and lovely you all are. Since we haven't heard about embarassing Mel with laughter in front of her students anymore and Michael hasn't confessed to any inappropriate dreams and Hildy and his girlfriend have been gone, I thought I'd stage a check in.

It's your turn to check in. Haiku is optional.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Anything For Money

At the 19th Annual Fall Festival of Shakespeare, a challenge grant was issued: if we could raise $5,000 from the audience in the four days of the festival, an anonymous donor would give us $10,000. To collect the money, Karen Harvey and the other education managers dressed up in red dresses and wandered the lobby.

Well, before one of the productions Kevin was doing his usual shtick explaining the challenge grant to the audience and said that if we raised $3,000 more dollars, we would stop shaking down the audience for money. A cheeky high school boy yelled out "will they still wear the red dresses?" Kevin, with perfect timing, retorted "if we make the money, I'll wear a red dress." The cash was earned in record time, leading to the following priceless moment:

("You Sexy Thing" played on the sound system to mark Kevin's entrance.)

I also had a mini NITS reunion with Trish in the lobby before Jenna's epic production of Midsummer (Trish was there with her daughter and students). I can't believe it's all over now. Although I'm exhausted after helping to load in and out ten shows, I'm exhilarated. I've now seen an audience of teenagers give the character Richmond a standing ovation after the killing Richard III. I've seen Pyramus ask the audience for a suggestion on how to die, only to get "death by allergy to polar bear." I've seen an audience gasp at Juliet's suicide as if her death came as a cruel surprise. It really is true: it's like a rock concert, a Thanksgiving day football game and a religious experience all in one.

But the best summation came on one of our student evaluations, where the kid responded to the prompt what have you learned as a result of participating in the festival? with this:
"I learned that storytelling is a way that people connect with each other to make the world make more sense, and that theater is telling a necessary story to a group of people who are willing to listen. Theater can change the way people think about how to live their lives, and I can say now that it has absolutely changed how I think about forgiveness."

Every state in America needs a non-competitive, totally supportive festival like this one. If you're ever in the Berkshires in November, this is an event not to be missed. Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Oh, Yay!


National Endowment for the Arts Awards $50,000 to Shakespeare & Company
Nov 08, 2007

LENOX, MA — The National Endowment for the Arts' Learning in the Arts Program has awarded $50,000 to Shakespeare & Company's 19th Annual Fall Festival of Shakespeare. The generous support of the NEA for Shakespeare & Company dates back to 1984, and this gift brings the running total of NEA contributions to nearly $600,000 over the past 23 years.

The Festival, which has been rehearsing over these past several weeks, is a nine-week program involving over 500 students in Massachusetts and New York, culminating in a four-day marathon of 10 fully-mounted Shakespeare plays in the Company's Founders' Theatre Nov. 15-18. Performances in the participating schools run Nov. 7–11.

Shakespeare & Company is founded upon a belief in the power of language, and this approach is reflected in the Fall Festival. Students are encouraged to dig into Shakespeare's works from the inside out, breaking down the language and mentally chewing on it so as to taste the humor, violence, heartbreak and transcendent beauty of plays written over 400 years ago. Daily rehearsals focus on students' response to Shakespeare's text, opening the doorway for the essential personal connection to works that students may have previously written off as inaccessible.

Led by Shakespeare & Company's Director of Education Kevin G. Coleman, Education Program Administrator Karen Harvey and School Program Manager Alexandra Lincoln, the Fall Festival is specifically designed as a celebration rather than a competition between the schools.

This season's participating high schools include Chatham High School, Mt. Everett Regional High School, Mt. Greylock Regional High School, Lee High School, Lenox Memorial High School, Monument Mountain Regional High School, North Andover High School, Springfield Central High School, Taconic High School and Taconic Hills High School.

"We are incredibly honored and grateful for this recent gift from the NEA and their continued support for all of our Education Programs, in particular our Fall Festival of Shakespeare," said Coleman. "It is this kind of support that makes the Festival possible, and will not only bring Shakespeare vibrantly alive for hundreds of students this year but it also reinforces the fact that arts in education is essential to the full development of all our children."

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The 19th Fall Festival of Shakespeare (almost)

(sorry that this picture is a little wonky, but it's the best I could do.)

Greetings, all. This weekend we are running The Winter's Tale at the high school before next week's mega-event wherein all ten high schools involved will perform their shows one after another for four days at Founders' Theater(where we saw Hamlet and Merry Wives). So in this tiny corner of the world right now, Facebook is alive with the sounds of Shakespeare, and my mother's church choir practice was gutted because everyone was out supporting the local high school's Romeo and Juliet. It's amazing to me how much the whole community gets behind Shakespeare in this county.

As with most things, now that it's almost over I finally have an idea how to begin. Since my next contract with S&Co is to do a Middle School production of Macbeth starting the minute Fall Festival is over, I'll have plenty more opportunity to screw things up--I mean learn. Joking aside, I'm loving the work and I'm learning a ton about artisitc collabortation (working with so many other adults and their opinions is challenging my shyness!) as well as how to work with different kinds of kids (this group in WT was very difficult and slow to warm up.) And of course, hearing bits and pieces of Julius Caesar and Macbeth brings back so many fond memories of our NITS summer. Here's hoping you all are well and are having great years with your students!

Monday, November 05, 2007

This made me happy. Go English teachers.

Literature's antidote to hate
The literary world can encourage understanding between bitter enemies.

By Amos Oz
November 1, 2007

If you buy a ticket and travel to another country, you are likely to see the monuments, the palaces and the squares, the museums and the landscapes and the historical sites. If you are lucky, you may have a chance to conduct some conversations with the local people. Then you will travel back home, carrying a bunch of photographs or postcards.

But if you read a novel, you obtain a ticket into the most intimate recesses of another country and of another people. Reading a foreign novel is an invitation to visit other people's homes and other country's private quarters.

If you are a mere tourist, you might stand on a street and look up at an old house, in the old part of town, and see a woman staring out of her window. Then you will walk on.

But if you are a reader, you can see that woman staring out of her window, but you are there with her, inside her room, inside her head.

As you read a foreign novel, you are actually invited into other people's living rooms, into their nurseries and studies, into their bedrooms. You are invited into their secret sorrows, into their family joys, into their dreams.

Which is why I believe in literature as a bridge between peoples. I believe curiosity can be a moral quality. I believe imagining the other can be an antidote to fanaticism. Imagining the other will make you not only a better businessperson or a better lover but even a better person.

Part of the tragedy between Jew and Arab is the inability of so many of us, Jews and Arabs, to imagine each other. Really imagine each other: the loves, the terrible fears, the anger, the passion. There is too much hostility between us, too little curiosity.

Jews and Arabs have something essential in common: They have both been handled, coarsely and brutally, by Europe's violent hand in the past. The Arabs through imperialism, colonialism, exploitation and humiliations. The Jews through discrimination, persecution, expulsion and ultimately mass murder on an unprecedented scale.

One would have thought that two victims, and especially two victims of the same oppressor, would develop between them a sense of solidarity. Alas, this is not the way it works, neither in novels nor in life.

Some of the worst conflicts are indeed between two victims of the same oppressor -- two children of the same violent parent don't necessarily like each other. Often they see in each other the image of the abusive parent.

Which is exactly the case between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East. While the Arabs regard Israelis as latter-day Crusaders, an extension of the white, colonizing Europe, many Israelis, for their part, regard the Arabs as the new incarnation of our past oppressors, pogrom makers and Nazis.

This situation charges Europe with a particular responsibility for the solution of the Israeli-Arab conflict: Instead of wagging their fingers at either side, Europeans should extend empathy, understanding and help to both sides. You no longer have to choose between being pro-Israel and being pro-Palestine. You have to be pro-peace.

The woman in the window might be a Palestinian woman in Nablus. She might be a Jewish Israeli woman in Tel Aviv. If you want to help make peace between these two women in the two windows, you had better read more about them.

Read novels, dear friends. They will tell you much.

It is even time for each of these women to read about each other. To learn, at last, what makes the other woman in the window frightened, angry or hopeful.

I am not suggesting that reading novels can change the world. I do suggest, and I do believe, that reading novels is one of the best possible ways to understand that all the women, in all the windows, are, at the end of the day, in urgent need of peace

Amos Oz is an Israeli novelist and essayist. This is adapted from his acceptance speech in Spain last week for the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature.